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Eisenhauer v. Mathews

decided: April 15, 1976.

MARIA EISENHAUER, ON HER OWN BEHALF AND ON BEHALF OF HER CHILDREN, FRANCIS X. EISENHAUER AND BRIAN F. EISENHAUER, APPELLANT,
v.
DAVID MATHEWS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS SECRETARY OF THE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, EDUCATION AND WELFARE, APPELLEE



Appeal from a judgment entered by the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Walter Bruchhausen, Judge, sustaining the decision of the Secretary of the Department of Health, Education and Welfare reducing the social security survivors benefits entitlement of appellant and her children, wife and legitimate children of deceased wage-earner, as a consequence of the Secretary's approval of survivors benefits to stepchildren of the deceased. Affirmed.

Hays, Timbers and Gurfein, Circuit Judges.

Author: Hays

HAYS, Circuit Judge:

This appeal raises issues concerning the construction of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 301 et seq., [the Act]. One issue involves a narrow question of statutory interpretation: whether the provisions of section 216(e) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 416(e), under which a child "shall be deemed the stepchild" of an individual who goes through a ceremonial marriage with the parent of such child, requires that the purported marriage be entered in good faith. The second issue concerns the application of the "deemed dependent" provisions of section 202(d)(4) of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(4).

Maria A. Eisenhauer, appellant, filed an application for social security survivors benefits on behalf of herself, as a widow, and her two minor children, Francis X. and Brian F. Eisenhauer, shortly after the death of her estranged husband Francis E. Eisenhauer. Francis E. Eisenhauer was a fully insured wage-earner under section 214(a) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 414(a), at the time of his death. Appellant's benefits application was approved and she began receiving the maximum statutory benefits.

Although the deceased supported Maria and their two children until his death on June 9, 1970, he and the appellant had been separated since 1965. No divorce was ever obtained. Sometime subsequent to the Eisenhauer separation in 1965, the deceased began living with Sonja Radauscher and on August 14, 1969 Sonja and the deceased obtained a marriage license and went through a ceremonial marriage in Elkton, Maryland. On the application for a marriage license the deceased falsely stated that he had never been previously married.

At the time Sonja and Francis E. Eisenhauer began living together Sonja had four children fathered by Andreas Radauscher, Sonja's husband from 1957 until their divorce in March, 1966. A fifth child, Francis E. Eisenhauer, Jr., was conceived prior to the dissolution of Sonja's marriage to Andreas but was born on July 27, 1966, during the period she and the deceased were living together. The paternity of Francis E., Jr., is disputed by the parties herein.*fn1 Sonja bore two more children while she and the deceased lived together and as to these children counsel for appellant stipulates that the deceased wage-earner was the biological father.

On September 23, 1970, Sonja Radauscher Eisenhauer filed an application for survivors benefits on behalf of Francis E., Jr., Sonja L. and Ursula Eisenhauer, the three children she bore while living with the wage-earner, and on April 28, 1972, she filed a claim for benefits on behalf of Monika, Andreas, Erich and Wilhelm Radauscher, the four children she bore while married to Andreas Radauscher. In May, 1972 child's insurance benefits were approved for Francis E., Jr., Sonja and Ursula, retroactive to June, 1970, and for Monika, Erich, Andreas and Wilhelm, retroactive to April, 1972. Because Maria and her two children had been receiving the maximum family benefit allowable under section 215(a), 42 U.S.C. § 415(a), the approval of benefits for Sonja's seven children necessitated a reduction in the benefit entitlement of appellant and her children. 42 U.S.C. § 403(a). After being notified by the Social Security Administration that her family's survivor benefits were to be reduced from almost $400.00 per month to slightly less than $120.00,*fn2 appellant requested a reconsideration. The Reconsideration Determination fully sustained the award of benefits to each of Sonja's seven children and the concomitant reduction of appellant's family benefits. Appellant, challenging the entitlement of each of Sonja's children, appealed this decision administratively and a hearing was held. The decision of the Administrative Law Judge affirmed the Reconsideration Determination and this became the final decision of the Secretary when it was approved by the Social Security Appeals Council.

Appellant brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Secretary denying her claim that her family's survivor benefits had been improperly reduced. In the district court plaintiff contested only the award of benefits to the children of Sonja's marriage to Andreas Radauscher. The district court, finding the administrative decision to be a correct application of the Social Security Act and supported by substantial evidence, granted summary judgment for the Secretary. We affirm.

Sonja's children by her marriage to Andreas Radauscher were held to qualify for survivor benefits as stepchildren of the deceased wage-earner. They were not, of course, the legal stepchildren of Francis Eisenhauer because the purported marriage between their mother and the deceased was invalid. Section 216(e), 42 U.S.C. § 416(e), however, which defines "child" for purposes of eligibility under section 202(d)(1), 42 U.S.C. § 402(d)(1), provides, in part, that:

"a person who is not the stepchild of an individual shall be deemed the stepchild of such individual if . . . the mother or adopting mother, or the father or adopting father, as the case may be, of such person went through a marriage ceremony resulting in a purported marriage between them which, but for a legal impediment described in the last sentence of subsection (h)(1)(B) of this section, would have been a valid marriage."

The last sentence of subsection 216(h)(1)(B) reads:

"For purposes of this subparagraph, a legal impediment to the validity of a purported marriage includes only an impediment (i) resulting from the lack of dissolution of a previous marriage or otherwise arising out of such previous marriage or its dissolution, or (ii) resulting from a defect in the procedure followed in connection with such purported marriage."

Because Sonja and the deceased "went through a marriage ceremony resulting in a purported marriage" which would have been valid but for a legal impediment "resulting from the lack of dissolution of [deceased's] previous marriage," Sonja's children by her marriage to Andreas ...


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