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Pack v. Colvin

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

February 1, 2016

CLARA Z. PACK, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          Tim A. Baker United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Clara Z. Pack challenges the Social Security Appeals Council's decision that she was overpaid $9, 936 in benefits and must repay that amount. The Court is asked to determine whether the Appeals Council's decision is supported by substantial evidence. As explained below, it is. The Magistrate Judge recommends that the Appeals Council's decision be affirmed.

         II. Facts and Findings

         Pack is a retired federal government employee who receives a monthly government pension. Pack's government employer chose not to participate in Social Security, so Pack's government earnings did not count toward her Social Security work record. However, Pack had sufficient earnings from a non-government employer that qualified her for Social Security, and she elected to receive retirement benefits based on those earnings. Pack also elected to receive Social Security spousal benefits (widow and survivor) based on the work record of her late husband.

         On August 15, 2012, Social Security notified Pack that she had been overpaid $9, 936 in benefits because her retirement and spousal benefits did not account for her government pension. [Filing No. 16, at ECF p. 43-46.] The notice requested a lump sum repayment to Social Security, but informed Pack that she may also request a waiver of repayment by demonstrating that she was not at fault for the overpayment and could not meet her necessary living expenses if she repaid that amount. Id. Pack did not make a lump sum repayment or seek a waiver. Rather, Pack appealed the decision, which was denied. [Filing No. 16, at ECF p. 47-50.]

         Pack requested a hearing on the denial, and appeared before an Administrative Law Judge on April 29, 2013. On June 13, 2013, the ALJ ruled that Pack must repay the overpayment. [Filing No. 16, at ECF p. 16-21.] The ALJ found that Pack failed to report her government pension, which changed the calculation of her benefits by prompting application of the Social Security Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) and Government Pension Offset (GPO) reductions. [Filing No. 16, at ECF p. 18-19.] The ALJ found that that Pack was overpaid $9, 924 in benefits and that she was at fault for causing the overpayment. [Filing No. 16, at ECF p. 20.]

         At Pack's request, the Appeals Council reviewed the ALJ's decision. On February 12, 2015, the Appeals Council issued a decision adopting the ALJ's statements regarding Social Security law, issues in Pack's case, and the evidentiary facts. [Filing No. 16, at ECF p. 7.] However, the Appeals Council determined that the ALJ miscalculated the overpayment by $12 due to a rounding error and that the ALJ erred in finding Pack was at fault for the overpayment. [Filing No. 16, at ECF p. 7-10.] The Appeals Council vacated the ALJ's calculations and affirmed the calculations from the August 2012 Social Security notice, incorporating those calculations into its decision. [Filing No. 16, at ECF p. 9.] The Appeals Council found that Pack had not submitted any evidence that would support a finding of waiver, and determined that she must repay the $9, 936 overpayment. The Appeals Council's decision became the final decision of the Commissioner. This appeal followed.

         III. Standard of Review

         The Court must uphold the Commissioner's decision if the findings are supported by substantial evidence. Moore v. Colvin, 743 F.3d 1118, 1120 (7th Cir. 2014). The substantial evidence standard requires “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.” Id. at 1121. The Court will not reweigh the evidence or substitute the Commissioner's judgment, but will examine the decision and determine whether there is “a logical bridge from the evidence to the conclusions.” Id. If the decision lacks substantial evidence, it will be remanded. Id.

         IV. Discussion

         Pack filed a number of motions in this action. After holding a telephonic status conference on November 13, 2015, and upon review of Pack's motions and responses, the Magistrate Judge interprets Pack's arguments as: (1) the $9, 936 overpayment amount is not supported by substantial evidence, and (2) the Appeals Council failed to take into account $6, 796 that Pack has since repaid.

         A. Overpayment amount

         The Appeals Council found that Pack received an overpayment of $9, 936 based on the calculations in the August 2012 Social Security notice. [Filing No. 16, at ECF p. 9.] Pack argues that the overpayment amount is erroneous because she should be allowed to receive the full sum of her retirement benefits and her full spousal benefits, less a two-thirds offset of her pension. [Filing No. 16, at ECF p. 128; Filing No. 24, at ECF p. 2.] The Commissioner argues that the Appeals Council's finding of a $9, 936 overpayment is ...


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