20 CFR 404.238 and 404.616

SSR 64-18c

TAYLOR v. FLEMMING, 186 F.Supp. 280 (W.D. Ark. 1960)

The claimant's application for parent's insurance benefits on the earnings record of her deceased son was disallowed because she had failed to submit within the time limit prescribed by the Act, proof that she had been receiving at least one-half her support from the son at the time he died, as required by section 202(h) of the Act. The claimant appealed from such disallowance, contending that her failure to submit timely proof of support was caused by reliance upon misadvice given her by personnel of the Social Security Administration. Held, (1) the claimant failed to meet the requirements for parent's insurance benefits as set forth in the Act and is therefore not entitled to such benefits; (2) the Administration cannot be estopped from asserting the statutory requirements for entitlement to benefits.

[Having attained age 62 as required by section 202(h) of the Act, for entitlement to parent's insurance benefits, the claimant filed application for such benefits on her deceased son's earnings record. Her son has died while in active military service in World War II. Her application was denied by the Administration, which found that she did not meet the requirements of section 202(h) for parent's insurance benefits, on two grounds: (1) she was not receiving at least one-half her support from her son at the time he died; and (2) she had not filed proof of such support within the prescribed period after her son's death. With regard to the second ground for disallowance, the claimant testified as follows: Before expiration of the time limit she had inquired at a social security office as to whether she should submit proof of support received from her son, and had been told that in her case such proof would not be necessary, and that as soon as she attained the requisite age she would be eligible for parent's insurance benefits.]

MILLER, District Judge:

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It is undisputed that the plaintiff did not file the proof of support required by 42 U.S.C.A., Sec. 402(h), as modified by 42 U.S.C.A., Sec. 417(c), within the period of time specified by law * * *. No cases have been found in which courts have discussed the time limitations for filing a claim under this specific section of the Social Security Act. However, the courts have considered the requirement for timely filing of claims under other sections of the Act. In Ewing v. Risher, 176 F.2d 641 (10 Cir. 1949), the court said at page 644:

"* * * The rule is well settled that where a statute creates a right, such as the one in this case, unknown to the common law and limits the time within which the right must be asserted, the limitation defines and controls the right and the right ceases to exist if not asserted within the time fixed in the statute therefor.

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"Filing the application within the statutory time was a necessary incident of the right conferred by the act, and failing to comply therewith extinguished appellee's right to the lump-sum benefits. It is true that the statute is a remedial one and should be liberally administered to effectuate the congressional purpose, but the congressional purpose must be ascertained from the clear language of the act. While a liberal interpretation should be indulged, such a policy does not warrant adopting a construction inconsistent with the clear wording of the act in order to prevent loss to a claimant resulting from failure to file an application as required by the act."

See also Coy v. Folsom, 228 F.2d 276 (3 Cir. 1955).

As noted above, the plaintiff contends that she made an inquiry at the Social Security Office in Sacramento, California, concerning the proof of support prior to [expiration of the time limit], and she was informed that she did not have to file such a proof. In plaintiff's brief her attorney argues as follows:

"Since the United States Government can act only through its agents, it would be shocking to allow the United States Government to misinform an individual as to her rights, and then absolve itself from an obligation to that individual because of her reliance upon the misinformation."

It is apparent that plaintiff is attempting to assert some type of estoppel against the defendant; however, no cases are cited in support of this position. If Mrs. Taylor did rely to her detriment upon such a statement, it is indeed unfortunate. However, the Government cannot be estopped from insisting upon performance of statutory conditions precedent by the unauthorized acts of an employee of a local Social Security Office. The general rule in this regard is stated in 54 Am.Jur., United States, Sec. 92, and the cases cited therein, as follows:

"The general rule that acts of public officers must, in order to be binding, be within the limits of the power conferred, applies with full force in the case of officers of the United States; officers of the Federal government can bind the government only within the scope of their authority. Declarations of its agents and officers founded upon mistake of fact are not binding upon it unless it clearly appears that such officer or agent was acting within the scope of his authority and empowered in his official capacity to make such declarations. The doctrine that a principal may be bound by the acts of his agent acting in violation of specific instructions, yet within the scope of his general authority, is not applicable to the acts of an officer of the Federal government, the reason being that it is better for an individual to suffer from the mistakes of such officers than to adopt a rule which by collusion or otherwise might result to the detriment of the public. Furthermore, the government does not undertake to guarantee to any person the fidelity of any of the officers or agents whom it employs, since that would involve it in all its operations in endless embarrassments, difficulties, and losses, which would be subversive of the public interest. Therefore, as a general rule, and on grounds of public policy, the government cannot be bound, and is not estopped, by the acts of its officers not within the scope of their authority, and this is true however beneficial the unauthorized acts may have proved to be to the United States.
"Individuals, as well as courts, must take notice of the extent of the authority of officers of the Federal government. When dealing with such public officers, one should inquire into their powers and authority to bind the government, and is held to a recognition of the fact that government agents are bound to fairness and good faith as between themselves and their principal."

The plaintiff has cited no authority or basis which would take the facts in the instant case out of the general rule stated above.

Therefore, since the timely filing of the proof of support is a condition precedent to recovery of benefits to dependent parents, and since such condition has not been complied with in this case, the Government is not estopped to assert such a condition precedent. Therefore, the defendant's motion for summary judgment must be granted.

In view of the foregoing it is not necessary to consider the question of whether the Referee acted upon substantial evidence in also holding that the plaintiff failed to present satisfactory and competent evidence that she was 50 percent or more dependent upon her son at the time of his death.

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