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Lintz v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 1, 2017

DEIDRA A. LINTZ, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff, Deidra Lintz, is the representative payee for Brandon Blackmon, a disabled individual who receives Supplemental Security Income benefits. As discussed below, Blackmon was overpaid benefits and at some point Lintz requested a waiver of the recovery of the overpayment. That request was denied and Lintz now seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her applications for waivers of recovery of overpayment of Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The parties' cross-motions for summary judgment are pending. For the reasons discussed below, it is recommended that plaintiff's motion be granted, the Commissioner's motion be denied, and the matter be remanded for further proceedings.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 2002, plaintiff's son (the “claimant”) filed an application for SSI benefits, which was granted. Administrative Record (“AR”) 15. In July 2006, the Social Security Administration informed plaintiff, who is the claimant's representative payee, that there was an overpayment of $2, 605 for the period of March 1, 2005 through December 1, 2005, due to unreported income received by plaintiff during that period. AR 20. Plaintiff subsequently received a second notice of overpayment, this one indicating that the claimant was overpaid $2, 787 from November 2006 to April 2007, also due to unreported income. Id. at 30-33.

         Plaintiff filed requests for waiver of overpayment recovery (id. at 112-121), which were denied initially and on reconsideration (id. at 25-29, 36-41). On October 29, 2009, a hearing was held before administrative law judge Stanley R. Hogg (“ALJ Hogg”). Id. at 59. On December 14, 2009, ALJ Hogg issued a decision denying plaintiff's request for waivers. Id. at 59-62. The Appeals Council subsequently denied plaintiff's request for review, leaving ALJ Hogg's decision as the final decision of the Commissioner. Id. at 69-71.

         Plaintiff then filed the instant action challenging the Commissioner's denial of her application for a waiver. ECF No. 1. In July 2012, the court granted the Commissioner's unopposed motion to remand the matter pursuant to sentence six of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), finding that meaningful review of ALJ Hogg's decision could not be completed because a recording of the October 29, 2009 hearing was unavailable. ECF Nos. 11, 15.

         On April 26, 2013, a new hearing was held before ALJ Peter F. Belli (the “ALJ”). AR 126-155. On June 10, 2013, the ALJ issued a decision denying plaintiff's applications for waivers. Id. at 15-19. Specifically, the ALJ found that plaintiff was not “without fault” in causing or accepting the overpayments because she accepted payments she knew, or should have known, were incorrect. Id. at 18.

         Plaintiff subsequently filed a written exception to the ALJ's decision, but the Appeals Council declined to assume jurisdiction.[1] Id. at 3-4. Accordingly, the ALJ's June 10, 2013 decision is the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1484(d).


         The Commissioner's decision to not waive recovery of overpayment will be upheld if the findings of fact are supported by substantial evidence in the record and the proper legal standards were applied. Anderson v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 1121, 1122 (9th Cir. 1990).

         The findings of the Commissioner as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, are conclusive. See Miller v. Heckler, 770 F.2d 845, 847 (9th Cir. 1985). Substantial evidence is more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance. Saelee v. Chater, 94 F.3d 520, 521 (9th Cir. 1996). “‘It means such evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.'” Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (quoting Consol. Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229 (1938)).

         “The ALJ is responsible for determining credibility, resolving conflicts in medical testimony, and resolving ambiguities.” Edlund v. Massanari, 253 F.3d 1152, 1156 (9th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted). “Where the evidence is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, one of which supports the ALJ's decision, the ALJ's conclusion must be upheld.” Thomas v. Barnhart, 278 F.3d 947, 954 (9th Cir. 2002).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff does not dispute that an overpayment occurred. Nor does she challenge the amount of the assessed overpayment. Rather, plaintiff only challenges the ALJ's finding that she was not entitled to a waiver of recovery of the overpaid amounts. ECF No. 24. To qualify for a waiver, she must have been without fault in causing or receiving the overpayment. She argues that the ALJ erred in (1) finding that she was not “without fault” in receiving the overpayment because she knew, or should have known, that the payments were incorrect, and (2) failing to fully develop the record by obtaining testimony pertinent to the overpayment ...

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