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Beatty v. Schweiker

decided: May 21, 1982.

HATTIE BEATTY O/B/O DOREASE M. BEATTY, APPELLANT
v.
RICHARD SCHWEIKER, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, APPELLEE



APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA

Before Seitz, Chief Judge, Adams, Circuit Judge, and Lacey,*fn* District Judge.

Author: Seitz

Opinion OF THE COURT

Hattie Beatty appeals from the district court's order affirming the decision of the Secretary of Health and Human Services to terminate her daughter Dorease's eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. This court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (1976).

I.

Hattie Beatty, on behalf of her young daughter Dorease, applied for SSI benefits in March 1975. After a protracted appeals process, the Secretary granted Dorease's application. The Secretary awarded her SSI benefits retroactive to March 1975, and paid her approximately $11,500 in September 1979. She also began to receive monthly benefits.

Hattie Beatty was advised that, pursuant to a policy set forth in the SSI claims manual, Dorease would become ineligible for SSI benefits if she had more than $1,500 in resources on January 1, 1980. On that date she had more than $1,500 resulting from the lump sum payment, and the Secretary determined that she was no longer eligible for SSI. Beatty challenged the Secretary's decision.

After administrative determinations upholding the decision, Beatty petitioned for review in the district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (1976) and 42 U.S.C. § 1383(c)(3) (1976). The district court granted the Secretary's motion for summary judgment, affirming the termination of eligibility. Beatty appeals.

II.

The sole issue on this appeal is the legality of the Secretary's practice of regarding as resources lump sum retroactive SSI payments that are not "spent down" in the quarter following receipt. Section 12501(b) of the SSI Claims Manual sets forth the practice and its rationale:

SSI payments are never treated as income to the SSI recipient. Such cash payments made to the individual on a timely basis; i.e., on a regular basis each month, will become resources if retained into the following quarter with one exception. When a recipient receives retroactive SSI payments, the payments are excluded as resources both in the quarter of receipt, and in the following quarter. Only in this instance will the individual be allowed an additional quarter to reduce his resources in order to maintain his eligibility. The additional quarter will allow the individual sufficient time to reduce his resources when the individual receives an SSI retroactive check. Normally, a large portion of a retroactive check will be spent to repay debts incurred during the months that the individual did not receive checks or received incorrect payment amounts.

In deciding the legality of the Secretary's practice, this court does not substitute its judgment for that of the Secretary's. We accord considerable deference to the Secretary's interpretation of the SSI statute. See EPA v. National Crushed Stone Ass'n, 449 U.S. 64, 83, 101 S. Ct. 295, 306, 66 L. Ed. 2d 268 (1980); Udall v. Tallman, 380 U.S. 1, 16, 85 S. Ct. 792, 801, 13 L. Ed. 2d 616 (1965). We also accord great deference to the interpretation of administrative regulations by the officials responsible for their implementation. See Ford Motor Credit Co. v. Milhollin, 444 U.S. 555, 566, 100 S. Ct. 790, 797, 63 L. Ed. 2d 22 (1980). Indeed, we will uphold the Secretary's interpretation of the regulations "unless it is plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation(s)." Bowles v. Seminole Rock & Sand Co., 325 U.S. 410, 414, 65 S. Ct. 1215, 1217, 89 L. Ed. 1700 (1945).

In order to be eligible for SSI, a single individual may not have resources of more than $1,500. 42 U.S.C. § 1382(a)(1)(B)(ii) (1976). Section 1382(a)(1)(B) does not define resources except by negative implication; it provides that resources do not include the resources named in 42 U.S.C. § 1382b(a) (1976 & Supp. III 1979). That section excludes resources such as the individual's home, household goods, personal effects, an automobile, and other property necessary for self-support. Thus, section 1382(a)(1)(B) appears to authorize the treatment of unspent SSI payments as resources.

The Secretary, pursuant to his authority under 42 U.S.C. § 1302 (1976), has promulgated regulations that further define resources. In particular, 20 C.F.R. § 416.1201(a) (1981) provides that resources include "cash or other liquid assets." Accord, 20 C.F.R. § 416.120(c)(3) (1981). Unspent SSI payments clearly fall within this definition. Additionally, however, 20 C.F.R. § 416.1210(j) (1981) provides that, "Payments or benefits provided under a Federal statute other than (SSI) where exclusion is required by ...


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