Former Conn clients score another victory against Social Security
PIKEVILLE, Ky. (WTVQ) – Hundreds of Social Security disability recipients in Appalachia who were victimized by now-disbarred attorney Eric C. Conn’s fraud scheme notched another major legal victory.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled Thursday the Social Security Administration violated due process rights of Conn’s former clients by refusing to allow them to rebut allegations that their medical evidence was tainted by fraud.
The SSA in 2015 re-determined the benefits eligibility of 1,787 individuals – mostly in eastern Kentucky and West Virginia – based on suspicion that Conn submitted fraudulent medical evidence to help them secure disability payments.
The agency ended up terminating benefits for nearly half those individuals, including Gary Kirk and Larry Kermit Taylor, the plaintiffs in Thursday’s decision.
Kirk and Taylor successfully argued the SSA violated the Administrative Procedure Act and the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution when it revoked their disability.
Besides the Fourth Circuit, the Sixth Circuit and the Seventh Circuit have considered substantially similar cases and each concluded that the SSA’s redetermination procedures were unlawful.
“This decision by the Fourth Circuit is a significant development for several reasons,” said attorney Ned Pillersdorf, who spearheaded the volunteer legal response on behalf of Conn’s clients. “For one thing, the agreement of the three circuits means the SSA will now have a difficult time convincing the U.S. Supreme Court to hear an appeal. But most importantly, it gives hope that this dark cloud which has hovered over our region since 2015 might finally be clearing.”
Conn, who is now 60, pleaded guilty in 2017 in connection to the scheme, which cost the SSA at least $550 million.
Conn admitted to submitting fraudulent medical documents in his clients’ Social Security claims, paying off doctors to sign the claims, and bribing administrative law judges to rubber stamp the applications.
He is currently serving a 27-year sentence at a federal prison in West Virginia.
No evidence was ever presented showing Conn’s clients were involved in the scheme or even knew about it.
“These folks are some of the most vulnerable people in our communities,” said Pillersdorf. “For most of them, their disability payments were their only source of income, and the way they were treated by the SSA was shameful.”
Thursday’s decision by the Fourth Circuit was 2-1 in favor of the Conn clients. Circuit Judges James A. Wynn, Jr. and Pamela A. Harris comprised the majority, while Judge A. Marvin Quattlebaum Jr. filed a dissenting opinion.