Justia Public Benefits Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment affirming the ALJ's denial of claimant's application for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) under the Social Security Act. The panel published this decision to draw attention to the government's incorrect description, in its briefs in this and in other recent SSI cases, of the standard of review.In an SSI case, the panel reviews the decision of the ALJ for substantial evidence. If substantial evidence in the record supports the ALJ's decision, the panel must defer to the ALJ. In the absence of substantial evidence, however, the panel must set aside the ALJ's decision. The panel is not restricted to setting aside the ALJ's decision only when the evidence in the record compels a contrary conclusion. The panel rejected the government's application of I.N.S. v. Elias-Zacarias, 502 U.S. 478 (1992), which is an immigration case, and clarified that Elias-Zacarias does not describe the standard of review in an SSI case. In this case, considering the record as a whole, the panel held that the ALJ's disability determination was supported by substantial evidence. View "Ahearn v. Saul" on Justia Law

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As part of its response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress enacted the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (Families First Act), which provides for emergency assistance to households participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's order denying a motion for a preliminary injunction brought by a putative class of Californians, who normally receive the maximum monthly allotment of SNAP benefits, seeking to bar the USDA from denying California's request under section 2302(a)(1) of the Families First Act to issue emergency allotments to households already receiving maximum SNAP benefits. After determining that plaintiffs had Article III standing, the panel held that the USDA, which administers SNAP, correctly interpreted the statute by concluding that it allows households receiving less than the maximum monthly allotment of SNAP benefits to be brought up to the maximum but does not permit those already receiving the maximum to be given any additional benefits. When the panel examined the Families First Act as a whole, as well as other statutes addressing emergency SNAP benefits, three considerations lead it to conclude that the government's reading of section 2302(a)(1) is more consistent with the overall statutory scheme. Therefore, because plaintiffs were unlikely to succeed on the merits of their claims, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying a preliminary injunction. View "Hall v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment dismissing as time-barred plaintiff's challenge to the Appeals Council's decision affirming the denial of social security disability benefits. The district court found that declarations from plaintiff and her attorney were insufficient to rebut the presumption that she received notice five days after the denial, triggering a 60-day deadline to file a challenge in federal court.The panel held that plaintiff has made a sufficient "reasonable showing" to rebut the presumption that notice was received within five days of its issuance. In this case, the combination of circumstances—including unrebutted declarations from both plaintiff and her attorney, an officer of the court, that neither received the notice, where the face of the notice indicates that both were supposed to have been mailed copies—is sufficient to rebut the presumption and shift the burden of proving actual receipt to the government. Because the district court did not perform this burden-shifting analysis, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Ashe v. Saul" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment affirming the denial of claimant's application for social security disability benefits. In Bellamy v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 755 F.2d 1380 (9th Cir. 1985), the panel held that a claimant's prior disability determination entitled claimant to a presumption of continuing disability. The SSA interpreted then-recent amendments to the Social Security Act as foreclosing any presumption of continuing disability.Deferring to the SSA's intervening interpretation of the Social Security Act, which is a reasonable one, the panel held that there is no presumption of continuing disability under the Act. Consequently, the ALJ did not err in evaluating, without any such presumption, the SSA's determination that claimant is no longer disabled. However, the ALJ did err in failing to articulate sufficient reasons for refusing to credit plaintiff's testimony about the severity of her medical condition. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Lambert v. Saul" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of social security disability benefits to claimant under Title II of the Social Security Act. The panel held that the ALJ did not err in discounting claimant's testimony where substantial evidence supported the ALJ's finding that claimant had engaged in drug-seeking behavior; the ALJ did not err in weighing the medical-opinion evidence; and the ALJ did not err in excluding pain disorder as a severe impairment. View "Coleman v. Saul" on Justia Law

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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