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Law School Case Brief

Schweiker v. Chilicky - 487 U.S. 412, 108 S. Ct. 2460 (1988)

Rule:

Under Title II of the Social Security Act, the Federal Government provides disability benefits to individuals who have contributed to the Social Security program and who, because of a medically determinable physical or mental impairment, are unable to engage in substantial gainful work.

Facts:

Three individuals who had been receiving disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act were terminated pursuant to a continuing disability review (CDR) program established by Congress under an amendment to Title II and initiated by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) in March 1981. Pursuant to the CDR program, most disability determinations were to be reviewed at least once every 3 years. Under the CDR program as originally instituted, a disability benefit claimant bore the burden, in an initial review conducted by a state agency, of demonstrating continued disability. If the claimant was found to be ineligible by the state agency, benefits were usually terminated at that point and were unavailable during review of the initial determination by a federal administrative law judge. In 1982, after the individuals had been restored to disabled status and had been awarded retroactive benefits, the individuals filed an action in the United States District Court for the District of Arizona against the Secretary of HHS, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, and the director of the Arizona state agency participating in the administration of Title II in Arizona under the supervision of the Secretary of HHS, seeking an award of money damages from the officials in their official and individual capacities for the emotional distress and loss of necessities caused by the officials' denial of disability benefits without due process under the CDR program, in violation of the Federal Constitution's Fifth Amendment. The District Court dismissed the action, ruling that the conduct of the officials was protected by a qualified immunity, and did not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed and remanded, holding that it could not be determined as a matter of law that the individuals could prove no state of facts resulting in violations of their due process rights and consequent damages. The United States Supreme Court granted certiorari review.

Issue:

Did the denial of the individuals’ Social Security disability benefits give rise to a cause of action for money damages?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court held that the improper denial of the individuals' Social Security disability benefits, allegedly resulting from Fifth Amendment due process violations by government officials admininstering the Title II program, did not give rise to a cause of action for money damages, since such a remedy was not included in the elaborate remedial scheme devised by Congress under Title II, and could not be implied under the constitutional tort theory enunciated by the Supreme Court in Bivens v Six Unknown Named Agents of Federal Bureau of Narcotics (1971) 403 US 388, 29 L Ed 2d 619, 91 S Ct 1999,. Moreover, the Court need not decide whether Congress, by enacting  42 U.S.C.S. § 405(h), has expressly precluded the creation of a Bivens remedy for Title II claims, since there were other grounds for holding that such a remedy was precluded in the case.

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