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SHIELDS v. FOLSON

July 24, 1957

Sadie A. SHIELDS, individually and as the natural guardian of Samuel James Shields, also known as Samuel Shields, Jr., a minor
v.
Marion B. FOLSOM, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LORD

This cause has been heard on the plaintiffs' complaint seeking review of a final decision of the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare and the defendant's answer and motion for summary judgment thereon. The administrative decision, which is thus challenged, respectively denied Mother's Insurance Benefits and Child's Insurance Benefits to the plaintiff, Sadie A. Shields, and the minor plaintiff, Samuel James Shields, also known as Samuel Shields, Jr.

The matter is governed by the provisions of Title II of the Social Security Act of Congress, 42 U.S.C.A. §§ 401-416. Section 405(g) of that Act authorizes review of a final decision of the Administrator by action brought in the district court of the United States, and provides that:

 '* * * The court shall have power to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the decision of the Administrator, with or without remanding the cause for a rehearing. The findings of the Administrator as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive, * * *'

 The findings of the Administrator, in terms of the quoted statute, became the findings of fact of the Secretary under § 205(g) of the Act (42 U.S.C.A. § 405(g)), since the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration denied review of the decision of the Referee. Goldman v. Folsom, 3 Cir., 246 F.2d 776.

 If there was substantial evidence upon which the Secretary acted, this Court is bound by his action, provided the law was properly applied by him. Ray v. Social Security Board, D.C.S.D.Ala.1947, 73 F.Supp. 58.

 In order to determine the sufficiency of the evidence, in terms of the statute, we must scrutinize the record as a whole; we must assume responsibility for the reasonableness and fairness of the decision, Goldman v. Folsom, 3 Cir., 246 F.2d 776; and we must recall the adjuration of the Supreme Court that 'Reviewing courts must be influenced by a feeling that they are not to abdicate the conventional judicial function.' Universal Camera Corp. v. National Labor Relations Board, 1951, 340 U.S. 474, 490, 71 S. Ct. 456, 466, 95 L. Ed. 456.

 The administrative finding which is the nub of the present controversy is found in the Referee's decision:

 '* * * that the deceased, before his marriage to the present claimant, had married Jean Elizabeth Dunlap Shiels, that he never procured a divorce from her, that she was living at the time of the deceased's marriage to the present claimant and at the time of his death.'

 If justified by the evidence, and based upon a proper application of the law, that finding is necessarily fatal to the plaintiffs' positions that they are the surviving widow and child of the deceased wage earner. This result would follow by virtue of § 216(h)(1) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C.A. 416(h) (1). That section provides that the applicable test is that which the courts of the state of domicil would use in determining the devolution of personal property.

 This Court, however, has come to the conclusion that this crucial finding is invalid in that it is insufficiently supported by the evidence disclosed by the record. Looking at the matter in another light, it may be said that the Secretary's application of the law was incorrect with respect to the policy embodied in the presumption of the validity of an existing marriage. Insofar as he relied upon the case of Madison v. Lewis, 1943, 151 Pa.Super. 138, 30 A.2d 357 in page 6 of his opinion (Record 17), in particular, there was misapplication of the law, as will be more fully explained in due course.

 Many of the facts are undisputed. The claimant, Sadie A. Shields, married Samuel Shields, ceremonially, in Baltimore, Maryland, on December 27, 1943 -- having been acquainted with him about five years at that time. One child, Samuel, also plaintiff herein, was born of this marriage on August 10, 1944. The claimant, Sadie, and the deceased lived together in Philadelphia until his death there on August 31, 1953.

 There is no indication that the claimant had the slightest intimation that the deceased was not a single man at the time he married her. Nor did she have any such inkling, as the Referee himself finds:

 '* * * 'until the night of the viewing', when one of the deceased's cousins stated to her that he might have left a surviving widow in Ireland.'

 As to the disputable facts, it is necessary to make references to the Record. Such record has been reviewed by ...


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