Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Tina C. v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

January 9, 2020

TINA C., Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER

          MICHELLE L. PETERSON UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff appeals reduction of her Social Security disability benefits based on receipt of certain state workers' compensation disability benefits. (Dkt. # 8.) As discussed below, the Court REVERSES the Commissioner's final decision and REMANDS the matter for recalculation of benefits under sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         II. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff has been found disabled for Social Security purposes. AR at 16. Plaintiff contends the Commissioner erred by reducing her Social Security benefits to offset a permanent partial disability (PPD) award from the State of Washington.[1] Id. at 24, 10.

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         Social Security disability benefits are reduced when a claimant also receives “periodic benefits on account of his or her total or partial disability (whether or not permanent).” 42 U.S.C. § 424a(a).

         IV. DISCUSSION

         No binding precedent has settled whether Washington PPD payments constitute periodic benefits justifying an offset. The only binding precedent addressing Social Security offset for PPD involved Oregon's law. The Ninth Circuit looked to the Oregon Supreme Court's interpretation of its legislature's intent and held that an offset was permitted because “even though the Oregon legislature has assigned specific dollar amounts to particular body parts, [PPD] payments are still ‘designed to compensate for the economic loss of earning capacity.'” Hodge v. Shalala, 27 F.3d 430, 433 (9th Cir. 1994) (quoting In re. Woodman, 289 Or. 551, 614 P.2d 1162, 1164 (1980)).

         The Commissioner contends Washington's statutory scheme resembles Oregon's, and thus the Hodge holding applies directly. (Dkt. # 9.) Plaintiff contends, under Hodge, this Court must look to Washington's intended purpose, which is to compensate for loss of bodily function, not loss of earnings as in Oregon's scheme. (Dkt. # 8, 10.) The Court agrees with Plaintiff.

         The Commissioner argues that the plain language of 42 U.S.C. § 424a requires offset of “any payments under any state workers' compensation plan….” (Dkt. # 9 at 10 (emphasis added).) But the Ninth Circuit did not interpret the statute to apply uniformly to all states' plans. The court relied on an Oregon Supreme Court decision “emphasiz[ing] that ‘the legislature intended workers' compensation benefits to provide wage replacement.'” Hodge, 27 F.3d at 433 (emphasis in original) (quoting Cutright v. Weyerhaeuser Co., 299 Or. 290, 702 P.2d 403, 407 (1985)). Accordingly, this Court will similarly look to Washington's own courts' interpretation of the legislature's intent behind its PPD benefits, not the mechanism by which it calculates awards. Courts in both the Eastern and Western Districts of Washington have analyzed relevant Washington state case law, although they have reached differing conclusions.

         A. Federal Court Cases

         In two cases, courts in the Eastern District of Washington held that the offset did not apply because Washington's law “serves a dual purpose and it is not designed solely to compensate for the economic loss of earning capacity.” Olson v. Colvin, 31 F.Supp.3d 1176, 1180 (E.D. Wash. 2014); Wheatley v. Colvin, No. C14-0346-RHW, Dkt. # 19 (E.D. Wash. Feb. 4, 2016). Courts in the Western District of Washington, however, have held in two cases that the offset does apply despite finding that “Washington law, unlike the Oregon scheme, specifically does not measure permanent partial disability by the loss of earning power.” Kreutner v. Astrue, No. C09-5676-JRC, Dkt. # 17 at 4 (W.D. Wash. Jun. 8, 2010); Sutton v. Colvin, No. C14-1734-JPD, Dkt. # 31 (W.D. Wash. Jul. 16, 2015).

         In an unpublished memorandum opinion, a three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's decision in Sutton, holding that a “Washington state permanent partial disability award was not a periodic benefit subject to offset.” Sutton v. Berryhill, 677 Fed.Appx. 341 (9th Cir. 2017). The Ninth Circuit held that the offset did not apply because “[u]nder Washington law, ” unlike Oregon law, “an award of workers' compensation benefits for permanent partial disability is not wage compensation intended to cover a claimant's lost earning capacity.”[2]Id. at 342 (citing Willoughby v. Dep't of ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.