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Pentz v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

April 3, 2018

JOYCE PENTZ, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT AND DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT; DIRECTING REMAND PURSUANT TO SENTENCE FOUR OF 42 U.S.C. § 405(G) AND CLOSING FILE ECF NOS. 15, 19

          MARY K. DIMKE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         BEFORE THE COURT are the parties' cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF Nos. 15, 19. The parties consented to proceed before a magistrate judge. ECF No. 6. Plaintiff seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner denying waiver of an overpayment of social security benefits. The Court, having reviewed the administrative record and the parties' briefing, is fully informed. For the reasons discussed below, the Court grants Plaintiff's Motion (ECF No. 15) and denies Defendant's Motion (ECF No. 19).

         JURISDICTION

         The Court has jurisdiction over this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g); 1383(c)(3).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A district court's review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The scope of review under § 405(g) is limited; 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); Anderson v. Sullivan, 914 F.2d 1121, 1122 (9th Cir. 1990) (Commissioner's decision not to waive overpayment “should be affirmed if supported by substantial evidence and if the Secretary applied the proper standard.”). “Substantial evidence” means “relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Hill, 698 F.3d at 1159 (quotation and citation omitted). Stated differently, substantial evidence equates to “more than a mere scintilla[, ] but less than a preponderance.” Id. (quotation and citation omitted). In determining whether the standard has been satisfied, a reviewing court must consider the entire record as a whole rather than searching for supporting evidence in isolation. Id.

         If the evidence in the record “is susceptible to more than one rational interpretation, [the court] must uphold the ALJ's findings if they are supported by inferences reasonably drawn from the record.” Molina v. Astrue, 674 F.3d 1104, 1111 (9th Cir. 2012). Further, a district court “may not reverse an ALJ's decision on account of an error that is harmless.” Id. An error is harmless “where it is inconsequential to the [ALJ's] ultimate . . . determination.” Id. at 1115 (quotation and citation omitted). The party appealing the ALJ's decision generally bears the burden of establishing that it was harmed. Shinseki v. Sanders, 556 U.S. 396, 409-10 (2009).

         OVERPAYMENT LEGAL STANDARDS

         The Social Security Act authorizes the recovery of disability benefit payments made as a result of an overpayment. The Commissioner bears the burden of proving the fact of overpayment by substantial evidence. McCarthy v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1119, 1124-25 (9th Cir. 2000). Thus, “[t]o recover overpayments, the Commissioner must show that the claimant actually received benefits beyond the period of disability or in excess of the correct amount.” Id. at 1124 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 404(a)). The Commissioner must establish: “(1) that [the claimant] received Title II disability benefits [for the designated period]; (2) that these benefits were in excess of the amount to which [the claimant] was entitled; and (3) that the overpayment was in the amount [alleged].” Id. at 1124-25.

         The Social Security Act authorizes the recovery of the overpayment by decreasing future payments to which the claimant is entitled or requiring a refund:

With respect to payment to a person of more than the correct amount, the Commissioner of Social Security shall decrease any payment under this subchapter to which such overpaid person is entitled, or shall require such overpaid person or his estate to refund the amount in excess of the correct amount, or shall decrease any payment under this subchapter payable to his estate or to any other person on the basis of the wages and self-employment income which were the basis of the payments to such overpaid person, or shall obtain recovery by means of reduction in tax refunds . . ., or shall apply any combination of the foregoing.

42 U.S.C. § 404(a)(1)(A).

         Upon determining that an overpayment has been made, the Social Security Administration's (“SSA”) practice is “to notify the recipient of that determination, and then to shift to the recipient the burden of either (i) seeking reconsideration to contest the accuracy of that determination, or (ii) asking the [Commissioner] to forgive the debt and waive recovery . . . .” Califano v. Yamasaki, 442 U.S. 682, 686 (1979); POMS: IS 02220.001.

         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.” Quinli ...


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