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Supreme Court of the United States
October 13, 2021, Argued; January 13, 2022, Decided
Justice Barrett delivered the opinion of the Court.
] The Social Security Act generally reduces the benefits of retirees who receive payments from separate pensions based on employment not subject to Social Security taxes. The reduction is not triggered, though, by payments “based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service.” We must decide whether this exception applies to civil-service pension payments based on employment as a “dual-status military technician”—a federal civilian employee who provides technical or administrative assistance to the National Guard. We hold that it does not.
] Retirees receive Social Security benefits according to a statutory formula based on average past earnings. 42 U. S. C. §415(a)(1)(A). The formula is progressive in that it awards lower earners a higher percentage of their earnings. (Think of it like an income tax that lets you keep more of your 1st dollar earned than your 10,000th.) But the formula [**6] originally did not count earnings from jobs exempt from Social Security taxes, so it calculated artificially low earnings for retirees who spent part of their careers in those jobs. As a result, those retirees received an artificially high percentage of their calculated earnings in Social Security benefits—plus, in many cases, payments from separate pensions to boot.
Congress responded to this “windfall” by modifying the formula to reduce benefits when a retiree receives such a separate pension payment. Social Security Amendments of 1983, §113(a), 97 Stat. 76-78, 42 U. S. C. §§415(a)(7)(A)-(B). But it exempted several categories of pension payments, including “a payment based wholly on service as a member of a uniformed service.” Social Security Independence and Program Improvements Act of 1994, §308(b), 108 Stat. 1522-1523, 42 U. S. C. §415(a)(7)(A)(III). The upshot is that pensions based on uniformed service do not trigger a reduction in Social Security benefits.
This case concerns the application of the windfall elimination provision to a unique position in federal employment: the “military technician (dual status).” 10 U. S. C. §10216. ] As its name suggests, this rare bird has characteristics of two different statuses. On one hand, the dual-status technician is a “civilian employee” engaged in “organizing, administering, instructing,” “training,” or “maintenance and repair of supplies” to assist the National [**7] Guard. §10216(a)(1)(C); 32 U. S. C. §§709(a)(1)-(2). [*429] On the other, the technician “is required as a condition of that employment to maintain membership in the [National Guard]” and must wear a uniform while working. 10 U. S. C. §10216(a)(1)(B); 32 U. S. C. §§709(b)(2)-(4).
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211 L. Ed. 2d 424 *; 2022 U.S. LEXIS 494 **; 142 S. Ct. 641
DAVID BRYON BABCOCK, PETITIONER v. KILOLO KIJAKAZI, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY
Notice: The pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.
Prior History: [**1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
Babcock v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 959 F.3d 210, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 14935 (6th Cir. Mich., May 11, 2020)
Disposition: 959 F. 3d 210, affirmed.
Guard, benefits, civilian, pension payment, dual-status, pensions, trigger, civil-service, military, uniformed services, uniformed-services, earnings, retirees, training, windfall, formula
Military & Veterans Law, Servicemembers, Retirement, Public Health & Welfare Law, Social Security, Retirement & Survivor Benefits, Simultaneous Benefit Entitlements, Armed Forces, Service Branches, US National Guard, Retirement & Survivor Benefits, Civilian Employees, Training