Justia U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Public Benefits
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The Ninth Circuit vacated the district court's judgment affirming the denial of claimant's application for social security disability benefits. In Bellamy v. Secretary of Health and Human Services, 755 F.2d 1380 (9th Cir. 1985), the panel held that a claimant's prior disability determination entitled claimant to a presumption of continuing disability. The SSA interpreted then-recent amendments to the Social Security Act as foreclosing any presumption of continuing disability.Deferring to the SSA's intervening interpretation of the Social Security Act, which is a reasonable one, the panel held that there is no presumption of continuing disability under the Act. Consequently, the ALJ did not err in evaluating, without any such presumption, the SSA's determination that claimant is no longer disabled. However, the ALJ did err in failing to articulate sufficient reasons for refusing to credit plaintiff's testimony about the severity of her medical condition. The panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Lambert v. Saul" on Justia Law

Posted in: Public Benefits
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of social security disability benefits to claimant under Title II of the Social Security Act. The panel held that the ALJ did not err in discounting claimant's testimony where substantial evidence supported the ALJ's finding that claimant had engaged in drug-seeking behavior; the ALJ did not err in weighing the medical-opinion evidence; and the ALJ did not err in excluding pain disorder as a severe impairment. View "Coleman v. Saul" on Justia Law

Posted in: Public Benefits
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Plaintiff challenged the denial of her application for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. The ALJ found that plaintiff was not disabled because she could perform two occupations that existed in significant numbers in the economy.The Ninth Circuit held that the ALJ's identification of two occupations is insufficient to satisfy the "significant range of work" requirement of the Medical-Vocation Guidelines. The panel explained that, because plaintiff's skills were readily transferrable to only two occupations, the ALJ erred in concluding that she was not disabled. The panel reversed in part and remanded with instructions for calculation and payment of benefits for the period after plaintiff reached 55 years of age. Finally, the panel affirmed the district court's disability determination as to the time period before plaintiff reached the age of 55. View "Maxwell v. Saul" on Justia Law

Posted in: Public Benefits
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After defendant was convicted of wire and securities fraud, he was ordered to pay restitution pursuant to the Mandatory Victims Restitution Act (MVRA). The government sought to enforce the restitution order pursuant to the Federal Debt Collection Procedures Act (FDCPA), and thus applied for a post-judgment writ of garnishment against a bank account that held the Social Security benefits of defendant's wife (the claimant), on the theory that those funds were subject to garnishment pursuant to community property principles of Idaho state law. The district court denied claimant's objections and concluded that the MVRA's enforcement provision, 18 U.S.C. 3613(a), overrides the protections afforded Social Security benefits under the Social Security Act (SSA) so the benefits were garnishable community property.The Ninth Circuit held that it has jurisdiction, following the district court's entry of an order directing the disposition of the funds at issue pursuant to the writ of garnishment. The panel reversed the district court's disposition order and held that claimant's Social Security benefits are not subject to garnishment pursuant to the MVRA in connection with her husband's criminal restitution order. The panel explained that the government was entitled to collect on property only to the same extent defendant had a right to it. In this case, defendant would have no right to his wife's Social Security benefits because the SSA preempts application of Idaho state law community property principles. Accordingly, the panel reversed the order denying claimant's objections, vacated the disposition order, and remanded for further proceedings. View "United States v. Swenson" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the Commissioner's reduction of claimant's social security retirement benefits pursuant to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) of the Social Security Act. The WEP applies to retirees who, like claimant, are entitled to social-security benefits and pension benefits from employment not covered by social security.The panel held that the text of the uniformed-services exception is ambiguous as applied to dual-status technicians. However, because the Commissioner's interpretation of the uniformed-services exception is reasonable, it is entitled to Skidmore deference. View "Larson v. Saul" on Justia Law

Posted in: Public Benefits
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision upholding the SSA's denial of the claimant's application for disability benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. The panel held that the ALJ properly provided specific and legitimate reasons for discounting the opinions of claimant's physicians, correctly concluded that claimant's impairments did not meet a listing, and was entitled to rely on the vocational expert's testimony despite the expert's failure to provide information about the sources underlying the testimony. View "Ford v. Saul" on Justia Law

Posted in: Public Benefits
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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of a negligence action brought by plaintiff under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), alleging that he received improper treatment at a VA facility. In this case, after plaintiff presented a claim to the VA, the VA issued a final denial. The panel held that plaintiff's appeal was time-barred, because he failed to file the action within six months after the VA mailed a notice of final denial of plaintiff's initial claim, and the statute of limitations did not restart when the VA declined to consider plaintiff's second attempt to file the same claim. View "Redlin v. United States" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the denial of disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income to plaintiff. The panel held that SR 82-41 obligates the ALJ to make transferability of skills findings where, unlike Bray v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration, 554 F.3d 1219, 1223–26 (9th Cir. 2009), no Grid rule states that a person with the claimant's age, education, and work experience is disabled absent transferable skills. Therefore, the panel remanded for further proceedings. View "Barnes v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

Posted in: Public Benefits
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The Ninth Circuit reversed the denial of disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income for claimant. The panel held that the ALJ erred in not adequately addressing claimant's 100 percent Veterans Affairs (VA) disability rating in her decision; although the ALJ noted claimant's VA disability rating at the hearing and in her written decision, she did not address how she had considered and weighed the VA's rating or articulated any reasons for rejecting it; and thus remand was appropriate where it was unclear from the record whether the ALJ would be required to find claimant disabled after evaluating the VA disability rating. View "Luther v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

Posted in: Public Benefits
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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's partial grant of summary judgment for the Department and held that the Department did not violate the dormant Commerce Clause in adopting Medi-Cal policies related to reimbursement to out-of-state hospitals. The panel held that when a state was acting as a market participant, rather than a market regulator, its decisions were exempted from the dormant Commerce Clause. In this case, the Department sets rates of reimbursement to hospitals for those who were essentially insured as beneficiaries under Medi-Cal in a manner much like that of a private insurer participating in the market. Therefore, the Department was acting as a market participant, rather than a regulator and was exempt from dormant Commerce Clause requirements. View "Asante v. California Department of Healthcare Services" on Justia Law