Schweiker v. Chilicky
Annotate this Case
487 U.S. 412 (1988)
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U.S. Supreme Court
Schweiker v. Chilicky, 487 U.S. 412 (1988)
Schweiker v. Chilicky
Argued March 1, 1988
Decided June 24, 1988
487 U.S. 412
In 1980, Congress enacted legislation requiring that most disability determinations under Title II of the Social Security Act be reviewed at least once every three years. Under the "continuing disability review" (CDR) program, as originally implemented by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, benefits were usually terminated if the state agency performing the initial evaluation found that a claimant had become ineligible, and were not available during administrative appeals. Finding that benefits were frequently being improperly terminated by state agencies under CDR, only to be reinstated by a federal administrative law judge (ALJ) on appeal, Congress enacted reform legislation in 1983 and 1984, which, inter alia, provided for the continuation of benefits through the completion of ALJ review. Respondents, individuals whose Title II benefits were improperly terminated in 1981 and 1982, but were later restored, filed suit in Federal District Court. They alleged that petitioners, one Arizona and two federal officials who were CDR policymakers, had violated respondents' due process rights by adopting illegal policies that led to the benefits terminations. Respondents sought money damages from petitioners, in their individual capacities, for emotional distress and for loss of necessities proximately caused by petitioners' conduct. The court dismissed the case, but the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded, noting that respondents' money damages claims were predicated on the constitutional tort theory of Bivens v. Six Unknown Fed. Narcotics Agents, 403 U. S. 388, and concluding, inter alia, that it could not be determined as a matter of law that respondents could prove no state of facts warranting recovery.
Held: The improper denial of Social Security disability benefits, allegedly resulting from due process violations by petitioners in their administration of the CDR program, cannot give rise to a cause of action for money damages against petitioners. Pp. 487 U. S. 420-429.
(a) A money damages remedy against federal officials for constitutional torts will not be devised by the courts where "special factors counse[l] hesitation in the absence of affirmative action by Congress." Bivens, supra, at 403 U. S. 396. Such "special factors" include the existence of statutory mechanisms giving meaningful remedies against the United States, even though those remedies do not provide "complete relief" to
the claimant. Bush v. Lucas, 462 U. S. 367. Thus, the courts must give appropriate deference to indications that congressional inaction has not been inadvertent, and should not create Bivens remedies when the design of a Government program suggests that Congress has provided what it considers to be adequate remedies for constitutional violations that may occur in the course of the program's administration. Pp. 487 U. S. 420-423.
(b) Since the elaborate CDR remedial scheme devised by Congress does not include a money damages remedy against officials responsible for unconstitutional conduct that leads to the wrongful denial of benefits, such a remedy is unavailable. The present case is indistinguishable from Bush, supra. In both, Congress failed to authorize "complete relief" for emotional distress and other hardships, but Congress is presumed to have balanced governmental efficiency and individual rights in an acceptable manner. Moreover, congressional attention to problems in CDR administration (including the very problems that gave rise to this case) has been frequent and intense, as shown by the enactment of reform legislation on two occasions. Congress' unwillingness to provide compensation for consequential damages is at least as clear here as it was in Bush. Bush is not limited to its civil service context, since its reasoning -- that Congress is in a better position than courts to decide whether the creation of a new substantive legal liability would serve the public interest -- applies as much, or more, in this case. Respondents' attempt to distinguish Bush on the ground that the plaintiff there received compensation for the constitutional violation itself, while respondents here have merely received benefits to which they would have been entitled had there been no constitutional violation, is not analytically meaningful, since the harm resulting from the alleged constitutional violation can in neither case be separated from the denial of the statutory right. The fact that respondents have not been fully compensated for the injury caused by lengthy delays in providing the benefits on which they depended for the necessities of life cannot be remedied by this Court. Congress is charged with designing welfare benefits programs, and with balancing the need for administrative efficiency against individual rights, and Congress has discharged that responsibility to the extent that it affects this case. Pp. 487 U. S. 424-429.
796 F.2d 1131, reversed.
O'CONNOR, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which REHNQUIST, C.J., and WHITE, SCALIA, and KENNEDY, JJ., joined, and in all but n. 3 of which STEVENS, J., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in part and concurring in the judgment, post, p. 487 U. S. 430. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL and BLACKMUN, JJ., joined, post, p. 487 U. S. 430.