The opinion of the court was delivered by: BECHTLE
Judith Paskel, a former recipient of Supplemental Security Income disability ("SSI") benefits filed suit in the form of a class action claiming that defendants, the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, had violated section 301 of the Social Security Disability Amendments of 1980, Pub. L. 96-265, Title III, § 301(a) & (b), 94 Stat. 449, 450 (1980) (codified at 42 U.S.C. § 425(b) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(a)(6)), by terminating certain recipients' disability benefits without considering the criteria provided for in that section. On March 30, 1983, the Court entered an Order in which declaratory and injunctive relief was granted in favor of plaintiff and against defendants. The Court held that termination of Paskel's benefits without a finding by the Secretary under section 301 was in violation of the Act, and accordingly ordered that plaintiff's benefits be reinstated and the case be remanded to the Secretary. Implicit in the Court's ruling was a determination that certain regulations promulgated by the Secretary which precluded plaintiff from ever being considered for continuation of benefits under section 301 were invalid. Class action certification was denied since plaintiff had failed to demonstrate that all prerequisites for class action treatment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23 had been met. This Memorandum is entered in support of the Court's Order of March 30, 1983.
Plaintiff Judith Paskel applied for SSI benefits in June of 1979, and was found to be disabled due to a seizure disorder diagnosed as grand mal epilepsy. In view of the type of disability suffered by plaintiff and her comparatively young age, then 25, the Pennsylvania State Agency immediately placed her on its medical re-examination diary system. Recipients in the diary system are periodically required to either submit additional medical information or undergo a medical re-examination according to an established schedule which was set up for that individual according to the discretionary judgment of the Agency.
In May of 1981, plaintiff enrolled in a state approved vocational rehabilitation program. Nine months later, in February 1982, she underwent a medical re-examination pursuant to her diary schedule. Following this examination the Agency determined that plaintiff's impairment had improved and that she was no longer eligible for disability. Accordingly, plaintiff was notified that her benefits would terminate.
Plaintiff filed an administrative appeal challenging the termination of her benefits and was granted a de novo hearing before an administrative law judge. On August 23, 1982, the ALJ held that plaintiff's seizure disorder was under control, and that plaintiff had ceased to be disabled as of February 1982. Plaintiff filed a request with the Appeals Council for review of the ALJ's decision. As one of her arguments in support of review, plaintiff raised the claim that she was denied a section 301 determination. Upon considering this, the council concluded, erroneously in plaintiff's view, that an alleged discontinuance of a technical institute training class in March of 1982 due to a seizure meant that plaintiff was no longer participating in the vocational rehabilitation program and therefore section 301 did not apply. As an alternative ground for review plaintiff submitted additional evidence of continuation of her seizures. The council was unconvinced, however, of an error by the ALJ and on February 2, 1983, denied plaintiff's request for review. The hearing decision of the ALJ thus became the final decision of the Secretary.
A. Application of Section 301
Section 301 provides as follows:
Notwithstanding any other provision of this subchapter, payment of the benefit of any individual who is an aged, blind, or disabled individual solely by reason of disability (as determined under section 1382c(a)(3) of this title) shall not be terminated or suspended because the physical or mental impairment, on which the individual's eligibility for such benefit is based, has or may have ceased, if --
(A) such individual is participating in an approved vocational rehabilitation program under a State plan approved under Title I of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and
(B) the Commissioner of Social Security determines that the completion of such program or its continuation for a specified period of time, will increase the likelihood that such individual may (following his participation in such program) be permanently removed from the disability benefit rolls.
42 U.S.C. § 1383(a)(6) (amending 42 U.S.C. § 1383 (1974)). Plaintiff claims that defendants terminated her benefits without making the required section 301 statutory determination of whether benefits, otherwise terminable, might nevertheless be continued by reason of such a finding. Defendants, while conceding that no such determination was made in plaintiff's case, have now taken the position that under the Secretary's regulation, ...