United States District Court, District of Columbia
DEBORAH A. ROBINSON United States Magistrate Judge
Lonnie Faison, seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g), of the final decision of the Commissioner of
the Social Security Administration denying her application
for Widow’s Insurance Benefits based on the earnings
record of deceased wage earner, Purcyle Peake. See
Complaint (ECF No. 1) ¶¶ 3-4; Memorandum in Support
of Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment of Reversal
(“Pl.’s Mem.”) (ECF No. 10-1) at 1. After
Defendant filed the administrative record (“AR”)
(ECF No. 8), Plaintiff moved for judgment of reversal of the
final decision of the Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”), or, in the alternative, for remand to
the Social Security Administration for a new administrative
hearing, and Defendant moved for judgment of affirmance of
the final decision. See Plaintiff’s Motion for
Judgment of Reversal (ECF No. 10); Defendant’s Motion
for Judgment of Affirmance (ECF No. 14).
in the memorandum in support of her motion, claims that she
lived with Mr. Peake continuously from about 1974 until his
death on August 5, 2008. Pl.’s Mem. at 2. Plaintiff
further claims that they held themselves out as husband and
wife, were natural parents of a son born in 1978, and Mr.
Peake always listed her as his spouse when he filed tax
returns. Id. Finally, Plaintiff and Mr. Peake got
married in a civil ceremony on June 18, 2008. Id.
support of her claim that Mr. Peake was her common law spouse
and that they later got married in a civil ceremony,
Plaintiff submitted (1) a Certificate of Marriage, (2) the
Obituary for Mr. Peake, and (3) letters from three of her
sisters, Mr. Peake’s sister, Mr. Peake’s mother,
and a clinical research associate who interacted with the
couple. See AR at 79-86. Plaintiff also submitted
copies of individual income tax returns in which Mr. Peake
claimed “three exemptions, including his spouse Lonnie
Faison, and their son.” See Pl.’s Mem.
at 8; AR at 87 -103. Plaintiff submits that the ALJ who
conducted the administrative hearing (1) applied an improper
standard in determining that Plaintiff was not entitled to
widow’s insurance benefits; (2) failed to support the
determination that Plaintiff had not established a common law
marriage by substantial evidence, and (3) failed to properly
develop the administrative record. See Pl.’s
Mem. at 3-13.
in support of her motion and in opposition to
Plaintiff’s motion, maintains that substantial evidence
supports the ALJ’s finding that Plaintiff was not
entitled to widow’s benefits because she did not
establish the existence of a common law marriage between
herself and Mr. Peake prior to August 5, 2008. See
Memorandum in Support of the Motion and in Opposition to
Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment of Reversal
(“Def.’s Opp’n”) (ECF No. 15) at
in reply, submits that Defendant, in failing to respond to
two out of three arguments in Plaintiff’s memorandum,
has conceded that the ALJ applied an improper standard and
failed to develop the record. See Plaintiff’s
Opposition to Defendant’s Motion for Judgment of
Affirmance and Reply to Defendant’s Opposition to
Plaintiff’s Motion for Judgment of Reversal
(“Pl.’s Reply”) (ECF No. 16) at 2-3.
Finally, Plaintiff maintains that the ALJ’s decision
was not supported by substantial evidence because the ALJ,
with respect to Plaintiff, failed to consider the
requirements of a common law marriage in the District of
Columbia namely: (1) express mutual present intent to be
husband and wife, and (2) good faith cohabitation.
Id. at 3-4.
consideration of the entire record herein, the court will
grant Plaintiff’s motion and deny Defendant’s
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act, a district court
has the power to review “any final decision” of
the Commissioner of Social Security. See 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g); Settles v. Colvin, 121 F.Supp. 3d
163, 169 (D.D.C. 2015). The court must affirm the
Commissioner's decision where it is “supported by
substantial evidence” and “not tainted by an
error of law.” Perry v. Colvin, No. 15-0372,
2016 WL 471280, at * 3 (D.D.C. Feb. 8, 2016) (citing
Smith v. Bowen, 826 F.2d 1120, 1121 (D.C. Cir.
1987). “The Commissioner's ultimate determination
will not be disturbed if it is based on substantial evidence
in the record and correctly applies the relevant legal
standards.” Settles, 121 F.Supp. 3d at 169
(citing Butler v. Barnhart, 353 F.3d 992, 999 (D.C.
Cir. 2004). “Substantial evidence is such relevant
evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to
support a conclusion.” Butler, 353 F.3d at 999
(citing Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401
(1971)). “The test requires more than a scintilla, but
can be satisfied by something less than a preponderance of
the evidence.” Id. (citation omitted)
(internal quotation marks omitted). “Even if supported
by substantial evidence, however, the court will not uphold
the Commissioner's findings if the Commissioner reached
them by applying an erroneous legal standard.”
Jackson v. Barnhart, 271 F.Supp.2d 30, 33 (D.D.C.
2002) (citation omitted).
determine whether the Commissioner's decision is free
from legal error and supported by substantial evidence, the
court must “carefully scrutinize the entire record,
” but “may not reweigh the evidence and replace
the [Commissioner's] judgment regarding the weight of the
evidence with its own.” Id. at 34 (citation
omitted); see also Perry v. Colvin, 2016 WL 471280,
at *3.). “The Plaintiff bears the burden of
demonstrating that the Commissioner’s decision [was]
not based on substantial evidence or that incorrect legal
standards were applied.” Simpson v. Colvin,
121 F.Supp. 3d 31, 37 (D.D.C. 2015) (quoting Muldrow v.
Astrue, No. 11-1385, 2012 WL 2877697, at *6 (D.D.C. July
11, 2016) (citation omitted). A district court has discretion
“to enter, upon the pleadings and transcript of the
record, a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the
decision of the Commissioner, with or without remanding the
case for a rehearing.” Ademakinwa v. Astrue,
696 F.Supp.2d 107, 110 (D.D.C. 2010) (quoting 42 U.S.C.
court has discretion to remand for the purpose of an award of
benefits rather than for further proceedings “where the
evidence on the record as a whole is clearly indicative of
[the eligibility of the claimant] and additional hearings
would serve no purpose other than to delay the inevitable
receipt of benefits[.]” Espinosa v. Colvin,
953 F.Supp.2d 25, 35-36 (D.D.C. 2013) (quoting Hawkins v.
Massanari, No. 00-2101, 2002 WL 379898, at *4 (D.D.C
July 2, 2013). Reversal instead of remand is appropriate
“where the record in the case is thoroughly developed,
and a hearing would merely function to delay the award of
benefits[.]” Ademakinwa, 696 F.Supp.2d at 110
(quoting Martin v. Apfel, 118 F.Supp.2d 9, 18
(D.D.C. 2000) (citation omitted).
court finds that Defendant, in her opposition to
Plaintiff’s motion, does not contest Plaintiff’s
claims that the ALJ (1) applied an improper standard and (3)
failed to develop the administrative record, and for those
reason alone, the court has discretion to deem those claims
as conceded. See, e.g., Keys v.
Donovan, 107 F.Supp. 3d 62, 66 (D.D.C. 2015) (treating
as conceded an argument offered by movant which the opposing
party failed to address in its opposition); Wright v.
District of Columbia, 799 F.Supp.2d 1, 6 (D.D.C. 2011)
(treating as conceded a party’s claims for failure to
respond to opposing party’s arguments, pursuant to LCvR
7(b)). Accordingly, the court finds that Defendant has
conceded those claims.
respect to whether the ALJ’s decision was supported by
substantial evidence, the court finds, after a careful
scrutiny of the entire record, that it cannot affirm the
ALJ’s findings because the ALJ gave no consideration to
Plaintiff’s entitlement to widow’s insurance