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Dixon v. Shalala

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Citation Edit

Dixon v. Shalala, 54 F.3d 1019 (2d Cir. 1995) (full-text).

Factual Background Edit

This case involved over 200,000 social security claimants "whose applications for benefits were denied on the basis of what the trial court found to be systematic and covert misapplication of the disability regulations."[1]

Appellate Court Proceedings Edit

The Secretary of Health and Human Services challenged an order to reconstruct computer files that had been destroyed pursuant to a routine information management policy:

[T]he Secretary challenges two provisions of the district court's 17-page Remedial Order — its requirement that the government "reconstruct," as the Secretary characterizes it, claims files which SSA destroyed pursuant to its routine document-retention policies; . . . These requirements, the Secretary contends, impose enormous and unwarranted burdens on the agency, in light of the case's "unprecedented" retroactive reach — involving claims going back almost 20 years — and the size of the class — at least 220,000 potential members.[2]

In particular, the Secretary argued that the order requiring the reconstruction of destroyed files "would be an extremely complicated and costly procedure."[3] In response, the Second Circuit affirmed the trial court:

On full consideration, we are not persuaded that the "reconstruction" provision constitutes an abuse of the district court's equitable discretion. . . . We do not think the provision requires the agency to go to unreasonable lengths in assisting the plaintiffs in gathering records.

We agree with the plaintiffs that the provision does not require "reconstruction" of the plaintiffs' files, but that SSA must provide reasonable efforts "to assist the class member in obtaining evidence."[4]

The Second Circuit agreed that the order to assist the plaintiffs in replacing the lost data was not unduly burdensome, but stressed that some burden was justifiable: "Where, as here, the agency's destruction of files was entirely avoidable, we do not think the government should be able to escape the consequences of its actions."[5]

References Edit

  1. Id. at 1020.
  2. Id.
  3. Id. at 1036.
  4. Id.
  5. Id. at 1037.

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