Martinez v. Astrue
(U.S. District Court/Northern District of California)
Rosa Martinez, the lead plaintiff in this case, was, in 2008, a 52-year old disabled woman who received notice from SSA that she was losing her disability benefits because of a 1980 arrest warrant for a drug offense in Miami, Florida. Ms. Martinez had never been to Miami, never been arrested, never used illegal drugs, and is eight inches shorter than the person identified in the warrant. Despite an obvious case of mistaken identity, Ms. Martinez was left without her sole source of income while she cleared up the error on her own, without any help from SSA. It was only after filing the lawsuit that Ms. Martinez was able to receive her benefits.
SSA has a policy of suspending or denying Social Security, SSI, and Special Veterans Benefits anytime there is an outstanding arrest warrant for a felony, regardless whether or not the individual has any knowledge of the criminal charges against them. This case challenged SSA’s interpretation of a provision under that policy that denies benefits to persons it deems are “fleeing to avoid prosecution or custody or confinement after conviction” for a felony. Specifically, SSA denied benefits to those with outstanding warrants that were so old or so minor that the law enforcement entities holding the warrants weren’t interested in pursuing them. That alone was grounds for denial of benefits. SSA agreed to a settlement for the 200,000 member class and agreed that after April 1 2009, it would no longer suspend or deny benefits unless it was in relation to an actual escape or flight to avoid.