1,500 redetermination hearings by Social Security officials could see benefits taken away from deserving people, lawyer says…
According to attorney Ned Pillersdorf, the next major crisis in the Social Security “fiasco” involving attorney Eric C. Conn is on the horizon: 1,500 redetermination hearings that could see benefits taken away from deserving people unless they can quickly gather new medical evidence and find adequate legal representation.
In the last two weeks, Rep. Hal Rogers has stepped in and worked to restore the flow of Social Security disability benefits until hearings are held, and Pillersdorf has successfully pursued a restraining order preventing Eric C. Conn from destroying records or transferring assets out of the country. Now, Pillersdorf is taking the fight on behalf of his 900 clients one step further, filing pleadings in federal court to make sure the Social Security Administration (SSA) will hold redetermination hearings fairly.
“Our legal position will be that the complicated Social Security regulations do not allow such an unprecedented review when there has been no showing that those receiving benefits have engaged in any type of fraud,” Pillersdorf wrote in a Facebook update on Sunday. “The notices that were sent out in May all rely on the fraudulent actions of Eric Conn, and not his clients.”
Pillersdorf also said a great deal of those individuals were already subjected to a continuing disability review, or CDR, meaning the SSA was already conducting regular reviews of these cases.
According to the class action lawsuit, the SSA has continued routine reassessments of some clients’ disability claims, and came to the determination that they were still disabled based on medical evidence that did not come from Bradley Adkins, Srinivas Ammisetty, David Herr or the late Frederic Huffnagle — the four doctors who are suspected of fraud.
“The fact that so many were found to be disabled by the SSA, after the alleged fraud perpetrated by Conn, makes the sending of the 900 suspension letters in May that much more appalling,” Pillersdorf wrote.
Pillersdorf said the 1,500 upcoming hearings — for both the 900 on disability who received suspension letters, and the roughly 600 others on Supplemental Security Income, whose benefits were not suspended, but will still face redetermination hearings — is a crisis of monumental importance, that continues to violate the Constitutional rights to due process and equal protection under the law, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act.
“If these people can’t get their medical records and can’t find lawyers, how are they going to have fair hearings?” Pillersdorf said.
Many of his clients’ medical records may have been destroyed, in what former Conn employees Melissa Martin Hicks and Jamie Lynn Slone testified on June 4 was a bonfire at Conn’s direction lasting four days. According to co-counsel John Rosenberg, some clients say when they went to get their records, they were faced with administrative fees of up to $1 per page to have copies made — which adds up quickly for lengthy medical histories.
The other issue is finding enough lawyers to take on the 1,500 cases. Pillersdorf said that because there will be so many hearings so soon, firms like the Appalachian Regional Defense Fund (AppalReD) that do work pro bono have been overwhelmed, and finding more lawyers is difficult when these cases provide no opportunity for attorney fees.
“As a general rule, if a lawyer were to prevail in representing one of the 1,500, they could not earn a fee under Social Security regulations,” Pillersdorf wrote on Thursday.
Pillersdorf said his legal team has reached out not only to the Floyd County Bar Association and AppalReD, but the Kentucky Bar Association during their convention this week in Lexington. To help the cause, they have made another change to the lawsuit against the SSA.
“We are going to amend the pending federal lawsuit and ask Federal Judge [Amul] Thapar to provide potential compensation to attorneys as a way of enticing attorneys to represent,” Pillersdorf wrote. “Our argument will be that the unprecedented action by the SSA deserves an unprecedented remedy — making attorney fees available when normally they are not.”
Pillersdorf has scheduled a third meeting with the public to discuss his next steps on Monday, June 22 at 5 p.m. at the Mountain Arts Center in Prestonsburg. By that time, he said, he should know more about the SSA’s plan regarding the hearings. The change of venue comes after the first two such meetings packed the fiscal courtroom in the Floyd County Courthouse, with people forced to crowd together along the walls and packing around doorways.
By Aaron K. Nelson