SSR 83-24c: SECTION 213(a)(2)(B)(i) (42 U.S.C. 413(a)(2)(B)(i)) INSURED STATUS -- ASSIGNMENT OF QUARTERS OF COVERAGE IN THE YEAR OF DEATH -- CONSTITUTIONALITY
20 CFR 404.146(b)
Leikind v. Schweiker, 671 F.2d 823 (4th Cir. 1982)
- The claimant applied for widow's insurance benefits based on the worker's earnings record in March 1979. Although the worker, who died on June 17, 1978, had enough earnings in 1978 for four quarters of coverage (QC's), he was credited with QC's for only the first two quarters of that year because, under 42 U.S.C. 413(a)(2)(B)(i), "no quarter after the quarter in which an individual dies shall be a quarter of coverage." Since the worker had only twenty-two of the twenty-three quarters he needed to be fully insured, the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied the claimant's application. In her appeal, the claimant challenged the constitutionality of 42 U.S.C. 412(a)(2)(B)(i), contending that the statute violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment. The court of appeals, however, affirmed the district court's decision in favor of SSA, holding that, because there is a rational basis for the statute, 42 U.S.C. 413(a)(2)(B)(i) is constitutional.
ERVIN, Circuit Judge:
The sole issue presented for review in this case is whether a provision of the Social Security Act pertaining to the quarters of coverage necessary to become eligible for benefits, 42 U.S.C. § 413, violates due process. Because we find the statute to be rational, we hold that it is constitutional and, for that reason, affirm the ruling of the district court.
The facts are not in dispute, Lillian Leikind is the widow of Hyman Leikind, who died on June 17, 1978. Prior to 1978, Mr. Leikind had twenty quarters of coverage under the Social Security Act. Twenty-three quarters of coverage are necessary to be fully insured under the Act. Before his death, Mr. Leikind had earned $17,000 in the 1978 tax year. Under 42 U.S.C. § 413, if Mr. Leikind had stopped working for any other reason than his death, he would have been covered for all four quarters of 1978. Had he lived, therefore, he and his dependents would have been fully insured under the Social Security Act.
Mr. Leikind's death, however, triggered § 413(a)(2)(B)(i) which provides that "no quarter after the quarter in which an individual dies shall be a quarter of coverage." On arch 6, 1979, the appellant filed an application for widow's insurance benefits based upon her husband's account. She was denied benefits by the Social Security Administration because Mr. Leikind had only twenty-two quarters of coverage. Throughout the administrative appeals process and in federal district court, the appellant's sole contention has been that § 413(a)(2) is unconstitutional.
The standard of review under substantive due process is that the statute must be upheld if there is any rational basis for the classification made therein. Usery v. Turner Elkhorn Mining Co., 428 U.S. 1 (1976). This standard has been applied specifically to claims for benefits under the Social Security Act. See, e.g., Weinberger v. Salfi, 422 U.S. 749 (1975); Richardson v. Belcher, 404 U.S. 78 (1971).
The appellant agrees with the method of counting quarters for self-employed individuals under the statute which allows income to be prorated for four quarters no matter when it is earned. The seasonal nature of many self-employed vocations is likely to cause unequal quarterly income. She asserts, however, that the difference in treatment between one who dies and one who retires, becomes disabled or stops working for some other reason is irrational and violates the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment.
Contrary to the appellant's contentions, justifications that will meet the rationality standard are evident in the context of the statute. First, the reason for allowing self-employed persons to prorate their coverage does not apply after death. Even with a seasonal vocation, it is illogical to assume that a person would have a proportionate earned income after his death. Second, § 413(a)(2) avoids the possibility of an unfair advantage for self-employed individuals as opposed to wage earners. Because a wage earner has coverage only for a quarter in which he works, he would not receive coverage in a quarter after death. The unfairness of allowing self-employed individuals the advantage that the appellant seeks would be greater than that of which she complains. Third, a purpose of § 413 as a whole is furthered by paragraph (a)(2) in that it protects the financial stability of the system by limiting the number of people who are eligible for minimum benefits. And fourth, it is simply logical that a person who has died can no longer contribute to the Social Security system through deductions from his earned income.
We find that there is a rational basis for § 413(a)(2)(B)(i). The order of the district court granting summary judgment for the government, therefore, is