United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
J. Casper United States District Judge.
Jimmy Lee King (“King”) filed an application for
supplemental security income (“SSI”) with the
Social Security Administration (“SSA”) on
September 14, 2012. R. 11. Pursuant to the procedures set forth in
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g),
1383(c)(3), King brought this action for judicial review of
the final decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting
Commissioner of the SSA (“the Commissioner”),
issued by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”)
denying King's application for SSI benefits on April 28,
2017. Before the Court are King's motion to reverse and
remand the ALJ's decision, D. 11, and the
Commissioner's motion to affirm that decision, D. 14. For
the reasons discussed below, the Court DENIES King's
motion, D. 11, and ALLOWS Commissioner's motion, D. 14.
Standard of Review
Court may affirm, modify, or reverse a decision of the
Commissioner. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Such review, however,
is “limited to determining whether the ALJ deployed the
proper legal standards and found facts upon the proper
quantum of evidence.” Nguyen v. Chater, 172
F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999) (citing Manso-Pizarro v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 76 F.3d 15, 16
(1st Cir. 1996)). The ALJ's findings of fact are
conclusive when supported by substantial evidence. 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). Substantial evidence exists “if a
reasonable mind, reviewing the evidence in the record as a
whole, could accept it as adequate to support [the
Commissioner's] conclusion.” Rodriguez v.
Sec'y of Health and Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222
(1st Cir. 1981).
Relevant Factual and Procedural Background
was 50 years old when he ceased working on April 30, 2012. R.
402-03; D. 13 at 19. He previously worked as a bricklayer and
construction worker for the City of Boston. D. 13 at 21-22.
On September 14, 2012, King filed an application for SSI
benefits, alleging disability due to affective disorder,
anxiety-related disorder and alcohol abuse in sustained
remission. R. 11; D. 13 at 19. The SSA initially denied
King's application for benefits. R. 11. King subsequently
requested a hearing and an ALJ found that King was eligible
for benefits. Id. He received SSI benefits
thereafter. Id.; D. 15 at 2-3.
SSA Denies SSI Benefits Due to Excess Resources
11, 2014, SSA issued a notice to King stating that he was
owed $14, 940 in back payments for the time period between
October 2012 and June 2014. R. 150. The next day, June 12,
2014, the SSA retracted the aforementioned notice and stated
that King was instead owed $595 in back payments for the
period from December 1, 2013 through April 30, 2014. R. 163.
SSA also stated that King was ineligible for SSI benefits
from October 1, 2012 to November 30, 2013 and from May 1,
2014 forward. Id. Specifically, SSA noted that
King's excess resources originated from the following
sources: approximately $50, 000 in “other” income
in 2013,  R. 171-72 and worker's compensation
proceeds in 2012. D. 164. On June 26, 2014, SSA sent a third
notice to King stating that his resources exceeded the
statutory SSI limit between November 2013 through April 2014
and, as a result, he was ineligible for SSI benefits from
December 1, 2013 through April 2014. R. 175; see R.
filed a motion for reconsideration of SSA's back pay
determination on July 15, 2014. R. 199. SSA, in turn,
requested that King provide receipts and other documentation
concerning how he spent his excess resources, including the
$50, 000 in pension payouts and worker's compensation
benefits, during a conference with the SSA on September 16,
2014. R. 200-201. During this conference, King disclosed that
he had also received nearly $13, 000 in tax refunds for the
2013 tax year in April of 2014. R. 201. King failed to submit
the requested documentation and, as a result, SSA affirmed
the denial of SSI benefits on October 8, 2014. R. 202.
Proceedings Before the ALJ
November 18, 2014, King requested a hearing before an ALJ
regarding whether his resources exceeded the statutory limit
for receipt of SSI benefits. R. 205-208. At the hearing on
February 27, 2017, the ALJ heard testimony from King's
counsel, King and his wife, Mikkayla King, regarding their
total resources during the relevant period. R. 394-433. King
submitted bank records showing cash withdrawals totaling
approximately $30, 000. R. 12-13. Although King contended
that he used these funds to pay for food, clothing and bills,
he did not proffer documents to support these assertions. R.
13, 416. King also explained that he deposited some of the
money into a savings account. R. 12, 421-423. The bank
records associated with the savings account, however, did not
provide additional information regarding how King spent the
funds and did not cover the relevant time period. R. 12-13.
The ALJ agreed to hold the record open for two weeks after
the hearing to allow King to submit additional information
regarding his income and cash withdrawals of $30, 000,
including tax returns from 2012 to 2016, savings account
statements and additional checking account statements. R.
424, 432. King, however, only submitted savings account
statements from 2016, R. 13, a copy of his tax refund check
issued in 2014, R. 147, and a copy of a March 17, 2017 letter
from his mother regarding a loan of $7, 000, D. 13 at 29-30.
April 28, 2017, the ALJ affirmed SSA's decision denying
SSI benefits because King's resources exceeded the
statutory countable resources limit for SSI recipients and he
did not produce sufficient evidence to rebut this conclusion.
R. 12-13. In reaching this decision, the ALJ noted that King
failed to account for how he spent or otherwise disbursed
$30, 000 of the nearly $63, 000 in income he had received. R.
13 (explaining that “the financial records provided by
the claimant fail to document the whereabouts of nearly
thirty thousand dollars of funds that were withdrawn from
[King's] bank account”). The ALJ further concluded
King was ineligible to apply for SSI benefits for a period of
thirty-six months beginning the month after the
“inappropriate transfer” of resources took place.
Id. In implementing this period of ineligibility,
the ALJ noted that an individual “may be ineligible for
receipt of SSI benefits for up to 36 months” if he or
she “transfers a resource or sells it for less than it
is worth.” R. 13. The ALJ determined this period of
ineligibility by consulting the SSA Programs Operations
Manual System (“POMS”) SI 01150.111. R. 13. POMS
SI 01150.111 instructs the ALJ to “[d]etermine the
total . . . value of any resources transferred by either
member of the couple since the ...