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Moriarty v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

December 31, 2014

MARSHALL T. MORIARTY, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiff
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant

For Marshall T Moriarty, Esq. individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Petitioner: Richard I. Greenberg, Richard Greenberg, Springfield, MA.

For Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security of the United States, Respondent: Karen L. Goodwin, LEAD ATTORNEY, United States Attorney's Office, Springfield, MA.

For Social Security Administration, Interested Party: Thomas D. Ramsey, LEAD ATTORNEY, Office of the General Counsel, Social Security Administration, Boston, MA.


KENNETH P. NEIMAN, United States Magistrate Judge.

Marshall T. Moriarty (" Plaintiff" ) brings this action asserting that, as an attorney who represented a successful benefits claimant, he is entitled to an additional attorney's fee by way of mandamus relief pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § § 1331 and 1361. In short, Plaintiff maintains that since June 1, 2012, the defendant Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (" Commissioner" ) does not -- but is required to -- include the Massachusetts state supplement when calculating attorneys' fees in Supplemental Security Income (" SSI" ) benefits cases. As might be expected, the Commissioner disagrees. The parties, however, have agreed to consent

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to the jurisdiction of this court. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 73.

Presently, the parties cross-move for summary judgment, with Plaintiff arguing that the statute is unambiguous and should be resolved in his favor, while the Commissioner contends that the court ought to defer to her interpretation of the governing statute. For the following reasons, the court will allow the Commissioner's motion and, in doing so, deny Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment.

I. Background

A. State Benefits Under The SSI Program

The Social Security Administration (" SSA" ) administers two comprehensive disability programs: SSI and Social Security Disability Insurance (" SSDI" ). The SSDI program arose out of the 1935 Social Security Act and provides benefits to insured disabled individuals regardless of financial need. See 42 U.S.C. § § 403, 423. The SSI program, in contrast, came into effect in 1974, heralding the first occasion on which the federal government administered disability benefits to uninsured needy individuals by combining a patchwork of programs which had been administered on the state level and jointly funded by the state and federal government, viz., Old-Age Assistance, Aid to the Blind, and Aid to the Permanently and Totally Disabled. See Constance v. Secretary of Health and Human Servs., 672 F.2d 990, 991 (1st Cir. 1982) (discussing background of SSI program).

Since the states' treatment of these adult categories of welfare benefits had not been uniform, Congress provided a mechanism within the SSI amendments which permitted states to supplement the federal benefit as they saw fit to " reflect the varying costs of living." Bouchard v. Secretary of Health and Human Servs., 583 F.Supp. 944, 947 (D. Mass. 1984). Many states have taken advantage of this so-called optional state supplementation, although others have been satisfied with the federal benefit alone.[1] See Sue C. Hawkins, " SSI: Characteristics of Persons Receiving Federally Administered State Supplementation Only," 46 Soc. Sec. Bul. 4, 3 (April 1983).

Congress also preferred that states agree to the federal administration of their supplemental benefits, reasoning that to do so would " avoid unnecessary duplication of administrative costs, would permit the states to take advantage of improved methods and procedures . . . and would tend to foster national uniformity in the operation of assistance programs." Bouchard, 583 F.Supp. at 947 (quoting H.R. Rep. No. 92-231, 92d Cong. 2d Sess., reprinted in 1972 U.S.C.C.A.N. 4989, 5185). To that end, Congress offered states the option of low-cost administration of state benefits in exchange for a state's agreement that its supplement would be " subject to any rules, regulations and provisions which the Secretary found necessary to achieve the efficient and effective administration of both programs." Id. at 947 (citing 42 U.S.C. § 1382e(b)(2)); see also H.R. Rep. 92-231, at 5187 (" By entering into agreements of their supplemental payments, States will be losing all administrative control over the operation of those benefits." ).

States that administer their own supplements, in contrast, need only comply with 42 U.S.C. § 1382e(e), which requires them

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to (1) enforce standards in nursing and group homes where a significant number of SSI recipients reside; (2) provide such information to the public on a yearly basis; (3) certify compliance with these requirements with the Commissioner; and (4) reduce supplementary payments to institutions that do not meet the standards. See also 20 C.F.R. § 416.2005(c) (" If the State chooses to administer such payment itself, it may establish its own criteria for determining eligibility requirements as well as the amounts." ). Again, some states initially opted for federal administration, while others chose to administer their own benefits, if any. See Hawkins at 4. In April of 2012, Massachusetts, which had previously opted to have its state ...

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