Today Michelle Valent voluntarily dismissed her Supreme Court case against the Social Security Administration after the agency agreed to a settlement granting her complete relief.
Ms. Valent, a disabled beneficiary of the Social Security Act, was fined $126,210 for failing to report work activity she allegedly performed for a family member’s veterans’ organization while collecting disability benefits. But the 1999 Ticket To Work Act makes clear that for an individual like Ms. Valent, “no work activity engaged in by the individual may be used as evidence that the individual is no longer disabled.”
On appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit in Valent v. Commissioner of Social Security, No. 17-2109, Ms. Valent argued that the law prevents the agency from considering work activity. But the Sixth Circuit reflexively accepted the Commissioner’s interpretation of the statute under the Supreme Court’s 1984 decision in Chevron, U.S.A. v. NRDC, which requires courts to defer to reasonable agency interpretations of ambiguous statutes. In its decision, the Sixth Circuit erroneously asserted that Ms. Valent was paid for working at the veterans’ organization, even though the fact-finder had determined that this allegation was “unsupported by the evidence,” and even though the agency’s stated basis for its decision had nothing to do with earnings.
In dissent, Circuit Judge Raymond Kethledge criticized the majority for its mischaracterization of the agency’s rationale, for its failure to “use all the tools of construction” before deferring to the agency’s assertion of ambiguity, and for its “amputation” of Congress’s “clear” protection for work activity. (The dissent is available here.)
In August, Boyden Gray & Associates filed a petition on behalf of Ms. Valent asking the Supreme Court to review the Sixth Circuit’s ruling. (The petition in Valent v. Saul, No. 19-221, is available here.) Boyden Gray & Associates asked the Court to overrule Chevron and to reverse the lower court’s unlawful reliance on a rationale rejected by the agency.
Yesterday the parties entered into a settlement, in which the United States agrees to waive collection of all penalties against Ms. Valent, to reimburse her for alleged overpayments that she was forced to repay, to avoid relying on its past decisions against her, to reinstate her disability benefits, and to pay her attorneys’ fees and costs. (The settlement is available here.)
Boyden Gray & Associates is a boutique constitutional and regulatory law firm in Washington, DC, founded by former White House Counsel C. Boyden Gray. Ms. Valent’s petition was supported by several amici, including Southeastern Legal Foundation, the Center for Constitutional Jurisprudence, Reason Foundation, the Committee for Justice, and the National Right To Work Legal Defense Foundation. (Their briefs are available here.)Michelle Valent v. Saul, Commissioner of Social Security, Settlement Agreement