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NICHOLS v. COHEN

October 3, 1968

LAURA J. NICHOLS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILBUR J. COHEN, SECRETARY OF HEALTH, EDUCATION AND WELFARE, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert D. Morgan, District Judge.

DECISION AND ORDER

This cause arose upon a complaint to review a final decision of the defendant, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, denying plaintiff's claim for old-age social security benefits. It is now before the Court upon cross motions of the respective parties for summary judgment.

Plaintiff's claim of her entitlement to benefits rested upon the payment of FICA taxes for her account upon moneys which she received from three of her brothers in the years 1964 to 1967, inclusive. She filed her claim on January 4, 1966.*fn1 That claim, and a subsequent request by plaintiff for redetermination, were both denied by the Secretary. That denial was based upon the Secretary's determination that no valid employer-employee relationship had existed between plaintiff and her brothers, and that, therefore, she was not an insured individual within the meaning of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 410(a).

Plaintiff filed a timely request for a hearing to review that determination. Plaintiff and a brother, David Brashear, were the only witnesses who testified before the hearing examiner upon the ensuing hearing. Documentary evidence, received and incorporated in the record by the examiner, included Domestic Service Questionnaires signed by plaintiff and a second brother, Paul Brashear, on January 4, 1966.

On April 21, 1967, the hearing examiner issued his decision finding that a valid employer-employee relationship had existed between plaintiff and her brothers, that plaintiff was a fully insured individual within the meaning of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 410(a), and that she was entitled to the benefits claimed, effective as of April 1, 1967.

Upon its own motion, the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration reviewed the decision of the hearing examiner. On July 28, 1967, the Council issued its decision, reversing the hearing examiner, upon its findings that no bona fide employer-employee relationship had existed, that plaintiff had received no "wages" for social security purposes, and that she was not entitled to receive the benefits which she claimed.

That decision became the final decision of the Secretary which is now before this court for review. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

The Court's review is subject to the established rule that the decision of the agency must be sustained if it is supported by substantial evidence. Brunenkant v. Celebrezze, 7 Cir., 310 F.2d 355, cert. denied 373 U.S. 921, 83 S.Ct. 1522, 10 L.Ed.2d 421; Carqueville v. Folsom, 7 Cir., 263 F.2d 875.

There is no dispute in the material facts.

Plaintiff and her husband were separated in 1936, and were never thereafter reconciled. Plaintiff was left with an infant daughter to support.

Plaintiff obtained employment as a housekeeper as a means of supporting herself and her child. She worked for various non-related families in, among other places, Peoria and Colfax, Illinois. In 1938, or 1939, the critical time here involved, plaintiff was, and had for some time been, working as a housekeeper for a family at Colfax. She resided in the home and received compensation of $4.00 or $5.00 per week for her services, plus room and board for herself and her child.

Plaintiff had three bachelor brothers who rented and farmed some 500 acres of land near Pontiac, Illinois. Until the late 1930's their mother lived with them and kept house for them. By the latter time, the mother was elderly and in ill health. In either 1938 or 1939 the brothers asked plaintiff to leave her employment at Colfax and work as a housekeeper for them. She did so. Until the mother's death in 1946, plaintiff assisted with the housekeeping. Thereafter, she continued to live with the brothers and to keep house for them until the time of the hearing before the hearing examiner.

The initial arrangement between plaintiff and her brothers provided for no specific cash remuneration to plaintiff for her housekeeping services. The brothers agreed to provide room and board for plaintiff and her child, to provide all of the necessities for them, and to provide for the child's education. The brothers paid the household bills. As the need arose, they gave plaintiff money to buy clothing and other things necessary for her own and her child's welfare. They paid the expenses of a high school education for the child and continued ...


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