United States District Court, E.D. New York
March 13, 2004.
ROBERT G. BINDER, Plaintiff, -against- JO ANNE B. BARNHART, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ARTHUR SPATT, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER
Robert G. Binder ("Binder" or the "plaintiff") commenced this action
pursuant to the Social Security Act (the "Act"), 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
challenging the final determination of the Commissioner of Social
Security (the "Commissioner") denying him social security insurance
("SSI") benefits retroactive to the period prior to his application date
Both parties move for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to
Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("Fed.R. Civ. P.").
Binder was born on October 1, 1923 and has a long history of traumatic
brain injury, which he incurred when he was 10 months old. Although the
record shows that the plaintiff's initial application for SSI benefits
was apparently lost, the parties do not dispute that Binder first filed
for SSI benefits in 1987, claiming disability due to his brain injury.
More than nine years later, on October 4, 1996, a hearing was finally
conducted before Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Daniel Slattery. In a
decision dated October 4, 1996, ALJ Slattery concluded that the plaintiff
was disabled for purposes of eligibility for SSI benefits. Pursuant to
the ALJ's determination, Binder received SSI benefits relating back to
the 1987 application filing date and currently receives SSI benefits.
The plaintiff challenged ALJ Slattery's decision on the ground that he
should have been found eligible for SSI benefits retroactive to 1980,
when he became unable to work. On September 8, 1998, the plaintiff
requested reconsideration, which was denied. On November 28, 1998, Binder
requested a hearing with regard to this particular issue before an ALJ.
On February 12, 1999, the plaintiff, who was represented by an attorney,
appeared at a hearing before ALJ Emanuel Poverstein.
At the time of the hearing, the plaintiff testified that he was 75
years old. According
to the plaintiff, he worked a number of low income and non-income
producing jobs throughout his life and was never able to work on a
full-time basis due to his injury. However, despite his injury, the
plaintiff testified that he was able to obtain several academic degrees
from several universities, including a Master's Degree in Ecology from
Purdue University. Binder stated that his family members helped support
him financially. The plaintiff explained that he did not file an SSI
application until 1987 due to his lack of knowledge of the SSI program.
On February 26, 1999, ALJ Poverstein issued a decision that the
plaintiff was not eligible for SSI benefits dating back to 1980. The
plaintiff filed a request for review with the Appeals Council. On
December 19, 2001, the Appeals Counsel declined to review the claim,
making ALJ Poverstein's decision the final administrative determination.
This case followed.
A. Standard of Review
A Court may set aside a determination by the Commissioner only if the
decision is based on legal error or is not supported by substantial
evidence. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Brown v. Apfel,
174 F.3d 59, 61-62 (2d Cir. 1999). Substantial evidence is "more than a
mere scintilla." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401,
91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (citing Consolidated Edison Co.
v. NLRB, 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S.Ct. 206,
83 L.Ed. 126 (1938)). Rather, substantial evidence requires enough
evidence that a reasonable person "might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion." Brown, 174 F.3d at 62-63.
In determining whether the Commissioner's findings are supported by
substantial evidence, the Court's task is "to examine the entire record,
including contradictory evidence and evidence from which conflicting
interferences can be drawn." Id. at 62 (quoting Mongeur v.
Heckler, 722 F.2d 1033, 1038 (2d Cir. 1983) (per curiam)). In
addition, the Court is mindful that "it is up to the agency, and not this
court, to weigh the conflicting evidence in the record." Clark v.
Commissioner of Soc. Sec., 143 F.3d 115, 118 (2d Cir. 1998). Indeed,
in evaluating the evidence, "`the court may not substitute its own
judgment for that of the Secretary, even if it might justifiably have
reached a different result upon de novo review.'" Jones v.
Sullivan, 949 F.2d 57, 59 (2d Cir. 1991) (quoting Valente v.
Secretary of Health & Human Servs., 733 F.2d 1037, 1041 (2d Cir.
Federal disability insurance benefits are available to those
individuals who are "disabled" within the meaning of the Act.
See 42 U.S.C. § 423(a), (d). The Act makes clear that the
amount of benefits to be paid is determined from "the month in which an
application for benefits becomes effective. . . ."
42 U.S.C. § 1382(c)(2). A claimant may not be awarded SSI benefits for
the months preceding the month of the application filing
date. See 42 U.S.C. § 1382(c)(7) ("an application of
an individual for benefits . . . shall be effective on the later of
(A) the first day of the month following the date such application is
filed, or (B) the first day of the month following the date such
individual becomes eligible for such benefits with respect to such
application."); see also, Mattei v. Barnhart, No. 01
Civ. 1678, 2003 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 24649, at *2 n1 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 31,
The Commissioner's regulations also state that SSI benefits are not
payable prior to the effective date of the SSI application. At the time
the time Binder filed his SSI application in 1987, the regulations
provided that a claimant was not entitled to SSI benefits "for any months
before the month [the claimant] filed an application."
20 C.F.R. § 416.335 (1987). The regulations currently provide that if
a claimant files an application in the month that he meets all the other
requirements for eligibility, the earliest month for which he can be paid
SSI benefits is the month following the month he filed the application.
20 C.F.R. § 416.335 (1999). Furthermore, if the claimant files an
application after the month he first meets all the other requirements of
eligibility, the regulation provides that he cannot be paid for the month
in which his application is filed or any months before that month.
20 C.F.R. § 416.335 (1999); see O'Connell v. Apfel, No. 97
Civ. 6680, 1999 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1892, at *5 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 19, 1999). In
sum, the history of the regulation demonstrates that the plaintiff may
not be awarded SSI benefits for any period of time prior to the month the
SSI application is filed.
The plaintiff does not dispute, and substantial evidence supports, that
he did not file a SSI application until at least 1987. However, he
contends that he did not file his SSI application earlier because he was
unaware of the SSI program. As the Commissioner points out, a lack of
knowledge of the applicable rules does not fall within one of the
circumstances when the Social Security Administration could recognize an
earlier application filing date. See
20 C.F.R. § 416.340, § 416.345 and 416.350. Because the statutory and
regulatory provisions preclude retroactivity of SSI benefits for the
period prior to the filing of the SSI application, the Court finds that
ALJ Poverstein properly concluded that Binder is not entitled to receive
retroactive SSI benefits back to 1980. Accordingly, the Commissioner's
motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted.
Based on the foregoing, it is further
ORDERED, that the Commissioner's motion for judgment on the
pleadings affirming her decision that the plaintiff is not entitled to
SSI benefits prior to his 1987 filing date is GRANTED and the
complaint is dismissed; and it is further
ORDERED, that Binder's motion for judgment on the pleadings
is DENIED; and it is further
ORDERED, that the Clerk of the Court is directed to close
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