In a reversal, the Social Security Administration announced June 4 that it will halt its suspension of Social Security disability benefits to 900 people who were represented by an attorney under federal investigation.
“I was rather blunt that this is a matter of life and death,” said Rep. Hal Rodgers, describing his meeting with Social Security officials after the recipients sued the agency, in the Kentucky Lexington-Herald.
On May 22, these individuals received a notice through the mail, informing them that their benefits were halted as part of the SSA’s investigation into Stanville, Kentucky-based attorney Eric C. Conn, who assisted them with obtaining Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income benefits. The notice also stated that recipients had just 10 days to collect new evidence of their disabilities to submit an appeal.
The SSA also said it was reviewing the cases of 600 other recipients previously represented by Conn.
The recipients, with the assistance of Pillersdorf Law Firm, filed a class-action lawsuit (PDF format), alleging that both the SSA’s decision to suspend benefits without a hearing and the 10-day evidence gathering period violated their due process rights.
“The Administration…has chosen to punish hundreds of individuals for whom there is no allegation of wrongdoing, by suspending disability benefits that are vital to their daily existence,” the lawsuit states. “The sudden and drastic actions of the Administration, with a promise of a future hearing at an undetermined time, violate the core principles of Due Process and Equal Protection under the United States Constitution, as well as the Social Security Act and relevant regulations.”
The lawsuit was filed May 30 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Kentucky.
The SSA is accusing Conn of fraudulently colluding with Social Security Judge David B. Daugherty and four doctors to obtain Social Security disability benefits. A 2013 U.S. Senate investigation concluded that Conn submitted improper medical evidence on behalf of clients.
According to the Kentucky Lexington-Herald, the SSA released a statement indicating that the recipients would still have to demonstrate their eligibility for benefits.
“Social Security remains fully committed to its responsibility to ensure that the public funds entrusted to the agency are properly expended, and takes every measure to fight waste, fraud and abuse in Social Security programs,” the statement said.
A separate lawsuit (PDF version) was filed against Conn on May 21 in state court, accusing Conn of violations of the Kentucky Consumer Protection Act and legal malpractice.