News 20 Apr. 2020

Curtis Secures Another Victory in Historic Equal Protection Case: First Circuit Court Affirms District Court Decision in Favor of Puerto Rico Resident

The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit sided with Curtis client and Puerto Rico resident Jose Luis Vaello Madero in a unanimous opinion holding that the denial of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits to Puerto Rico residents violates the equal protection guarantee of the United States Constitution. The case arose from an overpayment claim brought by the United States against Mr. Vaello Madero. Curtis had previously secured a decision in favor of its client in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico, successfully invoking the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Details of the case and earlier decision are available here.

Acting on a pro bono basis, Mr. Vaello Madero’s defense team was led by litigation and arbitration group partner Hermann Ferré and associates Juan Perla, Robert Groot, Andrew Larkin, and Joshua Hershman. Mr. Ferré describes the ruling as “a step towards full equal treatment for Puerto Rico residents” and added, “we are pleased the First Circuit recognized that classifying individuals who otherwise meet all eligibility requirements based on their residency in Puerto Rico was clearly irrelevant to the stated purpose of this national program.”

Judge Juan R. Torruella, writing for the panel, affirmed a decision by Judge Gustavo A. Gelpí of the Puerto Rico District Court striking down the exclusion. Judge Torruella wrote that there was “no set of facts” and that the government had failed to allege “any additional theory, establishing a rational basis for the exclusion of Puerto Rico residents from SSI coverage.”