SAN DIEGO (CN) - Hundreds of disabled Vietnamese refugees claim in a federal class action that the Social Security Commissioner wrongfully suspended the only fluent Vietnamese-speaking attorney in San Diego, to retaliate for a previous class action that claimed a Social Security judge was biased.
Lead plaintiff Truyen Gia Phan sued Acting Social Security Commissioner Carolyn W. Colvin in a federal class action, on behalf of a class of more than 1,000.
Truyen, his 25 named co-plaintiffs and the class all are "poor, disabled and non-English speaking Vietnamese former prisoner[s] of war and refugees in the United States" who have applied or will apply for Social Security benefits. All of them have been or will be represented by attorney Alexandra Nga Tran Manbeck.
Manbeck has been "providing indispensable representation to the Vietnamese plaintiffs who would otherwise be shut out of court by virtue of her fluency in the Vietnamese language and her ability to advise the plaintiffs in Vietnamese, since plaintiffs did not speak English and had no understanding of administrative and judicial proceedings," Truyen says in the complaint.
On March 12 this year, the Social Security Administration suspended Manbeck from the practice of Social Security law, the complaint states.
The class claims Manbeck was suspended to retaliate for her filing of a class action on behalf of Nazdar Alzayadi and Nora Donate in 2011, alleging bias from Administrative Law Judge Eve Godfrey. That case was dismissed, according to the new complaint.
After citing an affidavit in which Donate called Judge Godfrey "the most evil judge I had ever met," the new complaint adds: "there is also testimony from former Social Security attorney Mary Mitchell concerning ALJ Godfrey's unfitness as a judge and the culture of corruption and the culture of cronyism at the San Diego ODAR [Office of Disability Adjudication and Review] office."
The class claims the Social Security Administration suspended Manbeck for two classes of alleged violations: "filing of Request for Reconsideration and Request for Review in paper forms instead of being filed in electronic forms, and (2) the plaintiff's signing of boilerplate forms allowing the plaintiffs to ask the Commissioner to send payment checks to the plaintiffs' representative to pay outstanding costs."
Truyen claims the first alleged violation is moot because the clients filed the forms themselves with the help of translators, and Manbeck was not involved in it. And the paper filings would have been violations only if the clients and their attorney requested direct payment, which they did not in many cases, according to the complaint.
The second alleged violation involved documents signed by three of Manbeck's clients, two of whom filed affidavits that they were given the documents by a freelance interpreter, and Manbeck was not involved, Truyen says in the complaint.
The third client whose documents were at issue, Huong Nguyen, was questioned at length by ALJ Godfrey about the documents on July 20, 2006, according to the complaint.
Godfrey's "retaliation seven years later to charge plaintiffs' representative for documents that she had examined and cross-examined the claimant and well knew their contents and purports amounts to bad faith and evidence of the government's unclean hands," Truyen says in the complaint.
Because another Social Security administrative law judge is the only person left in the process to determine whether Manbeck should be suspended, Manbeck will not be able to press her claims before an uninvolved judge, according to the complaint.
"The enforcement branch of the agency is both the prosecutor and the judge, and given the testimony of former Social Security attorney Mary Mitchell concerning the pervasive corruption in all ranks of the Social Security Administration, there is no possibility that the ALJ would rule any differently than the Office of the General Counsel which already made the decision to prosecute plaintiffs' attorney," Truyen says in the lawsuit.
If the Social Security Administration is allowed to suspend Manbeck, the class will be "threatened with the deprivation of having the only counsel in the San Diego district which could communicate with them in Vietnamese due to the government's application of illegal pattern and practice," Truyen says in the complaint.
The class wants the Social Security Commissioner enjoined from suspending Manbeck.
They are represented by Jonathan Capp, of Oceanside, and by Manbeck, of San Diego.