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Jefferson v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division

September 28, 2016

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


          Charles A. Shaw, United States District Judge

         This Social Security matter was filed by pro se plaintiff Elmer Lee Jefferson (“plaintiff” or “Jefferson”). The case is before the Court pursuant to the Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Abbie Crites-Leoni, filed July 28, 2016 (Doc. 41), to whom the case was referred. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b). The Magistrate Judge recommended that the decision of the Commissioner be reversed pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and remanded for further proceedings to permit the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) to “determine the total amount that Jefferson has been overpaid and the amount that remains outstanding after collections and other adjustments were made.” (Doc. 41 at 10.)

         Both parties objected to the Report and Recommendation. Plaintiff filed a document titled “Application of Estoppel” (Doc. 42), in which he states that “the plaintiff asserts an estoppel in this proceeding.” Id. at 2. Plaintiff also filed “Plaintiff's Objection to Having Another ALJ to Determine the Total Amount the Plaintiff was Overpaid Due to Action That are Held to be Arbitrary and Capricious as Well as a Violation of the Equal Protection Clause” (Doc. 43). This document states that “plaintiff objects because of fraudulent actions, ” id. at 1, and plaintiff moves for summary judgment. Id. at 2.

         The Commissioner's objections state that the Report and Recommendation seeks to reverse the agency's decision on the basis that the ALJ failed to provide an analysis of an issue-the circumstances of each of the fourteen overpayments plaintiff received-that the plaintiff never raised in his request for a hearing or at the hearing. The Commissioner concedes that the ALJ's Decision incorrectly stated that the overpayment related to plaintiff's 2009 incarceration amounted to $2, 055.17, rather than the correct amount of $674.00, but she contends “an arguable deficiency in opinion writing that has no practical effect on the decision is not a sufficient reason to set aside the ALJ's decision.” (Doc. 44 at 3.)

         The Court has conducted a de novo review of this matter. For the following reasons, the Court will adopt the Report and Recommendation in part, and will remand this matter to the ALJ for further proceedings as specified herein.

         I. Procedural History

         Plaintiff Elmer Lee Jefferson was initially found entitled to receive Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefit payments under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, at some point following his application on December 20, 2001. (R. 27.) The basis for plaintiff's original entitlement to receipt of SSI benefits, and the dates his period of disability and the payment of benefits began, do not appear in the record. It is apparent that the Administrative Record does not contain the entire history of plaintiff's applications for and receipt of SSI benefits.

         In April 2009, plaintiff was arrested and was held in jail while awaiting trial.[1] As discussed more fully below, around the time of his arrest and detention plaintiff wrote numerous letters and filed complaints with the United States Department of Justice and other agencies, and to individuals including the President of the United States and plaintiff's congressional representatives, concerning the circumstances of his arrest and detention, and various claims he made of mistreatment such as excessive force, denial of medical care, and false imprisonment.

         On May 18, 2009, the SSA sent plaintiff a Notice of Overpayment, which stated in pertinent part:

We are writing to let you know that we've paid you $674.00 too much Supplemental Security Income (SSI) money. The overpayment happened in April 2009. You were overpaid because you were living in a public institution.
This new overpayment is in addition to the old overpayment already on your record. You still owe $2, 046.02 from the old overpayment. We have attached to this letter a detailed explanation of your new overpayment.

(R. 448.)

         On June 10, 2013, plaintiff reapplied for SSI benefits following his release from incarceration. (R. 32-36, 50.) Plaintiff's disabling conditions are primarily mental impairments: “bipolar, schizophrenia, anti-social, hears voices, back.” (R. 209.) Plaintiff's 2013 SSI application stated among other things that his wife, Ava Jefferson, was employed and owned two life insurance policies. (R. 34-35.) In August 2013, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) asked plaintiff to provide information concerning the life insurance policies, Ava's pay stubs from June 2013 to the then-present time, and direct deposit information. (R. 61.)

         Plaintiff provided the requested information. (R. 66-68.) On August 26, 2013, however, plaintiff wrote to Ms. Kara Hubbard of the SSA, complaining that although Ms. Hubbard said information concerning Ava's life insurance policies was needed to determine his eligibility for payments of SSI benefits, plaintiff disagreed:

The research presented leads me to believe otherwise. The non-payment of SSI benefits for me by the mentioned reasons are unfairly, injuriously, and prejudicially used for non-payment of benefits under SSI. This is the failure to treat me equally; the setting up of arbitrary standard to justify treating me unfairly.
Should you not understand my point of view, please be advised that this incident is an example of reasons why I don't trust people because I get very depressed on such issues.
How can you use a Life Insurance Policy to affect an income when nobody has died and life insurance proceeds are not available? “nor taxable”

(R. 85.) The letter was signed, “Elmer L. Jefferson, 33E, U.S. Representative #1908.”

         On September 3, 2013, the SSA sent plaintiff a Notice of Award that stated plaintiff was approved for SSI benefits as of June 2013. (R. 87-99.) The Notice stated the amount of plaintiff's monthly payment for October 2013 and the amount of back payments due for July 2013 through September 2013. (R. 87.) Among other things, the Notice also stated:

As we previously notified you, you were overpaid when you formerly received SSI payments. You must still repay $379.75 from the amount due for July 2013 through September 2013, to reduce the overpayment to $2, 340.27.
As we told you before, we are withholding part of your payment to get back money you were overpaid. Starting October 2013, we will start withholding $71.00. Therefore you will receive a payment for $137.50 instead of $208.50.
The $71.00 we will withhold is 10 percent of your SSI money plus any other money we use in figuring your SSI. If you want us to withhold more or less, please call or visit your Social Security office.

(R. 88.) The Notice also discussed “monthly income which must be considered in figuring [plaintiff's] payment, ” including Ava's income, and the “food or shelter [plaintiff] got from someone.” (R. 89.)

         Plaintiff filed a Request for Reconsideration on September 5, 2013 which stated in pertinent part:


(R. 100.) Plaintiff did not offer any specific information as to why the information used by SSA in determining the amount of his SSI benefit was incorrect. Plaintiff's Request for Reconsideration did not mention the stated overpayment or the monthly withholding related to repayment of the overpayment. (Id.).

         On September 11, 2013, the SSA sent plaintiff a Notice of Reconsideration which stated in pertinent part, “Someone who did not make the first decision reviewed your case, including any new facts we received, and found that the first decision was correct.” (R. 103-105.) The Notice of Reconsideration concluded, “After reviewing your file, we have determined that the calculation of your SSI benefits is correct.” (R. 103.)

         On September 30, 2013, plaintiff filed a Request for Hearing by Administrative Law Judge on the September 11, 2013 Notice of Reconsideration for the stated reason, “There is an unresolved issue: See attached.” (R. 110.) Plaintiff wrote that his hearing representative's name was Shanette Y. Cutlar.[2] (Id.) At paragraph 15 of the Request for Hearing, which directed that the claimant “check all claim types that apply, ” plaintiff did not check any boxes concerning SSI, but instead checked “Other - Specify, ” and wrote “See attached.” (Id.)

         Plaintiff attached a letter to the Request for Hearing that stated:

Because I disagree with this decision dated September 11, 2013 and filed September 5, 2013, I'm requesting a hearing in front of an Administrative Law Judge.
The reasons for this request is due to the attached information connected to the United States Department of Justice.
The correspondences relate to discrimination against the Missouri Department of Corrections where lawsuits exists [sic] for a denial of appropriate medical care and the Dunklin County Sheriff's Department and to include excessive force, improper booking, illegal restraint, abuse of a chronic care patient and false imprisonment.
I was granted a grievance approval on state ground with the Missouri Department of Corrections and the Sheriff's Department in Dunklin County Jail was ordered to reconstruct my mouth where my teeth were loosed during the arrest in 2009 and all charges were dismissed where the Dunklin County Sheriff's Department would not provide me medical treatment where an infection set up while being held almost a year.
Had these issues been resolved which were referred to the Social Security Administration, the calculation of benefits would not be an issue in dispute.
An injustice anywhere is an injustice everywhere.
Therefore, I'm requesting a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge for resolution.

(R. 111-12).

         Attached to plaintiff's letter were numerous documents, including a previous request for hearing plaintiff filed in 2008 concerning an overdraft at Kennett National Bank (R. 113), an undated Appointment of Representative form in which plaintiff sought to appoint Deputy Chief Jeanine Worden of the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, Disability Rights Section, as his representative in connection with a claim under Title II (RSDI) (R. 114); an undated Discrimination Complaint Form under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in which plaintiff claimed the United States, the State of Missouri, the City of Kennett, Missouri and Dunklin County committed “trespass to land, false arrest, criminal coercion, denial of appropriate medical care, false imprisonment, attacked while putting cast on neck & denial of due process of law” (R. 116-17); copies of letters between federal agencies or to plaintiff by federal agencies or elected officials in response to correspondence from or claims made by plaintiff in 2008 and 2009 (R. 115, 118-19, 122, 123-24, 125-27); copies of pleadings or documents that plaintiff had filed in several lawsuits, including in this Court; documents that were filed in plaintiff's criminal case or that concern the criminal charges against him; an Offender Grievance plaintiff filed while incarcerated in the Missouri Department of Corrections; and other records from plaintiff's incarceration including medical records (R. 135-62).

         Of particular note among the documents attached to the Request for Hearing dated September 30, 2013 was a letter dated June 16, 2009 from Robin C. Deykes, Civil Rights Program Specialist, Disability Rights Section, Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, concerning “Correspondence of Elmer Lee Jefferson” received January 2, 2009. Ms. Deykes' letter was addressed to the Social Security Administration, Office of General Counsel, and letter stated in relevant part:

We are referring this correspondence to you for appropriate disposition. We have determined that the matter is not within the jurisdiction of our office, but may come under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and fall within the jurisdiction of your agency. By copying the claimant, we are advising him/her that future inquiries about this complaint should be directed to the Social Security Administration, Office of General Counsel[.]

(R. 115.) The record does not reveal what correspondence of plaintiff's was the subject of the June 16, 2009 letter.[3]

         Plaintiff received several Notices of Change in Payment in October, November and December 2013, which explained that his monthly payments varied based on Ava's changing monthly income. (R. 163-185.) Each of the Notices discussed the $71.00 that would be withheld from each month's payment until the overpayment was paid back.

         On January 14, 2014, the SSA sent plaintiff a letter explaining the hearing process before an ALJ, and informing him of his right to have a representative present. Included with the letter was a list of organizations that might assist plaintiff in obtaining legal help. (R. 186-93.) The SSA's letter stated in part:

The ALJ will consider the issue(s) you raise, the evidence now in your file, and any additional evidence you provide. The ALJ may also consider other issues, including issues that were decided in your favor in the decision you appealed. The Notice of Hearing will ...

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