On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, D.C. Civil No. 85-6286.
Before: Higginbotham, Stapleton, Circuit Judges, and Rodriguez,*fn* District Judge
RODRIGUEZ, District Judge:
This is an appeal from an order of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania which affirmed a final decision of the Secretary of Health and Human Services ("the Secretary") that appellant, who is mentally retarded, was unable to form an intent to reside in New York and was therefore not voluntarily living there. Consequently, appellant was not eligible to received New York's State Supplementary Payments ("SSP") to appellant's Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") payments. Because this court finds that the Secretary's determination was not based upon substantial evidence, we now reverse.
Appellant, Laurie Ann Benton, is 28 years old and has been mentally retarded since birth. In 1965 at age 6 she was enrolled as a resident in the Camphill Special School in Glenmore, Pennsylvania where she lived for twelve years. After graduating from that school she moved into a private group home and was enrolled for three years in the Liberty Forge School in Chester County, Pennsylvania. During this time, Laurie underwent a trial period at the Camphill Adult Village in Kimberton, Pennsylvania, a principally agricultural community. According to Laurie's parents, "She made it evident . . . that this was not the life that was attractive to her." Record at 167. In December, 1980 Laurie moved into the Camphill Adult Village in Copake, New York, a craft community.*fn1 She has lived and worked in that community since that time.*fn2
Since moving to New York, Laurie has visited her parents at their home in Pennsylvania twice annually -- for approximately ten days both in the summer and at Thanksgiving. Record at 40. According to her father, "She's always glad to come home but after about . . . a week or so she's quite anxious to get back to her peers and to her family up at Copake." Record at 50.
Laurie was interviewed by representatives of New York's Mental Health Information Service in 1981, 1982 and 1984 and each time was determined to show a satisfactory understanding, acceptance and willingness to remain as a voluntary resident of the Camphill Village at Copake. Record at 163. Ms. Aase J. Collins, an Associate Director of the Village and her colleague, Mrs. Mary Sorrels, stated that "It is the experience of those who live and work with Laurie Benton that she is happy in the Village and intends to remain here indefinitely." Record at 163.
Dr. Milton Brutten, a clinical psychologist who had examined Laurie when she was a child, examined her again in November, 1984 and stated that "she expresses her clear cut intent to remain [at Copake] by her actions and responses to questioning . . . . She expresses not only an implied intent but an expressed desire to remain in her present setting . . . ." Record at 166. In Laurie's own words, as reported by Dr. Brutten, "I like to live up there, it's fun." Record at 165. Dr. Brutten noted that Laurie achieved an I.Q. score of 46 and that, allowing for the "standard error of the measure" of plus or minus five points, Laurie's "real" I.Q. score lay in the range of 41 to 51. Record at 164. Kate Meinecke, an Associate Director of Camphill Village, had previously written to Laurie's father, informing him that Laurie's I.Q. was 33/34. Record at 77.
Laurie Benton applied for SSI benefits on June 28, 1983.*fn3 The ALJ found that because New York had not determined Laurie to be a resident of a different state, she was therefore a resident of New York. Record at 27.*fn4 The Appeals Council decided on its own motion to review the ALJ's decision.*fn5
The Council pointed out that the Secretary's agreement with New York had recently been revised to provide that an individual was a resident of New York if he was "voluntarily living in the State for purposes of making it his home." Record at 20. The Council thus concluded that 42 C.F.R. § 435.403 need not be considered,*fn6 and that "the Appeals Council must restrict itself to the narrow question of whether Laurie Benton is voluntarily living in the State of New York . . . ." Record at 20, 22.
The Council acknowledged that "The evidence is undisputed as to the suitability of Camphill Village for Laurie and her desire to remain in these surroundings. She clearly has the capacity to make known her happiness or unhappiness with the institutional facilities in which she is placed, as evidenced by her rejection of the Camphill Adult Village in Kimberton, Pennsylvania [reference to exhibit omitted]." Record at 22. The Council referred to Dr. Brutten's report, and to the fact that Laurie had signed voluntary admission forms to become and to remain a resident of Copake. Record at 23. Nevertheless, the Council opined that "this evidence does not establish a ...