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IRESON v. CHATER

August 4, 1995

JAMES E. IRESON, Plaintiff,
v.
SHIRLEY S. CHATER, Ph.D., Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SMITH

 ISSUES

 James E. Ireson ("Plaintiff") seeks review of the decision of the Secretary of Health and Human Services ("Secretary") *fn1" to uphold the Social Security Administration's (SSA) reduction of plaintiff's Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits in accordance with California's state-wide reduction of its state supplementary payment (SSP). Plaintiff raises three issues on review: 1) whether plaintiff was denied due process because he did not receive adequate notice of California's agreement with SSA and California's authority to change its SSP rate; 2) whether plaintiff was denied due process because the administrative hearing he received was not meaningful; and 3) whether SSA's reduction of plaintiff's benefits beginning in November 1992 was improper given that plaintiff appealed SSA's decision within ten days. For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that plaintiff's claims are without merit.

 BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff is disabled and is dependent on the income he receives from SSA. On September 28, 1992, plaintiff received a Notice of Planned Action ("Notice") which informed him that California has instructed SSA to reduce the amount California pays its residents under the SSI program. Transcript ("Tr.") 18. The Notice notified plaintiff that his California State payment amount would be lowered beginning November 1992 and noted the amount plaintiff would receive each month. Id. Additionally, the Notice informed plaintiff that he had the right to appeal the decision and explained when and how he should proceed with an appeal. Tr. 19. The notice also informed plaintiff that if he appealed within 10 days of receiving the Notice, SSA would not change the amount he got paid until a decision was made on review. Id.

 On October 29, 1992, plaintiff's friend and non-attorney representative, Mark Kast ("Kast"), wrote to SSA requesting that SSA increase its payment of SSI benefits to plaintiff. Tr. 25. Kast also requested further documentation relating to California's instruction and authority to reduce its SSP rate. Id.

 On November 10, 1992, plaintiff filed a "Request for Hearing" by an administrative law judge (ALJ). Tr. 22. The Chief ALJ responded in a letter on January 7, 1993, stating that there were no legal or factual questions in dispute that could be resolved by an ALJ. Tr. 26.

 On January 19, 1993, plaintiff requested an oral hearing with an ALJ. Tr. 27. A hearing was held before ALJ Dorothy Hamlet on April 2, 1993 at which plaintiff asserted that his right to procedural due process had been violated because he was not given a meaningful forum in which to appeal the State of California's decision and because he never received adequate notice of California's agreement with SSA or any evidence that his reductions were computed correctly. Tr. 49, 57.

 In response to the reduction of plaintiff's SSI benefits, ALJ Hamlet informed plaintiff that SSA had no jurisdiction to restore California's SSP cuts. Tr. 49. She also opined that there was no lack of due process because the decision to cut California's SSP was a State legislative decision. Tr. 58.

 Subsequently, plaintiff requested review of ALJ Hamlet's decision. Prior to the review, on March 23, 1994, SSA's Hearings and Appeals Analyst wrote plaintiff a letter informing him that he could obtain a copy of the agreement between SSA and California regarding state supplementation of SSI benefits from plaintiff's servicing social security office. Tr. 5.

 On July 14, 1994, after considering plaintiff's request for review, the Appeals Council concluded that there was no basis for granting plaintiff's request and affirmed ALJ Hamlet's decision. Tr. 3.

 Plaintiff now seeks judicial review of the Secretary's decision pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. As an alternative, defendant moves to dismiss for failure to state a claim ...


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