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Issue Alert - Clark Class Definition Revised

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Date:

Jan 05, 2012

Program Area:

Social Security/SSI

Issue Summary:

In early 2011, a nationwide class was certified in a successful challenge to the Social Security Administration’s policy of suspending or denying Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits whenever someone had an outstanding warrant for an alleged violation of probation or parole. Clark v. Astrue, No. 06-cv-15521 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 18, 2011). The merits of the case had already been decided in plaintiffs’ favor a year ago by the U. S. Court of Appeals. Clark v. Astrue, 602 F.3d 140 (2nd Cir. 2010).

Persons Affected:

SSI recipients or applicants whose benefits were denied, suspended or have received a notice of overpayment based on an outstanding warrant for an alleged violation of probation or parole. This includes anyone who has a pending appeal of a suspension, denial or overpayment at any time on or after October 24, 2006.

For More Information:

Lisa Ruby Michigan Poverty Law Program 220 E. Huron #600A Ann Arbor, MI 48104 lruby@lsscm.org (734) 998-6100 ext. 117


Background

Martinez v. Astrue and Clark v. Astrue are the two cases challenging the Social Security Administration's (SSA) policy of denying or terminating benefits based on an existing felony warrant or an existing warrant for an alleged violation of probation or parole. In both of these cases, Plaintiffs prevailed and a nationwide class of plaintiffs was defined. The more recent case, Clark v. Astrue, recently had the parameters of its class redefined.

As way of background, a nationwide class action settlement agreement was reached on September 24, 2009, in the case of Martinez v. Astrue. The Martinez settlement changed the types of felony arrest warrants that SSA can use to prohibit payment of Social Security, SSI, and Special Veterans benefits. Effective April 1, 2009, Social Security began suspending or denying benefits based on outstanding felony arrest warrants only for the crimes of flight to avoid prosecution or confinement, escape from custody, and flight-escape. It also began applying the new policy when considering a person’s suitability to serve as a representative payee.

Clark v. Astrue challenged the legality of suspending benefits based on an allegation of violation of probation or parole. On March 19, 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that the SSA could not suspend a recipient’s benefits based solely on an outstanding warrant for a probation or parole violation. In overturning the district court’s ruling, the Court of Appeals held that an outstanding warrant is not sufficient evidence that an SSA beneficiary is in fact violating probation or parole.

What's Happening?

Earlier this month the district court in Clark v. Astrue granted a motion made by plaintiffs in March, 2011, to amend the definition of the plaintiff class. While the court’s earlier class definition was limited to people whose benefits had been suspended or denied, the revised definition also includes anyone with an initial determination of an overpayment of benefits based on a probation or parole warrant.

The revised definition also includes anyone who has a pending appeal of a suspension, denial or overpayment at any time on or after October 24, 2006. This last change brings in the group with the greatest potential for large retroactive awards of benefits going back five years or more.

While actual data on the number of people in the plaintiff class is not available, it is estimated that it could number as many as 100,000 people and individual relief may be substantial. One class member reports that he has already been notified, in advance of any determination of class-wide relief, that his benefits will be reinstated and that he will receive a retroactive payment of $106,000.

What Should Advocates Do?

It is very important to review old Social Security and SSI files to identify members of the class. Although this is a time consuming process, it is also something to keep in mind when interviewing new clients, including those who present with housing, family or other seemingly unrelated problems. Also, it would help to notify homeless advocacy programs in your area since many class members are homeless.

Be sure that SSA has a current mailing address for your clients so that they will be notified of class-wide relief in a timely fashion. For those who received or applied for RSDI benefits, this can be one online on SSA's website - www.ssa.gov. In SSI cases, the change in address must be reported at the local Social Security office.

What Should Clients Do?

Seek legal assistance if you believe you fall into one of the categories of people listed above.

Finding Help

Most legal aid and legal services offices handle these types of cases, and they do not charge a fee. You can locate various sources of legal and related services, including the free legal aid office that serves your county, at MichiganLegalAid.org. You can also look in the yellow pages under "attorneys" or call the toll-free lawyer referral number, (800) 968-0738.