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.

COLON v. BARNHART

January 12, 2004.

BLANCA ESTHER COLON, Plaintiff, -against- JO ANNE B. BARNHART,[fn1] Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant


The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHARD CASEY, District Judge

*fn1 Jo Anne B. Barnhart became the Commissioner of Social Security on January 3, 2001. She is therefore substituted for Kenneth S. Apfel as Defendant. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 25(d)(1).

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

Blanca Esther Colon ("Plaintiff), pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), challenges a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner") denying her benefits as a disabled widow.*fn2 After Plaintiff had exhausted the Social Security Administration's hearing and appeals process, the Commissioner determined that she did not satisfy the "nine-month duration — of — marriage requirement," a prerequisite to Plaintiff receiving widow's disability benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 416(c)(5). Appealing that decision, Plaintiff now moves for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c); the Commissioner cross-moves for the same relief.

  For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs motion is DENIED; the Commissioner's cross-motion is GRANTED. Page 2

  I. BACKGROUND

  Plaintiff married Pedro Rodriguez on November 28, 1995. (Record [R.] 13, 19-20, 53.)*fn3 Less than a full nine months later, on August 27, 1996, Rodriguez, the wage earner, died. (Dkt. No. 1: Compl. ¶ 4; R. 54.) On July 7, 1998, at the age of fifty, Plaintiff applied to the Social Security Administration for widow's insurance benefits, claiming she was a single, disabled widow. (Compl. ¶ 4; R. 24-27.)

  It is undisputed that Plaintiff meets three of the requirements necessary to receive widow's benefits. See 42 U.S.C. § 402(e) (enumerating various prerequisites to receiving widow's insurance benefits). These three requirements are that Plaintiff: (1) is a disabled widow between fifty and sixty years old, (2) has not remarried, and (3) has applied for benefits. See 42 U.S.C. § 402(e). It is disputed, however, whether Plaintiff satisfies the nine-month duration — of — marriage requirement under 42 U.S.C. § 416(c)(5), necessary to qualify her as a "widow" under the statute. That section provides that to be a "widow," the surviving spouse must have been married to her deceased husband for a period of "not less than nine months immediately prior to the day on which he died." 42 U.S.C. § 416(c)(5).

  In light of this disputed issue, Plaintiff pursued her claim through all levels of administrative review.*fn4 During this process, three of the four administrative decisions denied Plaintiff widow's Page 3 benefits. First, the Social Security Administration ("Administration") denied Plaintiff's application on the ground that she was just shy of satisfying the nine-month duration — of — marriage requirement. Thereafter, Plaintiff requested reconsideration of this determination, and upon review, the Administration affirmed. (R. 28-32.) Plaintiff then exercised her right to a de novo hearing before an ALL (R. 33.) In a hearing held on September 30, 1999, Plaintiff testified that she married partly because her late husband wanted to leave her widow's Social Security benefits, and that she "wanted him to have his wish." (R. 22.) Approximately one month after this hearing, on November 3, 1999, the ALJ reversed the Administration's decision, concluding that Plaintiff was, in fact, entitled to widow's benefits.*fn5 (R. 8-14.) Finally, on May 25, 2000, the Appeals Council, consisting of two administrative appeals judges, upon its own motion, reversed the decision of the ALJ, concluding that Plaintiff failed to satisfy the nine — month duration — of — marriage prerequisite. (R. 5-7.) The Commissioner adopted the Appeals Council decision as the final decision. Thereafter, Plaintiff appealed.

  II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

  In reviewing a decision by the Social Security Administration, a district court gives substantial deference to the factual determinations of the Commissioner, provided such factual Page 4 determinations are supported by substantial evidence. See Morris v. Barnhart 2002 WL 1733804, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. July 26, 2002). With regard to legal conclusions made by the Commissioner, the Court will review the issues de novo. Accordingly, the Court will not defer to the Commissioner's determination if it is "the product of legal error." DeLeon v. Apfel 2000 WL 1873851, at *6 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 21, 2000).

  III. DISCUSSION

  A. The Nine-Month Duration — of — Marriage Requirement

  The central issue is whether Plaintiff qualifies as a "widow" as defined under section 416(c), and thus may be awarded widow's insurance benefits under the Social Security Act. For Plaintiff to be considered a "widow" under the statute, she must have been married to her deceased husband for nine months prior to his death. Plaintiff's marriage lasted from November 28, 1995, the day she was married, until August 27, 1996, the day her husband died. To determine whether Plaintiff qualifies as a "widow," the Court must determine precisely how to measure the section 416(c)(5) nine-month requirement.

  "The starting point in every case involving construction of a statute is the language itself." Blue chip Stamps v. Manor Drug Stores, 421 U.S. 723, 756 (1975) (Powell, J., concurring). Section 416(c), in pertinent part, provides: "The term `widow' . . . means the surviving wife of an individual, but only if . . . (5) she was married to him for a period of not less than nine months immediately prior to the day on which he died." 42 U.S.C. § 416(c). "[W]here, as here, the statute's language is plain, `the sole function of the courts is to enforce it according to its terms.'" United States v. Ron Pair Enters., 489 U.S. 235, 241 (1989) (quoting Caminetti v. United States, 242 U.S. 470, 485 (1917)). In addition, when the language of the statute ...


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.