Lawyer gives update on Guam SSI, Dave Davis cases

Attorney Michael Williams is the lawyer litigating two cases which could have serious impacts on Guam.

Attorney Michael Williams is the lawyer litigating two cases which could have serious impacts on Guam. The first case involves Katrina Schaller and the Social Security Administration while the second case is the Dave Davis appeal before the 9th Circuit.

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In the courtroom of District Court Chief Judge Frances Tydingco-Gatewood, arguments were heard on why Guam should be afforded the same SSI benefits as our brothers and sisters in the CNMI.

The case involves Guam resident Katrina Schaller and her being denied SSI benefits which her identical twin sister Leslie Schaller is receiving in Pennsylvania. The two sisters were born with the same degenerative disease but because Katrina is a Guam resident she is not eligible for the same benefits.

The basis of the Social Security Administration’s argument in not providing SSI to Guam is based on three factors: Guam’s unique tax status, the cost of providing the benefits, and the projected impact to Guam’s economy.

SSA attorney Michael Zee argues these are rational reasons for differential treatment between Guam and other U.S. territories.

But Schaller’s attorney, Michael Williams, disagrees.

“I think even as you’ve seen from the arguments today, those three factors don’t apply anymore. This notion that Guam is somehow unique for not contributing to the federal taxes, this idea of giving money to the sick in Guam would somehow disrupt the economy … those just aren’t plausible arguments anymore,” Williams said.

But according to Zee, in the Torres decision, which is the basis for the three factors argument, there is no case law that rules territories must be treated equally in all cases.

Williams argues that the case which was ruled upon in 1972 has become outdated, saying the Supreme Court would reconsider them if given the chance.

The motions have been held under advisement and while Williams says he is hopeful Judge Tydingco-Gatewood listened to his arguments, this is not the only case he is representing for the island.

The Kirkland and Elis attorney is also representing Guam in the Dave Davis appeal.

“Just this week the Supreme Court called for Davis’ lawyers to file a response to our petition. That’s the first step towards getting the petition granted,” Williams said.

He says it’s a long shot to ask the Supreme Court to rule on a case such as this.

The petition pertains to the constitutionality of Guam’s plebiscite legislation. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the plebiscite was unconstitutional and has racial restrictions.

Williams said they stressed to the high court that it’s not a binding vote nor racially discriminatory. Now, it’s just a waiting game, as Williams says he will be filing a reply brief which will then be ruled upon by the Supreme Court which will decide whether or not to take the case in March.


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Jolene Toves
Jolene joined the PNC team in 2017, as a producer, co-anchor and investigative reporter covering law enforcement, courts and crimes. Notable coverage includes the Ehlert case, the Mark Torre Jr. trial, the Allan Agababa trial, exclusive pieces on the Life of a Drug Dealer/Addict, and Life behind bars...the story of Honofre Chargualaf and Kevin Cruz. In 2019, she was promoted to Assistant News Director and Lead Anchor. From 2015 to 2017 she served as Public Relations and Promotions Manager, for the Hotel Nikko Guam handling local radio and advertorial promotions, as well as produced and directed tv commercials for the hotel. Prior to this she worked with KUAM for three years as a reporter and segment host. She began her journalism career in 2012, working with Glimpses of Guam contributing to the Guam Business Magazine, R&R magazine, MDM magazine and the Marianas Business Journal.