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September 2, 1980

Lucille MITCHELL, Plaintiff,
Patricia Roberts HARRIS, Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare, Defendant

The opinion of the court was delivered by: MEANOR


This case presents a novel response to a not-so-novel dilemma: The statutory bar on retroactive social security benefits affecting potential beneficiaries who have failed to make timely application for such benefits.

 The uncontested facts are as follows: for 24 years prior to 1968, plaintiff Lucille Mitchell worked as a laborer in a cafeteria and, thereafter, as a packer in the garment industry. During this period, social security taxes were deducted from her wages. Plaintiff ceased working in mid-1968 due to failing eyesight and constant fatigue, and she and her three children lived on public assistance for the next several years.

 Plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits on July 11, 1977 (Tr. 20-23), alleging disability as a result of a thyroid condition and the removal of a kidney. The application was denied initially (Tr. 25-27) and on reconsideration (Tr. 30-32). Mitchell requested a hearing to review the application (Tr. 33) but on April 27, 1978, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") considered the case de novo, determined that a hearing was unnecessary and awarded plaintiff a period of disability and disability insurance benefits under sections 216(i) and 223, respectively, of the Social Security Act, as amended. The ALJ determined that plaintiff had become disabled on July 1, 1968 and that the disability had continued up to the date of the administrative decision (Tr. 16). However, the payment of retroactive benefits was limited to the period commencing July 11, 1976-one year prior to the date of filing of plaintiff's application pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 423(b), which provides in pertinent part:

An individual who would have been entitled to a disability insurance benefit for any month had he filed application therefor before the end of such month shall be entitled to such benefit for such month if such application is filed before the end of the 12th month immediately succeeding such month.

 Plaintiff claims entitlement to retroactive benefits for the period December 1, 1968 *fn1" to July 11, 1976, asserting that the one year limitation on the payment of retroactive benefits under § 423(b) should be held unconstitutional as applied to her. The gravamen of plaintiff's claim is that the alleged failure of the Social Security Administration to institute mandatory measures or procedures to ensure transmittal of information to her *fn2" regarding the scope of the program's benefits unconstitutionally deprived her of property without due process of law and deprived her of her right to the equal protection of the laws.

 The issues before the court, therefore, are whether the filing of an application is a condition precedent to the receipt of disability benefits under the Social Security Act, and whether Congress can constitutionally enact such a condition, along with the limitations on retroactive payments, as a means of preserving the fiscal integrity of the social security fund. The court answers both these questions in the affirmative and grants defendant's motion for summary judgment.


 That the plain meaning of § 423(b) bars plaintiff from recovering the eight years of benefits for which she was eligible, and that it is within Congress' power to so limit the payment of retroactive benefits, would seem to be beyond reasonable dispute, yet time and again federal courts have been called upon to sustain this and analogous provisions of the Social Security Act in the face of challenges to their constitutionality. An untimely application for survivor's benefits under the Social Security Act was held to preclude payment of benefits extending more than three months prior to the date of the filing of the application in Borysuk v. Ewing, 96 F. Supp. 779 (D.N.J.1951). There the court stated:

It is clear Congress intended that an application would be a condition precedent to the right to benefits under the act, and an applicant, until an application has been filed, would be entitled only to the retroactive period of three months given to the applicant by the statute on filing of the delayed application. Hence, the plaintiff and the two children entitled to insurance benefits have received all to which they were entitled.

 96 F. Supp. at 781. Plaintiff's ignorance as to eligibility was found to have no bearing on the application of the statutory bar.

 Lest there be any doubt that equitable considerations are irrelevant in this context, the financial hardship "resulting from innocent ignorance" was found to carry no weight in Flamm v. Ribicoff, 203 F. Supp. 507 (S.D.N.Y.1961), where the court stated:

Parties dealing with the Government are charged with knowledge of and are bound by statutes and lawfully promulgated regulations despite reliance to their pecuniary detriment upon incorrect information received from Government agents or employees. Failure to comply with the applicable statute and regulations precludes recovery against the Government "no matter with what good reason" the claimant believed she had come within the requirements.

 Id. at 510. In Flamm, the court rejected the contention that the government should be estopped from invoking the one year limitation period on the retroactive payment of widow's benefits, even though the delay in filing an application for such benefits may have been ...

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