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COFFIN v. SECRETARY OF HEALTH

July 15, 1975

Edgar D. COFFIN, Plaintiff,
v.
SECRETARY OF HEALTH, EDUCATION AND WELFARE, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MACKINNON

I. THE CLAIM.

 Plaintiff Edgar D. Coffin seeks to assert a class-action challenge to the constitutionality of two sections of the Social Security Act. *fn1" Specifically plaintiff attacks those portions of the Act which provide for the payment of "husband's insurance benefits" *fn2" and "widower's insurance benefits." *fn3" Both subsections require that the male claimant, in order to be eligible for the payment of benefits, have received at least one-half of his support from his wife during certain statutorily specified times. *fn4" Plaintiff correctly points out that parallel sections of the Act, providing for the payment of benefits to wives *fn5" and to widows, *fn6" contain no similar support requirements. Coffin asserts that this different treatment of men and women is a violation of that equal protection of the laws which is guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. *fn7"

 Accordingly, Coffin requests the Court to declare that the statutory provisions in question are unconstitutional and to enjoin the defendant from denying benefits to any person on the ground of failure to satisfy the support requirements of the statute. He also asks the Court to award him those benefits which would have otherwise accrued to him (beginning in August, 1965) and seeks reasonable costs and attorney's fees.

 The case is now before the Court on the plaintiff's motion for certification of representation of a class consisting of all men otherwise eligible for benefits *fn8" and on motions of both parties for summary judgment.

 II. FACTS.

 A. Coffin's Eligibility.

 The facts regarding Mr. Coffin are undisputed. Mr. Coffin is a 71-year-old white male who retired in August, 1964, from his job as a police officer in the Borough of Verona, New Jersey. He has never been an insured individual under the Social Security Act and has never received old-age, survivors or disability insurance benefits under the Act. Since his retirement, Mr. Coffin's principal income has been a pension from New Jersey's Consolidated Police and Fire Pension Fund (amounting to some $4,675.80 per annum).

 On August 4, 1928, Mr. Coffin married Edna Elizabeth Coffin and remained married to her until her death on September 6, 1970. *fn9" Mrs. Coffin was a fully-insured individual under the Social Security Act at the time of her retirement in June, 1964, and began to receive old-age insurance benefits in August, 1964. She continued to receive these benefits until her death in 1970.

 Shortly after his wife's death, Mr. Coffin applied for the lump-sum death benefits due him under the Social Security Act as a surviving spouse and also for all other benefits payable to him under the Act. On the form used to apply for these benefits, Mr. Coffin answered negatively a question inquiring whether he had been receiving at least one-half of his support from his wife at the time of her death. *fn10" He was paid the lump-sum death benefits payment but has received no other benefits under the Act.

 B. Old-Age Pension System.

 The Social Security Act provisions which permit payment of benefits to husbands and widowers were passed in 1950. *fn11" The parallel provisions *fn12" which authorized benefits to be paid to wives and widows were passed in 1939. *fn13" These benefits are part of that Social Security program known as "Old-age and survivors insurance benefit payments." 42 U.S.C. § 402. It is undisputed that the old-age insurance program was intended to be self-supporting. *fn14" The removal of the dependency criterion for establishing eligibility for widower's and husband's benefits would require the payment of approximately $351,000,000.00 in additional benefits during the first full calendar year after abolition of the dependency requirement. *fn15"

 III. MOTION FOR CERTIFICATION OF CLASS ACTION.

 The Court will first take up plaintiff's motion for certification of this case as a class action. Plaintiff seeks to represent all husbands and widowers who, but for the dependency requirement, would be eligible for the payment of benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 402(c), (f). *fn16" At oral argument, counsel stated that class status was sought only regarding the claim for declaratory and injunctive relief and not regarding the claim for back benefits.

 The Court will refuse, for two reasons, to certify this matter as a class action. First, because only declaratory and injunctive relief is sought on behalf of the class, there exists no need for a class action. The Court could, without resort to a class action, fashion a decree which would run to the relief both of Coffin and of all others similarly situated. Where such a situation exists, a class action is neither useful nor required. See Martinez v. Richardson, 472 F.2d 1121, 1127 (10th Cir. 1973); Ihrke v. Northern States Power Co., 459 F.2d 566, 572 (8th Cir.), vacated on other grounds 409 U.S. 815, 93 S. Ct. 66, 34 L. Ed. 2d 72 (1972); Kinsey v. Legg, Mason & Co., 60 F.R.D. 91, 100-101 (D.D.C.1973). Hence, entirely apart ...


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