Rosado v. Wyman (1970)

Neither the doctrine of primary jurisdiction nor that of exhaustion of administrative remedies precludes federal court jurisdiction of an action brought by welfare recipients seeking to determine whether a state law was inconsistent with the requirements of the federal Social Security Act.

Citation: 397 U.S. 397 (1970)
Date decided: Apr 6, 1970
Longer case name: Rosado et al. v. Wyman, Commissioner of Social Services Of New York, et al.
Law type: Civil
Jurisdiction level:Federal
State of origin: New York
Topic(s):Exhaustion of administrative remedies, Primary jurisdiction, and Public assistance
Lists:Important cases
Attorneys:Lee A. Albert (Center for Social Welfare Policy and Law) argued the cause for petitioners. With him on the brief were Carl Rachlin and Martin Garbus.
Others involved:Briefs of amici curiae urging reversal were filed by Alan H. Levine, Melvin L. Wulf, Eleanor Holmes Norton, and Martin M. Berger for the New York Civil Liberties Union et al.; by Karl D. Zukerman, Dorothy Coyle, and Mildred Shanley for the Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New York et al.; and by Floyd Sarisohn for People for Adequate Welfare.
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Case Importance

Wendy A. Bach, “Litigating in the Zeitgeist: Rosado v. Wyman”, in “The Poverty Law Canon: Exploring the Major Cases”, edited by Failinger & Rosser, University of Michigan Press, 2016: “[Rosado v. Wyman] was filed in 1969, at the apex of the welfare rights movement and in response to drastic grant cuts that were a direct attack by the State of New York on one of the most potent tools of that movement. It was filed at a political moment when actors across the political spectrum believed that the nation was on the verge of instituting a national guaranteed minimum income. By 1970, it appeared that the plaintiffs had achieved a modest win. In response to the Supreme Court opinion in Rosado, the state reversed course and raised benefit levels. But that victory would not hold. Just a year later, citing the very same opinion, the state lowered benefit levels. This strange reversal in the state’s position on welfare benefit levels between 1970 and 1971 was possible and indeed legal because ultimately the win in Rosado relied not on the strength of federal welfare law but on the strength of the welfare rights movement and the political consensus about whether or not the state had a moral obligation to meet the needs of women and children on welfare. In New York State, the politics of that question shifted dramatically between 1969 and 1971. And Rosado’s fate shifted with it…. The case begins, and the story continues, in 1969 as the plaintiffs’ lawyers faced a frontal attack on the welfare rights movement. And the story ends in 1971 as the movement faltered, the idea of a national guaranteed annual income (GAI) faded, and Rockefeller turned rightward, joining a growing chorus of those who would scapegoat and stigmatize poor women, poor children,and poor communities.”

Case Details

(The syllabus is not part of the opinion, but is a summary prepared by the court reporter as a convenience.)


The Social Security Amendments of 1967 added § 402 (a) (23), which reads: “[The States shall] provide that by July 1, 1969, the amounts used by the State to determine needs of individuals will have been adjusted to reflect fully changes in living costs since such amounts were established and any maximums that the State imposes on the amount of aid paid to families will have been proportionately adjusted.” In 1969 New York, by § 131-a of its Social Services Law, altered its standard-of-need computation under the federally supported Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) program, and adopted a system fixing maximum allowances per family based on the number of persons in the family and the age of the oldest child, and eliminated a “special grants” program. The state statute resulted in decreased benefits to many New York City recipients. This controversy involving the compatibility of the two statutes arose out of a pendent claim included in petitioners’ complaint bringing a class action challenging § 131-a as violative of the Equal Protection Clause by virtue of its provision for lesser payments to AFDC recipients in Nassau County than those allowed for New York City residents. A three-judge court was convened, but before a decision was rendered § 131-a was amended to permit Nassau County grants equal to those in New York City. The three-judge court concluded that the equal protection issue was “no longer justiciable,” dissolved itself, and remanded the matter to the single District Judge. The District Judge issued an injunction prohibiting the reduction or discontinuance of “regular and recurring grants and special grants” payable under the predecessor welfare law. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that the three-judge court had properly dissolved itself but that the District Judge should not have ruled on the merits of petitioners’ statutory claim.


1. The District Judge had jurisdiction to decide this federal statutory challenge to the New York welfare law.

(a) Jurisdiction over the primary claim at all stages of the litigation is not a prerequisite to resolution of the pendent claim, and the mootness of the equal protection claim does not eliminate the jurisdiction of the District Judge over the pendent statutory claim.

(b) The District Judge properly did not decline jurisdiction to allow the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW) to resolve the controversy, as neither the “exhaustion of administrative remedies” nor the “primary jurisdiction” doctrine is applicable here. Petitioners do not seek review of an administrative ruling nor could they have obtained such a ruling since HEW does not permit welfare recipients to trigger or participate in its review of state welfare programs.

2. New York’s program is incompatible with § 402 (a) (23) and petitioners are entitled to an injunction by the District Court against payment of federal monies according to the State’s new schedules, should New York not develop a conforming plan within a reasonable time.

(a) Congress in § 402(a)(23) required the States to face up to the magnitude of the public assistance requirement, prodded them more equitably to apportion their payments, and spoke in favor of increases in AFDC payments.

(b) The evidence supports the District Judge’s finding that New York has, in effect, impermissibly lowered its standard of need by deleting items that were previously included.

(c) While § 402(a)(23) does not prevent New York from pursuing a goal of administrative efficiency, it does foreclose the State from achieving this purpose by reducing significantly the content of its standard of need.

(d) Section 402(a)(23) invalidates any state program that decreases the content of the standard of need, unless the State can demonstrate that the items formerly included (here the system of special grants, not the system of maximum grants based upon average age of the oldest child) no longer constituted part of the reality of existence for the majority of welfare recipients.

3. Congress has not foreclosed judicial review to welfare recipients who are most directly affected by the administration of the program and it is the duty of the federal courts to resolve disputes as to whether federal funds allocated to the States for welfare programs are properly expended.

414 F. 2d 170, reversed and remanded.

Last modified: 2023-01-20 03:45
Case internal grade: A | Case internal status: OK |
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