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
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
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
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