In Special Needs News

A federal district court remands an SSI overpayment case to the administrative law judge in order to properly determine if a conservatorship account established for the SSI beneficiary was used for her support and maintenance, rendering her ineligible for SSI.  Shields v. Commissioner of Social Security (W.D.Mich.N.Dist., No. 2:14-cv-226, Dec. 17, 2015).

Walter Shields is the father and conservator of a minor who was injured in a car crash in 1998.  The child received a $29,671.54 settlement and the funds were placed into a conservatorship account that could only be accessed with court approval.  A year and a half after the settlement, the child was awarded SSI benefits.  (She disclosed the conservatorship account during the application process.)

Between 2003 and 2012, Mr. Shields obtained court approval for five distributions from the trust: two for clothes for his daughter, two for the purchase of computers for school and one to pay for her driver’s education classes.  After making these distributions, a little more than $29,000 remained in the conservatorship account.  In March 2012, the Social Security Administration determined that the child should have been ineligible for SSI due to the account and it claimed that she had been overpaid $17,858.96 in benefits.  Mr. Shields appealed on behalf of his daughter, but an administrative law judge (ALJ) determined that the account was an available resource because funds were or could be withdrawn for the child’s support and maintenance.  Mr. Shields appealed, claiming that the funds were not used for support and maintenance and therefore the account was not a countable resource.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Northern District, remands the case to the ALJ for further findings.  The court explains that “[t]he ALJ’s decision focuses entirely on whether Plaintiff had access to the funds within the conservatorship account. Interestingly though, the ALJ did not discuss whether the funds in Plaintiff’s account were used for her ‘support and maintenance.’ Instead, the ALJ assumed that the funds in the account were used for her ‘support and maintenance’ since money from the account was spent on clothes, computers, and a driver’s education class. Notably, however, there is no evidence in the record to support the ALJ’s assumption that such items constitute ‘support and maintenance.'” [emphasis in original]

To read the full text of the court’s opinion, go to:

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