Plaintiff's claims for retroactive relief stand on firmer footing. Plaintiffs assert that they are still entitled to the higher SSI benefits that were withheld from them due to the "six-month rule." The outstanding sum of money is, of course, the difference between payment as an eligible individual and payment as an eligible spouse for the period during which the rule was applied to each of them. Plaintiffs contend, and the Court agrees, were they successful on the merits, i. e., were this Court to declare the "six-month rule" unconstitutional, that they would then be entitled to an award of such a sum.
Thus, there is a continuing controversy between the parties over plaintiffs' entitlement to be paid the benefits withheld from them by the operation of the six-month rule, but for which each plaintiff would have received a full individual's payment of SSI benefits from the date of her separation. See Powell v. McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 495-500, 89 S. Ct. 1944, 23 L. Ed. 2d 491 (1969). Thus, since the case is not moot for all purposes, the Court now turns to an examination of the merits of plaintiffs' claims.
Subsequent to the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment and oral argument thereon, the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Weinberger v. Salfi, supra. This Court then called for a further round of briefing by the parties to determine the effect, if any, of Salfi on this case. Upon receipt of those briefs, and after a careful consideration of the Salfi opinion, the Court concludes that Salfi is adversely dispositive of plaintiffs' claims on the merits.
In Salfi the Court held that the nine-month duration-of-relationship requirements of 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(c)(5) and (e)(2) had a rational basis and were free from invidious discrimination and thus not unconstitutional. Weinberger v. Salfi, supra, 95 S. Ct. 2457. The duration-of-relationship requirements at issue in Salfi completely and permanently excluded from receiving Social Security benefits the surviving wives and stepchildren who had their respective relationship to the deceased wage earner for less than nine months prior to his death. The Supreme Court held that such requirements were not invalid conclusive presumptions, thereby distinguishing Cleveland Board of Education v. LaFleur, 414 U.S. 632, 94 S. Ct. 791, 39 L. Ed. 2d 52 (1974); Vlandis v. Kline, 412 U.S. 441, 93 S. Ct. 2230, 37 L. Ed. 2d 63 (1973); and Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 92 S. Ct. 1208, 31 L. Ed. 2d 551 (1972), the very cases relied upon by plaintiff in the case at bar.
As Salfi points out, since SSI is social welfare legislation, it is noncontractual in nature and thus "enjoys no constitutionally protected status." Weinberger v. Salfi, supra, 422 U.S. 771, 95 S. Ct. at 2470. (citation omitted). The standard, then, by which such federal statute must be measured is whether "the goals sought by it are legitimate, and the classification adopted is rationally related to the achievement of those goals . . . ." Id. at 2468, quoting Richardson v. Belcher, 404 U.S. 78, 92 S. Ct. 254, 30 L. Ed. 2d 231 (1971). When the statute at issue meets that test, it is "perforce consistent with the due process requirement of the Fifth Amendment." Id.
The legislative history of the "six month rule" indicates that Congress intended, in enacting 42 U.S.C. § 1382c(b), to avoid encouraging couples to separate in order to receive the higher total benefits available to individuals. H.R.Rep. No. 231, 92d Cong., 1st Sess. 150 (1971). That report, in pertinent part, provides:
In determining marital status, State law will apply, except that a couple has been determined married for purposes of receiving social security benefits or if they hold themselves out as married in the community in which they live, they will be considered married for purposes of the new program. In the absence of such a provision in the assistance program there would be a strong incentive for married couples to allege that they were not married (in order to get higher payments) and there would be a difficult, if not impossible, administrative burden of determining whether a marriage existed between two individuals alleging to be single (but who hold themselves out to be married). Also, to avoid encouraging couples to live separately in order to get the higher total benefit, your committee's bill provides that an eligible individual and spouse will receive a couple's benefit even though they live apart. Id.
Thus, it is clear that the statutory classification here, in seeking to avoid an incentive to separation to secure higher SSI benefits is strikingly similar to the congressional intent upheld in Salfi to prevent the use of "sham marriages" to secure Social Security benefits. Weinberger v. Salfi, supra, 422 U.S. 749, 95 S. Ct. 2457. Indeed, the rule involved in Salfi and the legislative policy decisions which led to its adoption are hardly distinguishable from the duration-of-separation rule and its policy decisions as enunciated by Congress.
Moreover, the statutory classification here meets the other criteria noted in Salfi. For instance, Congress recognized the "administrative burden of determining whether a marriage existed between two individuals alleging to be single." H.R.Rep. No. 231, 92d Cong., 1st Sess. 150 (1971). Such concerns were held in Salfi to be legitimate legislative considerations. Weinberger v. Salfi, supra, 422 U.S. 749, 95 S. Ct. 2457.
Also, the Supreme Court noted that the duration-of-marriage requirement was effective only within a somewhat narrow range of situations because, even though a surviving wife had not been married for a period of nine months or more immediately prior to her husband's death, she was still within the definition of "widow" and entitled to benefits if she met one of several disjunctive categories. Id. 422 U.S. 749, 95 S. Ct. 2457.
Similarly, the applicability of the duration-of-separation requirement in the case at bar is delimited by the HEW regulations which, as noted earlier, provide that the rule does not apply to separations caused by death, divorce or annulment, remarriage or a new relationship where the parties hold themselves out to the community as husband and wife. As in Salfi, id. at 4994, the Court thinks that these disjunctive requirements indicate that "Congress has treated them as alternative indicia of the fact that the (separation) was entered into for a reason other than the desire to shortly acquire (higher) benefits." If an applicant's separation does not fall within one of these objective criteria, then the "six-month rule" becomes applicable. In that regard, Congress could rationally impose such a requirement. Such a prophylactic approach was clearly sanctioned by Salfi:
While it is possible to debate the wisdom of excluding legitimate claimants in order to discourage sham relationships, and of relying on a rule which may not exclude some obviously sham arrangements, we think it clear that Congress could rationally choose to adopt such a course. 95 S. Ct. at 2475.