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Class Actions

A number of class action lawsuits have been filed over the years challenging SSA’s policies and practices.  Read more for a summary of the major class actions affecting New Yorkers, with definitions of class members and descriptions of the relief provided.

 


 

Kendrick, et al. v. Sullivan, 90 Civ. 3776 (S.D.N.Y) (Ward. J) (“the ALJ bias case”)

Description - June 1990 complaint on behalf of proposed class of persons who appeared, or would appear, before ALJ Helen Anyel (of the New York City OHA), alleges that the ALJ is biased against claimants seeking Social Security benefits and unfit to decide claims.  The court certified a class and denied SSA’s motion to dismiss.  SSA also commenced a formal removal proceeding before the Merit Systems Protection Board (“MSPB”).

Relief - SSA suspended Anyel with pay from June 1991 to May 1995, and then agreed to an MSPB approved settlement suspending her without pay for one month in 1995, and prohibited her from presiding in Social Security Act cases for one year.  Pursuant to a 1995 Kendrick settlement, SSA mailed notices in April 1997 offering full reopenings for all claims dismissed, denied, or terminated by Anyel in New York or Chicago from 9/25/77 to 5/22/95.

Citations - Kendrick v. Sullivan, 784 F. Supp. 94 (1992) (district court certified class and denied motions to dismiss), subsequent settlement, Kendrick v. Shalala.  (December 17, 1995).  See also, multiple MSPB decisions (1/16/92 unpublished recommended decision of MSPB Chief ALJ, Edward J. Reidy; SSA v. Anyel, 58 M.S.P.R. 261 (6/25/93); 8/11/94 unpublished proposed settlement of MSPB action; 9/16/94 recommended decision of MSPB Chief ALJ Paul G. Streb; 1/25/95 final decision and order of MSPB.

Information - Toby Golick, Betzedek Legal Service, Cardozo School of Law (212-790-0240); Ann Biddle or Malcom Spector, Legal Services for the Elderly (212-391-0120).

Greenawalt v. Apfel, 99-CV-2481 (E.D.N.Y. 1999) (“personal conference in SSI waiver case”)

Description—Plaintiffs challenged SSA’s practice of denying requests for waivers of overpayments in SSI cases without giving a claimant an opportunity for a personal conference.

Relief—The settlement in Greenawalt extended the personal conference procedure applied to SSI claimants residing in Pennsylvania [see, Page v. Schweiker, 571 F. Supp. 872 (E.D. Pa. 1983)] to all SSI claimants nationwide.  As a result of the settlement in the case, SSA agreed to stop denying SSI overpayment waiver requests until claimants are given a personal conference.

Citations - None

Information - Peter Vollmer, Vollmer & Tanck, (516) 228-3381

McMahon v. Sullivan, Perales and Schimkie, 91 Civ. 621 (Curtin, J) (“the DAC/SSI Medicaid Case”)

Description - Plaintiffs challenged NYDSS’s failure to implement 42 U.S.C. §1381(c) which requires continued Medicaid eligibility for disabled adults who loose SSI solely because of eligibility for or an increase in Social Security Child’s Insurance Benefits, also known as Disabled Adult Child’s (DAC) benefits.  Plaintiffs claim that defendants fail to ensure that Medicaid benefits continue.

Relief - HHS and OTDA have corrected the problem prospectively and retroactively to July 1, 1987.  Additionally, the parties completed negotiations to correct the problem for dually entitled recipients (individuals entitled to both disability benefits on their own record and Disabled Adult Children benefits on a parent’s account.)  The case has been resolved with 4,500 class members getting some satisfaction.

Information - Empire Justice Center (585-454-4060); Heritage Centers (716-522-3333); Wendy Butz (Medicaid liaison person) (518-473-0955).

Balzi, Brogan, et al. v. Stone & Callahan, 85 Civ. 8706, 90 Civ. 7805 (S.D.N.Y.)(Knapp, J.) (“the rep payee case”)

Description - Plaintiffs challenged SSA’s and OMH’s (Office of Mental Health) policies and practices regarding the appointment of representative payees for recipients of Social Security benefits who became inpatients at OMH psychiatric facilities.  Plaintiffs alleged that OMH facilities provided inadequate information and legally deficient notice both in appointing themselves representative payee for plaintiffs and in carrying out their obligations as representative payee.  Additionally, plaintiffs alleged that SSA failed to meet its statutory obligations by neglecting to ensure appropriate appointment of representative payees, adequate notice to plaintiffs and prompt replacement of representative payees when plaintiffs return to the community.

Relief - Final settlement signed January 7, 1997 with many favorable provisions for inpatients including provisions about an inpatient’s right to notice of the application of a facility to become the representative payee and the right of inpatients to inform OMH that they do not wish to pay for their institutionalization.

Citation - 90 CV 7805 (WK) unpublished order 1/7/97

Information - Catherine Callery, Empire Justice Center (585-454-6500), William Brooks, Touro Law School Clinic (516-421-2244)

Martinez v. Secretary, No. 82-4816, (E.D.N.Y.) (“the Title II delay case”)

Description - Certified class challenged delays in the hearing process in claims for Title II disability benefits

Relief - SSA is required to send notice to Title II claimants with the acknowledgment of the request for hearing stating that claimants have a right to a decision in a reasonable time.  Claimants are entitled to bring separate federal mandamus actions where delay is unreasonable.

Citation - Unpublished order dated April 24, 1986.

Information - Toby Golick, Bet Tzedek Legal Services, Cardozo School of Law (212-790-0240).

Sharpe v. Sullivan, No. 79-1977 (E.D.N.Y.) (“the SSI delay case”)

Description - Certified plaintiff class challenged delays in holding administrative hearings, issuance of hearing decisions, and issuance of payments, on SSI claims.  In 1980 Judge Haight entered order placing time limits on each step, and requiring SSA to pay interim benefits when time limits were exceeded.  In 1985 Judge Haight vacated these time limits in light of Heckler v. Day, U.S. 104 (1984), and in 1990 entered a new order, below. 

Relief - 1990 orders require (1) SSI disability cases: (a) OHA must issue notices explaining delay and right to sue after 120 days from hearing request, and (b) SSA must pay interim benefits if regular benefits have not been paid within 60 days of favorable hearing decision (with certain exceptions, e.g. non-cooperation); (2) SSI nondisability cases:  SSA must pay interim benefits within 60 days of favorable hearing decision, or within 60 days of favorable hearing decision, or within 90 days from hearing request.

Citations - Sharpe v. Secretary, No. 79-19777 (S.D.N.Y. July 10, 1980) (unpublished order), aff’d 621 F.2d 530 (2d Cir. 1980), vacated No. 79-1977 (S.D.N.Y. 1985) (unpublished), revised, No. 79-1977 (S.D.N.Y. March 6, 1990) (unpublished).

Information - Johnson Tyler, South Brooklyn Legal Services (718-237-5500).

Greenawalt v. Apfel, 99-CV-2481 (E.D.N.Y. 1999) (“personal conference in SSI waiver case”)

Description - Plaintiffs challenged SSA’s practice of denying requests for waivers of overpayments in SSI cases without giving a claimant an opportunity for a personal conference.

Relief  - The settlement in Greenawalt extended the personal conference procedure applied to SSI claimants residing in Pennsylvania [see, Page v. Schweiker, 571 F. Supp. 872 (E.D. Pa. 1983)] to all SSI claimants nationwide.  As a result of the settlement in the case, SSA agreed to stop denying SSI overpayment waiver requests until claimants are given a personal conference.

Citations - None

Information - Peter Vollmer, Vollmer & Tanck, (516) 228-3381

McMahon v. Sullivan, Perales and Schimke, 91 Civ. 621 (Curtin, J) (“the DAC/SSI Medicaid Case”)

Description - Plaintiffs challenged NYDSS’s failure to implement 42 U.S.C. §1383c(c) which requires continued Medicaid eligibility for disabled adults who lose SSI solely because of eligibility for or an increase in Social Security Children’s Disability Benefits (CDB), formally known as Disabled Adult Child’s (DAC) benefits.  Plaintiffs claimed that defendants fail to ensure that Medicaid benefits continue.

Relief - HHS and OTDA have corrected the problem prospectively and retroactively to July 1, 1987.  Additionally, the parties completed negotiations to correct the problem for dually entitled recipients (individuals entitled to both disability benefits on their own record and Children’s Disability Benefits on a parent’s account.)  The case has been resolved with 4,500 class members getting some satisfaction.

Information - Empire Justice Center (585-454-4060); Heritage Centers (716-522-3333); Wendy Butz (Medicaid liaison person) (518-473-0955) or Gail Gordon (212-417-6500).

Ford v. Shalala, 87 F. Supp. 2d 163 (E.D.N.Y. 1999) (“the lousy notice case”)

Description - The court ruled that notices of SSI financial eligibility and/or benefit amounts (“SSI financial eligibility notices”) violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution because of SSA’s failure to provide notice sufficient to permit a reasonable person to understand the basis for the agency’s action.

Relief - The Ford Judgment requires the Social Security Administration (SSA) to expeditiously prepare and implement a plan, consistent with the Memorandum Decision and Order, that modifies defendant’s automated SSI financial eligibility notices so as to provide information required in order to understand the reasons for an award, modification, termination or denial of SSI benefits, in such detail as is necessary to permit a reasonable person to understand the basis for the agency’s action on the following subject:

  • Information and explanation about the individual’s living arrangement category;
  • Information about resources’
  • Benefits computations in worksheet form, including the federal benefit and state supplementation rates’
  • The notice recipient’s rights to review the claim; and
  • The legal authority for the agency’s action including either: (i) the appropriate legal citations or (ii) information as to how the appropriate legal citations can be obtained from the Social Security Administration.


Citations - Ford v. Shalala, 87 F. Supp. 2d 163 (E.D.N.Y. 1999) ruled that notices of SSI financial eligibility and/or benefits amounts (“SSI financial eligibility notices”) violated the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution:  Ford v. Apfel, 2000 WL 281888, 2000 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2898 (E.D.N.Y. January 13, 2000) (Judgment).

Information - General case information:  www.wnylc.net/ford/ford.html

Inquiries - mail to ford v apfel@yahoo.com; Chris Bowes at CeDAR (212-979-0505); Peter Vollmer (516-870-0335); Gene Doyle (718-843-2290).

Stieberger, et al. v. Sullivan, 84 Civ. 1302 (S.D.N.Y.) (“the non-acquiescence case”)

Description - Certified class of New York residents challenges SSA policy of non-acquiescence in Second Circuit precedents.  The district court initially granted plaintiff’s motion for a preliminary injunction. The Circuit vacated the injunction in light of parallel proceedings in Schisler.  On remand, the district court granted, in part, plaintiffs’ motion for summary judgment.  The court declared SSA’s  non-acquiescence policy unlawful.  The court denied SSA’s motion to dismiss.  The court found that SSA non-acquiesced in the following four circuit holdings: (1) treating physician rule, (2) cross examination of authors of post hearing reports, (3) ALJ observations of pain, and (4) credibility of claimants with good work histories.  The court left open for trial the question of whether SSA non-acquiesced with respect to three other Second Circuit holdings (1) findings of incredibility must be set forth with specificity, (2) weight must be given to decisions of other agencies, (3) conclusory opinion of treating physician cannot be rejected without notice of need for more detailed statement.

Relief - Re-openings available for almost 200,000 disability claims denied or terminated:(a) between 10/1/81 and 10/17/85 at any administrative level of review, or (b) between 10/18/85 and 7/2/92 at the hearing or Appeals Council level of review. Also, denials at any administrative level between 10/1/81 and 7/2/92 will not be given res judicata effect and thus will not bar subsequent claims for Title II disability benefits regardless of “date last insured.”

Citation - Stieberger v. Heckler, 615 F. Supp. 1315 (S.D.N.Y. 1985), prel. inj. vacated, Stieberger v. Bowen, 801 F.2d. 29 (2d Cir. 1986), on remand, Stieberger v. Sullivan, 738 F. Supp. 716 (S.D.N.Y. 1990).

Information - Ken Stephens, Legal Aid Society (ask for “Stieberger Hotline” 888-284-2772 or 212-440-4354), Christopher Bowes, CeDar (212-979-0505); Ann Biddle, Legal Services for the Elderly (646-442-3302).

Dixon v. Sullivan, 83 Civ. 7001 (S.D.N.Y.) (Conner, J.) (the not severe case

Description - Certified class challenges SSA’s standard for denying claims as “not severe.”  Preliminary injunction entered in June 1984, required readjudication of claims denied or terminated as “not severe” between 7/83 and 6/84, and prohibited issuance of “not severe” decisions after 6/84.  The Second Circuit vacated the injunction in 6/87 in light of Bowen v. Yuckert, 482 U.S. 137 (1987), which upheld the “not severe” regulation as lawful on its face, and which authorized SSA to issue a new Ruling clarifying the severity requirement.  The Circuit remanded Dixon for completion of discovery and trial on whether SSA misapplied the “not severe” regulation.  On remand, the district court entered judgment for plaintiffs after issuing an opinion after trial based on a stipulated record.  SSA appealed and the Circuit, after argument in September 1994, affirmed the judgment.

Relief - Reopening remains available, under an understanding between the parties based on the preliminary injunction, for claims denied or terminated as “not severe” between 7/83 and 7/84.  The Circuit’s affirmance of the district court’s judgment provides for reopening for claims denied or terminated between 1976 and 7/83.

Citations - 589 F. Supp. 1494 (S.D.N.Y. 1984), 589 F.Supp. 1494 (S.D.N.Y. 1984) (granting prel. inj.), 589 F.Supp. 1512 (S.D.N.Y. 1984) (granting intervention), 600 F. Supp.141 (S.D.N.Y. 1985) (deciding individual claim of David Dixon), prel. inj. aff’d, 785 F.2d 1102, prel. inj. vacated, and remanded, 827 F.2d 765 (2d Cir. 1987), on remand, 126 F.R.D. 483 (S.D.N.Y. 1989) (subsequent opinion granting judgment to plaintiffs post trial on a stipulated record), Dixon v. Sullivan, 792 F.Supp. 942 (S.D.N.Y. 1993) (order issued 12/22/93 providing for readjudication of claims), affirmed Dixon v. Shalala, 54 F.3rd 1019 (2d Cir. 1995).

Information—Legal Aid Society, 1-888-218-6974 menu option #3 for the Dixon hotline.