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Echevarria v. Colvin

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 6, 2015

MICHELE ECHEVARRIA, Plaintiff
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

JAMES M. MUNLEY, District Judge.

In the instant Social Security matter, Plaintiff Michele Echevarria (hereinafter "plaintiff") appeals the Defendant Commissioner of Social Security's (hereinafter "Commissioner") determination that she received an overpayment of disability benefits in the amount of $9, 284.20 from December 1, 2006 through June 30, 2011. This matter is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

Background

On November 24, 2009, the Commissioner awarded disability benefits to plaintiff, determining plaintiff had been disabled since December 8, 2005. (Doc. 6, Admin. R. (hereinafter "R.") at 37-44).[1] Specifically, plaintiff received back benefits in the amount of $21, 570.00 from December 2006 through November 2009, [2] and starting in December 2009, plaintiff received a $924.00 monthly benefit. (R. at 36).

In December 2010, plaintiff received a retroactive increase in her worker's compensation benefits effective June 26, 2008, which she reported to the Commissioner. (R. at 45). As such, the Commissioner lowered plaintiff's Social Security benefits from June 2008 through December 2010, resulting in an overpayment of Social Security benefits. (Id.)

On July 24, 2011, seven months after the Commissioner recalculated plaintiff's benefits, the Commissioner determined the amount of plaintiff's overpayment. (R. at 48-50). Specifically, the Commissioner stated plaintiff received $36, 277.90 from December 2006 through June 2011, however, the plaintiff should have received only $26, 993.70, resulting in a $9, 284.20 overpayment.[3] (Id.)

Plaintiff disputed the overpayment amount and filed a request for a hearing before an administrative law judge (hereinafter "ALJ"). The ALJ held a hearing on June 19, 2012. (R. at 127-139). In a decision issued June 21, 2012, the ALJ determined the Commissioner overpaid benefits totaling $9, 284.20, and the plaintiff is liable for the overpayment. (R. at 14-16).

Plaintiff requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. On May 7, 2014, the Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's finding that plaintiff received an overpayment in the amount of $9, 284.20 from December 2006 through July 2011. (R. at 8-9). As a result of the Appeals Council affirming the ALJ's overpayment decision, plaintiff filed an appeal in this court on June 30, 2014.[4] The parties then briefed the issues bringing the appeal to its present posture.

Jurisdiction

The court has federal question jurisdiction over this Social Security Administration appeal. See 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) ("The final determination of the Commissioner of Social Security after a hearing under paragraph (1) shall be subject to judicial review as provided in section 405(g) of this title to the same extent as the Commissioner's final determinations under section 405 of this title."); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) ("Any individual, after any final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made after a hearing to which he was a party, irrespective of the amount in controversy, may obtain a review of such decision by a civil action commenced within sixty days after the mailing to him of notice of such decision or within such further time as the Commissioner of Social Security may allow. Such action shall be brought in the district court of the United States for the judicial district in which the plaintiff resides, or has her principal place of business....").

Standard of Review

In reviewing a Social Security appeal, the court must determine whether "substantial evidence" supports the ALJ's decision. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Hagans v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 694 F.3d 287, 292 (3d Cir. 2012); Plummer v. Apfel, 186 F.3d 422, 427 (3d Cir. 1999). The United States Supreme Court defines "substantial evidence" as "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Consolo v. Fed. Mar. Comm'n, 383 U.S. 607, 620 (1966). The Third Circuit Court of Appeals explains that "substantial evidence has been defined as more than a mere scintilla;' it means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate.'" Hagans, 694 F.3d at 292 (quoting Plummer, 186 F.3d at 427).

The court should not reverse the Commissioner's findings merely because evidence may exist to support the opposite conclusion. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Rutherford v. Barnhart, 399 F.3d 546, 552 (3d Cir. 2005) (stating that courts may not weigh the evidence or substitute its own conclusion for those of the fact-finder); Fargnoli v. Massanari, 247 F.3d 34, 38 (3d Cir. 2001) (indicating that when an ALJ's findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence, courts are bound by those findings, even if they would have decided the factual inquiry differently). In an adequately developed factual record, substantial evidence may be "something less than the weight of the evidence, and the possibility of ...


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