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Our New Hero

We’re adding a new member to the AIDS Legal Council’s Honor Roll of Really Groovy Attorneys We Love a Whole Bunch. Today we’re singing the praises of Ian Ackerman, an attorney in the corporate practice group of Kirkland & Ellis (a law firm we’ve adored for a heck of a long time). I’m sure you too will love him a whole bunch after reading about the way he handled a particularly messy case for one of our clients.

Not long ago Anthony (not his real name) received a notice from Social Security informing him that his earnings records showed he had been working in 2008 and 2009, to the tune of nearly $10,000 a year. And since Anthony was receiving SSI during that time, Social Security believed it had overpaid him and wanted a big pile of money back, namely $7845.96.

But Anthony hasn’t worked for over a decade. He’s disabled and has been receiving SSI since he became too sick to continue working. Anthony believes someone stole his Social Security number and used it to claim self-employment income. The same thing had happened to him in 2006, when the IRS came after him for back taxes it said he owed. He had filed an appeal with IRS back then, but still had not received a final determination on his appeal of the 2006 tax bill when he got the notice of Social Security overpayment for 2008 and 2009.

So how does one prove to Social Security that Anthony didn’t earn the money that’s tied to his Social Security number? Cases like this aren’t uncommon, and usually we can show that the person couldn’t possibly have done the work credited to their number, perhaps because the work was done in another state, or because it was done during a time when the client was hospitalized. But in Anthony’s case, the work was reported as self-employment, tied to a Chicago address.

We were a bit daunted by the facts, but Ian volunteered to take on the case. Mind you, many of us at the Council have been doing Social Security overpayment cases for years, and we were quaking in our boots at the thought of trying to get Social Security to back off from collecting the money they believed Anthony owed them. Ian had done exactly one overpayment case before this, helping someone negotiate a reasonable payment plan with Social Security. We gave him all the Social Security rules and regulations we could find that we thought were relevant, and assumed he’d be battling Social Security for the next decade or so.

Well clearly he’s got some serious advocacy skills, because all he had to do was have a nice little chat with the supervisor at the local Social Security office, explain what was going on, and poof! Social Security agreed to suspend any collection of the overpayment until the IRS had made its determination on Anthony’s claims. And since, in the meantime, the IRS has approved Anthony’s appeal of his 2006 tax bill, it seems quite likely they’ll rule in his favor for his current appeal. And then the world will be full of rainbows and unicorns, all thanks to Ian Ackerman!

OK, maybe we’re getting a bit carried away. But those of you who have ever tried to talk sense into a Social Security worker know how exhausting, extensive and futile the effort can often be. Ian got it done with a single phone call. So we’re singing his praises around the office. And we encourage you to send him flowers and candy.

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