Peter Lahr had been collecting social security benefits on his
own account since August, 1954. In April of 1961, he was
adjudicated incompetent and plaintiff Henry Lahr, upon
application, was appointed payee of these benefits to be used on
his father Peter's behalf. Sometime prior to April, 1961, Peter
had been placed in a nursing home. On May 30, 1961, he
disappeared from the nursing home and has not been seen or heard
from since. Thereafter, monthly benefits continued to be paid to
Henry Lahr on his father's behalf, through August of 1963.
Monthly social security payments are authorized to continue
only while the recipient is living and, with certain
qualifications, any payments made after the month preceding
Peter's death were improper and should accordingly be returned by
plaintiff. 42 U.S.C. § 402(a). The controversy revolves
around determination of the date of death. The hearing examiner
found the date of death to be May 30, 1961.
Cross motions for summary judgment have been filed and the
court is asked, in substance, to reverse the agency's
determination that Peter died on May 30, 1961.
The decision of the Secretary may be overturned by a district
court only if not based upon "substantial evidence." Daniel v.
Gardner, 404 F.2d 889 (4th Cir. 1968). The factual findings are
supported by substantial evidence if the record as a whole
contains relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support the conclusion. Moon v. Celebrezze,
340 F.2d 926 (7th Cir. 1965). Plaintiff asks the court to consider as
evidence in its favor a presumption of death at the end of seven
years, as Peter Lahr was declared legally dead on May 30, 1968 in
proceedings in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois. This
declaration is important for the purpose of legally resolving
certain of the decedent's affairs. However, it is not relevant in
ascertaining the date of his death in this case. See Tobin v.
United States Railroad Retirement Board, 286 F.2d 480 (6th Cir.
1961); Nigro v. Hobby, 120 F. Supp. 16 (D.C., 1954). I, therefore,
examine the evidence without regard to a presumption of death on
any given date.
There are no conclusive facts supporting the agency finding.
The examiner stated that the circumstances indicate the
"probability that Peter Lahr died on or shortly after May 30,
1961 (the date he disappeared from the nursing home) is
infinitely greater than the probability that he survived for
seven years." This opinion of the examiner relies on the
decedent's expressed unhappiness at the nursing home, his failing
mental condition and the proximity of the nursing home to Lake
Michigan as circumstantial evidence of possible death by drowning
(suicide). The examiner further reasoned that the earlier date of
death is supported in that a man in his helpless condition would
be unable to care for himself, ergo, could not have kept himself
concealed for any appreciable length of time.
This court finds no reason to reverse the hearing examiner's
decision. Where, as here, the determination is necessarily based
upon scant evidence, and reasonable inferences therefrom, it must
be deemed a sufficient basis under the substantial evidence rule.
I find no warrant in these circumstances to substitute my
judgment for that of the hearing examiner. See Gardner v. Wilcox,
370 F.2d 492 (9th Cir. 1966).
Therefore, for the above reasons, the motion of defendant
Richardson for summary judgment is granted, and the motion of
plaintiff Lahr is hereby denied.
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