Tuesday, April 19, 2016

SSI Benefit Formula Does Not Violate Free Exercise Rights

In Herron v. Social Security Administration, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50343 (ED VA, April 14, 2016), a Virginia federal district court adopted a magistrate's recommendation (2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51224, March 10, 2016) and dismissed a free exercise and other constitutional challenges to the manner in which SSI benefits are computed.  Under Social Security rules, if an SSI recipient lives in the same household as his or her spouse, a portion of the spouse's income may be attributed to the SSI recipient in computing benefits.  Plaintiff Bridget Herron claimed that this rule requires her to live with her fiance before (or without) marriage, in violation of her religious beliefs, in order to avoid a reduction in benefits.
As to Herron's allegation that the SSA [Social Security Administration] policies interfere with the free exercise of her religious beliefs, the SSA determines benefits based on income, and the policies were not "undertaken for religious reasons." ... If Herron wishes to marry in accordance with her religious beliefs, the SSA's policies do not prevent her from doing so. Because Herron fails to allege facts sufficient to challenge the rationality of the SSA's policies, she fails to plausibly allege the elements of a violation of her constitutional rights as to her right to marry and her right to the free exercise of her religious beliefs.
The court also concluded that Herron had not exhausted her administrative remedies.