United States District Court, D. Oregon
BETTY L. W.,  Plaintiff,
COMMISSION OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
Michael J. McShane, United States District Judge
Betty W. brings this action for judicial review of the final
decision of the Commissioner of Social Security
(“Commissioner”) denying her application for
Title II Widow's Insurance Benefits under the Social
Security Act. Because the Commissioner concedes error, and
because remand for additional findings is unnecessary, the
Commissioner's decision is reversed and this case is
remanded for the immediate payment of benefits.
January 7, 2014, plaintiff applied for Widow's Insurance
Benefits, alleging that she is the surviving wife of Fay W.,
a deceased wage earner. Tr. 20-23. Her application was denied
initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 29-31, 35-36. On
April 26, 2016, a hearing was held before an Administrative
Law Judge (“ALJ”). Tr. 156-70. Plaintiff was
represented by counsel and testified. Id. On May 18,
2016, the ALJ issued a decision finding that plaintiff was
not married to Fay W. at the time of his death and therefore
not entitled to Title II benefits. Tr. 10-17. After the
Appeals Council denied her request for review, plaintiff
filed a complaint in this Court. Tr. 3-6.
November 22, 1946, plaintiff was 67 years old as of the
application date and 69 years old at the time of the hearing.
Tr. 21. Plaintiff was found disabled by the Social Security
Administration on December 21, 2005, and has been receiving
Title II benefits under her own account since May 1, 2004.
Pl.'s Reply Br. 9 n.3 (doc. 20). Plaintiff alleges that
she was married to Fay W. in Hot Springs, Arkansas, on
January 29, 1976, by a justice of the peace named Don
Edwards. Tr. 65, 161. She alleges further that she lived with
Fay W. as husband and wife, raising five children together,
for 38 years until his passing on November 22, 2013. Tr. 61,
65-66, 161-62, 166.
pertains to the issues in this case, a widow seeking
disability benefits must prove that she is the unmarried
surviving wife of a deceased wage earner and has attained age
sixty. 42 U.S.C. §§ 402(e), 416(c).
court must affirm the Commissioner's decision if it is
based on proper legal standards and the findings are
supported by substantial evidence in the record. Hammock
v. Bowen, 879 F.2d 498, 501 (9th Cir. 1989). Substantial
evidence is “more than a mere scintilla. It means such
relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as
adequate to support a conclusion.” Richardson v.
Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citation and internal
quotations omitted). The court must weigh “both the
evidence that supports and detracts from the
[Commissioner's] conclusions.” Martinez v.
Heckler, 807 F.2d 771, 772 (9th Cir. 1986). Variable
interpretations of the evidence are insignificant if the
Commissioner's interpretation is rational. Burch v.
Barnhart, 400 F.3d 676, 679 (9th Cir. 2005).
first determined Fay W. “is a deceased wage earner,
fully or currently insured under the Social Security Act, who
was a permanent resident of the State of Oregon” at the
time of his November 22, 2013, death. Tr. 11.
found that plaintiff did not have a valid ceremonial marriage
to Fay W. under the laws of Oregon because the marriage
certificate she submitted “had been altered” and
“there was no record of a marriage between [plaintiff]
and the deceased wage earner” in the “three
possible counties where the marriage might have taken
place.” Tr. 12-15.
the ALJ resolved that no non-ceremonial marriage existed
because neither Oregon nor Arkansas recognize common law
unions. Tr. 15-16.
the ALJ found that plaintiff did not have a valid deemed
marriage to Fay W. because “there was no allegation of
a legal impediment to [plaintiff's] purported
marriage” and “the evidence suggests that a
marriage ceremony did not take place, as there is no record
or a marriage license or certificate between [plaintiff] and
the deceased wage earner . . . in their former ...