Munger, Tolles & Olson, the National Senior Citizens Law Center, Disability Rights California and the Legal Aid Society of San Mateo County announced August 11, a more than $500 million settlement of a national class action lawsuit against the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA). The more than 200,000 plaintiffs in the case are now eligible to apply for Social Security, Social Security Disability, and/or Special Veteran's Benefits, but had previously been wrongfully denied those benefits (or had their benefits suspended) by the SSA. Approximately 80,000 of the class members who were denied or suspended under the policy after January 1, 2007, are also eligible to receive back benefits from the SSA.
The case, Martinez v. Astrue, challenged SSA’s method of implementing a narrowly drawn provision of the Social Security Act, a 1996 federal statute that seeks to prevent people from using government benefits to flee from arrest. Rather than trying to determine which benefit recipients were actually fleeing prosecution, SSA implemented a computer system to simply match names in a warrant database to those at SSA. Many of the resulting matches involved false or unproven allegations, minor infractions or long-dormant arrest warrants. Although SSA regulations provide for an appeal process, individuals losing benefits were routinely, inaccurately informed by SSA staff that they could not appeal. Under the terms of the agreement, the SSA has remedied the illegal policy that previously resulted in approximately 4,000 unlawful denials or suspensions per month.
“What’s remarkable about this case is the sheer number of individuals who were unfairly denied benefits and the size of the financial settlement they will receive...Hundreds of thousands of impoverished seniors and people with disabilities will once again receive their benefits, and countless others will avoid the same problem in the future,” David Fry told the Los Angeles Times. David Fry led the Munger Tolles team that included Jeremy Kroger, Mark Conrad and Jenny Hong.