United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
JEAN A. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. ROWLAND United States Magistrate Judge.
Jean A. Johnson seeks judicial review of a final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security, denying her request for
a waiver of overpayment. The parties have consented to the
jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(c). Before this Court is Plaintiff's
Motion to Reverse the Decision of the Commissioner and the
Commissioner's Motion for Summary Judgment. For the
reasons that follow, Plaintiff's motion is granted, the
Commissioner's motion is denied, and the case is remanded
for further proceedings consistent with this Opinion.
August 27, 2012, the Commissioner notified Plaintiff of an
$81, 670 overpayment, which had accrued during the period of
August 2002 through December 2011. (R. at 25-28). Plaintiff
was given 30 days to repay the overpayment or file an appeal
or request a waiver. (Id. at 26-27). On October 31,
2012, Plaintiff filed a Request for Waiver of Overpayment
Recovery or Change in Repayment Rate. (Id. at
resides with her 13-year-old son, owns a 2010 Honda Accord
valued at $7, 156, and reported $442 in her savings account,
$1, 312 in her checking account, and $230 in other assets.
(R. at 33). As for monthly income, Plaintiff asserted that
she receive $1, 259 in Disability Insurance Benefits (DIB) on
behalf of her and her son, $929.80 in pension benefits from
the State of Illinois, and $1, 849 in workers'
compensation benefits. (Id. at 35). As for monthly
expenses, she reported $500 for food, $540 for utilities,
$250 for clothing, $700 for credit card payments, $668 for
property and other taxes, $169 for insurance, $540 for
medical expenses, $500 for automobile expenses, and $360 for
loan payments. (Id. at 36). Plaintiff also asserted
that she has $4, 450 in annual expenses for “farm
November 1, 2012, Plaintiff informed the Commissioner that
she was previously overpaid from June 2004 through September
2008. (R. at 280). She did not dispute this overpayment and
went without receiving Social Security benefits from October
2008 through September 2011. (Id.). Her Social
Security payments resumed in October 2011 and she was
informed “by Social Security that whatever overpayment
being claimed had been paid back.” (Id.).
December 20, 2012, the Commissioner determined that Plaintiff
was not at fault for the overpayment, as it was due to the
Agency's lack of information regarding Plaintiff's
workers' compensation payments. (R. at 60). However, the
Commis- sioner denied Plaintiff's waiver request as
“she has the means to repay the overpayment.”
January 11, 2013, the Agency informed Plaintiff that it had
received her waiver request and that she would continue to
receive $1, 085 in monthly benefits until a determination is
made. (R. at 331). Several days later on January 16,
Plaintiff requested written documentation regarding the exact
amount of her overpayment and the calculations determining
that such an amount was owed. (Id. at 332). On
February 7, the Commissioner denied Plaintiff's request
for a waiver, finding that she has the means to make
repayments. (Id. at 65-68). Thereafter, on February
15, the Agency informed Plaintiff that her monthly benefits
would be reduced to $235 beginning in February 2013, with her
full regular monthly benefits resuming in April 2021.
(Id. at 70-71).
27, 2013, Plaintiff testified at a hearing before an
Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). (R. at 386-422). The ALJ
first questioned Plaintiff about her lack of legal
representation. (Id. at 391). Plaintiff explained
that she sought the advice of some attorneys but that they
would not represent her in an overpayment case without a
retainer. (Id.). The ALJ provided Plaintiff with
information regarding attorney representation and offered her
more time to locate representation, but Plaintiff decided to
proceed without an attorney. (Id. at 391-92).
testified that she lives with her dependent son and receives
Social Security benefits for her and her son, the combined
monthly amount of which is $343. (R. at 397-99). Her monthly
income also includes $644 in child support, $1, 844 in
workers' compensation benefits, and $900 from her State
of Illinois pension. (Id. at 400-01). The ALJ
reviewed the waiver of overpayment form that Plaintiff had
previously completed and asked her to verify the amounts.
Plaintiff testified regarding various living expenses,
including a loan that she took out for purchase of her car.
(Id. at 403-04). She asserted that her monthly
expenses include $290 for utilities, $300 for her cellular
phone, $700 for food, and various taxes that total $4, 200
annually. (Id. at 407-11). When the ALJ questioned
Plaintiff about the discrepancies between her oral testimony
and her previous written statements, Plaintiff responded that
she had been confused about how to complete the form at the
field office. (Id. at 409, 417).
September 9, 2013, the ALJ issued a written decision denying
Plaintiff's request for waiver of her overpayment. (R. at
10-16). As an initial matter, the ALJ determined that
Plaintiff was overpaid $80, 820 in benefits from June 2004
through September 2008. (Id. at 15). The ALJ then
determined that Plaintiff was not at fault for the
overpayment because the Agency erroneously processed her
workers' compensation information which led to an error
offsetting her DIB. (Id.). Nevertheless, the ALJ
found that recovery of the overpayment would not defeat the
purpose of Title II of the Social Security Act (Act) because
Plaintiff “does not need substantially all of her
current income, including benefits, to meet her ordinary and
necessary living expenses.” (Id.). In making
this finding, the ALJ determined that her monthly income
totaled $4, 692 while her monthly expenses totaled $3, 230.
(Id.). The ALJ further found that Plaintiff
testified “to many extraordinary expenses which are not
included in the calculation of ordinary and living
expenses.” (Id. at 16). Thus, the ALJ found
that Plaintiff had a monthly surplus of ...