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Samuel P. Stephens, Jr v. U. S. Railroad Retirement

November 21, 2012

SAMUEL P. STEPHENS, JR., PETITIONER,
v.
U. S. RAILROAD RETIREMENT BOARD, RESPONDENT.



RRB No. 10-AP-0049 On Petition for Review of an Order of the Railroad Retirement Board

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Schroeder, Circuit Judge:

FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Argued and Submitted July 12, 2012-Seattle, Washington

Before: Mary M. Schroeder, Stephen Reinhardt, and Milan D. Smith, Jr., Circuit Judges.

Opinion by Judge Schroeder;

Dissent by Judge M. Smith

SUMMARY*fn1

Railroad Retirement Act

The panel reversed a decision of the United States Railroad Retirement Board that denied an application for benefits under the Railroad Retirement Act, and remanded for further proceedings.

The Railroad Retirement Act provides an annuity for disabled children of railroad workers, and the Board ruled that claimant did not qualify for benefits because during three out of the 30 years preceding his application, he worked at three menial jobs which constituted gainful employment that disqualified him from eligibility. The panel held that short periods of temporary employment, inadequately performed, do not constitute substantial gainful employment that would disqualify a claimant for benefits. The panel further held that when considering the Railroad Retirement Act's requirement of continuous disability, the court must look to the history of the claimant's disability and the claimant's success or lack thereof in sustaining meaningful employment. The panel concluded that claimant was entitled to benefits.

Judge M. Smith dissented. Judge Smith wrote that because the Board's decision is supported by substantial evidence, is not arbitrary, and has a reasonable basis in law, it must be upheld.

OPINION

This is a relatively rare petition to review a decision of the United States Railroad Retirement Board denying an application for benefits under the Railroad Retirement Act ("RRA"). 45 U.S.C. § 231 et seq. The RRA provides an annuity for disabled children of railroad workers. To qualify for benefits, the child must have been disabled prior to the age of 22 and have remained continuously disabled through the time of application for benefits. 45 U.S.C. § 231a; 20 C.F.R. § 216.71(d)(2)(i).

The Board ruled the petitioner, Samuel Stephens, did not qualify because during three out of the 30 years preceding his application, he worked at three menial jobs. Even though he was fired from each, the Board ruled that the work constituted gainful employment that disqualified him from eligibility. The Board majority looked solely to the Board's regulations, which set forth guidelines for the amounts of average monthly earnings that generally indicate substantial gainful activity. Because Stephens's earnings exceeded that average between 1986 and 1989, the Board majority concluded he had not been continuously disabled. The Board did not, as the dissent contends, affirm or adopt the totality of the decision of the hearings officer. The hearings officer had also concluded that Stephens was not disabled before he was 22 by relying solely on a purported lack of medical records, even though psychiatric evaluations dating to age 14 demonstrated severe psychiatric problems that prevented him from successfully completing even special education. The Board did not discuss that ...


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