Justia Public Benefits Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit
Waters v. Becerra
Waters was born with homocystinuria and diagnosed with that condition at the age of six. Homocystinuria is a genetic attribute that causes metabolic issues that prevent Waters’s liver from metabolizing methionine, an amino acid, that produces L-cysteine, another amino acid. Her physician prescribed HCU coolers–a medical food containing a methionine-free protein formula. Waters ingests HCU coolers orally; she has a fully functioning gastrointestinal tract. Waters sought reimbursement for HCU coolers purchased during 2018-2019, under the prosthetic-device benefit of Medicare Part B, 42 U.S.C. 1395k(a)(2)(I); 1395x(s)(8). The National Coverage Determinations Manual explains that, as part of the prosthetic-device benefit, enteral nutrition is considered reasonable and necessary when a patient “cannot maintain weight and strength commensurate with his” “general condition” because food does not reach the digestive tract and specifies that “[e]nteral therapy may be given by nasogastric [nose], jejunostomy [small intestine], or gastrostomy [stomach] tubes.” The NCD acknowledges “[s]ome patients require supplementation of their daily protein and caloric intake,” but “[n]utritional supplementation is not covered under Medicare Part B.”The Sixth Circuit affirmed several levels of denial of Waters’s claim, acknowledging the difficult circumstances of Waters and her family. An HCU cooler is not a stand-alone prosthetic device based on the plain meaning of prosthetic “device” and because an HCU cooler is a medical food according to the FDA. View "Waters v. Becerra" on Justia Law
Patti Cahoo v. SAS Institute, Inc.
Out-of-work residents of Michigan may claim unemployment benefits if they meet certain eligibility criteria. The State’s Unemployment Insurance Agency oversees the benefits system. In 2011, with the help of private contractors, the Agency began to develop software to administer the unemployment system. The Agency sought to equip the software to auto-adjudicate as many parts of the claims process as possible. The Agency programmed software that used logic trees to help process cases and identify fraud. A claimant’s failure to return the fact-finding questionnaire, for example, led to a fraud finding, as did the claimant’s selection of certain multiple-choice responses. In August 2015, problems arose with some features of the system, prompting the Agency to turn off the auto-adjudication feature for fraud claims.Plaintiffs are four individuals who obtained unemployment benefits, which were terminated after the Agency flagged their claims for fraud. Plaintiffs filed a putative class action against three government contractors and nineteen Agency staffers, raising claims under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments, 26 U.S.C. Sec. 6402(f), and Michigan tort law. In a previous proceeding, the court held that plaintiffs’ due process rights clearly existed because they had alleged a deprivation of their property interests without adequate notice and without an opportunity for a pre-deprivation hearing.At this stage, because the remaining plaintiffs have failed to show that these procedures violate any clearly established law, the supervisors of the unemployment insurance agency are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The court also found that an intervening plaintiff was properly prevented from joining the case, based on her untimely filing. View "Patti Cahoo v. SAS Institute, Inc." on Justia Law
T.M. v. DeWine
Child foster care systems in this country are administered by state governments. The federal government reimburses states for “foster care maintenance payments” that the state makes to certified foster caregivers who meet federal-eligibility requirements. In Ohio, there are also foster caregivers (typically relatives) whom the state does not certify as meeting those federal requirements. Ohio withholds payments for those caregivers and provides these non-certified caregivers with less generous payments through a separate state program. The plaintiffs, foster caregivers whom Ohio has considered ineligible to receive the higher foster care maintenance payments, sued. The district court dismissed, finding that the caregivers did not have to meet the same licensing standards as licensed caregivers in Ohio and thus were not “foster family homes” as required by federal law.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. Title IV-E of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. 671 (a), requires that all foster family homes eligible for payments under federal law meet the same licensing standards; the plaintiffs are subject to different standards than “licensed” caregivers are not “foster family home,” and are not eligible for the higher payments. View "T.M. v. DeWine" on Justia Law
J. B-K. v. Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services
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
Steigerwald v. Commissioner of Social Security
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
Huscoal, Inc. v. Director, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, United States Department of Labor
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
Samons v. National Mines Corp.
After working underground in coal mines for three decades, Casey developed pneumoconiosis (black-lung disease). His widow, Mabel, sought benefits under the Black Lung Benefits Act, 30 U.S.C. 901–44. It took the Department of Labor 17 years to deny her claims. During this time, the claims bounced back and forth between an ALJ and the Benefits Review Board. In the last appeal, the Board also rejected one of Mabel’s main arguments, citing “law-of-the-case,” without reaching the merits. The Department of Labor then delayed things further by filing an incomplete and disorganized administrative record in the Sixth Circuit.The Sixth Circuit affirmed. While the government’s actions “perhaps could be described as poor customer service, they do not show any reversible legal error.” The Board could lawfully invoke the discretionary law-of-the-case doctrine to avoid reexamining an issue on which it had affirmed the ALJ years before. The credibility findings concerning the conflicting medical opinions concerning whether Casey was totally disabled or had only “moderate impairment” pass muster under the deferential “substantial evidence” test. View "Samons v. National Mines Corp." on Justia Law
Owsley v. Fazzi Associates., Inc.
Owsley. a nurse for Care Connection, a company providing home healthcare to Medicare patients, alleged that she observed, firsthand, documents showing that her employer had used fraudulent data from Fazzi to submit inflated claims for payment to the federal and Indiana state governments. She sued both companies under the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729(a)(1)(A), (B), (C), (G), and an Indiana statute.The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Owsley’s complaint provided few details that would allow the defendants to identify any specific claims—of the hundreds or likely thousands they presumably submitted—that she thinks were fraudulent, and did not meet the requirements of Civil Rule 9(b). While Owsley’s allegations describe, in detail, a fraudulent scheme: Fazzi fraudulently upcoded patient data, which Care then used to submit inflated requests for anticipated Medicare payments, that information does not amount to an allegation of “particular identified claims” submitted pursuant to the fraudulent scheme. View "Owsley v. Fazzi Associates., Inc." on Justia Law
Doucette v. Commissioner of Social Security
Attorney Conn represented Plaintiffs and thousands of other claimants in seeking disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. Conn bribed doctors to certify false applications and bribed an ALJ to approve those applications. After Conn’s scheme was uncovered, the SSA identified over 1,700 applications for redetermination of eligibility. Years of litigation ensued. Both Plaintiffs sought attorney’s fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(A). Both courts awarded fees less than the amounts requested.The Sixth Circuit vacated the awards. Courts can award attorney’s fees for work performed during “all phases of successful civil litigation addressed by” the EAJA; one district court erred by holding that the EAJA does not authorize fees for work performed after the judgment becomes final. Both district courts abused their discretions by awarding below-market hourly rates. Plaintiffs’ unrefuted evidence established a market range of $205-500 but the courts concluded that the relative simplicity of the actions justified rates of only $125 and $150, although there is no evidence that any lawyer in the relevant communities would accept these rates for any kind of service. The complexity of the action is relevant to determine where the particular attorney’s representation lies along the spectrum of the market for legal services. It cannot be invoked to justify a rate below the established spectrum. View "Doucette v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law
Rahimi v. Rite Aid Corp.
Rite Aid’s “Rx Savings Program” provides generic prescription drugs at reduced prices. The program is free and widely available but excludes customers whose prescriptions are paid by publicly funded healthcare programs like Medicare or Medicaid. Federal regulations require pharmacies to dispense prescriptions for beneficiaries of those programs at their “usual and customary charge to the general public” (U&C rate). Rahimi alleged that Rite Aid overbilled the government programs because the amounts it charged did not take into account the lower Rx Savings Program prices. Rahimi claimed Rite Aid's submission of bills for those covered by publicly funded health insurance, representing the price to be the U&C rate, violated the False Claims Act, 31 U.S.C. 3729(a).The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Rahimi’s claim. The Act’s public disclosure bar precludes qui tam actions that merely feed off prior public disclosures of fraud. From the beginning, communications about the Rx Savings Program have stated that publicly funded health care programs were ineligible for the discounted prices. Before Rahimi’s disclosures, Connecticut investigated membership discount prices; the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would review Medicaid claims for generic drugs to determine the extent to which large chain pharmacies are billing Medicaid the usual and customary charges for drugs provided under their retail discount generic programs; and a qui tam action was unsealed in California, describing an identical scheme. View "Rahimi v. Rite Aid Corp." on Justia Law