Appeal from a decision of the United States District Court for the District of Vermont, Albert W. Coffrin, Judge, granting appellee mother's insurance benefits under 42 U.S.C. § 402(g) retroactively for the year preceeding June 1974. Because the statements and conduct of a Social Security Field Representative misled appellee and violated internal agency procedures, the judgment is affirmed and the Government is estopped from enforcing its written application requirement in this case.
Before Friendly, Oakes and Newman, Circuit Judges.
This appeal does not involve a great deal monetarily: appellee is seeking mother's insurance benefits, as provided in 42 U.S.C. § 402(g)*fn1 for the year preceding June 12, 1974. Yet the case does raise a significant issue of estoppel against the Government. The Department of Health, Education and Welfare (HEW)*fn2 appeals from a decision of the United States District Court for the District of Vermont, Albert W. Coffrin, Judge, holding for the applicant and overturning an earlier decision of the administrative law judge that had been upheld by the HEW Appeals Council.
Appellee, whose former husband died in 1967, became eligible for benefits as a divorced mother when the Social Security Amendments of 1972, Pub.L.No.92-603, 86 Stat. 1329, § 114(c), took effect on January 1, 1973. She did not, however, file the required written application, see 42 U.S.C. § 402(g)(1)(D), until May 1975. The estoppel question arises from the actions of a Social Security Field Representative who, on June 12, 1974, supplied the applicant with misinformation about her eligibility and did not encourage her to file a written application. On that date, after hearing from a fellow employee and a local attorney that she might be eligible, appellee went with her mother to the Newport, Vermont, Social Security Office. There she had a ten- to fifteen-minute interview with Dan Connelly, the Social Security Field Representative. Connelly does not recall the meeting, but his daily record for June 12, 1974 includes the last names of appellee and her two sons, followed by the notation,"P/AD," which Connelly described as an abbreviation for "post adjudication action." This means that, according to his notes, he was talking to her about a claim that had already been determined adversely. As described in appellee's testimony, however, testimony that was substantially credited by the administrative law judge, the following occurred:
A. And I went in to file a form for Mother's Benefits Divorced Mother's Benefits.
Q. All right, now, was he alone there?
Q. And was it in the morning, or afternoon, or when was it?
A. No excuse me but it was in the afternoon, your Honor.
Q. And how long did you spend there?
A. It couldn't have been any longer than between 10 to 15 minutes, if it was that long.
Q. And did you discuss with him anything else other than filing that application?
A. No. He asked who I was, and I told him, "Ann Riegel Hansen" and that my boys had a claim there, two Riegel boys, and I I told him that I had heard that I was illegible (sic) for Divorced Mother's Benefits, I was not
Q. That you were eligible or not?
A. And I was there to file a form,
A. and he well, I (unintelligible)
A. He asked me he said, "Were you ever married to the guy?" And I I just looked at him and
A. he repeated the question again, because I was stunned, and I said, "Well, I can cross the street and go over to the City Clerk's office and get you a marriage certificate." And he said, "Oh, no, no," he says, "that won't be necessary."
Q. All right, what else did he say?
A. And then he asked me what my marital statchus (sic) was at the time,
A. "Were you divorced?" And I said, "Yes," and he said, "Well, that's it," his hands went up in the air, he said, "That's it then, that's why you're not illegible (sic)."
Q. Well, wait, did he say just, "That's it," or what else did he say, as near as you recall, after he said, "That's it," what what ...