United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division
KAREN L. MATAR, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.
TIMOTHY J. CAVAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
October 30, 2017, Plaintiff Karen L. Matar
(“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Act, requesting
judicial review of the final administrative decision of the
Commissioner of Social Security (the
“Commissioner”) regarding the denial of her
request that an overpayment of disability insurance benefits
be waived. (Doc. 2.) On January 2, 2018, the Commissioner
filed the Administrative Record (“A.R.”). (Doc.
before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for summary
judgment, requesting the Court set aside the decision of the
Commissioner, grant Plaintiff's request for a waiver, and
recalculate the overpayment. (Doc. 12.) The motion is fully
briefed and ripe for the Court's review. (Docs. 13, 14.)
reasons set forth herein, and after careful consideration of
the record and the applicable law, the Court finds
Plaintiff's motion should be GRANTED,
and the Commissioner's decision should be
began receiving disability insurance benefits
(“DIB”) in July 1990. (A.R. 12.) In July 2010,
the Social Security Administration (“SSA”)
notified Plaintiff that she was no longer entitled to DIB
payments, and that she had been overpaid. (A.R. 21.)
Subsequently, the SSA sent Plaintiff a letter indicating she
was overpaid in the total amount $27, 497.70. (A.R. 33-37.)
requested that recovery of the overpayment be waived. (A.R.
113.) The SSA denied her request initially and after a
personal conference. (A.R. 44, 46, 49-51.) On April 9, 2015,
Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing. (A.R. 59.)
Administrative Law Judge Michele M. Kelley (the
“ALJ”) held a hearing on March 24, 2016. (A.R.
141-162.) On July 28, 2016, the ALJ issued a written decision
determining that recovery of the overpayment should not be
waived. (A.R. 9-16.)
requested review of the ALJ's decision. (A.R. 7-8.) On
August 25, 2017, the Appeals Council issued a partially
favorable decision in which it reduced the amount of the
overpayment to account for the fact Plaintiff's federal
tax refunds had been withheld to repay the
overpayment. (A.R. 2.) But the Appeals Council affirmed
the portion of the ALJ's decision finding that recovery
of the overpayment could not be waived. (Id.) This
made the ALJ's determination the Commissioner's final
decision for purposes of judicial review. 20 C.F.R. §
404.981. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed the instant action.
Scope of Review
Social Security Act allows claimants to seek judicial review
of the Commissioner's final agency decision. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3). The scope of judicial review
is limited. The Court must affirm the Commissioner's
decision unless it “is not supported by substantial
evidence or it is based upon legal error.” Tidwell
v. Apfel, 161 F.3d 599, 601 (9th Cir. 1999). See
also Bayliss v. Barnhart, 427 F.3d 1211, 1214 n.1 (9th
Cir. 2005) (“We may reverse the ALJ's decision to
deny benefits only if it is based upon legal error or is not
supported by substantial evidence.”); Flaten v.
Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 44 F.3d 1453,
1457 (9th Cir. 1995).
evidence is more than a mere scintilla but less than a
preponderance.” Tidwell, 161 F.3d at 601
(citing Jamerson v. Chater, 112 F.3d 1064, 1066 (9th
Cir. 1997)). “Substantial evidence is relevant evidence
which, considering the record as a whole, a reasonable person
might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”
Flaten, 44 F.3d at 1457. In considering the record
as a whole, the Court must weigh both the evidence that
supports and detracts from the ALJ's conclusions.
Jones v. Heckler, 760 F.2d 993, 995 (9th Cir. 1985);
Day v. Weinberger, 522 F.2d 1154, 1156 (9th Cir.
1975)); Burch v. Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th
Cir. 2005) (“Where evidence is susceptible to more than
one rational interpretation, it is the ALJ's conclusion
that must be upheld.”); Flaten, 44 F.3d at
1457 (“If the evidence can reasonably support either
affirming or reversing the Secretary's conclusion, the
court may not substitute its judgment for that of the
Secretary.”). However, even if the Court finds that
substantial evidence supports the ALJ's conclusions, the
Court must set aside the decision if the ALJ failed to apply
the proper legal standards in weighing the evidence and
reaching a conclusion. Benitez v. Califano, 573 F.2d
653, 655 (9th Cir. 1978) (quoting Flake v. Gardner,
399 F.2d 532, 540 (9th Cir. 1968)).
Applicable Law Regarding Overpayments
DIB recipient receives more disability benefits than she is
entitled, the Commissioner may recover the overpayment. 42
U.S.C. § 404(a)(1)(A). The Commissioner may, however,
waive repayment if: (1) the DIB recipient is without fault;
and either (2) recovery of the overpaid benefits would defeat
the purpose of Title II of the Social Security Act; or (3)
recovery of the overpaid benefits would be against equity and
good conscience. 42 U.S.C. § 404(b)(1).
Social Security regulations define fault as: (1) an incorrect
statement made by the individual that she knew or should have
known to be incorrect; (2) failure to furnish information
that she knew or should have known to be material; or (3)
acceptance of a payment that she either knew or could have
been expected to know was incorrect. 20 C.F.R. §
404.507; McCarthy v. Apfel, 221 F.3d 1119, 1126 (9th
Cir. 2000). “In making these determinations of fault,
the agency ‘will consider all pertinent circumstances,
including [the claimant's] age, ...