United States District Court, District of Columbia
July 31, 2001
NARAYANAN KRISHNAN, FOR NARAYANAN DEVIPRASAD, PLAINTIFF,
LARRY G. MASSANARI,[FN1] DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman, District Judge.
Narayanan Krishnan brought this action on behalf of his
brother, Narayanan Deviprasad, under Section 205(g) of the
Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), to review a final
decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security
Administration denying his brother's application for disability
insurance benefits under Title II of the Act,
42 U.S.C. § 401-423. Mr. Deviprasad is not a United States citizen, but he
lived and worked here from 1981 until 1991 when he became
permanently disabled and was forced to return to India to be
cared for by his brother. The Social Security Act prohibits
payment of benefits to non-citizens who have resided outside the
United States for over six months, except under certain
circumstances. See 42 U.S.C. § 402(t). The Commissioner
concluded that Mr. Deviprasad did not meet any of the exceptions
to the prohibition against payment of benefits to non-resident
noncitizens and denied him disability insurance benefits. The
Court affirms the Commissioner's decision.
A. Statutory Framework
The Social Security Act generally denies non-citizens
disability insurance benefits if they have resided outside the
United States for more than six months. 42 U.S.C. § 402(t)(1);
see 20 C.F.R. § 404.460(a). This general rule has several
exceptions, however, and plaintiff argues that one of them
applies to him, an exception set forth in
42 U.S.C. § 402(t)(4).*fn2 An "eligible nonresident," see Ganem v.
Heckler, 746 F.2d 844, 845 (D.C.Cir. 1984), for
purposes of Section 402(t)(4), is one who has lived in the
United States for ten years or has earned 40 quarters of
coverage.*fn3 Because it is agreed that plaintiff lived in
the United States for only nine years and eight months, he would
only fall under this exception if he earned 40 quarters of
coverage. Plaintiff could also fall within an exception to the
general rule without needing 40 quarters of coverage if he were
a citizen of a "reciprocal" country or a "treaty" country. A
reciprocal country is one that has a social insurance system of
general application that pays periodic benefits to United States
citizens who qualify for such benefits while residing outside of
the reciprocal country. 42 U.S.C. § 402(t)(2);
20 C.F.R. § 404.460(b)(7). A treaty country is one where application of the
general rule would violate a United States treaty obligation.
42 U.S.C. § 402(t)(3); 20 C.F.R. § 404.460(b)(6). It is undisputed
that India is not a reciprocal country because it has been found
to have no social insurance system of general application.
20 C.F.R. § 404.463(a)(7), Social Security Ruling 89-12 (Dec. 26,
1989). Nor is India a treaty country. See
20 C.F.R. § 404.463(b).
B. Claimant's Work History and Impairment
Narayanan Deviprasad is a citizen of India. He first entered
the United States on August 26, 1981 to pursue a masters degree
in electrical engineering at Worcester (Massachusetts)
Polytechnic Institute. While earning his masters degree, Mr.
Deviprasad worked as a teaching assistant at the school, earning
between $500 and $550 a month from September 1981 until May 1983
when he graduated. After receiving his masters degree, Mr.
Deviprasad worked as a computer software engineer for various
companies in the United States, beginning in September 1983.
In May 1986, Mr. Deviprasad was diagnosed with paranoid
schizophrenia. Over the next five years, Mr. Deviprasad returned
to India periodically for treatment and medication, only to
suffer relapses of his mental illness after returning to work in
the United States. Mr. Deviprasad has been in India continuously
since April 25, 1991, where he is under the care of his elder
brother, Narayanan Krishnan, who serves as his next friend in
this action. His treating physician states that Mr. Deviprasad's
condition is permanent and deteriorating.
C. Procedural History
Mr. Deviprasad filed his initial application for disability
insurance benefits with the Social Security Administration on
May 22, 1993. (Tr. 29-32)*fn4 His application was
denied because he was not a United States citizen and had
resided outside the United States for more than six months.
42 U.S.C. § 402(t)(1)(A).*fn5 On reconsideration, his
application was again denied. (Tr. 47-50) The Social Security
Administration Administrative Law Judge agreed that Mr.
Deviprasad was disabled because of his mental impairment, but
concluded that "he did not meet any of the conditions that would
permit payment of benefits outside the United States." (Tr. 47)
The ALJ also found that Mr. Deviprasad did not meet any of the
exceptions to the residency requirement. The ALJ's decision was
upheld on administrative appeal. (Tr. 9-10, 22-27)
Having exhausted his administrative remedies, Mr. Krishnan
filed this action here on behalf of his brother. After the
Commissioner filed an answer, the Court appointed counsel for
Mr. Krishnan.*fn6 During the initial briefing of the parties'
cross-motions for summary judgment, Mr. Krishnan argued that Mr.
Deviprasad had earned 40 quarters of coverage and therefore fell
within an exception to the bar against paying disability
benefits to noncitizens who reside outside the United States.
The Commissioner then submitted evidence regarding Mr.
Deviprasad's quarters of coverage that were not contained in the
administrative record, and Mr. Krishnan submitted additional
evidence to rebut the Commissioner's evidence. Believing that
"the new evidence counsels in favor of additional agency
proceedings," this Court remanded the case to the Commissioner
"for further evaluation of all relevant evidence, and . . . [to
give plaintiff] the opportunity to submit additional evidence,
to determine whether plaintiff has earned at least 40 quarters
of coverage and is therefore entitled to receive benefits while
living in India. . . ." Order of September 17, 1999.
Nearly five months after remand, but before any further
administrative hearing had been held, Mr. Krishnan moved to
vacate the Court's remand order as contrary to law; he also
renewed his motion for summary judgment. The following month, an
ALJ conducted a hearing which Mr. Krishnan's counsel attended.
After the hearing, the ALJ obtained a copy of Mr. Deviprasad's
Social Security earnings records which showed that he had earned
only 30 quarters of coverage. Mr. Krishnan did not attempt to
further rebut this evidence. On April 18, 2000, the ALJ issued a
new decision finding that Mr. Deviprasad had not earned 40
quarters of coverage and that he therefore did not meet the
exception barring payment of disability benefits to non-citizens
who reside outside the United States. (Tr. 8491) In so ruling,
the ALJ determined that Mr. Deviprasad's two years spent as a
teaching assistant at Worcester Polytechnic Institute was not
employment for purposes of disability insurance benefits and
could not be counted in his quarters of coverage.
II. STANDARD OF REVIEW
This Court must affirm the Commissioner's factual
determinations so long as they are supported by substantial
the record and are not tainted by an error of law. Smith v.
Bowen, 826 F.2d 1120, 1121 (D.C.Cir. 1987). Substantial
evidence is "more than a mere scintilla. It means such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion," Riichardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389,
402, 91 S.Ct. 1420, 28 L.Ed.2d 842 (1971) (quoting Consolidated
Edison Co. v. N.L.R.B., 305 U.S. 197, 229, 59 S.Ct. 206, 83
L.Ed. 126 (1938)). In determining whether the Commissioner's
decision is supported by substantial evidence, the Court may not
reweigh the evidence and "replace the [Commissioner's] judgment
regarding the weight and validity of the evidence with its own."
Davis v. Heckler, 566 F. Supp. 1193, 1195 (D.C. 1983).
Disability insurance benefits were denied to plaintiff because
he is not a citizen of the United States and has resided outside
the United States for more than six months and because he did
not qualify for any exception to this statutory proscription.
See 42 U.S.C. § 402(t)(1)(A). Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's
decision to deny benefits is not supported by substantial
evidence in the record because evidence of his work history in
the administrative record during the ALJ's initial determination
did not support a finding that he had earned less than 40
quarters of coverage. Plaintiff also argues that the residency
requirement as it applies to him is unconstitutional.
A. Evidence of Plaintiff's Work History
Plaintiff argues that there was not "substantial evidence" in
the record to support the ALJ's initial decision denying an
award of benefits on the ground that plaintiff did not fall
within an exception to the prohibition against payment of
benefits to aliens residing outside the United States.
Specifically, plaintiff asserts that he falls within the
exception for individuals who have earned not less than 40
quarters of coverage. See 42 U.S.C. § 402(t)(4)(A);
20 C.F.R. § 404.460(b)(2). Plaintiff argues that the ALJ's decision should
have been reversed and payment of disability benefits ordered
because the only evidence in the record prior to remand showed
that he had earned 40 quarters of coverage.
Upon the initiation of plaintiffs action in this Court, the
administrative record was sparse. Specifically, the record did
not include a print-out of plaintiffs earnings record — a
standard exhibit in the administrative record of nearly every
disability case. In his initial application, plaintiff
identified his dates of employment as 1983 to 1991. (Tr. 30)
When his application was denied, plaintiff offered a handwritten
summary of his employment, approximate gross earnings and
"Social Security Credits Earned" in support of his request for
reconsideration before the Social Security Administration. (Tr.
44) This summary included plaintiffs wages earned at Worcester
Polytechnic Institute, describing the work as an
"Assistantship." (Tr. 39) The ALJ's initial determination made
no specific factual determination as to plaintiff's quarters of
coverage; stating only that he "does not meet any of the
possible exceptions to the residency requirement." In view of
this fact and plaintiff's handwritten summary submitted to the
Social Security Administration, it was not error to remand the
case for further factual development. Surely, on review of the
Commissioner's decision the Court could not be expected to
accept a claimant's handwritten summary in lieu of the
administrative record or without permitting the Social Security
Administration to consider it first.*fn7
The Commissioner's decision after remand is supported by
substantial evidence in the record as supplemented by evidence
submitted during the remand. Plaintiff's earnings records show
that he earned 30 quarters of coverage. (Tr. 266-282)*fn8 The
ALJ considered plaintiffs handwritten summary of his additional
work history, but rejected the evidence of wages earned as a
teaching assistant during 1981 to 1983 as excluded from
employment because it is not considered employment for Social
Security coverage. See 20 C.F.R. § 404.1028, 404.1036. (Tr.
89)*fn9 The ALJ was willing to accept plaintiffs evidence of
wages earned at Honeywell during 1983 to boost his quarters of
coverage earned to 34, but — after excluding the teaching
assistant wages under the pertinent regulations — still
determined that plaintiff "earned considerably less than 40
quarters of coverage." (Tr. 90) On review of this determination,
the Court concludes that there is substantial evidence in the
record to support the ALJ's conclusion that plaintiff did not
have 40 quarters of coverage for purposes of the exception to
the general rule that disability insurance benefits are not paid
to non-citizens who reside outside the United States. Since this
is the only exception on which plaintiff now relies, the
decision of the Social Security Administration must be affirmed.
B. Plaintiffs Constitutional Challenges
Plaintiff argues that 42 U.S.C. § 402(t) unconstitutionally
infringes upon his rights to equal protection and to substantive
due process. To pass constitutional muster under the equal
protection component of the Fifth Amendment's Due Process
Clause, an official government action need only bear a rational
relationship to a legitimate governmental purpose so long as no
suspect or quasi-suspect class is involved and it does not
impair a fundamental right. See City of Cleburne v. Cleburne
Living Center, 473 U.S. 432, 439-40, 105 S.Ct. 3249, 87 L.Ed.2d
313 (1985); Moore v. City of East Cleveland, 431 U.S. 494,
500-06, 97 S.Ct. 1932, 52 L.Ed.2d 531 (1977). Plaintiff argues,
however, that this Court should apply a "strict scrutiny" test
because Section 402(t) interferes with his fundamental right to
live with his family in India and because it discriminates on
the basis of the suspect class of national origin. There is no
basis in law for the Court to accept these arguments.
As to the first argument, the court of appeals recently
summarized and applied the limitations on the fundamental right
to familial relationships, stating:
The Constitution protects familial
relationships from unwarranted government
interference in at least two circumstances. First,
parents have a right to
maintain their relationship with their children.
See, e.g., Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 102
S.Ct. 1388, 71 L.Ed.2d 599 (1982) (holding that a
state must support allegations of parental neglect
with at least clear and convincing evidence before
terminating the rights of parents in their natural
child); Stanley v. Illinois, 405 U.S. 645, 92
S.Ct. 1208, 31 L.Ed.2d 551 (1972) (striking down a
law automatically making children of unwed fathers
wards of the State upon the death of their mother).
Second, family members have a constitutional right
to make certain private decisions regarding family
affairs, such as whether to procreate, see Roe v.
Wade, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S.Ct. 705, 35 L.Ed.2d 147,
(1973) (abortion), Griswold v. Connecticut,
381 U.S. 479, 85 S.Ct. 1678, 14 L.Ed.2d 510 (1965)
(contraception), or whether to send children to
public school, see Pierce v. Soc'y of Sisters,
268 U.S. 510, 45 S.Ct. 571, 69 L.Ed. 1070 (1925).
Harbury v. Deutch, 233 F.3d 596, 604-05 (D.C.Cir. 2000). In
denying Harbury's due process claim, the court of appeals
refused to expand the familial relationship right to cases in
which governmental action only incidentally impairs familial
relationships and does not impair a parent-child relationship.
Id. (quoting extensively from Ortiz v. Burgos, 807 F.2d 6, 9
(1st Cir. 1986)). Consistent with the circuit's decision in
Harbury, this Court will not extend the protection afforded
fundamental rights to a case like this one where the government
has indirectly interfered with a nonparent-child relationship.
With respect to his second argument, that the Social Security
Act has discriminated against him on the basis of his national
origin and therefore that the decision of the Social Security
Administration must be reviewed under strict scrutiny analysis,
plaintiff recognizes that the Supreme Court's decision in
Mathews v. Diaz, 426 U.S. 67, 96 S.Ct. 1883, 48 L.Ed.2d 478
(1976), is among the controlling authorities. In Mathews, the
Supreme Court upheld as constitutional the amendments to the
Social Security Act that conditioned an alien's eligibility for
Part B Medicare benefits on the alien's continuous residence in
the United States for five years and admission for permanent
residence. In doing so, the Supreme Court recognized that
although the Fifth Amendment protects both citizens and resident
non-citizens from the deprivation of life, liberty or property
without due process of law, the scope of protection afforded by
the Fifth Amendment is not the same for citizens and for
resident noncitizens. See Mathews v. Diaz, 426 U.S. at 77-78,
96 S.Ct. 1883; see also Nguyen v. Immigration and
Naturalization Service, ___ U.S. ___, 121 S.Ct. 2053, 2059-64,
150 L.Ed.2d 115 (2001). Because "the responsibility for
regulating the relationship between the United States and our
alien visitors has been committed to the political branches of
the Federal Government," the Supreme Court afforded the statute
a deferential standard of review. Mathews v. Diaz, 426 U.S. at
81-82, 96 S.Ct. 1883.
Plaintiff seeks to distinguish Mathews on two grounds.
First, he argues that the government in Mathews disputed the
alien's entitlement to Medicare benefits whereas here defendant
has admitted that plaintiff is entitled to disability benefits.
Second, he argues that Mathews barred all aliens, not just
aliens from certain countries as it has done in Section 402(t).
Neither of these distinctions take this case outside of
Congress' "responsibility for regulating the relationship
between the United States and our alien visitors." Consequently,
the limitation on benefits to alien non-residents in
42 U.S.C. § 402(t) must be upheld as constitutional so long as
it bears a rational relationship to a legitimate governmental
purpose. See Rodriguez v. United States, 169 F.3d 1342,
1347-48 (11th Cir. 1999) (applying rational basis review in
upholding limitations on aliens eligible to receive Supplemental
Plaintiff argues, however, that Section 402(t)(1) cannot
survive even rational basis review because Congress' decision to
pay benefits to citizens of certain countries and not others is
"not properly tailored to effectuate any legitimate governmental
purpose." In enacting Section 402(t)(1) in 1956, Congress
explained "that some aliens have come to this country, served in
covered employment for a short period, and have then returned to
their native countries to live off their old-age and survivors
benefits for the rest of their lives." H.Rep. No. 84-2133, at 2
(1956). Rather than simply denying benefits to all aliens,
Congress decided "in the interest of fairness and comity . . .
to continue the payment of benefits to a citizen of a foreign
country if that foreign country has a social insurance or
pension system which permits payments to United States citizens
in the event they leave such foreign country." Id., at
Plaintiff points out that the statute does not exactly match
its stated purpose. For example, if plaintiff currently resided
in the United Kingdom, he would still not be entitled to payment
of benefits even though the United Kingdom allows payments to
eligible United States citizens who reside outside of the United
Kingdom. More to the point here, Congress' concern about
non-citizens who work for a short time and collect retirement
benefits in their home country does not apply to plaintiff, who
is seeking disability benefits, not retirement or survivors
benefits. In contrast to the short-term aliens whom Congress
targeted for exclusion from Social Security benefits, plaintiff
was essentially forced to return to India in spite of his desire
to remain and work in the United States.
The fact that plaintiff was not among the class of aliens
targeted by Section 402(t) does not undermine the rational
[C]ourts are compelled under rationalbasis review to
accept a legislature's generalizations even when
there is an imperfect fit between means and ends. A
classification does not fail rationalbasis review
because it "is not made with mathematical nicety or
because in practice it results in some inequality."
"The problems of government are practical ones and
may justify, if they do not require, rough
accommodations — illogical, it may be, and
Heller v. Doe, 509 U.S. 312, 321, 113 S.Ct. 2637, 125 L.Ed.2d
257 (1993) (internal citations omitted). Furthermore, the issue
is not whether Congress articulated a rational basis for its
decision, but whether there is one. Thus, in determining whether
plaintiff has been denied equal protection of the law, this
Court must decide only whether defendant now has offered a
rational basis for its action and whether plaintiff has
negatived every conceivable basis that might support its action.
See Steffan v. Perry, 41 F.3d 677, 684 (D.C.Cir. 1994).
Prohibiting the payment of all Social Security benefits to
certain non-citizens who do not reside in the United States
bears a rational relationship to Congress' concern that the
programs should primarily benefit citizens and certain
non-citizens who have lived in the United States for a
substantial period of time — ten years — or who have paid into
the program for a substantial period of time — 40 quarters — or
who are citizens of a country that has a reciprocal rule or
treaty regarding payment of social insurance benefits. Because
the limitation imposed by Section 402(t) bears a rational
relationship to these legitimate governmental interests, it does
not violate the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
C. Plaintiff's Underlying Fairness Challenge
Underlying plaintiffs filings in both the administrative and
these judicial proceedings over the past eight years is a plea
for an exception to the eligibility rules because of the unique
circumstances of his case.*fn12 The Court is mindful of the
difficult position plaintiff found himself in when he was
diagnosed with schizophrenia. Had he stayed in the United
States, plaintiff would have been entitled to disability
benefits, but would have been unable to care for himself. He
chose instead to return to India where he could be cared for by
his brother but would, lose disability benefits. Moreover, in
both residency and in quarters of coverage, plaintiff was very
close to falling within the exception allowing benefits found in
42 U.S.C. § 402(t)(4). Although plaintiffs situation is unusual,
Congress has established certain criteria by law — 40 quarters
or ten years — and the application of any arbitrary line drawn
between eligible and ineligible individuals "must produce some
harsh and apparently arbitrary consequences." Mathews v. Diaz,
426 U.S. at 83, 96 S.Ct. 1883. Although the ALJ was sympathetic
to plaintiffs claim, he was required to deny benefits because
there is no hardship exception contained in Section 402(t).
Because plaintiff has not identified any discretion on the part
of the Commissioner to award benefits in close cases, this Court
must affirm the denial of benefits in this case. The only
available discretionary award is from Congress through a private
An Order consistent with this Opinion is entered this same
ORDER AND JUDGMENT
For the reasons set forth in an Opinion issued this same day,
it is hereby
ORDERED that plaintiffs motions to vacate remand [# 34-1] and
for summary judgment [# 34-2] are DENIED; and it is
FURTHER ORDERED that the decision of the Administrative Law
Judge, dated April 18, 2000, is AFFIRMED and that
JUDGMENT is entered in favor of defendant. Any other pending
motions are denied as moot. This is a final appealable order.
See Fed.R.App.P. 4(a).