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Tipadis v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, S.D. New York

January 8, 2018




         Plaintiff Anastasia Tipadis brings this action pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for judicial review of the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying her request to withdraw her approved application for retirement insurance benefits (“RIB”). The Commissioner has moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c).[1] For the reasons stated below, the Commissioner's motion is granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         On August 11, 2011, Tipadis allegedly filed an application for RIB. Certified Administrative Record, filed Mar. 31, 2017 (Docket # 10) (“R.”), 9, 14-17. The administrative record contains a summary of this application, which states that Tipadis wanted to begin receiving RIB in August 2011. R. 14-15, 69-70. Another document titled “RECEIPT FOR YOUR CLAIM FOR SOCIAL SECURITY RETIREMENT INSURANCE BENEFITS” advised Tipadis that if she “disagree[d] with any of [her] statements” in the application, then she should contact the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) “within 10 days after receiving this notice to let us know.” R. 16-17, 67-68. Tipadis does not claim to have attempted to contact the SSA in this time period.

         On August 16, 2011, Tipadis received a “Notice of Award' arising from this application. R. 18-21. Because Tipadis was born on November 8, 1946, R. 9, 14, 69, she had not yet reached full retirement age at the time of her application, and received reduced benefits amounting to $930 per month, R. 9, 18. The notice also stated that if Tipadis disagreed with the decision, then she could appeal it within 60 days after receiving the notice. R. 20. Tipadis does not claim to have filed any such appeal and she concedes that she received the retirement benefits starting in August 2011. R. 91, 96, 100.

         On October 17, 2012, Tipadis filed a request to withdraw her application for RIB with the Commissioner, stating “I FILED FOR MY RETIREMENT INSURANCE BENEFITS ON 08/11/2011. I WISH TO WITHDRAW MY THAT [sic] APPLICATION AND REFILE FOR UNREDUCED BENEFITS.” R. 22. In support of this application, Tipadis submitted a handwritten letter to SSA, dated April 8, 2013. R. 27-30. In this letter, Tipadis stated that she went to her local SSA office in August 2011 to apply for Medicare and to withdraw from Medicaid and disabilities benefits. R. 27. While there, Tipadis was “automatically put on Early Retirement Social Security, ” even though she purportedly did not request retirement benefits at that time.[2] Id. Tipadis further reported that she did not wish to be given early retirement benefits when she went to the SSA office in August 2011, but that the SSA representative she spoke with informed her that she could not withdraw from those benefits at that time. R. 28. He also stated that she would have a “one time” opportunity to receive full retirement benefits if she repaid all of the early retirement benefits she received. Id. Tipadis stated that this representative did not inform her that there was a 12-month time limit to withdraw her application. Id. On June 4, 2013, the Commissioner denied her withdrawal request on the ground that it had not been made within 12 months of the date of Tipadis's entitlement to benefits. R. 23-24.

         Tipadis submitted another handwritten letter to the Commissioner, dated July 8, 2013, in which she asked the Commissioner to reconsider this decision. R. 25-26. On November 19, 2013, the Commissioner denied this request. R. 31-34. In its denial of reconsideration, the Commissioner noted that Tipadis's first month of entitlement to RIB was August 2011, and that the governing regulations allowed for the withdrawal of her benefits application only within 12 months of the first month of entitlement. R. 34. The denial noted that this rule was implemented in December 8, 2010, after “[m]edia articles [] started to promote the use of the withdrawal process as a means for retirement insurance beneficiaries to acquire interest-free loans, ” which “strained the Social Security Trust Fund.” Id. The denial stated that “there is no provision in either the Social Security Act or Regulations of the Social Security Administration that allows us to deem an earlier date for your withdrawal request.” Id.

         B. The Hearing Before the ALJ

         Plaintiff requested review of this decision before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). R. 42-43. A hearing was held before ALJ Moises Penalver on October 15, 2015. R. 78-104. Tipadis appeared pro se. R. 80-81. Tipadis testified and reiterated her earlier contention that she had gone to the local SSA office in August 2011 to withdraw from Medicaid and disabilities benefits, and to apply for Medicare. R. 87-89. Tipadis denied that she requested to be placed on early retirement at that time, but asserted that she was automatically granted such benefits, and that the SSA representative with whom she spoke stated that these benefits could not be withdrawn at that time. R. 89-91, 96-97. Tipadis testified that the SSA representative failed to inform her of the 12-month time limit to withdraw her application for RIB, although he did inform her that she could withdraw from RIB if she paid back all the early payments she received. R. 95-97. Tipadis received approximately $12, 651 in RIB between August 2011 and November 2012. R. 100. Tipadis did not learn of the 12-month time limit to withdraw an application for RIB until she attempted to do so in October 2012. R. 97-98.

         C. The ALJ's Decision

         On February 3, 2016, the ALJ denied Tipadis's request to withdraw her RIB application. R. 6-12. The ALJ noted that Tipadis had failed to request a withdrawal of her RIB application until more than 12 months after she filed that application, and that there “are no exceptions to the policy that any requests for withdrawal must be made within 12 months.” R. 11. With respect to Tipadis's claim that she did not file for early RIB, the ALJ found this claim was contradicted by the record. The ALJ pointed to the fact that the record contained a summary of Tipadis's application for RIB dated August 11, 2011, and that Tipadis had “signed” this application. Id. He also noted that Tipadis had admitted at the hearing that she had no other source of income in August 2011 and did not obtain any income until she received her settlement check in August 2012. Id.

         On November 2, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Tipadis's request for review of the ALJ's decision, making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. R. 2-5.

         II. A ...

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