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TADDONIO v. HECKLER

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA


February 28, 1985

ROBERT TADDONIO, by his next friend FLORIAN TADDONIO and on behalf of a class of all others similarly situated
v.
MARGARET HECKLER, Secretary, Health and Human Services

The opinion of the court was delivered by: BECHTLE

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

 BECHTLE, J.

 Presently before the court are (1) plaintiff's motion to certify a class, (2) plaintiff's motion for summary judgment, (3) the government's motion to dismiss the complaint as moot, and, in the alternative, (4) the government's motion for summary judgment. For the reasons stated herein, the government's motion to dismiss will be granted, and plaintiff's motions will be denied.

 I. FACTS

 The central issue in this case is whether or not the Social Security Disability Benefits Reform Act of 1984, Pub.L. 98-460, 98 Stat. 1794-1813 (1984) ("1984 Act"), allowing continuance of benefits pending appeal by persons such as the plaintiff renders moot the plaintiff's claim before this court that the cessation of benefits pending appeal under the outmoded Social Security Regulations entitles him to some remedy on behalf of himself and persons similarly situated.

 In 1977, plaintiff Robert Taddonio was adjudged eligible for Supplemental Social Security Income. Plaintiff was found to suffer from psychiatric problems including paranoid schizophrenia and a drug dependence disorder.

 In September, 1983, however, the Social Security Administration in an initial determination that plaintiff had engaged in substantial gainful activity between June and September, 1977, and again between September, 1979, and January, 1980. As a result of this initial determination, plaintiff was found to be not disabled. Plaintiff proceeded to the next step in the process and filed a timely request for reconsideration, but he did not seek a formal or informal conference. On reconsideration, the initial determination was affirmed. The court presumes that plaintiff was terminated at this time. *fn1"

 In November, 1983, plaintiff filed a class action complaint in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania seeking an order to have the regulations permitting termination of benefits prior to a hearing declared unconstitutional. Meanwhile, on January 12, 1984, plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). As a result of a stipulation between counsel, plaintiff continued to receive benefits pending the ALJ's decision.

 In February, 1984, plaintiff filed a motion to certify a class. This court dismissed the motion for failure to meet the numerosity requirement. Taddonio v. Heckler, C.A. 83-5600 (E.D. Pa. April 10, 1984).

 On June 8, 1984, the ALJ determined that plaintiff was unable to perform substantial gainful activity. On June 20, 1984, plaintiff filed his second motion to certify a class.

 Plaintiff challenges the constitutionality of the Social Security Administration's procedure to terminate benefits for Supplemental Social Security Income beneficiaries. Under the Social Security Regulations in effect before the 1984 amendments became effective and at the time the plaintiff initiated this lawsuit, benefits for Supplemental Social Security Income beneficiaries would terminate after an initial determination and reconsideration (adverse to the claimant) and before hearing before an ALJ. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1336(b). The plaintiff asserts that such termination of benefits prior to a hearing before an independent adjudicator is a violation of due process. Plaintiff seeks a court Order authorizing him to represent the interests of Supplemental Social Security Income beneficiaries who had their benefits reduced or terminated on non-medical eligibility factors and who, within ten days of the reconsideration decision, requested a hearing before an ALJ.

 The plaintiff and defendant have agreed to the following stipulations:

 1. In calendar year 1982, 173,900 individuals were terminated from Supplemental Security Income disability benefits for non-medical reasons excluding SGA.

 2. In calendar year 1982, 400 individuals were terminated from Supplemental Security Income for SGA status.

 3. In calendar year 1983, 148,300 individuals were terminated from Supplemental Security Income for non-medical reasons excluding SGA status.

 4. In calendar year 1983, 200 individuals were terminated from Supplemental Security Income due to substantial gainful activity.

 5. After plaintiff filed this lawsuit, the parties stipulated to reinstate plaintiff's benefits pending his hearing request.

  The government now moves to dismiss plaintiff's complaint as moot because plaintiff has been receiving continuous Supplemental Social Security Income benefits and is not faced with any adverse determinations as to his status. Plaintiff argues that this case is not moot since his status is being continuously reviewed by the Social Security Administration, and, thus, he faces the real possibility that his benefits will be terminated without a prior hearing. Plaintiff concedes that other than this possibility, he has suffered no injury other than this future possibility.

 The difficulty with the plaintiff's position is that provisions of the Social Security Disability Benefits Reform Act of 1984 replaced and rendered inapplicable many of the regulations plaintiff relies upon here.

 II. DISCUSSION

 The Social Security Regulations prior to the 1984 Act prescribed steps for an administrative review process by which a recipient's continuing eligibility for benefits was reviewed. 20 C.F.R. § 416.400 (1984). This multi-step review process included: (1) initial determination; (2) reconsideration; (3) hearing; (4) Appeals Council review; (5) federal court review; and (6) an expedited appeals process. *fn2" The regulations provided further that the payment of benefits was to continue after the initial decision if the recipient made a timely appeal for reconsideration. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1336(b). *fn3" Under this procedure, the recipient's benefits would have been terminated or modified after the decision on reconsideration was rendered and before the recipient had an opportunity for a hearing before an ALJ.

 In 1984, however, Congress enacted the Social Security Disability Benefits Reform Act of 1984. Social Security Disability Benefits Reform Act of 1984, Pub.L. 98-460, 98 Stat. 1794-1813 (1984). One of the purposes of the new Act was "to provide a more humane and understandable application and appeal process for disability applicants and beneficiaries appealing termination of their benefits." H.Rep. No. 618, 98th Cong., 2d Sess. 2 (1984). The 1984 Act substantially changed the previous administrative process. For example, the continuous review of individuals found to be disabled because of a mental impairment has been suspended pending a revision of the criteria and listing in order "to realistically evaluate the ability of a mentally impaired individual to engage in substantial gainful activity in a competitive workplace environment." Id. at 1. The court presumes that the plaintiff will be significantly affected by the new regulations. The court determines, however, that the statutory authorization to revise the criteria and listings pertaining to review of individuals previously found to be disabled as suffering from mental impairments does not authorize also a revision of the time when benefits may be terminated.

 Elsewhere in the 1984 Act, however, Congress does address the issue of continuation of benefits during appeal. *fn4" Under this Act, Supplemental Social Security beneficiaries, such as the plaintiff, are still subject to continuing review. If the plaintiff's disabling condition is found to be no longer disabling, however, plaintiff can appeal directly to the ALJ from the initial determination. In addition, the plaintiff may elect to have his Supplemental Social Security Income benefits continue until after the hearing before the ALJ. During the deliberation over the 1984 Act by Congress, the House issued its conference report that summarized the effect of this new provision, *fn5" a Senate Amendment, and a resulting conference agreement that provided as follows:

 

Conference agreement

 

The conference agreement follows the House bill with amendments to:

 

(i) Make permanent the payments through the ALJ hearing for SSI recipients;

 

(ii) Make the payments through ALJ hearing for DI beneficiaries for termination decisions through December 1987, and benefit payments through June, 1988.

 H.Conf.Rep. No. 1039, 98th Cong., 2d Sess. 33 (1984).

 With this statutory background in mind, the court turns to the issue in this case. The issue before the court is whether this case is moot.

 A case is moot if "neither party has a legally cognizable interest in the final determination of the underlying questions of fact and law." Los Angeles County v. Davis, 440 U.S. 625, 631, 59 L. Ed. 2d 642, 99 S. Ct. 1379 (1979). There must be "no reasonable expectation that the alleged violation will recur and interim relief or events have completely and irrevocably eradicated effects of alleged violation." In re Japanese Electronic Products Antitrust Litigation, 723 F.2d 238 (3d Cir. 1983).

 The Supreme Court has given guidance on whether the adoption of a new procedure can render the challenge to an old procedure moot. Los Angeles v. Davis, 440 U.S. 625, 59 L. Ed. 2d 642, 99 S. Ct. 1379 (1979). In that case, the adoption of the new procedure did not automatically render the challenge moot. Instead, the Court advanced a thorough "surround the wagons" analysis: (1) the new procedure must completely cure the old improprieties; (2) the defendant must have ceased from his wrongdoing; and (3) no wrongdoing can be done under the new Act. Los Angeles v. Davis, 440 U.S. at 632.

 Under the new Act the plaintiff can elect to continue to receive benefits pending a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge.

 The court must presume, without evidence to the contrary, that the Social Security Administration is complying with the 1984 Act. Accord, Center for Science in the Public Interest v. Regan, 234 U.S. App. D.C. 62, 727 F.2d 1161 (D.C. Cir. 1984); State of N.J., Dept. of Educ. v. Hufstedler, 724 F.2d 34 (3d Cir. 1983).

 Finally, if the defendant complies with the new Act, the plaintiff cannot be deprived Social Security Disability Benefits without a pre-termination hearing.

 Therefore, the court holds that plaintiff's challenge to the constitutionality of the old Social Security Disability Regulations is moot. Accordingly, defendant's motion to dismiss will be granted. Plaintiff's motions will be denied.

 An appropriate Order will be entered.

 ORDER

 AND NOW, TO WIT, this 28th day of February, 1985, for the reasons stated in the accompanying Memorandum, IT IS ORDERED as follows:

 1. Defendant's motion to dismiss is granted;

 2. Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment is denied; and

 3. Plaintiff's motion to certify a class is denied.


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