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Williams v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, N.D. California

October 11, 2019




         Plaintiff Marshaun Williams challenges a decision by a Social Security Administration (“SSA”) administrative law judge (“ALJ”) that denied Williams' claim for supplemental security income (“SSI”) under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. The parties have filed cross-motions for summary judgment. Dkt. Nos. 33, 38. The case is remanded to the SSA for further proceedings consistent with this order.


         Williams is a 35-year-old male, born in 1984. He was previously granted SSI benefits for bipolar disorder in 2003, when he was 19 years old. Dkt. No. 11 (Administrative Record or “AR”) 22, 26; Dkt. No. 33 at ECF p. 8. Williams was later incarcerated for five years from 2005 to 2010, during which time his SSI benefits were terminated. AR 23; Dkt. No. 33 at ECF p. 8; Dkt. No. 38 at 3. Williams also states that, “[a]t all relevant times, plaintiffs [sic] father Kevin Williams now at age 65 is a recipient of Social Security disability and retirement benefits.” Dkt. No. 42 at 6.

         On March 18, 2014, Williams “applied for Supplemental Security Income and any federally administered State supplementation under title XVI of the Social Security Act, for benefits under the other programs administered by the Social Security Administration, and where applicable, for medical assistance under title XIX of the Social Security Act.” AR 173. On September 4, 2014, the SSA issued to him a “Notice of Disapproved Claims.” AR 118. On the first page of the letter, under the heading, “The Decision on your Case, ” the notice stated: “We have determined that your condition was not disabling before age 22. In deciding this, we studied your records, including the medical evidence, and considered your education and training in determining how your condition affects your ability to work.” Id. On the second page of the letter, the SSA set out the “Rules for Social Security Disability, ” explaining that “[y]ou must meet certain rules to qualify for disabled child's Social Security benefits.” AR 119. The third page included the rules to “qualify for SSI payments based on disability.” AR 120.

         On October 16, 2014, Williams requested reconsideration of the SSA's decision, stating that he disagreed “with the determination made on my claim for Supplemental Security Income benefits.” AR 123. On December 2, 2014, the SSA issued a “Notice of Reconsideration, ” which stated, “[y]ou asked us to take another look at your claim for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments, ” and the SSA's conclusion that it had “found that the first decision was correct.” AR 126. This time, “The Decision on Your Case” portion of the letter stated, “We have determined that your condition is not severe enough to keep you from working.” Id. This notice letter set out rules only for “SSI payments based on disability, ” and this time omitted any mention of disabled child's social security benefits. Id. 127.

         On January 12, 2015, Williams requested a hearing before an ALJ. The request stated, “I disagree with the determination made on his claim for Supplemental Security Income benefits because the SSA's notice of disapproved claim issued on 9/4/14 is in direct conflict with its subsequent December 2, 2014 notice of reconsideration denying the claim. Disapproval of the claim had strictly been based on Mr. Williams' condition not being disabling before age 22. He proved that his disability began at age 16.” AR 131.

         Williams was issued a notice of hearing on July 22, 2016, setting a hearing for October 14, 2016. AR 155. Under “Issues I Will Consider, ” the ALJ stated, “[t]he hearing concerns your application of March 18, 2014, for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under section 1614(a)(3) of the Social Security Act (the Act). I will consider whether you are disabled under section 1614(a)(3) of the Act.” AR 157. The Administrative Record also contains a letter from the ALJ to vocational expert, Robert A. Raschke, that requests Raschke's appearance and testimony at Williams' hearing and states, “Your testimony will primarily cover the following period: May 1, 2003 through present.” AR 165.

         The hearing went forward as scheduled on October 14, 2016. AR 33. Williams appeared with his father, Kevin Williams, who acted as his representative. Id. 35. Kevin Williams expressed surprise that the ALJ did not have his son's historical medical records from Kaiser Permanente or the prison where he had been incarcerated. Id. 54-55. In response to the ALJ's statement that “what I have to consider is his disability status as of February 28, 2014, ” Kevin Williams responded, “Your Honor, the basis he was denied was because he could not show proof of a disability before 22, which then I showed proof that he had a medical disability, psychological disability . . . [b]efore the age 22.” Id. 56. The ALJ simply responded, “Okay.” Id. This point came up repeatedly. When the ALJ asked, “So are there any treatment notes or treatment reports from 2014 to 2016?” Kevin Williams responded, “No . . . because the basis for the denial was he didn't show any before. He didn't show any proof before. That was the basis for the reconsideration.” AR 56-57; see also id. 59 (“[T]he basis for the denial, is because he couldn't show that he had any psychological problems before the age of 22. . . . That is why the focus has been not after 2014, but before.”); id. 67 (“I think it would be a miscarriage of justice for him to be denied the continuation of benefits after he was already previously evaluated and determined that he should receive the benefits. And then the decision that denied him was predicated on him not showing or having them losing medical records or not having medical records that were previously submitted before the age of 22.”).

         The ALJ issued a decision on March 2, 2017, concluding that “the claimant has not been under a disability within the meaning of the Social Security Act since February 28, 2014 [sic], the date the application was filed.” AR 17. The date of Williams' application was March 18, 2014. AR 157, 173. The ALJ's decision also stated that “the claimant's representative [had] stated the record was complete at the time of the hearing, ” AR 17, which is a conclusion that does not square with the October 14, 2016, hearing transcript. AR 33-70.


         This is a somewhat atypical appeal of an SSA decision. The record shows that the claimant was unclear, and possibly confused, about which of his claims were at issue, as well as the time period that was relevant for the determination of his claims.

         Williams appears to believe he applied not just for SSI benefits, but also for child's social security benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 402(d), as the disabled child of an individual receiving old-age and disability benefits. See, e.g., Dkt. No. 42 at 6 (stating, under “Relief Requested, ” “Disabled Adult Child Benefits are available to the children of persons who are deceased or who are drawing Social Security disability or retirement benefits. The child must have become disabled before age 22. See generally 42 U.S.C. § 402.”).

         The language used is not crystal clear, but Williams' application filed on March 18, 2014, does state that he applied for both SSI benefits as well as “benefits under the other programs administered by the Social Security Administration.” AR 173. And the September 4, 2014, Notice of Disapproved Claims made express reference to “disabled child's Social Security benefits, ” AR 119, as well as stating that Williams' application as a whole was denied because the SSA had determined his condition “was not disabling before age 22.” AR 118. Disability before age 22 can be important for child's social security benefits eligibility. See 42 U.S.C. ยง 402(d)(1)(B) (one criteria for child's ...

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