Justia Public Benefits Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
by
Plaintiff challenged the denial of her application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. The ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled because she could perform two occupations that existed in significant numbers in the economy.The Ninth Circuit held that the ALJ's identification of two occupations is insufficient to satisfy the "significant range of work" requirement of the Medical-Vocation Guidelines. The panel explained that, because plaintiff's skills were readily transferrable to only two occupations, the ALJ erred in concluding that she was not disabled. The panel reversed in part and remanded with instructions for calculation and payment of benefits for the period after plaintiff reached 55 years of age. Finally, the panel affirmed the district court's disability determination as to the time period before plaintiff reached the age of 55. View "Maxwell v. Saul" on Justia Law

by
After defendant was convicted of wire and securities fraud, he was ordered to pay restitution pursuant to the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA). The government sought to enforce the restitution order pursuant to the Federal Debt Collection Procedures Act (FDCPA), and thus applied for a post-judgment writ of garnishment against a bank account that held the Social Security benefits of defendant's wife (the claimant), on the theory that those funds were subject to garnishment pursuant to community property principles of Idaho state law. The district court denied claimant's objections and concluded that the MVRA's enforcement provision, 18 U.S.C. 3613(a), overrides the protections afforded Social Security benefits under the Social Security Act (SSA) so the benefits were garnishable community property.The Ninth Circuit held that it has jurisdiction, following the district court's entry of an order directing the disposition of the funds at issue pursuant to the writ of garnishment. The panel reversed the district court's disposition order and held that claimant's Social Security benefits are not subject to garnishment pursuant to the MVRA in connection with her husband's criminal restitution order. The panel explained that the government was entitled to collect on property only to the same extent defendant had a right to it. In this case, defendant would have no right to his wife's Social Security benefits because the SSA preempts application of Idaho state law community property principles. Accordingly, the panel reversed the order denying claimant's objections, vacated the disposition order, and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Swenson" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the Commissioner's reduction of claimant's social security retirement benefits pursuant to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) of the Social Security Act. The WEP applies to retirees who, like claimant, are entitled to social-security benefits and pension benefits from employment not covered by social security.The panel held that the text of the uniformed-services exception is ambiguous as applied to dual-status technicians. However, because the Commissioner's interpretation of the uniformed-services exception is reasonable, it is entitled to Skidmore deference. View "Larson v. Saul" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision upholding the SSA's denial of the claimant's application for disability benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. The panel held that the ALJ properly provided specific and legitimate reasons for discounting the opinions of claimant's physicians, correctly concluded that claimant's impairments did not meet a listing, and was entitled to rely on the vocational expert's testimony despite the expert's failure to provide information about the sources underlying the testimony. View "Ford v. Saul" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a negligence action brought by plaintiff under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), alleging that he received improper treatment at a VA facility. In this case, after plaintiff presented a claim to the VA, the VA issued a final denial. The panel held that plaintiff's appeal was time-barred, because he failed to file the action within six months after the VA mailed a notice of final denial of plaintiff's initial claim, and the statute of limitations did not restart when the VA declined to consider plaintiff's second attempt to file the same claim. View "Redlin v. United States" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit reversed the denial of disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income to plaintiff. The panel held that SR 82-41 obligates the ALJ to make transferability of skills findings where, unlike Bray v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration, 554 F.3d 1219, 1223–26 (9th Cir. 2009), no Grid rule states that a person with the claimant's age, education, and work experience is disabled absent transferable skills. Therefore, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Barnes v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit reversed the denial of disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income for claimant. The panel held that the ALJ erred in not adequately addressing claimant's 100 percent Veterans Affairs (VA) disability rating in her decision; although the ALJ noted claimant's VA disability rating at the hearing and in her written decision, she did not address how she had considered and weighed the VA's rating or articulated any reasons for rejecting it; and thus remand was appropriate where it was unclear from the record whether the ALJ would be required to find claimant disabled after evaluating the VA disability rating. View "Luther v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's partial grant of summary judgment for the Department and held that the Department did not violate the dormant Commerce Clause in adopting Medi-Cal policies related to reimbursement to out-of-state hospitals. The panel held that when a state was acting as a market participant, rather than a market regulator, its decisions were exempted from the dormant Commerce Clause. In this case, the Department sets rates of reimbursement to hospitals for those who were essentially insured as beneficiaries under Medi-Cal in a manner much like that of a private insurer participating in the market. Therefore, the Department was acting as a market participant, rather than a regulator and was exempt from dormant Commerce Clause requirements. View "Asante v. California Department of Healthcare Services" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment for the Department in an action brought by private ambulance companies challenging the reimbursement rate for their transportation of patients covered by Medi-Cal. The panel held that plaintiffs failed to carry their burden of producing evidence upon which a reasonable jury could return a verdict in their favor and thus the district court did not err in entering judgment in the Department's favor on the Takings Clause claim. The panel reasoned that the ambulance companies lacked a constitutionally protected property interest in a particular reimbursement rate, but the mandatory-care provision of Cal. Health & Safety Code 1317(d) implicated a constitutionally protected property right. The panel held that section 1317(d) did not effect a regulatory taking under the Penn Central test. The panel also held that the ambulance companies did not establish a due process claim regarding DHCS's failure to ensure that Medi-Cal reimbursement rates kept pace with their costs because they lacked a constitutionally protected interest in any particular reimbursement rate. View "Sierra Medical Services Alliance v. Kent" on Justia Law

by
The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits and the partial denial of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. The panel held that the ALJ did not err by finding plaintiff's disability onset date without calling on a medical advisor at the hearing. In this case, the record was adequate even before plaintiff saw a mental health specialist and no reasonable medical expert could have inferred that her disability began before May 2010. Therefore, Social Security Ruling 83-20 did not require the ALJ to consult a medical advisor before determining plaintiff's disability onset date. View "Wellington v. Berryhill" on Justia Law