PR 02005.056 Wyoming
A. PR 04-325 Civil Rights Complaint - Miles R. M~
DATE: March 9, 2001
The issue in this case is whether SSA is responsible for investigating the civil rights complaint of a claimant who alleges he was discriminated by the State DDS in the processing of his disability claim. The claimant alleged that the employees of the DDS "made false statements and introduced prejudiced medical evidence" in connection with his disability claim.
The definitions found in Chapter 2 of SSA OGC's Civil Rights Procedures manual provides that "[SSA], for purposes these procedures, includes all components of [SSA]. SSA does not include units of state government that perform services entered into pursuant to Sections 221 [disability determination] and 1633 of the Social Security Act, or any entity that receives block grants or procurement contracts from SSA." Further Chapter 4.A.1 provides, "If a complaint involves an employee or official of a state disability determination agency, the Senior Advisor (to the General Counsel) shall forward the appropriate State or Federal entity." In several Court cases where Plaintiffs filed discrimination complaints under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 against a DDS as well as SSA the courts have dismissed SSA from the action and allowed the action to proceed against the state.
Therefore, the SSA Regional GC concluded Attorney General (AG) of the State had jurisdiction of the civil rights aspect of the complaint and the AG's Office confirmed it handles such complaints against state agencies.
This concerns your inquiry as to whether SSA is responsible for investigating Mr. M~ civil rights complaint to the extent his complaint alleges he was discriminated against by employees of the Wyoming State Disability Determination Services (DDS).
The Wyoming State Attorney General's office is the entity that is responsible for investigating Mr. M~ civil rights complaint as it pertains to employees of the Wyoming DDS.
In May 2004, Mr. M~ filed a discrimination complaint with SSA alleging that he was treated in a discriminatory manner based on disability and retaliation, among other things. His complaint is closely related to his disability claims filed in 1996 and 2000, and he believes that the medical evidence used to decide his claims (he was awarded benefits by an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) on the 2000 application) contained incorrect information. Mr. M~ has submitted a sizeable amount of correspondence, including copies of letters of complaint to and involving multiple other Federal and State governmental entities.
With regard to your inquiry, Mr. M~ alleged, in part, that the Wyoming DDS "made false statements and introduced prejudiced medical evidence" in connection with his disability claims. The Wyoming DDS is a component of the Wyoming Department of Workforce Services, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation. On July 13, 2004, DDS Program Manager Vicki J~ responded to Mr. M~, and requested additional information about his complaint. Ms. J~ also contacted Mr. Joe M~ in SSA's Region VIII Center for Disability for guidance as to whether SSA or the DDS was responsible for responding to Mr. M~ discrimination claims against the DDS.
State agencies such as the Wyoming DDS make disability determinations for SSA pursuant to section 221 of the Social Security Act (Act), 42 U.S.C. § 421. Under section 221, "SSA is required . . . to manage the disability determination process 'to assure effective and uniform administration of the program.'" Memorandum, Legality of Hiring Temporary Employees, CC Region VIII (E~-L~) to RC, SSA, September 3, 1992 (quoting Memorandum, Legality of Proposed Funding Process for the Disability Determination Services, GC:SS (Gonya) to ACD, SSA, July 19, 1988). The regulations implementing section 221, found at 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.1601 - .1694, address the respective responsibilities of SSA and the States. Section 404.1603(c)(6) provides that the State will "[i]nsure that all applicants for and recipients of disability benefits are treated equally and courteously[.]"
The definitions section in Chapter 2 of OGC's Civil Rights Procedures Manual provides that "[SSA], for purposes of these procedures, includes all components of [SSA]. SSA does not include units of state government that perform services for SSA under agreements entered into pursuant to Sections 221 [disability determinations] and 1633 of the Social Security Act, or any entity that receives block grants or procurement contracts from SSA."
Chapter 4.A.1 further provides, "If the complaint involves an employee or official of a state disability determination agency, the Senior Advisor [to the General Counsel] or his or her designee shall forward the complaint to the appropriate State or Federal entity." We have conferred with OGC's Office of General Law which confirmed the State would have jurisdiction over a civil rights discrimination complaint against DDS.
A civil rights statute, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, provides the remedy for persons who believe they have been discriminated against by a State actor, that is, someone acting under color of state law. The law is not settled with regard to whether DDSs operate under state or federal law in processing social security claims. Our research found several cases where Plaintiffs filed a discrimination complaint under section 1983 against a DDS (or overseeing State entity) as well as SSA, and the courts dismissed SSA from the action on the basis that the claim did not arise under 42 U.S.C. 405(h), and allowed the section 1983 lawsuit to proceed against the State agency. See Sorenson v. Concannon, 893 F. Supp. 1469 (D. Or. 1994); Laird v. Stillwell, 982 F. Supp. 1345 (N.D. Iowa 1997); Surrell v. Willman, 16 F. Supp. 2d 1085 (D. Neb. 1998). In those cases, the courts concluded that in making disability determinations, the DDSs were created by State statute and operated pursuant to State statutory law for purposes of section 1983 complaints. See also Memorandum, Liability for Attorneys' Fees . . ., RCC Region VI (Seifert) to ARC, SSA, February 13, 1984 (noting possibility that court could award of attorney's fees against co-defendant commissioner of the state's rehabilitation commission if it allowed the section 1983 action) and Memorandum, Guidance for the Disability Determination Division of the Texas Rehabilitation Commission, GC:SS (Moran) to Operational Policy and Procedures, SSA, December 18, 1981 (need for clarification regarding extent of Federal government involvement in private actions against State employees indicated).
On July 29, 2004, I contacted the tort litigation division of the Wyoming Attorney General's office and spoke with a state attorney, Craig K~. Mr. K~ confirmed that his office handles civil rights complaints filed against state agencies, such as the DDS. He indicated that his office would be glad to review the materials that the DDS has received from Mr. M~.
For the forgoing reasons, to the extent Mr. M~ civil rights complaint alleges violations against employees of the Wyoming DDS, we believe that the Wyoming AG's office has jurisdiction over that aspect of the complaint. We are forwarding Mr. M~ civil rights complaint to the Wyoming State Attorney General's office and anticipate that office will take appropriate action.
Deana R. E~-L~
Regional Chief Counsel, Region VIII
Teresa H. A~
Assistant Regional Counsel