The opinion of the court was delivered by: Mihm, District Judge.
Before the Court is the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Reversal and the Defendant's Motion for Summary Affirmance. For
the reasons set forth below, the Plaintiff's Motion for Summary
Reversal is denied and the Defendant's Motion for Summary
Affirmance is granted.
The Plaintiff Charles W. Smith ("Smith") filed for
Supplemental Security Income on September 3, 1986. At the time
he filed for this income he was living with a woman named Cindy
Smith, although the two were not married and their same last
name was merely coincidental. Smith's claim for Supplemental
Security Income was initially denied on December 10, 1986, and
this denial was affirmed on reconsideration on January 8, 1987.
A hearing to review this determination was held before an
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"), and on June 19, 1987, the ALJ
entered a written decision holding that Smith was in fact
disabled as of his September 3, 1986 application.
On August 4, 1987, the Secretary sent Smith a notice
indicating that, pursuant to the ALJ's ruling, he was eligible
for benefits as a disabled spouse. The letter also indicated
that Cindy Smith's disability payments would be reduced to
reflect her status as the spouse of an individual also
On September 28, 1987, Smith requested reconsideration of
this finding that he and Cindy Smith were eligible for benefits
only as a married couple. On March 9, 1988, the Secretary
issued a Notice of Reconsideration which affirmed the earlier
finding that they were eligible only under spouse status. The
Plaintiff and Cindy Smith filed a request for hearing on March
31, 1988, and a hearing was held before an ALJ on August 16,
1988. On November 8, 1988, the ALJ issued a ruling affirming
the Secretary's decision to reduce the Plaintiff's and Cindy
Smith's benefits. In so ruling, the ALJ found that the
Plaintiff and Cindy Smith were conducting themselves as though
they were married, and that they were therefore to be treated
as though they were married for purposes of Social Security
benefits. The Appeals Council denied Smith's request for review
on April 18, 1989.
Smith then sought to challenge the Secretary's findings
through the judicial system. In late June, 1989, Smith filed an
action in the Circuit Court of Knox County and an
appeal in this Court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Smith's § 405(g) action in this Court was assigned civil
docket number 89-1149. On August 9, 1989, the Secretary filed
a Petition for Removal of the state court action. This removal
action was assigned civil docket number 89-1178. Since the two
separate actions were one and the same, the cases were
consolidated and the briefing proceeded under the title of
89-1149. This order disposes of both actions.
In his Motion for Summary Reversal, Smith argues two bases
for reversing the ALJ's finding. First, Smith argues that the
ALJ's factual determination that he and Cindy Smith were
holding themselves out as married was unsupported and therefore
erroneous. Second, Smith argues that the provisions which
reduce benefits for those not actually married inflict an
unconstitutional deprivation of due process and equal
Congress and the Social Security Administration have
determined that disability benefits payable to individuals will
fluctuate depending upon that person's marital status. If that
individual is married to (or the equivalent of married to) an
individual of the opposite sex who is also receiving disability
benefits, then that individual will receive less assistance.
See 20 C.F.R. § 416.410; 20 C.F.R. § 416.410;
20 C.F.R. § 416.412. The purpose behind this reduction is
"to take account of the fact that two people living together
can live more economically than they would if each lived
alone." H.R.Rep. No. 92-231, 92d Cong., 2d Sess., reprinted at
1972 U.S.Code Cong. & Ad.News 4989, 5136. Congress has
determined that "if a man and woman are found to be holding
themselves out to the community in which they reside as husband
and wife," then they shall be considered as though they are
married for purposes of Social Security benefits.
42 U.S.C. § 1382c(d)(2).
The regulations promulgated by the Social Security
Administration which implemented the congressional statute
determine that an individual who lives in the same household
with an unrelated person of the opposite sex will be considered
as married if the two individuals "both lead people to believe
that [they] are husband and wife." 20 C.F.R. § 416.1806(c).
In determining whether two individuals have so conducted
themselves, the Secretary examines various factors listed at 20
C.F.R. § 416.1826(c)(1), such as names used, real property
arrangements, and the couple's customary conduct with respect
to their relationship. Individuals so classified as being
constructively married can terminate this classification by no
longer sharing a residence or by becoming the spouse of another
person. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1830(a). Based upon these
provisions, the ALJ determined that the Plaintiff and Cindy
Smith were conducting themselves as a married couple and thus
they were only entitled to reduced benefits.
Smith first argues that the ALJ erred in concluding that he
and Cindy Smith held themselves out to others as being married.
Smith claims that the record contains "no valid evidence of
holding out." Smith does not dispute that he and Cindy Smith
are two unrelated persons of the opposite sex living together
in the same household. However, as the Secretary noted in his
Motion for Summary Affirmance, the ALJ had ample evidence in
the record to ...