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DAVIDSON v. HARRIS

November 24, 1980

Beatrice DAVIDSON
v.
Patricia Roberts HARRIS, Secretary of Health and Human Services



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRODERICK

MEMORANDUM

This action is brought under Sections 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), to review a final decision of the Secretary of Health and Human Services denying a waiver of adjustment or recoupment of overpayment in Supplemental Security Income benefits. The decision of the Administrative Law Judge on December 21, 1978 became the final decision of the Secretary in this case when the Appeals Council determined, on May 23, 1979, that there was no basis for review under 20 C.F.R. § 416.1465. The final decision holds that the claimant received Supplemental Security Income of $ 667.58 in excess of that to which she was entitled; that recovery of the overpayment would defeat the purpose of Title II of the Social Security Act; but that as the claimant was with fault with regard to the overpayment, repayment of the overpayment would not be waived. This matter is before the Court on cross-motions of the parties for summary judgment. In the alternative, the claimant has requested the record of this case be remanded to the Secretary for a hearing de novo.

 Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) provides in pertinent part that:

 
The findings of the Secretary as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive.

 Thus, in reviewing the Secretary's decision, the Court's role is narrowly circumscribed. The sole question is whether there was substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the finding of the Secretary that the plaintiff was with fault and not entitled to a waiver of recoupment of the overpayment. 1 "Substantial evidence" has been defined as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401, 91 S. Ct. 1420, 1427, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842 (1971); Ginsburg v. Richardson, 436 F.2d 1146, 1148 (3d Cir. 1971); Davis v. Califano, 439 F. Supp. 94 (E.D.Pa.1977); Good v. Weinberger, 389 F. Supp. 350 (W.D.Pa.1975). As our Third Circuit has noted, "substantial means just that and is not the equivalent of a "scintilla'." Hess v. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, 497 F.2d 837 (3d Cir. 1974); Wilson v. Weinberger, 398 F. Supp. 1071 (E.D.Pa.1975). Although this Court's role in reviewing the findings of the Secretary is narrow, the Court is required to scrutinize the entire record to determine whether the conclusions reached by the Secretary are rational. Abbotts Dairies Div. of Fairmont Foods, Inc. v. Butz, 389 F. Supp. 1 (E.D.Pa.1975); E. W. Coslett and Sons, Inc. v. Bowman, 354 F. Supp. 330 (E.D.Pa.1973); Cohen v. McNamara, 282 F. Supp. 308 (E.D.Pa.1968). After a careful review of the record, and for the reasons which shall appear hereinafter, the Court is of the opinion that plaintiff's motion for summary judgment should be granted and defendant's motion for summary judgment should be denied.

 The findings of the Administrative Law Judge were a product of a hearing held on June 21, 1978 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. At that hearing it was adduced that claimant had made a joint application for Supplemental Security Income benefits (hereinafter SSI) and Retirement Insurance benefits (hereinafter RIB) on August 15, 1974. At the time the applications were submitted to the Social Security Administration, plaintiff was sixty-nine years old. Mrs. Davidson's application for SSI was approved on October 23, 1974 and benefits were paid retroactive to August, 1974. (Tr. 70). Thereafter, and into 1975, she received SSI as was appropriate under law. On August 15, 1975, her application for RIB was approved and she received a lump-sum check in the amount of $ 2560.60, awarding RIB for the period August, 1973 through July 1975. By letter dated May 24, 1977, plaintiff was notified of an overpayment in SSI benefits in the amount of $ 1595.30 for the period July, 1975 through September, 1975. (Tr. 75). This overpayment was the result of Mrs. Davidson receiving the retroactive lump-sum RIB check in the amount of $ 2565.60 in August, 1975. Under the rules and regulations promulgated pursuant to Title XVI of the Social Security Act, RIB are considered as income for the quarter received. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1115 and § 416.1130(f). Consequently, plaintiff was not entitled to SSI for the quarter July, 1975 through September, 1975 since her income for that quarter exceeded the maximum allowed under Title XVI. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1101(b). The overpayment was allegedly due to the fact that the Social Security Administration was unaware of plaintiff's receipt of RIB. (Tr. 75). Plaintiff requested a waiver of the recovery of the overpayment on June 2, 1977 and this request was subsequently denied on June 15, 1977. (Tr. 76, 90-93). The initial decision that there had been an overpayment in the amount of $ 1595.30 was affirmed by letter dated August 3, 1977, and commencing September, 1977 $ 20.00 per month was withheld from Mrs. Davidson's SSI check. It is interesting to note that upon further investigation, the Social Security Administration discovered an error in calculating the amount of the overpayment. It was determined that the receipt of the lump-sum RIB check in August, 1975 had resulted in an overpayment of only $ 667.58 in SSI for the quarter July, 1975 through September, 1975. Plaintiff requested and was granted a hearing de novo on the issue of whether she was entitled to a waiver of the recovery of the $ 667.58. At the time of the hearing, on June 21, 1978, $ 20.00 per month was still being recouped from her SSI check and was continued. (Tr. 58-59).

 It was also determined at the June 21 hearing that plaintiff attended school to the eleventh grade, and had been employed as a presser, as a postal worker, as a domestic, and also, for four years, for the Commonwealth as a custodial employee. (Tr. 40-43). Claimant can read and write, is separated from her husband and lives alone in a rented apartment. In addition, the claimant testified that shortly after receipt of her lump-sum RIB check, she contacted the Social Security District office to advise them of the receipt of the RIB check. (Tr. 53-55). There was also testimony that she contacted her caseworker who works for the City of Philadelphia and who worked on Social Security problems. (Tr. 59). Claimant further testified that she was not advised by the claims representative, at that time or anytime thereafter, that it would be necessary to reimburse the Social Security Administration for SSI received for July, 1975 through September, 1975. No evidence was presented to contradict this testimony. Claimant also testified that she was presently receiving $ 133.50 per month in RIB and $ 76.50 per month in SSI, for a total income of $ 210.00 per month. She has no other source of income. (Tr. 63).

 Upon consideration of the testimony and documentary evidence, the Administrative Law Judge made the following findings:

 
1. That the claimant was found to be eligible for Supplemental Security Income and Retirement Insurance benefits as were appropriate under the law.
 
2. That by reason of a lump sum retroactive payment of Retirement Insurance benefits in August 1975 of $ 2,560.60, claimant was overpaid Supplemental Security Income in the sum of $ 667.58.
 
3. That the claimant was with fault with regard to the overpayment of $ 667.58.
 
4. That recovery of the overpayment would defeat the purpose of Title II of The Social Security Act. *fn2"
 
5. That recovery of the overpayment is not waived as claimant was with fault with regard to the overpayment.

 The Administrative Law Judge cited Section 1631(b) of The Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1383(b) which provides that:

 
Whenever the Secretary finds that more or less than the correct amount of benefits has been paid with respect to any individual, proper adjustment or recovery shall, subject to the succeeding provisions of this subsection, be made by appropriate adjustments in future payments to such individual or by recovery from or payment to such individual or his eligible spouse (or by recovery from the estate of either). The Secretary shall make such provision as he finds appropriate in the case of payment of more than the correct amount of benefits with respect to an individual with a view to avoiding penalizing such individual or his eligible spouse who was without fault in connection with the overpayment, if adjustment or recovery on account of such overpayment in such case would defeat ...

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