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MATTHEW v. BOWEN

July 17, 1986

MAYELLA C. MATTHEW for JAMES G. BUTLER
v.
OTIS R. BOWEN, M.D., Secretary of Health and Human Services



The opinion of the court was delivered by: WEINER

 WEINER, J.

 This action was brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of a final decision of the defendant, the Secretary of Health and Human Services. On December 26, 1984, Mayella Matthew, the plaintiff, filed an application for surviving child's insurance benefits on behalf of her son, James G. Butler ("the child"), on the account of John L. Daniels ("the wage earner") (Tr. 88-92). The Social Security Administration, upon initial review and reconsideration, determined that the child was not entitled to benefits on the wage earner's account (Tr. 93, 96-99). The plaintiff appealed the Administration's determination and the matter was considered by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") (Tr. 39-45; 51-87). The ALJ also determined that the child was not entitled to insurance benefits on the wage earner's account (Tr. 39-45). The plaintiff sought further review of the ALJ's decision through the Social Security Administration's Appeals Council (Tr. 4-34). The Appeals Council considered and denied plaintiff's request for review, thereby rendering the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Secretary (Tr. 2-3). Following the Appeals Council's decision, the plaintiff filed her complaint seeking judicial review by this court.

 Presently before the court are cross-motions for summary judgment. For the reasons which follow, the motion of the plaintiff is denied and the motion of the defendant is granted.

 Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) provides that the findings of the Secretary as to any fact shall be conclusive if supported by substantial evidence. 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, 28 L. Ed. 2d 842, 91 S. Ct. 1420 (1971), quoting Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 83 L. Ed. 126, 59 S. Ct. 206 (1938); Smith v. Califano, 637 F.2d 968, 970 (3d Cir. 1981). The purpose of our review is limited to determining whether, upon consideration of the record as a whole, there is substantial evidence to support the Secretary's findings of fact. Goldman v. Folsom, 246 F.2d 776, 778 (3d Cir. 1957). While we recognize the deference to administrative decisions implied in the substantial evidence rule, there is simultaneously a responsibility in a reviewing court to assure that administrative conclusions are rational. Universal Camera Corp v. Labor Board, 340 U.S. 474, 490, 95 L. Ed. 456, 71 S. Ct. 456 (1951); Cotter v. Harris, 642 F.2d 700, 705 (3d Cir. 1981); Smith v. Califano, 637 F.2d 968 (3d Cir. 1981).

 Accordingly, the only issue before the court is whether the final decision of the Secretary that the child is not entitled to child's insurance benefits on the wage earner's account is supported by substantial evidence and rational conclusions.

 The Social Security Act provides for the payment of child's insurance benefits where a child is unmarried, under 18 years of age, and dependent upon the deceased wage earner at the time of death. 42 U.S.C. § 402(d). For the purposes of determining whether an applicant is the child of the deceased wage earner under the Act, the law requires the Secretary to apply the law of devolution of intestate personal property of the state in which the wage earner was domiciled at the time of death. An applicant who would attain the status of a child under such law is deemed a child for benefit purposes under the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(2)(A).

 The Act also allows for an applicant who is not deemed to be the child of the wage earner under the applicable state law to be deemed eligible for benefits where the insured wage earner has during his lifetime (1) acknowledged in writing that the applicant is his child; or (2) had been decreed by a court to be the father of the applicant; or (3) had been ordered by a court to contribute to the support of the applicant because the applicant is his son or daughter; or (4) is shown by evidence satisfactory to the Secretary to have been the father of the applicant, and such insured individual was living with or contributing to the support of the applicant at the time such insured individual died. 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(3)(C).

 Having reviewed the record of this case in light of the section of the Social Security Act outlined above, we find that the Secretary's determination that the child is not the child of the wage earner is supported by substantial evidence.

 At the time of his death the wage earner was domiciled in Pennsylvania (Tr. 42). Therefore, under 42 U.S.C. § 416(h)(2)(A), Pennsylvania law of intestate succession is controlling in this case.

 Prior to November 26, 1978, Section 2107 of the Probate, Estates and Fiduciaries Code of June 30, 1972, P.L. 508, No. 164, § 2, 20 P.S. 2107, provided that a person born out of wedlock was to be "considered the child of his mother but not his father." Estate of Hoffman, 320 Pa. Super. 113, 466 A.2d 1087, 1089 (1983). "This provision was declared unconstitutional in a consent decree filed on May 30, 1978, Fernandez v. Shapp, 74-2959 (E.D.Pa. 1978), because it improperly discriminated against illegitimate children. See Trimble v. Gordon, 430 U.S. 762, 97 S. Ct 1459, 52 L. Ed. 2d 31 (1977)." Adens for Green v. Schweiker, 773 F.2d 545, 547-548 (3d Cir. 1985).

 In response to the Supreme Court decision in Trimble v. Gordon, supra, the legislature in Pennsylvania enacted an amendment to Section 2107 of the Code which provided, inter alia, as follows:

 
(c) Child of father - For purposes of descent by, from and through a person born out of wedlock, he shall be considered the child of his father when the identity of the father has ...

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