Hansen v. Colvin
MEMORANDUM DECISION and ORDER: Because the ALJ's decision is supported by substantial evidence and is free of harmful legal error, it is hereby AFFIRMED. Judgment shall be entered in accordance with Fed R. Civ. P. 58, consistent with US Supreme Court's decision in Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 US.292,296-304(1993). Signed by Magistrate Judge Dustin B. Pead on 04/17/2017. (kpf)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF UTAH
MAUREEN ANN HANSEN,
MEMORANDUM DECISION &
Case No. 2:16-cv-00753-DBP
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, 1
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
Magistrate Judge Dustin B. Pead
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), Plaintiff Maureen Hansen (Plaintiff) seeks judicial review
of the decision of the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (Commissioner) denying her
claim for mother’s insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act (Act). After
careful review of the entire record, along with the parties’ briefs, and arguments presented at a
hearing held on March 27, 2017, the court concludes that the Commissioner’s decision is
supported by substantial evidence and free of harmful legal error and is, therefore, AFFIRMED.
This court reviews the Commissioner’s decision to determine whether substantial
evidence in the record as a whole supports the factual findings and whether the correct legal
standards were applied. See Lax v. Astrue, 489 F.3d 1080, 1084 (10th Cir. 2007). “Substantial
evidence is such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a
conclusion.” Id. (citation omitted). The court may neither “reweigh the evidence [n]or substitute
Nancy A. Berryhill is now the Acting Commissioner of Social Security. Pursuant to Rule 25(d)
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Nancy A. Berryhill will be substituted for Acting
Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin as the defendant in this suit.
[its] judgment for the [ALJ’s].” Id. (citation omitted). Where the evidence as a whole can
support either the agency’s decision or an award of benefits, the agency’s decision must be
affirmed. See Ellison v. Sullivan, 929 F.2d 534, 536 (10th Cir. 1990).
Plaintiff applied for mother’s insurance benefits in July 2012, alleging entitlement to
benefits as the surviving divorced spouse of Scott H. Hansen (Certified Administrative
Transcript (Tr.) 24-25). After Plaintiff’s claim was denied at the initial level and on
reconsideration (Tr. 26-29, 34-36), an administrative law judge (ALJ) held a hearing in
March 2014 (Tr. 579-629). The ALJ subsequently issued a decision on July 23, 2014, finding
that Plaintiff was not entitled to mother’s insurance benefits (Tr. 12-16). The Appeals Council
denied Plaintiff’s request for review (Tr. 3-6), making the ALJ’s July 2014 decision the
Commissioner’s final decision for purposes of judicial review. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981,
422.210(a). This appeal followed.
Entitlement to Mother’s Insurance Benefits
An individual may be entitled to mother’s benefits on the earnings record of a spouse or
ex-spouse who was fully or currently insured when he died. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.331. As
relevant here, the individual must be the widow of the insured; must apply for benefits; must be
unmarried; must not be entitled to widow’s benefits or an old-age benefit that is equal to or larger
than the insured’s benefits; and must have in her care the insured’s child who is entitled to
child’s benefits and the child is under 16 years old or is disabled. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.339(a)-(e).
In this case, the court finds that Plaintiff fails to meets the above requirements because she did
not have her children in her “care” during the relevant period.
Plaintiff Fails to Establish The Children Were In Her “Care” During the
Relevant Time Period.
As one requirement for receiving mother’s benefits, a claimant must “have in her care the
insured’s child who is entitled to child’s benefits and [the child] is under 16 years old or is
disabled.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.339(e) (emphasis provided). The Commissioner points out that “in
care” means that the claimant must “exercise parental control and responsibility,” i.e., supervise
the child’s activities and participate in the important decisions about the child’s physical and
mental needs. See Social Security Administration Program Operations Manual System (POMS)
RS 01310.001(D)(1); see also POMS RS 01310.010(A). 2 Parental control and responsibility
may be direct in situations where a parent lives with the child, or indirect in situations where a
parent gives instructions to the child’s custodian and ensures those instructions are carried out.
POMS RS 01310.010(B).
In this case, the court finds the ALJ reasonably concluded that Plaintiff failed to meet the
in care requirement (Tr. 14-15). In making this finding, the ALJ relied on evidence showing that
Plaintiff did not live with her children during the relevant period, did not have custody of her
children, had a protective order issued against her in 2003 which prohibited her from removing
the children from the possession of her ex-husband, and was only allowed supervised possession
of the children once a week for one day (Tr. 14; see Tr. 94-92, 97-99). The ALJ also relied on a
2006 Texas Court Order (Texas Order), stemming from Plaintiff’s divorce, which made Plaintiff
the “possessory conservator” for her children (Tr. 14). The Texas Order provided Plaintiff with
The POMS is “a set of policies issued by the [Social Security] Administration to be used in
processing claims.” McNamara v. Apfel, 172 F.3d 764, 766 (10th Cir. 1999). The Court must
defer to the POMS provisions unless they are arbitrary, capricious or contrary to law. Jaramillo
v. Colvin, 576 F. App’x. 870, 875 n.3 (10th Cir. 2014) (unpublished) (citations omitted).
very limited rights, including the right to consent to medical, dental, and surgical treatment, but
only “during an emergency involving an immediate danger to the health and safety of the
children”; the right to direct the moral and religious training of the children; and the duty to
support the children, including clothing, food, shelter, and medical and dental care not involving
an invasive procedure (Tr. 155-56). The ALJ reasonably concluded that this order “significantly
limited [Plaintiff’s] ability to care for and interact with her children,” and that she was “not able
to exercise parental control and authority, as that duty was reserved for the managing
conservators” (Tr. 14).
Indeed, the Texas Order explicitly provided the children’s uncle and aunt, Clark and
Sheila Hansen, with many “exclusive rights,” including the right to designate the children’s
primary residence, consent to medical and dental care, make decisions concerning their
education, direct their moral and religious training, as well as the duty of care, control,
protection, and reasonable discipline (Tr. 154-55). The Court finds, on its face, the Texas Order
establishes that Plaintiff did not “exercise parental control and responsibility,” i.e., supervise the
children’s activities and participate in the important decisions about their physical and mental
needs. See POMS RS 01310.001(D)(1); POMS RS 01310.010(A). Plaintiff had no authority to
give instructions to the custodians of the children and ensure that those instructions were carried
out. See POMS RS 01310.010(B)(2). Instead, Clark and Shelia Hansen had the “exclusive
right” to make the important decisions about the children’s physical and mental needs, including
their place of residence, education, and non-emergency medical and dental care (Tr. 154-55). See
POMS RS 01310.001(D)(1); POMS RS 01310.010(A). Although Plaintiff asserts that she
retained “those powers she considered essential to a mother for the children’s upbringing,” her
claim fails to overcome the explicit grant of parental control and responsibility provided to the
Hansens under the Texas Order (Pl. Br. 18). Thus, this court finds substantial evidence supports
the ALJ’s finding that Plaintiff “did not have the children in her care and was strictly limited in
her ability to interact with her children by the Texas District Court” (Tr. 14).
Plaintiff Fails To Show She Filed An Application For Mother’s Insurance
Benefits In 2005.
While the ALJ’s decision could be affirmed on this basis alone, the parties disagree on
whether Plaintiff meets the first requirement for obtaining mother’s insurance benefits, i.e.,
whether she filed a written application for benefits prior to July 2012. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.339(a)-(e). It is well-established that a claimant must file a written application prior to any
entitlement to Social Security benefits. See 42 U.S.C. § 402(b)(1)(A); see also 20 C.F.R. §
404.310(c) (requiring an application); Johnson v. United States, 572 F.2d 697, 699 (9th Cir.
1978) (recognizing that the explicit language of § 402 makes filing an application a substantive
condition to receiving benefits under the Act); see also Smithback v. Sullivan, 899 F.2d 698, 699
(7th Cir. 1990) (same); Miller v. Comm’r. of Soc. Sec. Admin., 280 F. App’x. 870, 872 (11th Cir.
2008) (unpublished) (same). Here, Plaintiff asserts that she attended a meeting at the Social
Security Administration in 2005, after her ex-husband’s death, and alleges that she “attempted to
claim benefits” at that time (Pl. Br. 11) (emphasis in original). There is, however, no record
showing whether Plaintiff attended the meeting or what was discussed at the meeting. In
addition, there is no evidence that Plaintiff filed an application for mother’s insurance benefits in
2005. In the absence of such evidence, Plaintiff fails to meet her burden to show that she filed an
application for mother’s insurance benefits in 2005. See 42 U.S.C. § 402(b)(1)(A); see also 20
C.F.R. § 404.310(c).
In turn, Plaintiff argues for a “deemed” filing date in 2005, based upon her allegation that
she was “misinformed” by the agency regarding entitlement for mother’s insurance benefits
(Pl. Br. 16-17). The court concludes that Plaintiff fails to meet her burden to show that she
received misinformation. See 42 U.S.C. § 402(j)(5) (“In any case in which it is determined to the
satisfaction of the Commissioner of Social Security that an individual failed . . . to apply . . . by
reason of misinformation . . . .”); see also, e.g., Grubart v. Shalala, 913 F. Supp. 243, 247
(S.D.N.Y. 1996) (“[T]he burden of proof is on the claimant to demonstrate that she received SSA
misinformation that caused her to fail as of a particular date to apply for monthly insurance
benefits.”); Mead v. Astrue, No. 08-cv-00141-LTB, 2008 WL 5330595, at *3-*4 (D. Colo.
Dec. 17, 2008) (unpublished) (same).
Under the Social Security regulations, a claim of misinformation must be supported by
sufficient evidence, either written evidence that “relates directly” to the inquiry about benefits or
other evidence, including the individual’s statements. 20 C.F.R. § 404.633(d)(1)-(2). Moreover,
the regulations specifically prohibit the Social Security Administration from making a finding of
misinformation based solely upon an individual’s statements. Id. at (d)(2). Here, instead of
providing any “preferred evidence,” Plaintiff offers only her own statements that she was
provided misinformation by the agency (Pl. Br. 16-17). 20 C.F.R. § 404.633(d)(1). Thus, the
court finds that Plaintiff fails to meet her burden to show that she did not file for mother’s
benefits in 2005 based upon misinformation given by the agency. See Donnelly v. Colvin, 561 F.
App’x. 524, 526 (7th Cir. 2014) (unpublished) (noting that a claimant must provide objective
evidence to corroborate [her] claim that the agency provided misinformation regarding his
eligibility for benefits); Plakstis-Balsamo v. Comm’r. of Soc. Sec., No. 13-cv-5419-DLI, 2015
WL 4600724, at *6 (E.D.N.Y. July 29, 2015) (unpublished) (holding that a claimant’s “lack of
knowledge about the rules concerning the receipt of benefits is not sufficient to establish an
earlier filing date.”).
Because the ALJ’s decision is supported by substantial evidence and is free of harmful
legal error, it is hereby AFFIRMED. Judgment shall be entered in accordance with Fed. R. Civ.
P. 58, consistent with the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Shalala v. Schaefer, 509 U.S. 292,
DATED this 17th day of April, 2017.
DUSTIN B. PEAD
United States Magistrate Judge
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