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Anomnachi v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 27, 2017

GORDY ANOMNACHI, Movant,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, OFFICE OF THE INSPECTOR GENERAL, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          TIMOTHY J. KELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Movant Gordy Anomnachi has filed a motion to quash an administrative subpoena issued by Respondent, the U.S. Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General (“SSA-OIG”), for records of a bank account that Anomnachi asserts was maintained to facilitate the payment of Social Security benefits to an incapacitated person for whom he serves as guardian. See ECF No. 1. Anomnachi proceeds pursuant to 12 U.S.C. § 3410(a), part of the Right to Financial Privacy Act of 1978 (“RFPA”), 12 U.S.C. §§ 3401-3422, which authorizes such challenges by customers of financial institutions. SSA-OIG submitted a response pursuant to 12 U.S.C. § 3410(b). See ECF No. 6. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the statutory criteria for enforcement of the subpoena are plainly met here, as demonstrated by the sworn statements and other materials submitted by both SSA-OIG and Anomnachi himself. The motion is therefore DENIED, and SSA-OIG may enforce the subpoena.

         I. Background

         A. The Right to Financial Privacy Act of 1978

         In 1976, the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment does not afford bank customers an actionable privacy interest in financial records held by their bank. See Nicksolat v. DOT, No. 17-mc-2198 (KBJ), 2017 WL 4443410, at *1 (D.D.C. Oct. 3, 2017) (citing United States v. Miller, 425 U.S. 435 (1976)). Congress responded in 1978 by passing the RFPA, which provides bank customers with certain rights when the federal government requests their records through the use of administrative subpoenas. See Id. Under the RFPA, such subpoenas may issue “only if ‘there is reason to believe that the records sought are relevant to a legitimate law enforcement inquiry.'” Id. (quoting 12 U.S.C. § 3405(1)). The RFPA also requires that customers be notified of such subpoenas and afforded the opportunity to challenge them in federal district court. See Id. Specifically, the statute provides that a customer may move to quash an administrative subpoena seeking her bank records within ten days of service of the notice (or fourteen days if it is mailed). 12 U.S.C. § 3410(a). If the district court finds that the motion complies with § 3410(a), it must order the government to respond and must decide the motion within seven days of the filing of that response. See Id. § 3410(b).

         The statute instructs the court to deny the motion and order the process enforced if “the applicant is not the customer to whom the financial records sought . . . pertain” or “there is a demonstrable reason to believe that the law enforcement inquiry is legitimate and a reasonable belief that the records sought are relevant to that inquiry.” Id. § 3410(c). Conversely, under the statute, the court must grant the motion and order the process quashed if it finds that “the applicant is the customer to whom the records sought . . . pertain, ” and either that “there is not a demonstrable reason to believe that the law enforcement inquiry is legitimate and a reasonable belief that the records sought are relevant to that inquiry” or that the government has not complied substantially with the procedural requirements of the RFPA. Id.

         The RFPA merely requires that there be “a good reason to investigate, ” Nicksolat, 2017 WL 4443410, at *4 (quoting Feiner v. SEC, 914 F.Supp.2d 474, 478 (S.D.N.Y. 2012)), as opposed to an “illegitimate purpose” such as harassment or intimidation, Feiner, 914 F.Supp.2d at 477. As courts have noted, this legal standard is far less demanding than the one governing warrants, which requires “probable cause to believe that a crime has been committed and that evidence of the crime will be found in the place to be searched.” Nicksolat, 2017 WL 4443410, at *4.

         B. Procedural History

         On October 10, 2017, SSA-OIG issued an administrative subpoena requesting records from a financial institution related to an account for which Anomnachi is a joint account holder. See ECF No. 1-1, at 9-12 (copy of subpoena and notice provided to Anomnachi).[1] The subpoena seeks various account records, such as correspondence, transaction records, and account opening information, dating from 2007 to 2017. See Id. SSA-OIG provided Anomnachi with notice of the subpoena, explaining that it was investigating possible fraud in connection with Social Security benefits. See id.; see also ECF No. 6-1, at 3-4 (Declaration of Special Agent Eric Ryan or “Ryan Decl.” ¶ 2). On October 23, 2017, Anomnachi filed the instant motion to quash the subpoena, and attached an affidavit with exhibits. ECF No. 1. On November 2, 2017, the Court ordered SSA-OIG to respond. On November 20, 2017, SSA-OIG did so, attaching a declaration by Special Agent Eric Ryan with exhibits. ECF No. 6.

         II. Analysis

         The Court must deny Anomnachi's motion because, in light of the submissions of both parties, the record reflects (1) a demonstrable reason to believe that SSA-OIG's law enforcement inquiry is legitimate, (2) a reasonable belief that the records sought are relevant to that inquiry, and (3) substantial compliance with the RFPA by SSA-OIG.[2]

         A. SSA-OIG's Law Enforcement Inquiry

         SSA-OIG asserts that it is investigating “possible fraudulent activity” in connection with Social Security benefits that were improperly paid to a deceased person. ECF No. 6-1, at 3-4 (Ryan Decl. ¶ 2). The investigation has focused on two Social Security recipients with the same first and last names, one of whom is alive (the “Living Beneficiary”) and the other deceased (the “Deceased Beneficiary”). See Id. The Living Beneficiary, born in 1938, currently receives disability benefits from the Social Security Administration through the District of Columbia Department on Disability Services (“DDS”), which serves as his payee. Id. at 4 (Ryan Decl. ¶ 3). The Deceased Beneficiary was born in 1935 and passed away in 2003, but the Social Security Administration has nonetheless disbursed benefits for him since at least 2007. Id. (Ryan Decl. ¶¶ 4-6). The two beneficiaries are assigned separate Social Security numbers. Id. (Ryan Decl. ¶¶ 3-5).

         SSA-OIG asserts that in June 2007, four years after the Deceased Beneficiary's death, Anomnachi applied to serve as the representative payee for benefits for the Deceased Beneficiary. Id. (Ryan Decl. ¶¶ 4-5). Since then, SSA-OIG claims, those benefits have been paid into a bank account maintained by Anomnachi. Id. at 4-5 (Ryan Decl. ΒΆΒΆ 6-8). SSA-OIG further asserts that the subpoena at issue here is directed to that bank account, and is part of a legitimate investigation into the ...


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