Martinez v. Astrue, First Amended Class Action Complaint, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, National Senior Citizens Law Center (2008)

Pleadings and Briefs

This class action complaint, filed by the National Senior Citizens Law Center (NSCLC), the Urban Justice Center, and others, challenges the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) application of the “fugitive felon” statute, the provisions of which prohibit the payment of certain public benefits, including Supplemental Security Income (SSI), if the payee is “fleeing to avoid prosecution, or custody or confinement after conviction” of a felony. The complaint alleges that the SSA has been suspending payments of these benefits based solely on whether a recipient’s name and either date of birth or social security number matches those of an individual in various federal, state, and local warrant databases, without first confirming that the warrant is still active, involves avoidance or prosecution for a felony, or actually applies to the person whose benefits have been suspended. This is contrary to the plain language of the statute and repeated court rulings that provide that benefits may be suspended only when an individual actually has fled a particular state or locality with the specific intention of avoiding felony prosecution.

SSA’s  refusal to follow the law required low-income individuals around the country who actually are eligible for benefits to find both criminal and civil attorneys to help them research and secure the lifting of outdated or inapplicable warrants, and then challenge the denial of benefits, in order to secure medical and disability benefits needed for their survival. In response to SSA’s stubborn refusal to correct its practices, NSCLC sought to end the problem through a class action challenge to SSA policy on behalf of all those who are affected by it, i.e., all persons whose benefits have been suspended or denied, who are threatened with the suspension or denial of such benefits, or who are not permitted to serve as representative payees, for allegedly fleeing to avoid prosecution, or custody or confinement, after conviction for a felony.

This case prompted a $500 million settlement and change in the SSA's policies. The settlement agreement is available in the Resource Bank here.