United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
OPINION & ORDER
D. PETERSON District Judge.
Gerald Lee Lynch, Jr., proceeding pro se, seeks judicial
review of a final decision of the commissioner of Social
Security concerning plaintiff's application for back
disability insurance benefits (DIB). Plaintiff's award of
back benefits was offset by previously awarded supplemental
security income (SSI) benefits. Plaintiff contends that he
never received the SSI, and in fact, was not aware of the SSI
application made in his name. The administrative law judge
found plaintiff's testimony incredible and concluded that
his DIB award was correctly calculated. After reviewing the
record, I will affirm the commissioner's decision.
2007, plaintiff applied for disability insurance benefits for
the period between December 1998 and April 2000.
Plaintiff's disability arose from severe leg injuries he
suffered after a fall from a third-story balcony in 1992. The
Social Security Administration determined that plaintiff was
entitled to DIB from June 1999 through June 2000, but reduced
the amount of DIB by $4, 884 because plaintiff had previously
received that amount in supplemental security income benefits
for that time period. Tr. 42. Because of the reduction,
plaintiff received only $1, 687. Id.
requested reconsideration of this decision, which was denied.
In the course of corresponding with the agency, plaintiff was
informed that records showed that the agency issued him an
SSI check in the amount of $6, 387 on July 13, 2000, to his
then-current address, that the check was cashed on July 19,
2000, and that it was now too late to challenge non-receipt
of the check because such challenges could only be made
within a year of the check's issuance.
sought review by an administrative law judge. At the
administrative hearing, Plaintiff testified that he had never
applied for SSI in 1999, nor received benefits in 2000. Tr.
154-57, 161-64. The ALJ denied plaintiff's appeal,
stating that he did not have standing to appeal because he
admitted that he never filed an application for disability in
1998. Tr. 82. The Appeals Council concluded that the ALJ
erred in ruling that plaintiff had no standing and remanded
for a second hearing. Tr. 91.
second ALJ held an abbreviated supplemental hearing and then
issued a new decision upholding the agency's previous
rulings. In particular, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff
received SSI payments during his period of disability and
that it was too late for plaintiff to argue that he never
received the 2000 SSI check. Tr. 15-17. To the extent that
plaintiff sought to toll the year deadline to claim
non-receipt of the 2000 SSI check because he was unaware of
those proceedings, the ALJ concluded that plaintiff's
"assertion that he had no knowledge that [a previous]
SSI application had been filed on his behalf [was] . . .
wholly incredible." Tr. 15. The ALJ cited the record of
plaintiff's 1999 SSI application and found that the
claimant's handwriting and signature in that record
"appears to be very similar to, and often virtually to,
the signature and handwriting contained in [plaintiff's]
current application, request for reconsideration, and request
for hearing." Id. (citing Supp. Tr. 187, 214).
The ALJ also noted that the 1999 SSI record indicated that
plaintiff appeared at the hearing in that case with counsel
and gave testimony at the hearing. Id. The ALJ
concluded that plaintiff could not challenge his receipt of
the SSI benefits. The ALJ also concluded that the $4, 884
reduction in the DIB award was correct, and that plaintiff
correctly received $1, 687 as a DIB award. Tr. 16-17.
Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for further
review. Plaintiff now appeals to this court.
seeks reversal of the ALJ's decision concluding that his
DIB award was properly reduced by $4, 884 as a result of his
earlier SSI benefit. He contends that he never received the
SSI check in 2000 and so the DIB award should not be offset
by the SSI benefit. Although the ALJ concluded that under 31
U.S.C. § 3702(c),  plaintiff's one-year period for
raising the issue of non-receipt of the check had passed,
plaintiff seeks tolling of that one-year deadline.
plaintiff's position at the administrative hearings to be
that the time should have been tolled because he was not
aware of the SSI check, or even the SSI proceedings. For
instance, in his request for Appellate Council review of the
second administrative decision, plaintiff stated "I
NEVER ‘appeared personally' or
‘testified' at any hearing held on May 11,
2000!" Tr. 8. Neither party presents authority on this
point, but it stands to reason that the one-year deadline to
raise the issue of non-receipt of the earlier benefits
could be tolled if plaintiff had convinced the ALJ
that the SSI proceedings had somehow taken place without
plaintiff's knowledge or involvement.
is highly implausible to suggest that plaintiff was not
involved in the SSI proceedings, and there was no evidence to
corroborate plaintiff's implausible testimony. The ALJ
examined documents from the SSI proceedings and noted the
similarities in plaintiff's signature and handwriting in
those documents to the documents in the DIB proceedings. The
ALJ found plaintiff's assertion that he was not involved
in those proceedings to be incredible. I must uphold the
ALJ's credibility determination unless it is patently
wrong. Stepp v. Colvin, 795 F.3d 711, 720 (7th Cir.
2015). The ALJ was not wrong. In fact, once plaintiff
received the records of the SSI proceeding, he conceded that
he "indeed was the one responsible for initiating the
application process." Dkt. 51, at 3. Given his
involvement in the prior SSI proceedings, plaintiff does not
raise a plausible argument for why the one-year time limit
for raising non-receipt of the SSI check should be
leaves only plaintiff's arguments about how this court
should review the ALJ's decision given that the microfilm
copy of plaintiff's SSI check was destroyed. Plaintiff
contends that the destruction of this record "deprived
[him] of his fundamental constitutional rights under the
First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States
Constitution." Dkt. 38, at 2. But plaintiff does not
develop this argument in any meaningful way, and I am aware
of no authority stating that the government violates a
citizen's constitutional rights by purging its files of
old, duplicative data,  or by failing to retain a
100-percent-complete version of the historical record for
administrative purposes. Nor does plaintiff explain why it is
the government's fault that the microfilm was destroyed
when it was plaintiff who failed to present a timely
challenge to his alleged non-receipt of the check.
suggests that "without the microfilm copy of the check,
the ALJ decision was not based on substantial facts. It was
based upon an incomplete record." Dkt. 38, at 2. I agree
that the record is incomplete without a copy of the check
itself,  but that does not mean that the ALJ's
decision was factually unsound. As plaintiff alludes to, the
ALJ's findings "as to any fact, if supported by
substantial evidence, shall be conclusive." 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). "Although a mere scintilla of proof will
not suffice to uphold the SSA's findings, the standard of
substantial evidence requires no more than ‘such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might ...