The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Harry D. Leinenweber
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Deborah A. Harris (hereinafter, "Harris") seeks review of the final decision of the Defendant Social Security Commissioner, Michael J. Astrue ("the Commissioner"), finding that she was overpaid $40,377.20 in wives' retirement benefits and denying Harris' request for waiver of repayment under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"). The Commissioner moved for summary judgment, asking the Court to affirm the Commissioner's final decision. Harris, appearing pro se, has not filed her own Motion for Summary Judgment, but seeks reversal of the Commissioner's decision in her response to the Commissioner's motion. For the reasons stated herein, the Commissioner's decision is affirmed.
The only issue in this case is whether Harris, a former teacher for the Chicago Public Schools ("CPS"), was obligated to repay an overpayment in wives' retirement benefits, or whether the Social Security Administration (the "SSA") should have waived the overpayment.
Harris, 74, worked as a teacher for CPS for more than 14 years before retiring in 1988. In 1999, at age 62, Harris filed for wives' benefits based on the Social Security account of her husband, William Harris. In her application, she stated that she did not qualify for a pension from the federal, state, or local government based on her own employment, but would notify the SSA if that changed. Harris became eligible for wife's benefits in November 1999.
In September 2006, Harris notified the SSA that she would begin receiving a monthly pension from CPS in November 2006, which would include a retroactive lump sum payment. At that time, an SSA claims representative explained to Harris that this meant that she had received an overpayment in her wife's benefits, and that the SSA would work out a repayment schedule once it determined the amount of her lump sum payment from CPS. Under government regulations, when a spouse receives social security benefits and also receives a government pension for his or her own work at a job that was not covered by social security, the SSA offsets the government pension. See Social Security Pub. 05-10007, Government Pension Offset, http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10007.html.
On October 4, 2006, Harris received a breakdown of her payments from the Chicago Teachers' Pension Fund, explaining that she would receive a lump-sum payment for the period from May 20, 1999, when she first became eligible for a pension upon turning 62, through October 31, 2006. After taxes, the payment would total $43,948.24. By letter dated March 27, 2007, Harris was notified that she received $40,377.20 more in Social Security benefits than she was due. Harris filed a request for waiver of the overpayment amount on April 19, 2007. By letter dated April 30, 2007, SSA denied her request for waiver of overpayment. After a personal conference, her request for a waiver was again denied.
Harris then filed a request for hearing before an Administrative Law Judge, which was held on October 23, 2008. Thereafter, on November 17, 2008, Administrative Law Judge Denise McDuffie Martin (the "ALJ") found that the SSA overpaid Harris wives' insurance benefits during the period from November 1999 through December 2006, but that Harris was "without fault" in causing the overpayment. However, the ALJ found that repayment of the overpayment would not be waived because recovery of the overpayment would not defeat the purpose of Title II of the Act or be against equity or good conscience. On October 5, 2010, the Appeals Council denied Harris' request for review of the ALJ's decision, making the Commissioner's decision final.
Harris testified before the ALJ that she knew, at the time she filed the application for wife's insurance benefits, of the need to report any other pension she received. That is why she went into the Social Security office when she learned that she would be getting a pension from her employment as a teacher. She said that she did not report her pension at any time prior to September 2006 because she was not actually receiving a pension at that time. She did not apply for a pension when she turned 62 in May 1999. Further, Harris said, she did not know she would be receiving pension payments retroactive to May 1999 because she had not worked for CPS since 1988.
The ALJ found Harris' testimony credible, and determined that she was not at fault in causing the overpayment. When an individual is not at fault in causing an overpayment of benefits, a waiver of recovery may be granted if recovery would either defeat the purpose of Title II of the Act or be against equity and good conscience. 20 C.F.R. § 404.506.
Recovery of an overpayment defeats the purpose of Title II if it would deprive the individual of funds needed for ordinary and necessary living expenses. 20 C.F.R. § 404.508. Additionally, recovery of an overpayment would be against equity and good conscience if the individual either: (1) changed her position for the worse or relinquished a valuable right because of reliance on a notice that a payment would be made or because of the overpayment itself. 20 C.F.R. § 404.509(a). The individual's financial ...