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Wilder v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

July 8, 2019

JOAN RENEE WILDER, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          Terrence G. Berg Judge.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION TO DENY PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DE 16), GRANT DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT (DE 17) AND AFFIRM THE COMMISSIONER'S DECISION

          ANTHONY P. PATTI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. RECOMMENDATION: For the reasons that follow, it is RECOMMENDED that the Court DENY Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (DE 16), GRANT Defendant's motion for summary judgment (DE 17), and AFFIRM the Commissioner's decision.

         II. REPORT

         Plaintiff, Joan Renee Wilder, disputes the Social Security Administration's treatment of insurance settlement proceeds when it calculated her SSI benefits. She brings this action in pro per under 42 U.S.C § 1383 for review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”). This matter is before the United States Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation on Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment (DE 16), the Commissioner's cross-motion for summary judgment (DE 17), Plaintiff's reply (DE 19) and the administrative record (DE 13).

         A. Background and Administrative History

         In her July 30, 2012 SSI application, Plaintiff alleged that her disability began on June 23, 2011, at the age of 44. (R. at 184-192.) On April 30, 2014, ALJ Anthony R. Smereka determined that Plaintiff had been disabled since June 23, 2011, the date of a motor vehicle accident. (R. at 26, 30.) In so doing, ALJ Smereka recognized that Plaintiff had received a monetary settlement on or about February 27, 2014, which would affect her SSI eligibility, and directed Plaintiff to provide the Social Security Administration (SSA) with related documentation. (R. at 30.)[1]

         On June 10, 2014, the SSA informed Plaintiff that she was entitled to a monthly $698.00 back payment from August 2012 through December 2012, totaling $3, 490.00, but was not entitled to any back payment from January 2013 through June 2014. (R. at 79-94.) This notification included explanations of these monthly calculations, several of which refer to Plaintiff's checking account(s). (R. at 95-101.) One month later, on July 10, 2014, the SSA found that Plaintiff had “resources worth more than $2, 000.00 for February 2013 through October 2013 and $2, 000.00 for March 2014.” (R. at 102-107.) Again, the SSA include explanations of these monthly calculations, many of which refer to Plaintiff's checking account. (R. at 108-112.)[2]

         On August 13, 2014, Plaintiff requested reconsideration. (R. at 114-115; see also R. at 123.) Plaintiff submitted documentary evidence - counsel's settlement memorandum, Plaintiff's bank statements from 2013, and provider statements - to substantiate Plaintiff's alleged receipt of $17, 557.47 in settlement proceeds and a total distribution of $16, 925.00 to service providers. (R. at 121.) An informal conference was conducted on September 15, 2014. (R. at 14.) Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff submitted chore provider logs and lease agreements. (R. at 126-127.)[3] On November 5, 2014, the SSA affirmed its original decision. (R. at 139-141.)

         Plaintiff requested a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). (R. at 142-143; see also R. at 152-164.) Plaintiff submitted a statement of claim, which argued that benefits from January 2013 to February 2014 should be paid. (R. at 193-194.) ALJ Martha Gasparovich held a hearing on November 9, 2015, at which Plaintiff testified. (R. at 199-214.) On January 8, 2016, ALJ Gasparovich issued an opinion, which determined that Plaintiff's countable resources exceeded the allowable limit to be eligible for SSI benefits from January 2013 through March 2014. (R. at 11-19.)

         Plaintiff submitted a request for review of the hearing decision. (R. at 195-198, 9-10.) However, on January 17, 2018, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (R. at 4-8.) Thus, ALJ Gasparovich's decision became the Commissioner's final decision.

         It is undisputed that Plaintiff timely commenced the instant action on March 23, 2018. (See R. at 5.)

         B. Plaintiff's Financial History

         The administrative record contains several records that describe Plaintiff's finances: (1) Bank of America statements for February 5, 2013 - August 19, 2013 (R. at 32-37); (2) Bank of America statements for February 27, 2014 - April 30, 2014 (R. at 38-44); (3) SSI database records of Bank of America funds for March 2013 - June 2014 (R. at 124-125); (4) memoranda for settlement and distribution of proceeds from QBE Insurance Corporation, i.e., the settlement at the center of the instant appeal (R. at 53, 55-57); (5) a February 27, 2014 memorandum for settlement and distribution of proceeds from Auto Club Group Insurance Company (R. at 54); and, (6) SSI database queries regarding earnings (R. at 144-146, 148-151, 183).

         C. The Administrative Decision

         The issue before ALJ Gasparovich was whether Plaintiff's “countable resources exceeded the allowable limit to be eligible for [SSI] benefits from January 2013 through March 2014.” (R. at 14.) In the January 8, 2016 decision, the ALJ specifically referenced:

. A July 2011 Residential Lease, between Plaintiff and C. C. Champion (Apt. 304, Madison Apts.), which indicates that monthly rent from July 2011 to September 2012 was $475.00 (R. at 45-50)
. Plaintiffs July 2012 application summary for SSI, which represents, inter alia, that she lived alone and her monthly rent was $300.00 (R. at 185)
. An October 2012 Residential Lease between Plaintiff and C. C. Champion (29646 Medbury St.), which indicates that monthly rent from October 2012 to March 2015 ...

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