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KRISHNAN EX REL. DEVIPRASAD v. MASSANARI

July 31, 2001

NARAYANAN KRISHNAN, FOR NARAYANAN DEVIPRASAD, PLAINTIFF,
V.
LARRY G. MASSANARI,[FN1] DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Paul L. Friedman, District Judge.

OPINION

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.

I. BACKGROUND

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 evidence in 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 ...


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