HECKLER V. RINGER, 466 U. S. 602 (1984)

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U.S. Supreme Court

Heckler v. Ringer, 466 U.S. 602 (1984)

Heckler v. Ringer

No. 82-1772

Argued February 27, 1984

Decided May 14, 1984

466 U.S. 602


Part A of Title XVIII of the Social Security Act, commonly known as the Medicare Act, provides insurance for the cost of hospital and related post-hospital expenses, but precludes reimbursement for services which are not "reasonable and necessary" for the diagnosis or treatment of illness or injury. Judicial review of a claim under the Medicare Act is available only after the Secretary of Health and Human Services renders a "final decision" on the claim in the same manner as is provided in 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for old-age and disability claims arising under Title II of the Social Security Act. Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(h), to the exclusion of 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question jurisdiction), makes § 405(g) the sole avenue for judicial review of all "claim[s] arising under" the Medicare Act. Pursuant to her rulemaking authority, the Secretary has provided that a "final decision" is rendered on a Medicare claim only after the claimant has pressed the claim through all designated levels of administrative review. In January, 1979, the Secretary issued an administrative instruction to all fiscal intermediaries that no payment is to be made for Medicare claims arising out of a surgical procedure known as bilateral carotid body resection (BCBR) when performed to relieve respiratory distress. Until October, 1980, Administrative Law Judges (ALJs), who were not bound by the instruction, consistently ruled in favor of claimants whose BCBR claims had been denied by the intermediaries. The Appeals Council also authorized payment for BCBR Part A expenses in a case involving numerous claimants. On October 28, 1980, the Secretary issued a formal administrative ruling, intended to have a binding effect on the ALJs and the Appeals Council, prohibiting them from ordering Medicare payments for BCBR operations occurring after that date, the Secretary having concluded that the BCBR procedure was not "reasonable and necessary" within the meaning of the Medicare Act. Without having exhausted their administrative remedies, respondents brought an action in Federal District Court challenging the Secretary's instruction and ruling, and relying on 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C. § 1361 (mandamus against federal official), and 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) to establish jurisdiction. Respondents are four Medicare claimants for whom BCBR surgery was prescribed to relieve pulmonary problems. Three of the respondents (Holmes, Webster-Zieber, and Vescio) had the surgery before

Page 466 U. S. 603

October 28, 1980, and filed claims for reimbursement with the fiscal intermediary, and the fourth respondent (Ringer) never had the surgery, claiming that he was unable to afford it. The complaint sought a declaration that the Secretary's refusal to find that BCBR surgery is "reasonable and necessary" under the Medicare Act is unlawful, and an injunction compelling her to instruct her intermediaries to provide payment for BCBR claims and barring her from forcing claimants to pursue administrative appeals in order to obtain payment. The District Court dismissed the complaint for lack of jurisdiction, holding that, in essence, respondents were claiming entitlement to benefits for the BCBR procedure, that any challenges to the Secretary's procedure were "inextricably intertwined" with respondents' claim for benefits, and that therefore respondents must exhaust their administrative remedies pursuant to § 405(g) before pursuing their action in federal court. The Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, to the extent respondents were seeking to invalidate the Secretary's procedure for determining entitlement to benefits, those claims were cognizable under the federal question and mandamus statutes, without the administrative exhaustion requirement of § 405(g). While acknowledging that § 405(g), with its exhaustion requirement, provides the only jurisdictional basis for seeking judicial review of claims for benefits, the court nonetheless held that the District Court erred in requiring respondents to exhaust their administrative remedies, since exhaustion would be futile and might not fully compensate respondents for their asserted injuries in view of the fact that they sought payment without the prejudice -- and the necessity of appeal -- resulting from the existence of the Secretary's instruction and ruling.


1. Exhaustion of administrative remedies is in no sense futile for respondents Holmes, Webster-Zieber, and Vescio, and they, therefore, must adhere to the administrative procedure that Congress has established for adjudicating their Medicare claims. Pp. 466 U. S. 613-619.

(a) The Court of Appeals erred in concluding that any portion of these respondents' claims could be channeled into federal court by way of federal question jurisdiction. The inquiry in determining whether § 405(h) bars federal question jurisdiction must be whether the claim "arises under" the Medicare Act, not whether it lends itself to a "substantive," rather than a "procedural," label. Here, all aspects of these respondents' challenge to the Secretary's BCBR payment policy "aris[e] under" the Medicare Act. Pp. 466 U. S. 613-616.

(b) Assuming without deciding that § 405(h) does not foreclose mandamus jurisdiction in all Social Security Act cases, the District Court did not err in dismissing respondents' complaint, because no writ of mandamus could properly issue. Title 28 U.S.C. § 1361 is intended to provide a remedy only if the plaintiff has exhausted all other avenues of

Page 466 U. S. 604

relief, and only if the defendant owes him a nondiscretionary duty. Here, the above respondents clearly have an adequate remedy under § 405(g) for challenging all aspects of the Secretary's denial of their claims, and thus § 405(g) is the only avenue for judicial review of their claims. While these respondents satisfied the nonwaivable requirement of presenting a claim to the Secretary, they did not satisfy the waivable requirement that administrative remedies be exhausted. Pp. 466 U. S. 616-619.

2. The District Court had no jurisdiction as to respondent Ringer. His claim is essentially one requesting the payment of benefits for BCBR surgery, a claim cognizable only under § 405(g). Mandamus jurisdiction is unavailable to him for the same reasons it is unavailable to the other respondents. Regarding federal question jurisdiction, as with the other respondents, all aspects of Ringer's claim "aris[e] under" the Medicare Act. He must pursue his claim under § 405(g) in the same manner that Congress has provided. Because he has not given the Secretary an opportunity to rule on a concrete claim for reimbursement, he has not satisfied the nonwaivable exhaustion requirement of § 405(g). Pp. 466 U. S. 620-626.

697 F.2d 1291, reversed.

REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J.,and WHITE, BLACKMUN, POWELL, and O'CONNOR, JJ., joined. STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment in part and dissenting in part, in which BRENNAN and MARSHALL, JJ., joined, post, p. 466 U. S. 627.

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