Justia Public Benefits Opinion Summaries

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In 1993, Kastman was charged with misdemeanor offenses based on acts of public indecency involving children and disorderly conduct. The state’s attorney initiated a civil commitment proceeding against Kastman under the Sexually Dangerous Persons Act (725 ILCS 205/0.01). Evidence indicated that Kastman suffered from pedophilia, antisocial personality disorder, exhibitionism, and alcohol dependency. Kastman was found to be a sexually dangerous person, and the circuit court granted the petition. In 2016, Kastman was granted conditional release from institutional care.In 2020, he sought financial assistance. Kastman asserted that he was unemployed, disabled, and could not afford his $300 monthly treatment costs and the $1800 monthly rent for housing that complied with the Sex Offender Registration Act. The circuit court of Lake County ordered the Department of Corrections to pay a portion of Kastman’s monthly expenses. The appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed. The statutes indicate that a sex offender’s ability to pay is a relevant consideration in deciding who should bear the expense of treatment costs; without a clear statutory directive, the legislature is not presumed to have intended that only financially stable individuals are eligible for conditional release. Financial instability and the need for supervision to protect the public are not the same things. View "People v. Kastman" on Justia Law

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The Department of Veterans Affairs rating schedule standardizes the evaluation of how severely diseases and injuries resulting from military service impair veterans’ earning capacity, 38 C.F.R. 4.1. The rating schedule is divided into diagnostic codes that provide disability ratings for various symptoms or conditions. The Federal Circuit, pursuant to 38 U.S.C. 502, reviewed the VA’s interpretation of two diagnostic codes: DCs 5055 and 5257: the “Knee Replacement Manual Provision” and the “Knee Joint Stability Manual Provision.” The court concluded that DC 5055 is ambiguous as to whether it includes partial knee replacements and, that under controlling Supreme Court precedent, the Secretary’s interpretation is not entitled to deference. A “Guidance” promulgated to clarify that the Provision applied only to total joint replacement did not go through the notice-and-comment procedure followed when the original Diagnostic Code was enacted. The court, therefore, applied the “pro-veteran” canon of construction. The court dismissed the challenge to the Knee Joint Stability Manual Provision as moot because the Secretary rescinded the Manual provision. View "Nova v. Secretary of Veterans Affairs" on Justia Law

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Under the Social Security Act’s Title IV-E program, states receive reimbursements for foster care maintenance payments (FCMPs), 42 U.S.C. 670–676. Title IV-E’s conditions include having a state plan approved by the Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS); the removed child’s placement and care must be the responsibility of the state agency administering that plan. Kentucky's approved plan is administered by the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. Under Kentucky law, a court may remove a child from her home “to the custody of an adult relative, fictive kin,” or other person or facility or can commit the child to the custody of the Cabinet. The Cabinet does not provide FCMPs to children placed by courts into the care of a relative or fictive kin, although that is a preferred outcome for the child.Caregivers brought a class action, accusing the Cabinet of denying FCMPs to eligible children without notice or a fair hearing, in a way that discriminated against relative caregivers. The district court certified a Children’s Class, a Caregivers’ Class, a Cabinet Custody Class, and a Notice and Hearing Class. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit except as to the Cabinet Custody Class. Under Kentucky law, the Cabinet did not have placement and care responsibility over children not in their custody; the Cabinet cannot change a child’s placement without a court order. Only Cabinet Custody Class members were eligible for FCMPs. View "J. B-K. v. Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services" on Justia Law

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Access Behavioral Health appeals from the district court’s judgment upholding an order of the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare that demanded recoupment of Medicaid payments made to Access. The Department sought to recoup certain payments made to Access because it failed to meet the Department’s documentation requirements. Following an audit of provider billings, the Department found Access billed Medicaid for two codes for services provided to the same patient on the same day without documentation to support its use of the codes. The Department concluded the documentation deficiencies violated IDAPA Rule 16.03.09.716 and the Handbook. The Idaho Supreme Court determined the Department had legal authority to issue recoupment demands to Access. Access failed to demonstrate an entitlement to payment of those funds sought to be recouped. The False Claims Act's materiality requirement was inapplicable to the Department’s administrative action. Finally, laches did not bar the Department’s administrative actions. Judgment was thus affirmed. View "Access Behavioral Health v. IDHW" on Justia Law

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With the agreement of her supervisor, Johar, a salesperson, left work for about a week to care for a terminally ill relative. While she was away her employer (SWS) decided she had quit. Upon her return, SWS stated business was slow and gave her no new sales appointments. Johar sought unemployment benefits, citing a “temporary layoff.” SWS denied laying Johar off. While conceding that she left with her supervisor’s approval, SWS claimed that Johar’s failure to provide a return date or otherwise communicate with her supervisor while she was away amounted to a voluntary quit. The Employment Development Department agreed, found Johar ineligible for unemployment benefits, ordered reimbursement of benefits improperly paid, and imposed a penalty for willful misrepresentation. The California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (CUIAB) affirmed.After Johar sought judicial review, CUIAB confessed error for failing to consider new evidence discovered by Johar while the administrative appeal was pending. The court dismissed the case without reaching the merits. The court of appeal reversed. Johar was entitled to relief on the existing record. She left her job in emergency circumstances with the employer’s approval, thus for good cause; an employee who leaves work for good cause is presumed to have not voluntarily quit. SWS’ evidence did not establish that Johar positively repudiated her obligation to return in clear terms. View "Johar v. California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board" on Justia Law

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Jarnutowski sought Social Security disability benefits, claiming she could not work due to a foot condition, neck and leg pain, obesity, and mental health issues. Jarnutowski underwent multiple surgeries, X-rays, and CT scans on her foot between 2011-2015. An ALJ awarded Jarnutowski found that she was disabled during September 2013-January 2016, with only the ability to perform light work with some limitations; her foot condition, neck issues, and obesity were severe impairments; and, she was disabled by direct application of the Medical-Vocational Guidelines due to her age. The ALJ concluded that Jarnutowski’s disability ended when she regained the ability to perform medium work after her foot surgery and was again able to perform her past work as a store manager. The ALJ did not explicitly address Jarnutowski’s functional capabilities related to medium work, including Jarnutowski’s ability to lift objects weighing up to 50 pounds and frequently lift or carry objects weighing up to 25 pounds, emphasizing Jarnutowski’s ability to walk.The Seventh Circuit reversed. In Social Security disability determinations, the lifting and carrying weight requirements associated with medium work are more than double those of light work. The ALJ found that Jarnutowski’s “residual functional capacity” was limited to light work with some restrictions before her final foot surgery, but increased to medium work after the surgery without explaining how, after surgery, Jarnutowski could lift or carry objects more than twice the weight that she lifted or carried before surgery. View "Jarnutowski v. Kijakazi" on Justia Law

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Class Counsel discovered the Social Security Administration's (SSA’s) systemic failure to perform “Subtraction Recalculations” and recovered over $106 million in past-due disability benefits. After performing the Subtraction Recalculations for all the claimants, the SSA argued that the district court did not have authority under the Social Security Act’s judicial-review provision, 42 U.S.C. 405(g), to order the Subtraction Recalculations and that Class Counsel cannot recover attorney fees under section 406(b) for representation of the claimants.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the award of $15.9 million in attorney fees to Class Counsel. SSA “may not hide behind” the statutory provisions merely because it erred at the end, rather than at the beginning, of the benefits-award process. The district court appropriately exercised judicial review under section 405(g), properly ordered the SSA to perform the Subtraction Recalculations, and properly awarded reasonable attorneys’ fees. The SSA failed to award claimants additional past-due benefits to which they were entitled. Counsel successfully sought judicial assistance to obtain those benefits. Congress did not create a statute that allows attorneys to recover fees when the SSA initially fails to award benefits, only to foreclose fee recovery when the SSA later unlawfully withholds additional benefits. View "Steigerwald v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law

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A Social Security Administration ALJ, appointed by agency staff rather than by the Commissioner as required, reviewed and denied claimant’s initial claims. Without challenging the ALJ’s appointment, the claimant appealed to the district court and prevailed in part. The district court vacated the 2017 ALJ decision and ordered a new hearing because the ALJ failed to properly consider certain evidence. The case returned to the same ALJ, who by then had been properly ratified by the Acting Commissioner. The ALJ again denied benefits, and claimant appealed to the district court, raising the issue of an Appointments Clause violation. The district court affirmed the ALJ decision and denied the Appointments Clause claim because the 2017 decision had been vacated and the ALJ was properly appointed when she issued the 2019 decision.   Because the ALJ’s decision was tainted by a prior Appointments Clause violation, the Ninth Circuit vacated the district court’s decision affirming the Commissioner of Social Security’s denial of claimant’s application for benefits under the Social Security Act and remanded with instructions to the Commissioner to assign the case to a different, validly appointed ALJ to rehear and adjudicate claimant’s case de novo. The panel held that under Lucia, the claimant was entitled to a new hearing before a different ALJ. The panel concluded that claimants are entitled to an independent decision issued by a different ALJ if a timely challenged ALJ decision is tainted by a pre-ratification ALJ decision. View "BRIAN CODY V. KILOLO KIJAKAZI" on Justia Law

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Air Force veteran Skaar was exposed to ionizing radiation while participating in a cleanup operation in Palomares, Spain following a 1966 midair collision involving a plane carrying nuclear weapons. In 1998, he was diagnosed with leukopenia. His doctor opined that exposure to ionizing radiation “appear[s] to be the positive agent” that historically causes leukopenia. Skaar filed an unsuccessful claim with the VA for service-connected benefits. Before the Veterans Court, he challenged the radiation dose estimates provided by the Air Force. The Veterans Court certified a class of similarly situated veterans who had participated in the Palomares cleanup operation, including veterans who had not received a Board decision but excluding veterans whose claims had been denied but not timely appealed.The Federal Circuit vacated. The Veterans Court lacked authority to certify a class that includes veterans who had not received a Board decision, a statutory prerequisite for the court’s jurisdiction, 38 U.S.C. 7252(a). Jurisdiction over Skaar’s individual claim did not create further jurisdiction over similarly situated veterans whose individual claims were beyond the court’s jurisdiction. The court rejected Skaar’s argument that the Veterans Court should have equitably tolled the appeal period for veterans whose claims had been denied but not timely appealed and should have included such veterans as members of the certified class. None of the claimants alleged the requisite due diligence in pursuing their rights. View "Skaar v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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Clemons worked as a coal miner for 10 years and smoked two packs per day for 30 years. Clemons suffered and died from COPD. His claims for federal black-lung benefits (30 U.S.C. 901) were denied. An ALJ awarded Mrs. Clemons survivor’s benefits after considering three medical opinions. Dr. Sikder diagnosed Clemons with legal pneumoconiosis in the form of COPD that resulted from both cigarette smoking and from coal-mine dust exposure. Doctros Habre and Broudy attributed Clemons’s COPD solely to his cigarette smoking. The ALJ credited Sikder’s opinion as well-documented, well-reasoned, and supported by substantial evidence, irrespective of the length of coal mine employment she considered, so that opinion was accorded “probative weight” while the other opinions did not sufficiently explain why Clemons’s coal-mine dust exposure did not contribute “at least in part” to his COPD. The Benefits Review Board affirmed, concluding that the evidence was sufficient to establish the presence of legal pneumoconiosis.The Sixth Circuit denied a petition for review, finding that the ALJ took the coal mine employment discrepancy into account when he weighed Dr. Sikder’s opinion, and acted within his discretion in explaining that the discrepancy was not so great as to detract from the opinion’s probative value. View "Huscoal, Inc. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, United States Department of Labor" on Justia Law