On December 28, 2006, five individuals represented by private counsel, the Urban Justice Center, and the National Senior Citizens Law Center filed a class action complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York alleging that the Social Security Administration’s policy of ...
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On December 28, 2006, five individuals represented by private counsel, the Urban Justice Center, and the National Senior Citizens Law Center filed a class action complaint in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York alleging that the Social Security Administration’s policy of unlawfully suspending or denying benefits to persons who were found to have outstanding warrants for an alleged violation of a probation or parole condition violates the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 402(x)(1)(A)(v) and 1382(e)(4)(A)(ii), and 20 C.F.R. §1339(b).
Plaintiffs claimed that the SSA failed to inquire into the facts of individual cases or verify the individuals named in warrants were in fact those whose benefits were suspended or denied. Instead, the SSA relied on a computer matching program used by the Social Security Administration, which lacked the capabilities to accurately identify whether the individual had in fact committed a violation. Additionally, Plaintiffs argued that the SSA was unlawfully denying or suspending benefits to individuals without any regard to whether or not there has been a judicial finding that the individual had in fact committed such a violation. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief, class certification, and an award of attorneys’ fees and costs.
On February 26, 2007, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Judge Sidney Stein) denied the Plaintiffs’ request for temporary restraining order and on March 8, 2007, denied the motion for preliminary injunction, finding that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated a likelihood of success on the merits. On September 22, 2008, the court (Judge Stein) granted SSA’s motion for summary judgment, and denied plaintiffs’ cross-motion for summary judgment, and the case was closed.
Plaintiffs appealed, and on March 19, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed, holding that the "SSA’s practice of treating a warrant alleging that a recipient is violating a condition of probation or parole as sufficient and irrebuttable evidence that the recipient is in fact violating a condition of probation or parole is inconsistent with the plain meaning of the Social Security Act." The Second Circuit vacated the District Court’s grant of summary judgment for Defendant and its denial of summary judgment for Plaintiffs and remanded for further proceedings.
On March 18, 2011, the court certified a nationwide class consisting of "[a]ll persons nationwide whose SSI and/or OASDI benefits were denied and/or suspended based solely on the existence of a warrant for an alleged violation of probation or parole during the period from October 29, 2006 to and including such time in the future when final relief is entered in this action."
In April 2012, the court granted injunctive relief; it enjoined the challenged practice going forward; restored to SSA's roles the members of the class (who could number up to 140,000 people), pending hearings on their ongoing eligibility; and ordered their inappropriately suspended benefits to be paid to them. According to the National Senior Citizens Law Center, this could require payment of back-benefits of up to $1 billion. The Court gave the SSA 60 days to propose an implementation plan. - 03/27/2011