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Craven v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

January 3, 2017

AMANDA CRAVEN, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          WILLIAM M. CONLEY District Judge.

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), pro se plaintiff Amanda Craven seeks judicial review from a denial of her application for supplemental security income by the Commissioner of Social Security. Before the court is the defendant's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Dkt. #10.) Specifically, the defendant contends that a decision dismissing an appeal as untimely is not a “final decision” subject to judicial review under § 405(g). Because Seventh Circuit precedent permits plaintiff to seek review under these circumstances, however, defendant's motion to dismiss will be denied.

         BACKGROUND

         On August 5, 2010, Craven filed an application for supplemental security income benefits. In her application, Craven provided the address for her appointed guardian, but indicated that her living situation was unstable. She also provided a phone number. According to Craven, an SSA agent advised that she would be notified of the results of her application by telephone. Plaintiff was also apparently told by acquaintances familiar with the process that her application would likely take more than a year to process.

         Instead, Craven's application was denied initially on November 12, 2010, for her “failure to cooperate.” Apparently, the agency had requested -- via mail -- that plaintiff provide a signed and dated medical release form so that her application could proceed. Because Craven neither received nor responded to that request, her application was dismissed. According to the Commissioner, a written notice was sent to Craven informing her of this dismissal, but she denies ever receiving that notice as well.

         Under applicable regulations, Craven had 60 days to file a request for reconsideration from this notice. Unaware of the notice, and believing that SSA would take much longer to act, Craven not only failed to seek reconsideration within the 60-day deadline, she took no additional action on her application for more than a year. In the spring of 2013, when Craven finally called to check on her claim, she was told that it had been denied years ago and that she would need to file a new application. Instead, plaintiff filed a request for review on July 8, 2013, along with a statement arguing that she had good cause for her untimely request. On July 9, 2013, the SSA denied reconsideration, finding no good cause for plaintiff's untimely filed request. The July 9th notice denying reconsideration also advised that Craven could request a hearing, which she did on September 4, 2013.

         On March 12, 2014, a hearing was held before an ALJ to consider her arguments as to good cause. On April 8, 2014, however, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision, finding Craven's request for reconsideration was untimely and finding no good cause was established.

         On April 25, 2014, Craven filed a request for review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council. On August 9, 2015, the Appeals Council issued a “notice of intent to dismiss plaintiff's request for hearing, ” offering her 30 more days to send additional evidence or a supplemental statement in support of her claim.

         On November 23, 2015, the Appeals Council issued a decision stating that Craven's request for a hearing should not have been granted because she had not shown good cause. The Appeals Council decision also stated that its decision “is final and not subject to further review.”

         Plaintiff Craven filed this lawsuit on January 21, 2016, seeking review of the decision finding that she lacked good cause for an untimely request for reconsideration of the denial of her 2010 application for benefits. She contends that the agency failed to provide her with notice of its decision against her and that the ALJ failed to adequately develop the factual record at the good cause hearing.

         OPINION

         The Commissioner moves to dismiss this action on the grounds that this court lacks jurisdiction because no “final decision” was ever issued within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Under that section, judicial review of decisions by the Commissioner of Social Security is limited “to a particular type of agency action, a ‘final decision of the [Commissioner] made after a hearing.'” Califano v. Sanders, 430 U.S. 99, 108 (1977) (quoting § 405(g)). Moreover, § 405(g) is the exclusive source of federal court jurisdiction for Social Security cases. 42 U.S.C. § 405(h); Jackson v. Astrue, 506 F.3d 1349, 1353 (11th Cir. 2007). Acknowledging that the statute does not define “final decision, ” the Commissioner points the court to regulations in support of her argument that a “final decision” for purposes of § 405(g) includes only those decisions that are subject to an administrative review process. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1400(a). In particular, defendant points out that the regulations classify certain determinations as “initial determinations, ” which are, in turn, “subject to administrative and judicial review.” See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1402. In contrast, defendant again notes, other decisions are “not initial determinations” under the regulations, and thus they are subject only to internal agency review, not judicial review. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1403(a). Even more to the point, among the decisions that are not initial determinations under the regulations is “[d]enying [a] request to extend the time period for requesting review of a determination or a decision.” Id. § 416.1403(a)(8).

         As the Commissioner further points out, this is exactly the type of decision that plaintiff now wants reviewed: she asks this court to review the Commissioner's determination that she did not show good cause for her untimely request for reconsideration of the dismissal of her 2010 application for benefits. Since the decision to dismiss is not an “initial determination, ” the defendant argues it could not have resulted in a “final decision” subject to judicial review. Therefore, the Commissioner argues, plaintiff is not entitled to judicial review, and her claim must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         The Commissioner's argument has some superficial appeal. Certainly, the Supreme Court has acknowledged that not all Commission decisions are subject to judicial review. See Califano, 430 U.S. at 108 (holding that agency's decision refusing to reopen a claim for benefits is not subject to judicial review absent a constitutional challenge). The Seventh Circuit also recently confirmed, albeit in an unpublished case, that the agency may designate some findings as not “initial determinations” and therefore not subject to judicial review. See Alfreds v. Colvin, 618 Fed. App'x 289, 290 (7th Cir. 2015). Moreover, the type of decision at issue here has been ...


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