Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Public Benefits

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The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court concluding that transfers of assets by individuals age sixty-five or older into "pooled special needs trusts" are among those transfers that the Medicaid statute counts against eligibility for long-term care benefits, holding that when a beneficiary who is age sixty-five years or older gives up her assets for less than fair market value to a pooled special needs trust, there has been a transfer that triggers a temporary period of ineligibility. Following Yvonne Richardson's deposit of funds into her Maine Pooled Disability Trust (MPDT) account, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS) issued a notice threatening to suspend Medicaid coverage. Richardson and MPDT filed this lawsuit seeking a declaration that her transfer of assets into a pooled special needs trust was not a transfer that affected Medicaid eligibility. The district court dismissed the complaint, concluding that MDHHS correctly applied the governing statute in reaching its conclusion. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that the district court's judgment granting MDHHS's motion to dismiss rested on a reasonable interpretation of the statute. View "Maine Pooled Disability Trust v. Hamilton" on Justia Law

Posted in: Public Benefits

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The First Circuit reversed the order of the district court ruling that the automatic stay provision of the Puerto Rico Oversight, Management, and Economic Stability Act (PROMESA) did not apply to proceedings to determine the amount of federal court-ordered payments that the Commonwealth owed to several federally qualified health centers (FQHCs) per a 2010 injunction, holding that the automatic stay applied in this case. In 2003, several FQHCs sought to enjoin the Secretary of the Department of Health of Puerto Rico from failing to reimburse them for their reasonable costs of providing services to Medicaid patients. In 2018, the Commonwealth filed a motion notifying the district court that the Commonwealth had filed for bankruptcy under Title III of PROMESA and, therefore, the litigation was subject to the automatic stay. The district court ruled that the automatic stay did not apply. The First Circuit reversed, holding that certain provisions of PROMESA did not preclude the automatic stay’s application in this case. View "Migrant Health Center, Inc. v. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit vacated and remanded the district court’s order upholding an administrative law judge’s (ALJ) conclusion that although Appellant had previously been eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits as a child, Appellant was ineligible for SSI benefits as an adult, holding that the record before the ALJ was insufficient to conclude that Appellant was no longer disabled. When Appellant was twelve years old, the Commissioner of Social Security Administration (SSA) determined that he was entitled to SSI benefits because he was found to have met the SSA's requirements for mental retardation. The Commissioner later found that Appellant was no longer disabled and that his benefits should stop. Appellant requested a hearing with an ALJ, who found that Appellant was not disabled under the Social Security Act. Upon de novo review, the First Circuit held that the record before the ALJ was not adequately developed enough to conclude that Appellant was no longer disabled, particularly in light of the fact that the ALJ was on notice, through both Social Security Administration filings and hearing testimony, that Appellant was undergoing psychiatric treatment. View "Torres-Pagan v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

Posted in: Public Benefits

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court’s order upholding an administrative law judge’s (ALJ) denial of Appellant’s application for Social Security Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income. The Court held (1) even if this Court reviews the ALJ’s ruling on the understanding that it must apply a certain Social Security Ruling in reviewing the ALJ’s ruling, the ALJ’s determination that Appellant was not disabled still must be upheld; (2) substantial evidence supported the ALJ’s determination that Appellant’s ability to carry out certain daily activities undermined his contention that he was unable to perform light work; and (3) Appellant’s remaining allegations of error were without merit. View "Coskery v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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The district court properly placed the burden of proof on a grocery store (Store) in this action brought by Plaintiffs alleging that the Store unlawfully trafficked in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The Food and Nutrition Service (FNS), the bureau within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) charged with administering the SNAP regime, concluded that the Store had engaged in trafficking and permanently disqualified the Store from SNAP participation. The Store brought an action in Maine’s federal district court challenging the agency’s final decision. The district court granted summary judgment for the USDA. The First Circuit affirmed, holding (1) the burden of proof is imposed on the claimant - here, the Store; and (2) no rational fact-finder could conclude that the Store had demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that the finding of trafficking was incorrect. View "Irobe v. United States Department of Agriculture" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling that the “set-off rule” announced by the United States Secretary of Health and Human Services (Secretary) in the form of answers to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) posted on medicaid.gov represented a substantive policy decision that could not be adopted without notice and comment. In 1981, Congress authorized the payment of sums in addition to Medicaid payments hospitals that treat indigent patients receive in order to cover the full costs of care. Congress later passed a law seeking to cap those payments at each hospital’s “costs incurred.” At issue was to what extent “costs incurred” equals the total costs of service rather than the costs net of payments from sources such as Medicare and private insurance. With two exceptions, Congress stated that “costs incurred” are “as determined by the Secretary.” In 2010, the Secretary made its FAQs announcement that the payments to be offset against total costs in calculating “costs incurred” also included reimbursements received from Medicare and private insurance. The First Circuit held that the Secretary’s rule was procedurally improper for having failed to observe the notice-and-comment procedures prescribed by the Administrative Procedure Act. View "New Hampshire Hospital Ass’n v. Hargan" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision affirming an administrative law judge’s (ALJ) finding that Appellant was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act and thus not entitled to Supplemental Security Income benefits, holding that the ALJ’s determination was supported by substantial evidence. Specifically, the Court held (1) the ALJ did not err in according only slight weight to the testimony of an orthopedic physician who treated Appellant for a non-displaced fracture of her left femur; and (2) the ALJ was entitled to rely on testimony of an impartial vocational expert presented by the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration about available jobs that Appellant was entitled to perform. View "Purdy v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Plaintiffs’ suit challenging the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) termination of tier disability benefits for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on Plaintiffs’ failure to have exhausted their administrative remedies. After the SSA terminated the disability benefits that Plaintiffs had been receiving, Plaintiffs challenged that decision administratively. Before they had exhausted the administrative review process, however, Plaintiffs filed suit in federal court seeking various kinds of relief based presumably on the same grounds as the claims that had presented to the SSA in seeking to continue to receive their benefits. The district court granted the government’s motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, concluding that Plaintiffs failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiffs failed to show that they could not obtain a restoration of their benefits through the administrative review process, despite evidence suggesting that they would have a substantial chance of doing so. View "Justiniano v. Social Security Administration" on Justia Law

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The First Circuit held that the five-day grace period outlined in 20 C.F.R. 422.210(c) does not apply to final decisions on remand where the individual does not file any written exceptions to the administrative law judge's decision and the Appeals Council does not assume jurisdiction of the case. Plaintiff applied for Title II disability benefits with the Social Security Administration. On remand, an ALJ issued a partially favorable decision on Plaintiff’s claim. Plaintiff did not file any written exceptions to the ALJ’s decision, and the Appeals Council did not review the ALJ’s decision. Therefore, the ALJ’s decision became the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security. Plaintiff then filed a civil action challenging the ALJ’s decision on remand. The Commissioner moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s claim as untimely. The district court ruled against Plaintiff and dismissed her complaint for being untimely filed. Plaintiff appealed, asking the First Circuit to hold that the five-day grace period outlined in section 422.210(c) applies to final decisions on remand. The First Circuit declined Plaintiff’s request, holding that Plaintiff cannot apply the five-day grace period under section 422.210(c) to save her civil claim from being untimely. View "Walker-Butler v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed filed a qui tam action against a corporation and its subsidiary, both of whom manufacture and market medical devices, alleging that Defendants violated the False Claims Act in selling two particular medical devices to hospitals that seek reimbursement from the federal government through, for example, the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Through two subsequent amendments, both with permission of the court, Plaintiff added several defendants and retooled his claims. Plaintiff then requested leave to amend fourth amended complaint. The district court applied the “good cause” standard from Fed. R. Civ. P. 16(b) to that request and struck the amended complaint. The First Circuit originally held that the district court should have evaluated Plaintiff’s fourth amended complaint under the standard set forth in Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a). On remand, the district court concluded that Plaintiff’s desired amendment failed under that standard. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Plaintiff’s request for leave to file his fourth amended complaint was properly denied as futile because none of the claims in Plaintiff’s fourth amended complaint was adequately pled. View "D'Agostino v. EV3, Inc." on Justia Law