Chocallo v. Bureau of Hearings and Appeals, SSA, Civ. A. No. 77-2310.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
Writing for the CourtGILES
Citation548 F. Supp. 1349
Decision Date08 October 1982
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 77-2310.
PartiesWanda P. CHOCALLO v. BUREAU OF HEARINGS AND APPEALS, SSA, et al.

548 F. Supp. 1349

Wanda P. CHOCALLO
v.
BUREAU OF HEARINGS AND APPEALS, SSA, et al.

Civ. A. No. 77-2310.

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania.

October 8, 1982.


548 F. Supp. 1350
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548 F. Supp. 1351
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548 F. Supp. 1352
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548 F. Supp. 1353
COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED
548 F. Supp. 1354
Wanda P. Chocallo, pro se

Peter Vaira, Jr., U.S. Atty., Alexander Ewing, Jr., Asst. U.S. Atty., Philadelphia, Pa., Brook Hedge, Judith S. Scolnick and Stanley E. Alderson, Dept. of Justice, Washington, D.C., for defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

GILES, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

This is an action by a former Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") Wanda P. Chocallo ("Chocallo"), which, in the main, challenges on constitutional and statutory grounds certain federal agency actions which she claims prevented her from discharging her duties as an ALJ, interfered with her judicial independence and integrity and disqualified her from hearing certain social security cases assigned to her.

Chocallo sues all named defendants, private and governmental, as members of a conspiracy allegedly cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 1985. She also asserts violations of the Fifth Amendment, the Privacy Act of 1974, 5 U.S.C. § 552a(g)(1), et. seq. and the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 551 et seq. Jurisdiction is properly asserted under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343 (1976).

Each defendant has moved either to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), or alternatively, for summary judgment under Fed. R.Civ.P. 56. For the reasons which follow, the motions shall be granted and judgment shall be entered in favor of all defendants and against plaintiff.

I. BACKGROUND

When bringing this action in July of 1977, plaintiff held the position of temporary ALJ assigned to the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals of the Social Security Administration, Department of Health, Education and Welfare ("DHEW"). In this capacity, she heard claimants' appeals from initial adverse determinations of social security insurance benefit eligibility, and rendered decisions. Her ALJ decisions were reviewable on the merits by the Appeals Council of the Social Security Administration. If affirmed at that level, the ALJ's opinion became the final decision of the Secretary of the Department.

Based on allegations of conduct unbecoming her office, arising largely from the incidents underlying the complaint in this court, Chocallo was subsequently removed from her temporary position as ALJ. The decision to remove her was made by the Merits Protection Board and affirmed by the United States District Court for the District of Columbia in Chocallo v. Prokof, No. 80-1053, (D.D.C., October 10, 1980). The incidents giving rise to Chocallo's complaint basically cover a one and one half year period between December, 1975 through June, 1977, and are best described as four separate series of events.

A. The Pearl Taylor Case

Commencement of this action coincided with plaintiff's refusal to cooperate in the reassignment to another ALJ of the social security claim file of one Pearl Taylor, a claimant who sought disability status by reason of a mental condition. At all times material to this proceeding Taylor was represented by defendant Community Legal Services, Inc. ("CLS") through its employee Jonathan Stein, Esquire, and Edwin Montes, a paralegal to Stein. Prior to a February, 1977 hearing before plaintiff on the Taylor claim, Stein had filed a request with plaintiff, supported by affidavits, asking that she recuse herself as the ALJ in the matter because of alleged bias against all social security claimants who had mental problems and who were represented by CLS. The recusal motion also alleged general bias and prejudice against CLS representatives. Plaintiff refused to recuse herself at the February 15, 1977 hearing. At that time, plaintiff also interrogated the claimant over the objections of counsel, about various aspects of her attorney/client relationship, as well as claimant's involvement in the recusal motion, out of the presence of her attorney (Complaint, Exh. D. p.

548 F. Supp. 1355
9), (Complaint ¶¶ 13, 14, 15). Chocallo terminated the hearing without decision because of Stein's vigorous objections to plaintiff's actions

Following the hearing, Stein filed a written complaint to the Appeals Council, demanding reassignment of the case for bias demonstrated at the hearing and inviting its review of the hearing transcript. (Complaint, ¶ 15, Brown Affidavit, ¶ 8). Defendant, Philip T. Brown, Chief Administrative Law Judge, received Stein's letter complaint dated February 15, 1977. He addressed an internal communication to Chocallo on March 10, 1977 advising her of his concern over the possibility that claimants were becoming victims of an obviously poor relationship between CLS and plaintiff. (Brown Affidavit ¶ 8). Speaking on behalf of the Appeals Council, Brown stated that no action would be taken until it had reviewed the transcript and tape recording of the February 1977 hearing. (Complaint, ¶ 17). On March 15, 1977, Chocallo wrote to claimant Taylor, ex parte, informing her that on February 17, 1977 an attempt had been made by "the Administrative Officer of this Office" to secure Taylor's files. (Complaint ¶ 16, Exhibit B).

On May 10, 1977, before the Appeals Council could act, Chocallo entered a decision and order barring both Stein and Montes from further participation in the proceedings on behalf of Taylor. (Complaint, ¶ 18, Exhibit D). In the opinion, plaintiff expressed the belief that Stein had breached his professional responsibility to the claimant by failing to disclose the recusal motion to his client.1 Chocallo's opinion incorporated a newspaper article critical of CLS, and particularly Stein, on a subject totally unrelated to either the claimant, the merits of claim or the field of social security benefits. Id. Prior to rendering her decision, she had mailed a copy of the same newspaper article, ex parte, to Taylor. (Brown Affidavit, ¶ 9). Plaintiff's barring order required claimant to obtain substitute counsel within 30 days.

The order was issued without notice or a hearing, in the face of a statutory provision and implementing regulations which require prior notice and a hearing before a duly designated or appointed representative can be dismissed from practicing before the Social Security Administration. 42 U.S.C. § 1383(d)(2); 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1503, 416.1540-.1565. The barring order came to the attention of the Chief Administrative Law Judge Brown, who determined that it was contrary to law. (Brown Affidavit, ¶ 11). On his motion, the Appeals Council issued an order dated June 9, 1977 removing the Taylor case to the Council pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 416.1459. The case was then remanded to the Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge for reassignment to another ALJ.

A copy of the Appeals Council order was served on plaintiff on June 10, 1977 by defendant Sol Gitman, Assistant Regional Chief Judge. Defendant James C. Lightfoot, Administrative Law Judge in charge of the Philadelphia Office of the Bureau of Hearings and Appeals, and defendant John Ennis, another ALJ, were also present. Gitman made an oral demand upon plaintiff to return the file but she responded that she did not have it in her office and even if she did, she would not surrender it to him (Gitman Affidavit, ¶ 15). Later, a written demand was made on the same day, to which plaintiff made no response. (Gitman Affidavit, ¶ 16). Her refusal was then reported to Chief ALJ Brown.

Plaintiff ignored the statutory and regulatory authority for the case reassignment action, contending that it was violative of her rights as a presiding judge and as protector of the interests of the claimant Taylor and the public. (Complaint, ¶¶ 26, 27, 28). Following receipt of the Appeals Council Order, plaintiff contacted Taylor by telephone. The claimant had already been informed of the removal action and was under directive to obtain another representative.

548 F. Supp. 1356
During the telephone conversation, Taylor told Chocallo that she did not want another ALJ. Plaintiff retained control of the file and scheduled a further hearing on June 13, 1977. Pursuant to a June 9, 1977 order issued by Chocallo, claimant appeared without her CLS representatives. They had advised her not to appear since the case had been taken from Chocallo and was being reassigned. Taylor appeared with her sister and minister. One of plaintiff's allegations is that CLS failed or refused to represent claimant at this unauthorized hearing. (Complaint ¶¶ 19-24)

On June 21, 1977, defendants Jack H. Roseman and John W. Ennis, both ALJ's, and defendant Claire R. Kuriger, entered Chocallo's locked office in her absence and made a visual inspection for purposes of locating and obtaining the Taylor files. They were unsuccessful. Chocallo retained the files and proceeded to "decide" the claimant's case in her favor, thus mooting a mandamus suit filed in this court by the government to compel her to return the files. (United States of America v. Wanda P. Chocallo, No. 77-2437, dismissed as moot). In keeping with the routine practice of relinquishing files in decided cases, she turned the Taylor file over after making the decision. See United States of America v. Wanda P. Chocallo, E.D.Pa., Civil Action No. 77-2437.

These actions were the primary basis for initiation by the agency of removal charges against plaintiff on June 20, 1977 (Trachtenberg Affidavit ¶ 7).

B. The Coleman Case

Plaintiff's second group of allegations arise out of the December, 1975 social security disability hearing of defendant John C. Coleman, a 74 year old blind man whose case was assigned to Chocallo. Chocallo failed to appear at the Coleman hearing allegedly due to illness. His counsel, defendant Linda Bernstein, Esquire, wrote to Chocallo expressing her...

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17 practice notes
  • Batson v. Shiflett, No. 42
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • September 1, 1991
    ...Corp. v. Local 807, Intern. Broth., 597 F.Supp. 1282, 1286-87 (E.D.N.Y.1984) (NLRB); Chocallo v. Bureau of Hearings and Appeals, SSA, 548 F.Supp. 1349, 1362 (E.D.Pa.1982) (Merit Systems Protections Board), aff'd, 716 F.2d 889 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 983, 104 S.Ct. 426, 78 L.Ed.2d ......
  • Batson v. Shiflett, 42
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • March 12, 1992
    ...Corp. v. Local 807, Intern. Broth., 597 F.Supp. 1282, 1286-87 (E.D.N.Y.1984) (NLRB); Chocallo v. Bureau of Hearings and Appeals, SSA, 548 F.Supp. 1349, 1362 (E.D.Pa.1982) (Merit Systems Protections Board), aff'd, 716 F.2d 889 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 983, 104 S.Ct. 426, 78 L.Ed.2d ......
  • Andrews v. VETERANS ADMIN. OF UNITED STATES, No. C84-0459-B.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Wyoming
    • July 17, 1985
    ...Chapman v. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 736 F.2d 238 (5th Cir.1984)); Chocallo v. Bureau of Hearings and Appeals, SSA, 548 F.Supp. 1349 (E.D.Pa.1982) affirmed without opinion 716 F.2d 889 (3rd Cir. 1983), cert. denied ___ U.S. ___, 104 S.Ct. 426, 78 L.Ed.2d Plaintiffs Durh......
  • Nguyen v. United States Catholic Conference, Civ. A. No. 81-384.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • October 8, 1982
    ...from performance of the contract than members of the public at large does not alter their status as incidental beneficiaries. Id. 548 F. Supp. 1349 Plaintiffs in the instant case have offered no contractual provision which evinces an intent that the Catholic Conference will be liable to ind......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
17 cases
  • Batson v. Shiflett, No. 42
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • September 1, 1991
    ...Corp. v. Local 807, Intern. Broth., 597 F.Supp. 1282, 1286-87 (E.D.N.Y.1984) (NLRB); Chocallo v. Bureau of Hearings and Appeals, SSA, 548 F.Supp. 1349, 1362 (E.D.Pa.1982) (Merit Systems Protections Board), aff'd, 716 F.2d 889 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 983, 104 S.Ct. 426, 78 L.Ed.2d ......
  • Batson v. Shiflett, 42
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • March 12, 1992
    ...Corp. v. Local 807, Intern. Broth., 597 F.Supp. 1282, 1286-87 (E.D.N.Y.1984) (NLRB); Chocallo v. Bureau of Hearings and Appeals, SSA, 548 F.Supp. 1349, 1362 (E.D.Pa.1982) (Merit Systems Protections Board), aff'd, 716 F.2d 889 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 983, 104 S.Ct. 426, 78 L.Ed.2d ......
  • Andrews v. VETERANS ADMIN. OF UNITED STATES, No. C84-0459-B.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 10th Circuit. District of Wyoming
    • July 17, 1985
    ...Chapman v. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 736 F.2d 238 (5th Cir.1984)); Chocallo v. Bureau of Hearings and Appeals, SSA, 548 F.Supp. 1349 (E.D.Pa.1982) affirmed without opinion 716 F.2d 889 (3rd Cir. 1983), cert. denied ___ U.S. ___, 104 S.Ct. 426, 78 L.Ed.2d Plaintiffs Durh......
  • Nguyen v. United States Catholic Conference, Civ. A. No. 81-384.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Pennsylvania)
    • October 8, 1982
    ...from performance of the contract than members of the public at large does not alter their status as incidental beneficiaries. Id. 548 F. Supp. 1349 Plaintiffs in the instant case have offered no contractual provision which evinces an intent that the Catholic Conference will be liable to ind......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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