decided: November 13, 1989; As Amended November 22, 1989.
Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Illinois. No. 85-4443 -- Gerald B. Cohn, Magistrate.
Cudahy, Flaum and Manion, Circuit Judges.
Under the provisions of the Social Security Act (the "Act"), a wage earner who is entitled to receive old age or disability insurance benefits is also generally eligible to receive Child Insurance Benefits ("CIB") for his or her dependent children. Congress expressly chose, however, to limit CIB eligibility when a benefits recipient adopts an unrelated child after the onset date of the recipient's entitlement. Section 202(d)(8) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(8). On the other hand, a comparable limitation is not placed upon CIB eligibility when a benefits recipient, or the wife of a recipient, gives birth to a child after the onset date of the wage earner's entitlement. Ray and Mary Lindley learned of these classifications in the Act when their two applications for CIB for David, their adopted son, were denied by the Social Security Administration (the "Administration") because David was adopted after the onset date of Ray's disability. The Lindleys responded by challenging the constitutionality of section 202(d)(8) under the equal protection component of the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. They now appeal the magistrate's order upholding the constitutionality of section 202(d)(8) and affirming the denial by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (the "Secretary") of their application for CIB. We affirm.
Ray and Mary Lindley were married on April 22, 1978, two weeks after the April 8, 1978, onset date of Ray's eligibility for disability insurance benefits. For the two years that followed, the Lindleys sought to conceive a child. Their inability to do so prompted them to undergo medical testing, which revealed that Mary suffered from a retroverted uterus. Mary's doctor warned her that even if she were able to conceive, the pregnancy would pose serious health risks for her. In light of that diagnosis, the Lindleys decided to adopt a child. In 1980, they began writing letters to numerous adoption agencies, asking to be put on the waiting lists that invariably exist at such institutions. See generally National Comm. for Adoption, Adoption Factbook: United States Data, Issues, Regulations and Resources 47-53 (1985) [hereafter "Adoption Factbook"]. For two years, the Lindleys searched for a child to adopt. Finally, a private adoption agency informed them of the impending birth of David, a child unrelated to either Ray or Mary. The Lindleys' application was approved, and on March 26, 1982, four days after David was born, Ray and Mary initiated formal adoption proceedings. A final order of adoption was entered on August 17, 1982.
On September 1, 1982, the Lindleys applied for CIB for David pursuant to section 202(d) of the Social Security Act.*fn1 This application was denied by the Administration on February 1, 1983, and the Lindleys chose not to appeal. Concurrently, the Administration initiated a periodic investigation into Ray's continuing eligibility for disability benefits. In November of 1982, the Administration determined that Ray was no longer disabled and that his entitlement to benefits would terminate on January 31, 1983. Ray appealed, and an administrative law judge ("ALJ") reversed the termination decision on September 30, 1983, fully reinstating Ray's entitlement to benefits.
After Ray's reinstatement, the Lindleys submitted a second application for CIB on David's behalf on October 11, 1983. This application was denied by the Administration initially and upon reconsideration, causing the Lindleys to move for a hearing before an ALJ. After hearing the evidence, the ALJ held that David was precluded from receiving CIB under section 202(d)(8) because he had been adopted by the Lindleys after the date Ray became entitled to benefits. The ALJ also rejected the Lindleys' argument that David was not an "after-adopted child"*fn2 because of the alleged break in Ray's entitlement beginning in November 1982. The ALJ's decision became the final order of the Secretary after the Appeals Council denied the Lindleys' subsequent request for review.
On September 5, 1985, Ray filed a complaint in the district court on behalf of David. In the complaint, David alleged that he is eligible for CIB under the provisions of section 202(d)(8). In the alternative, he alleged that section 202(d)(8) violates his parents' right to equal protection because it precludes them from obtaining CIB for him as an "after-adopted child," while it permits natural parents to obtain CIB for their children born after the wage earner's disability onset date.
The parties consented to having their case heard by a magistrate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. section 636(c). On April 2, 1987, the magistrate issued a decision in which he held that any hiatus in Ray's entitlement prompted by the Administration's continuing disability review did not affect the Lindleys' second CIB application because Ray's eligibility was reinstated retroactively to his initial onset date. The magistrate then upheld the constitutionality of section 202(d)(8) because he found that Congress had a rational basis for its rules governing CIB applications by "after-adopted children." David filed a timely appeal.
On appeal, David reasserts his argument that he is eligible for CIB under the provisions of section 202(d)(8) because of the temporary break in Ray's entitlement. David's principal contention, however, is that the magistrate erred in applying the rational basis test to uphold the constitutionality of section 202(d)(8), since the classification "chills" his sterile parents' fundamental right to become parents by adoption. David contends that the proper standard is strict scrutiny and that the statute cannot withstand such review. He also argues that, in any event, the statute is not even rationally related to Congress' professed purpose of deterring or preventing fraud.
A fundamental principle of judicial construction requires that we consider David's statutory claim before reaching the constitutional issue. Jean v. Nelson, 472 U.S. 846, 854, 86 L. Ed. 2d 664, 105 S. Ct. 2992 (1985); Ashwander v. TVA, 297 U.S. 288, ...