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Hoon v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

March 19, 2019

Wanda Hoon
Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration



         Wanda Hoon seeks judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Acting Commissioner's decision to terminate her supplement security income (“SSI”) benefits. Hoon contends that the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) incorrectly counted her boyfriend's income and bank account and a friend's checking account as Hoon's resources. The Acting Commissioner moves to affirm.

         Standard of Review

         Judicial review under § 405(g) “is limited to determining whether the ALJ deployed the proper legal standards and found facts upon the proper quantum of evidence.” Nguyen v. Chater, 172 F.3d 31, 35 (1st Cir. 1999); accord Seavey v. Barnhart, 276 F.3d 1, 9 (1st Cir. 2001). The court decides legal issues de novo but defers to the ALJ's factual findings if they are supported by substantial evidence. Ward v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 211 F.3d 652, 655 (1st Cir. 2000). Substantial evidence is “more than a scintilla of evidence” but less than a preponderance. Purdy v. Berryhill, 887 F.3d 7, 13 (1st Cir. 2018). The court must affirm the ALJ's findings, even if the record could support a different conclusion, when “a reasonable mind, reviewing the evidence in the record as a whole, could accept it as adequate to support [the ALJ's] conclusion.” Irlanda Ortiz v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir. 1991) (internal quotation marks omitted); accord Purdy, 887 F.3d at 13.


         Wanda Hoon began receiving SSI benefits on January 1, 2005. At that time, she was living with her boyfriend, Wayne Shirkey, with whom she had had a long-term relationship. In 2009, Hoon's granddaughter came to live with them, and both Hoon and Shirkey were the granddaughter's legal guardians.

         In April of 2014, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) reviewed Hoon's case. Hoon reported that she was the legal guardian of her granddaughter, who had lived with Hoon and Shirkey since 2009. She explained that Shirkey “comes and goes, ” and, for that reason, he had put Hoon on his bank account so that she could pay bills. Hoon also disclosed that a friend, Gabrielle Currier, had put Hoon's name on her bank account for “emergency purposes.” The SSA determined that Hoon was not “holding out” as being married to Shirkey, which would have changed her status for purposes of SSI benefits.

         Shirkey and Hoon petitioned jointly to adopt Hoon's granddaughter in 2014. Because they were not married, however, the court would not approve their petition. Hoon then petitioned to adopt her granddaughter by herself, and that petition was granted. Hoon's granddaughter chose the last name Shirkey Hoon.

         The SSA reviewed Hoon's living situation again in June of 2015. The SSA noted that Hoon and Shirkey had joint bank accounts and jointly owned vehicles. The SSA also noted that Hoon's granddaughter used both last names. Based on these circumstances, the SSA determined that Hoon was deemed to be married to Shirkey for purposes of SSI benefits.

         The SSA sent Hoon a notice on August 18, 2015, that all of the SSI benefits she had received between July of 2013 through June of 2015 were overpayments because her resources exceeded the limit for eligibility. The total overpayment was $7, 980.00. Hoon states that on the same date she also received a notice, which is not part of the Administrative Record, that showed the month-by-month balances for the bank accounts the SSI considered to be Hoon's resources.

         Hoon received a second notice of overpayment on October 21, 2015, for the period from July of 2015 through October of 2015. That notice states that the overpayment determination was based on “wages we did not know about.” Admin. Rec. at 379. The total amount of that overpayment was all of the SSI for that period, totalling $2, 932.00. By way of further explanation, the SSA stated: “For the months(s) listed below, the income on our records was wrong. Because we didn't know about all the income, we paid you too much SSI.” Admin. Rec. at 383. The wages the SSA was referring to were actually Shirkey's wages.

         Hoon requested waiver of the two overpayment periods and also requested a hearing before an ALJ. Hoon was removed from Shirkey's bank account and opened her own account separately. She met with an SSA representative for a personal conference in December of 2015. Hoon completed a Marital Relationship Questionnaire during the conference, which asked questions about her relationship with Shirkey. Hoon provided additional information about her bank accounts and her relationship with Shirkey.

         The SSA first issued a notice that she would receive certain monthly benefits, then issued a notice that her benefits would be zero. The SSA denied her request to waive overpayment and notified her that Shirkey was being counted as her spouse.Hoon provided additional evidence of her marital status and requested a hearing before an ALJ.

         The hearing was held on June 6, 2017. Hoon testified about her relationship with Shirkey. She said that she only used the name Hoon, that she introduced Shirkey by his first name, Wayne, or as “my boyfriend, Wayne, ” and that Shirkey introduced her by her first name. She said mail was addressed to them separately, that Shirkey owned the house where she lived but he had moved out, ...

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