The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas
This action is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) of the Social Security Act for review of a final determination by the Commissioner of Social Security (the "Commissioner"). Claimant Jay Artz seeks judgment regarding the suspension of his monthly Disability Insurance Benefits from February, 1995 through April, 1996. For the reasons set forth below, this Court will affirm the Commissioner's decision.
I. Facts and Procedural History
From February 1995 through April 1996, Jay Artz's ("Artz" or "Claimant") Disability Insurance Benefits were suspended pursuant to Section 202(x) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 402(x) as amended, which became effective on February 1, 1995. Under this section, Disability Insurance Benefits cannot be collected when an individual "is confined by court order in an institution at public expense in connection with... a verdict or finding that the individual is not guilty of such an offense by reason of insanity." 42 U.S.C. § 402(x)(1)(A)(ii).
Artz has been intermittently hospitalized for psychotic episodes since 1973 as a result of his paranoid schizophrenic condition. In 1973, Artz was at Eastern State Hospital diagnosed with an acute schizophrenic episode and was discharged on September 10, 1973. In November 1973, he attended day programs at Jefferson Hospital Psychiatric Unit. (R. at 121).
In June 1976, he went to California with the idea of attacking President Nixon, but did not have specific plans. While hitchhiking, he was stopped by police, whom he assaulted. Artz was found psychotic and confined to California Mental Hospital. The State dropped the charges and Artz was brought to his father in Philadelphia. (Id.) From September 10-17, 1976, Artz was hospitalized at Albert Einstein Medical Center because of psychosis and suicidal ideations. (R. at 122). The following year, from October 21-31, 1977, Artz was hospitalized at Ancora Psychiatric Hospital for manic depressive illness. At this time, Artz had been drinking heavily, and was discharged to jail because of marijuana possession. (Id.)
Claimant was readmitted to Ancora from December 23, 1977, through March 29, 1978, at which time he was found to be abusive and violent. On June 22, 1978, Artz was seen at the Atlantic Mental Health Center where he was deemed to be non-delusional, but spoke with "some tangentiality and some mild pressure." (R. at 118). Artz returned to Ancora on January 21-22, 1981, where he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. (R. at 122). A subsequent evaluation at Atlantic Mental Health Center, on February 6, 1981, revealed that Artz had not been taking prolixin, his antipsychotic medication, thought there were listening devices present, and evidenced disorganized thinking, but did not display suicidal or homicidal ideations or act out.
Soon thereafter, on February 16, 1981, as a result of his condition, Artz murdered his mother. A March 20, 1981, evaluation reported that Artz's condition was extremely serious, and he evidenced a marked departure from reality. (R. at 118). Later that year, on December 28, 1981, Artz was involuntarily committed to Ancora State Hospital, pursuant to N.J.S.A. § 2C:4-8 (commitment of a person by reason of insanity), as a Krol patient, *fn1 after being found not guilty by reason of insanity for killing his mother. (R. at 131, 149). While imprisoned, Artz was reported to continue to have psychotic symptoms. (R. at 118).
On January 13, 1982, Artz filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits, identifying December 31, 1980, as the onset date of his disability. (R. at 47-50). His claim was denied on June 9, 1982, because his condition was not deemed disabling. (R. at 54). Artz then filed a Request for Reconsideration for Disability Insurance Benefits, on August 4, 1982, because he was confined in Ancora and could not work. (R. at 56). His Request for Reconsideration was denied on September 7, 1982. (R. at 58).
Artz then filed a Request for Hearing on September 15, 1982. On January 18, 1983, Artz received a favorable decision from the Social Security Administration, notifying him that he was eligible for Disability Insurance Benefits, and that a hearing was unnecessary given the weight of the medical records. (R. at 136). The ALJ found that Artz had severe paranoid schizophrenia, requiring lengthy periods of hospitalization and intensive treatment, which prevented Artz from engaging in substantial gainful activity since December 31, 1980.
On June 6, 1989, Artz was conditionally released from Ancora with several provisions. Artz was required to appear for ongoing psychiatric care and administration of medication; submit to weekly psychotherapeutic, psychological or psychiatric counseling; take doses of prolixin as directed; abstain from substance abuse; follow additional medical instructions regarding the prescribing of other medications; submit to random urine monitoring; participate in vocational rehabilitation programs; and not to reside with his grandmother alone. (R. at 144-46).
Artz was also required to attend annual mental status evaluations. *fn2 These periodic judicial reviews are mandated by Krol and Fields to ensure the adequacy of the ongoing treatment, and to ascertain the dangerousness level of the acquittee in relation to the existing restrictions. If an individual is found to be a danger to himself or others, the reviewing judge has the authority to order that he undergo a psychiatric evaluation, and if necessary, to recommit him to a state psychiatric facility.
Following his conditional release, Artz was hospitalized twice at Ancora from July 7-20, 1993, and February 23 - March 30, 1994. (R. at 149). Following a Krol hearing, the Court determined that because Artz had discontinued his medication, he represented a danger to himself and others. Accordingly, on July 22, 1994, the Court issued an order involuntarily committing him to Ancora Hospital. (R. at 179).
While hospitalized, Artz received notification, dated March 22, 1995, that his Disability Insurance Benefits were to retroactively cease as of February 1, 1995. (R. at 138). Artz filed a Request for Reconsideration on July 31, 1995, (R. at 140), which was denied on January 27, 1997, based on §§ 202(x), 216(i) and 223 of the Social Security Act. (R. at 143).
Artz appeared before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") to appeal this decision, on March 18, 1998. (R. at 27). Artz's appeal was then denied on June 25, 1999. (R. at 40). At the time of the hearing, Artz had been out in the community for two years. (Id.) In applying the law to the facts of Artz's case, the ALJ held that there was no indication Congress intended any exception from the general policy of not permitting any individual acquitted by reason of insanity to collect Disability Insurance Benefits while institutionalized by court order at public expense. The ALJ determined that Claimant was re-confined by court order in an institution at public expense in connection with that verdict, commencing July 22, 1994, and ending April 10, 1996, and was thus, not entitled to Disability Insurance Benefits during that time. The ALJ found that Section 202(x) applies to re-confinements by court order in institutions at public expense regardless of the date of the original verdict that underlies the re-confinement. Furthermore, the ALJ found the fact that under the Krol/Fields line of cases, re- confinements of New Jersey residents by court order in institutions at public expense in connection with an original verdict of not guilty by reason of insanity are not considered "criminal confinements" but are considered "civil confinements," does not exempt the Claimant from operation of the new provisions of Section 202(x). (R. at 19-20). The ALJ opined that Artz would have to pursue a ...