The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles J. Siragusa United States District Judge
This case is before the Court on the Commissioner's motion (Docket No. 8) for judgment on the pleadings and Plaintiff's cross-motion (Docket No. 14), also for judgment on the pleadings. For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's motion is denied, and Plaintiff's cross-motion is granted.
Plaintiff's son, C.R., is receiving Supplemental Security Income payments, which vary in amount depending on his parents' household income. The Commissioner found that Plaintiff received overpayments during various times in 2000, 20001 and 2002, now amounting in total to $5,283.00. The Commissioner has demanded repayment of that amount. In response, Plaintiff sought a waiver, which, after a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, the Commissioner denied.
Plaintiff filed his appeal in this Court pro se and appeared for oral argument on October 2, 2008. Following argument, the Court, at Plaintiff's request, permitted him additional time to obtain counsel. On October 24, 2008, Ms. Callery entered her appearance and filed a cross-motion and supporting memorandum. The Commissioner has elected not to file a reply.
Appellate Review Standard
Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2008) states, in relevant part, that "[t]he findings of the Commissioner of Social security as to any fact, if supported by substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." The issue to be determined by this Court is whether the Commissioner's conclusions "are supported by substantial evidence in the record as a whole or are based on an erroneous legal standard." Schaal v. Apfel, 134 F.3d 496, 501 (2d Cir. 1998).
Substantial evidence is defined as "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Id.
The burden is on the Commissioner to prove, by a preponderance of evidence, that an overpayment has occurred. See Chlieb v. Heckler, 777 F.2d 842, 848 (2d Cir. 1985) ("administrative law judge and the district court concluded that the record did not adequately show the basis for the calculation of the overpayment"). With regard to the elements of an overpayment and eligibility for waiver, the Second Circuit observed in Center v. Schweiker, 704 F.2d 678 (2d Cir. 1983):
Under Section 1631(b) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1383(b) (1976 and Supp. IV 1980), the Secretary may require a person who has received an overpayment to refund the amount paid in excess of the correct amount. The recovery of an overpayment by the Secretary will be waived only if the recipient can show: (1) that he was without fault and (2) that recovery would defeat the purpose of the Act or would be inequitable. Id. Fault may be found if the recipient: (1) makes a statement which he knows or should have known to be incorrect; (2) fails to furnish information which he knows or should have known to be material; or (3) accepts a payment which he knew or could have been expected to know was incorrect. 20 C.F.R. § 416.552 (1982). No showing of bad faith is required; rather, an honest mistake may be sufficient to constitute fault. Morgan v. Finch, 423 F.2d 551 (6th Cir. 1970). The fact that the SSA may have been at fault in making the overpayment does not relieve the recipient from liability for repayment if the recipient also was at fault. 20 C.F.R. § 416.552 (1982); Morgan, 423 F.2d at 553-54.
Calculation of one's eligibility for SSI payments is a complex matter. The rules look not only at the recipient's income and assets, but also, under the parent-to-child deeming regulations, the Commissioner will consider another person's income to be the claimant's.
The regulation applicable here provides an example of the quagmire involved in determining whether a non-eligible parent's income will disqualify an applicant from receiving SSI payments:
If you are a child to whom deeming rules apply (see § 416.1165), we look at your ineligible parent's income to decide whether we must deem some of it to be yours. If you live with both your parent and your parent's spouse (i.e., your stepparent), we also look at your stepparent's income to decide whether we must deem some of it to be yours. We do this because we expect your parent (and your stepparent, if living with you and your parent) to use some of his or her income to take care of your needs.
20 C.F.R § 416.1160(a)(2) (73 F.R. 28033, 28035, May 15, 2008). The deeming rules for an ineligible parent are as follows:
If you are a child living with your parents, we apply the deeming rules to you through the month in which you reach age 18. We follow the rules in paragraphs (a) through (e) of this section to determine your eligibility. To determine your benefit amount, we follow the rules in paragraph (f) of this section. The rules in paragraph (g) of this section apply to changes in your family situation. Paragraph (i) of this section discusses the conditions under ...