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Williams v. Commisioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. California

April 8, 2014

LANA K. WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS RECOMMINDING THAT PLAINTIFF'S SOCIAL SECURITY APPEAL BE GRANTED AND THAT THIS ACTION BE REMANDED FOR FURTHER ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEEDINGS ECF NO. 1

STANTEY A. BOONE, District Judge.

On May 2, 2012, Plaintiff Lana K. Williams ("Plaintiff") filed this action seeking judicial review of the final decision of Defendant Commissioner of Social Security ("Defendant" or "Commissioner") concerning Plaintiff's benefits under the Social Security Act. (ECF No. 1.)

For the reasons set forth below, the Court recommends that Plaintiff's Social Security appeal be granted and that this action be remanded for further findings.

I.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND[1]

Plaintiff applied for widow's insurance benefits on June 7, 2006. (AR 11.) On June 12, 2006, Plaintiff was notified that she was entitled to such benefits beginning in June 2006 and would receive $887 per month. (AR 11.) However, on December 2, 2007, Plaintiff received notice that she had been overpaid by $22, 068 due to an error by the Social Security Administration. (AR 11-12.) Plaintiff's benefits were reduced to the correct amount and the Social Security Administration informed Plaintiff that it would be withholding the benefits until it could be determined whether those benefits would have to be reduced. (AR 12.)

On January 20, 2008, the Social Security Administration informed Plaintiff that it would withhold $22, 090 in overpaid benefits. (AR 12.) Plaintiff's next check would be for $16, 526, with $607 per month afterward. (AR 12.) Plaintiff sought reconsideration of this determination. (AR 12.) The Social Security Administration affirmed its prior decision after determining that the offset calculation was correct. (AR 12.) On July 7, 2010, Administrative Law Judge Stephen W. Webster issued his written decision finding that the offset calculation was correct. (AR 14.) The Social Security Administration denied Plaintiff's request for review on March 6, 2012. (AR 3.)

II.

LEGAL STANDARDS FOR JUDICIAL REVIEW OF SOCIAL SECURITY DETERMINATIONS

An individual may obtain judicial review of any final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security regarding entitlement to benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Court "reviews the Commissioner's final decision for substantial evidence, and the Commissioner's decision will be disturbed only if it is not supported by substantial evidence or is based on legal error." Hill v. Astrue , 698 F.3d 1153, 1158 (9th Cir. 2012). "Substantial evidence" means more than a scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Smolen v. Chater , 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996) (internal quotations and citations omitted). "Substantial evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'" Id . (quoting Richardson v. Perales , 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971)). "[A] reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole and may not affirm simply by isolating a specific quantum of supporting evidence." Hill , 698 F.3d at 1159 (quoting Robbins v. Soc. Sec. Admin. , 466 F.3d 880, 882 (9th Cir. 2006)). However, it is not this Court's function to second guess the ALJ's conclusions and substitute the Court's judgment for the ALJ's. See Burch v. Barnhart , 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005) ("Where evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, it is the ALJ's conclusion that must be upheld.")

III.

DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS

A. Waiver of Overpayment Recovery

As an initial matter, the Court notes that the ALJ declined to address the issue of whether the Social Security Administration waived their right to collect the overpayment in his written decision. (See AR 11 ("The claimant's additional requests for waiver of and reimbursement for the already-recovered offset... are not within the present jurisdiction.")). "The Social Security Act provides for waiver of overpayments if (1) a claimant is without fault in receiving the payment and (2) requiring repayment would either defeat the purposes of Title II or would be against equity and good conscience." Quinlivan v. Sullivan , 916 F.2d 524, 526 (9th Cir. 1990) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 404(b)). "Congress intended a broad concept ...


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