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United States. R. Retirement Bd. v. Fritz, 449 U.S. 166 (1980)

United States. Railroad Retirement Board v. Fritz

No. 79-870

Argued October 6, 1980

Decided December 9, 1980

449 U.S. 166


The Railroad Retirement Act of 1974 (1974 Act) fundamentally restructured the railroad retirement system under the predecessor 1937 Act, which had included provisions whereby a person who worked for both railroad and nonrailroad employers and who qualified for both railroad retirement and social security benefits received benefits under both systems and an accompanying "windfall" benefit. Although providing that employees who lacked the requisite 10 years of railroad employment to qualify for railroad retirement benefits as of the January 1, 1975, changeover date would not receive any windfall benefits, the 1974 Act preserved windfall benefits for individuals who had retired and were receiving dual benefits as of the changeover date. A provision of the 1974 Act, 45 U.S.C. $ 231b(h)(1), also preserved windfall benefits for employees who had qualified for dual benefits as of the changeover date, but who had not yet retired, if they had (1) performed some railroad service in 1974 or (2) had a "current connection" with the railroad industry as of December 31, 1974, or their later retirement date, or (3) completed 25 years of railroad service as of December 31, 1974. The 1974 Act further provided, 45 U.S.C. $ 231b(h)(2), that employees who had qualified for railroad benefits as of the changeover date, but lacked a current connection with the railroad industry in 1974 and 25 years of railroad employment, could obtain a lesser amount of windfall benefits if they had qualified for social security benefits as of the year (prior to 1975) they left railroad employment. Appellee and others filed a class action in Federal District Court for a declaratory judgment that $ 231b(h) is unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, contending that it was irrational for Congress to distinguish between employees who had more than 10 years but less than 25 years of railroad employment simply on the basis of whether they had a "current connection" with the railroad industry as of the changeover date or as of the date of retirement. The District Court certified a plaintiff class of all persons eligible to retire between January 1, 1975, and January 31, 1977, who were permanently insured under the Social Security Act as of December 31, 1974, but who were not eligible to receive any windfall benefits because they had left the

Page 449 U. S. 167

railroad industry before 1974, had no "current connection" with it at the end of 1974, and had less than 25 years of railroad service. The court held that the differentiation based solely on whether an employee was "active" in the railroad business as of 1974 was not "rationally related" to the congressional purposes of insuring the solvency of the railroad retirement system and protecting vested benefits.

Held: The challenged provisions of the 1974 Act do not deny the plaintiff class equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. Pp. 449 U. S. 174-179.

(a) When social and economic legislation enacted by Congress is challenged on equal protection grounds as being violative of the Fifth Amendment, the rational basis standard is the appropriate standard of judicial review. If the classification has some "reasonable basis," it does not offend the Constitution simply because the classification is not made with mathematical nicety or because, in practice, it results in some inequality. This Court will not invalidate on equal protection grounds legislation that it simply deems unwise or unartfully drawn. Cf., e.g., Dandridge v. Williams, 397 U. S. 471; Jefferson v. Hackney, 406 U. S. 535. Pp. 449 U. S. 174-176.

(b) Under such principles, $ 231b(h) does not violate the Fifth Amendment. Because Congress could have eliminated windfall benefits for all classes of employees, it is not constitutionally impermissible for Congress to have drawn lines between groups of employees for the purpose of phasing out those benefits. Congress did not achieve its purpose in a patently arbitrary or irrational way, since it could properly conclude that persons who had actually acquired statutory entitlement to windfall benefits while still employed in the railroad industry had a greater equitable claim to those benefits than the members of the plaintiff class who were no longer in railroad employment when they became eligible for dual benefits. Furthermore, the "current connection" test is not a patently arbitrary means for determining which employees are "career railroaders," the class for whom the 1974 Act was designed. Pp. 449 U. S. 176-178.

(c) Nor is there merit to the District Court's conclusion that Congress was unaware of what it accomplished or that it was misled by the groups that appeared before it. The language of the statute is clear, and it has been historically assumed that Congress intended what it enacted. P. 449 U. S. 179.


REHNQUIST, J., delivered the opinion of the Court, in which BURGER, C.J., and STEWART, WHITE, BLACKMUN, and POWELL, JJ., joined.

Page 449 U. S. 168

STEVENS, J., filed an opinion concurring in the judgment, post, p. 449 U. S. 180. BRENNAN, J., filed a dissenting opinion, in which MARSHALL, J., joined, post, p. 449 U. S. 182.

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