Pursuant to your request, we are providing suggested language that can be sent to
Raeann M~, an SSI beneficiary, in response to an order issued by the Oneida County
Court which requires her to obtain a representative payee. The body of our suggested
letter incorporates our reasons for concluding that the Oneida County Court does not
have authority to decide whether a Social Security representative payee should be
appointed, as Congress has granted this power solely to SSA.
Donna L. C~
Regional Chief Counsel, Region V
Assistant Regional Counsel
Dear Raeann M~:
The Social Security Administration has received a Judicial Review of Permanency Plan
dated January 13, 2011, by the Oneida County Department of Social Services regarding
Trevor M~, your minor child. According to this document, in March 2010 the Oneida
County Court issued an order which stated: “Ms. M~ shall have a representative payee
handling her income.” The document also indicated that a show cause order was currently
pending due to your noncompliance with some of the court-ordered requirements, including
the order to obtain a representative payee. You informed us that the show cause hearing
is scheduled for August 17, 2011.
In ordering you to obtain a representative payee, the Oneida County Court appears
to be indirectly ordering the Social Security Administration to appoint a representative
payee for you. The Oneida County Court, however, does not have jurisdiction over the
Social Security Administration, a federal agency. It is well-established that the
Federal government, as sovereign, is immune to suits in and the orders of courts,
unless the sovereign has consented to submit itself to the jurisdiction of the court. See United States Const. Art. VI, cl. 2; Hercules Inc. v. United States, 516 U.S. 417, 422-23 (1996). Here, the Social Security Administration, a federal
agency, has not relinquished its sovereignty and has not submitted to the jurisdiction
of any state court.
Moreover, the court order conflicts with federal statutory and regulatory laws which
govern the management of Social Security benefits and the appointment of representative
payees. Specifically, under the Social Security Act, Social Security benefits are
neither assignable nor subject to legal process, including court orders. See 42 U.S.C. § 407(a); Washington Dep’t of Social & Health Servs. v. Guardianship Estate of Danny K~, 537 U.S. 371, 385 (2003). Thus, the Oneida County Court does not have the authority
to issue an order directing that Social Security benefits be paid to a representative
In addition, the Social Security Act and its implementing regulations provide that
the Social Security Administration has the sole power to determine whether to appoint
a representative payee. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(j)(1)(A); 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.2001-404.2065, 416.601-416.665. Our regulations
and rules explain how the Social Security Administration determines whether to pay
a beneficiary directly or through a representative payee. Our policy is that every
adult beneficiary has the right to manage his or her own benefits and is presumed
to be capable of doing so, unless there is evidence to the contrary. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.2001, 404.2010, 404.2015, 416.601, 416.610, 416.615; Program Operations
Manual System (POMS) GN 00502.010, https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0200502010, GN 00502.020, https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0200502020, GN 00502.060, https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0200502060. Accordingly, we appoint a representative payee only if we determine that the beneficiary
is not able to manage his or her own benefits and that representative payment is in
the best interest of the beneficiary. See id. The only exception, which is not present in your case, is that an adult beneficiary
who is judged legally incompetent must receive benefits through a representative payee.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.2015(a), 416.615(a); POMS GN 00502.005, https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0200502005.
In your case, as we indicated in our letter dated January 7, 2011, to your attorney,
Richard S~, the Social Security Administration has determined on two separate occasions
that you should receive your benefits directly. This determination was based in part
on a capability form completed by your medical professional as well as lay interviews
with you regarding your basic expenses and payment priorities.
In sum, the Oneida County Court lacks jurisdiction over the Social Security Administration,
a federal agency, and is prohibited under federal law from directing how Social Security
benefits are to be managed. Only the Social Security Administration has the authority
to decide whether a beneficiary should receive his or her benefits directly or through
a representative payee, and no court can order you to obtain a representative payee.
The Oneida County Court’s March 2010 order impermissibly attempts to direct the disposition
of Social Security benefits, in violation of the Social Security Act.
We suggest that you advise the Oneida County Court of the information explained above,
and alert the court that you are unable to comply with its order because the Social
Security Administration has already determined that you do not need a representative
We hope that the information in this letter answers any questions or concerns you
may have. If you would like to discuss this matter further, please contact _____________.