Watson v. Social Security Administration, No. 2:2016cv00045 - Document 22 (E.D. Ark. 2017)

Court Description: MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting 16 the Commissioner's motion for summary judgment. Watson's complaint is dismissed, and judgment will be entered for the Commissioner. Signed by Magistrate Judge Patricia S. Harris on 12/7/2017. (ljb)
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Watson v. Social Security Administration Doc. 22 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF ARKANSAS EASTERN DIVISION CANTRISA WATSON v. PLAINTIFF NO. 2:16-cv-00045 PSH NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Act ing Commissioner of t he Social Securit y Administ rat ion DEFENDANT MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER Plaint iff Cant risa Wat son (“ Wat son” ) began t his case by filing a pro se complaint pursuant t o 42 U.S.C. 405(g). In t he complaint , she challenged t he final decision of t he Act ing Commissioner of t he Social Securit y Administ rat ion (“ Commissioner” ). The (“ Commissioner” ) filed a mot ion t o dismiss and accompanied it wit h several exhibit s. See Docket Ent ry 16. 1 In t he mot ion, she maint ained t hat t he complaint should be dismissed. It was t he Commissioner’ s posit ion t hat t he complaint was not filed wit hin sixt y days aft er t he presumpt ive receipt of not ice by Wat son of t he Commissioner’ s final decision or wit hin furt her t ime allowed by t he Commissioner, and t here was no j ust ificat ion for t olling t he sixt y day deadline. 1 The Commissioner failed t o accompany her mot ion wit h a brief as required by Local Rule 7.2(a). The Clerk of t he Court issued a deficiency let t er direct ing t he Commissioner t o file a brief in support of t he mot ion. The Commissioner has since filed a brief, and she accompanied t he brief wit h a second mot ion t o dismiss. The Commissioner’ s second mot ion t o dismiss is denied as superfluous. See Docket Ent ry 20. The Court will only consider t he Commissioner’ s first mot ion, which t he Court has const rued as a mot ion for summary j udgment . Dockets.Justia.com The Court reviewed t he Commissioner’ s mot ion t o dismiss and could not t ell at t hat t ime whet her t he exhibit s would be considered in resolving t he mot ion. Out of abundance of caut ion, t he Court elect ed t o t reat t he mot ion as one for summary j udgment . The part ies were given an opport unit y t o present all mat erials pert inent t o t he mot ion for summary j udgment . Wat son subsequent ly filed a response t o t he Commissioner’ s now mot ion for summary j udgment . In t he response, Wat son did not deny filing an unt imely complaint . She maint ained, t hough, t hat her unt imely filing should be excused because she suffers from a “ t errible ment al disease” t hat impact s her memory and concent rat ion. See Docket Ent ry 19 at CM/ ECF 2. The fact s at t he heart of t his case are not in disput e. The Commissioner accompanied her mot ion wit h a declarat ion from Crist ina Prelle (“ Prelle” ), an official wit h t he Social Securit y Administ rat ion. In t he declarat ion, Prelle made t he following represent at ions, all of which t he Court accept s as t rue: [Wat son] filed an applicat ion for a period of disabilit y and disabilit y insurance benefit s on Sept ember 14, 2010, alleging t hat her disabilit y began on August 1, 2007 (Exhibit 1). The claim was denied init ially on May 11, 2011 (Exhibit 2) and upon reconsiderat ion on May 25, 2011 (Exhibit 3). [Wat son] filed a request for hearing. On May 22, 2012, an Administ rat ive Law Judge issued a decision denying [Wat son’ s] claim for benefit s under Tit le II, and mailed a copy t hereof t o [Wat son] (Exhibit 4). On March 27, 2013, t he Appeals Council remanded t he case back t o an Administ rat ive Law Judge for furt her administ rat ive proceedings (Exhibit 5). -2- On July 23, 2014, an Administ rat ive Law Judge issued a decision denying [Wat son’ s] claim for benefit s under Tit le II, and mailed a copy t hereof t o [Wat son] (Exhibit 6). Thereaft er, [Wat son] request ed review of t his decision. On December 28, 2015, t he Appeals Council sent , by mail addressed t o [Wat son] at P.O. Box 105, Parkin, AR 72373, not ice of it s act ion on [Wat son’ s] request for review and of t he right t o commence a civil act ion wit hin sixt y (60) days from t he dat e of receipt (Exhibit 7). At t he t ime of signing t his Declarat ion [i.e., on April 28, 2016], [Prelle] is not aware of any request for an ext ension of t ime t o file a civil act ion as specified in said not ice and in sect ion 205(g) of t he Social Securit y Act , as amended (42 U.S.C. 405(g)) and in sect ion 422.210 of t he Social Securit y Administ rat ion regulat ions No. 22 (20 CFR 422.210). On March 28, 2016, a civil act ion was filed in t he Unit ed St at es Dist rict Court for t he East ern Dist rict of Arkansas. See Docket Ent ry 21, Declarat ion of Crist ina Prelle at 3-4. 42 U.S.C. 405(g) provides, in part , t hat a claimant may obt ain review of t he Commissioner’ s final decision by “ a civil act ion commenced wit hin sixt y days aft er t he mailing t o [t he claimant ] of not ice of such decision or wit hin such furt her t ime as t he Commissioner may allow.” The word “ mailing” as used in 42 U.S.C. 405(g) does not mean t he dat e on which not ice is placed in t he post al syst em. Inst ead, t he word “ mailing” means t he dat e on which t he claimant receives not ice. See 20 C.F.R. 404.981 (act ion may be filed wit hin sixt y days aft er t he “ dat e you receive not ice” ). The “ dat e t he claimant receives not ice” means five days aft er t he dat e of not ice, unless t here is a reasonable showing t o t he cont rary. See 20 C.F.R. 422.210(c). See also 20 C.F.R. 404.901 (unless claimant can show t hat she did not receive t he not ice wit hin five days). -3- The undisput ed fact s est ablish t hat not ice of t he Commissioner’ s final decision was dat ed December 28, 2015. See Docket Ent ry 21, Declarat ion of Crist ina Prelle at 4. See also Docket Ent ry 21, Exhibit 7 at 1. Wat son is presumed t o have received not ice, and t he sixt y day period began, five days lat er, i.e., on or about January 2, 2016, unless t here is a reasonable showing t o t he cont rary. 2 She has offered not hing t o suggest t hat she did not receive not ice on or about January 2, 2016. Wat son t hus had up t o or about March 3, 2016, t o file a t imely complaint challenging t he final decision. She did not file t he complaint at bar on or before March 3, 2016. Inst ead, she filed her complaint on March 28, 2016, or well past t he sixt y day deadline. Alt hough Wat son’ s complaint was filed well past t he sixt y day deadline, t he Commissioner is aut horized by st at ut e t o ext end t hat deadline in cert ain circumst ances. Not ice of t he Commissioner’ s final decision provided t hat if Wat son could not “ file for court review” wit hin sixt y days, Wat son could ask t he Appeals Council t o ext end “ t he t ime t o file.” See Docket Ent ry 21, Exhibit 7 at 3. Wat son was required t o have a “ good reason” for wait ing more t han sixt y days, and her request for an ext ension of t ime had t o be in writ ing and provide t he “ good reason.” See Docket Ent ry 21, Exhibit 7 at 3. The undisput ed fact s est ablish t hat at t he t ime of Prelle’ s declarat ion, i.e., April 28, 2016, Wat son had not request ed an ext ension of t ime. In fact , t here is not hing t o suggest t hat Wat son ever sought an ext ension of t ime. 2 January 2, 2016, was a Sat urday. There is not hing t o suggest t hat t he Unit ed St at es Post al Service did not deliver mail t hat day. -4- The Court finds t hat Wat son did not file her complaint wit hin sixt y days aft er t he presumpt ive receipt of not ice by Wat son of t he Commissioner’ s final decision or wit hin furt her t ime allowed by t he Commissioner. The only quest ion is whet her Wat son’ s unt imely filing can be excused. The court s are empowered t o permit an unt imely filing. See Barrs v. Sullivan, 906 F.2d 120 (5t h Cir. 1990). The inst ances are rare, and t he claimant must show t hat “ t he equit ies in favor of t olling t he limit at ions period are so great t hat deference t o t he agency’ s j udgment is inappropriat e.” See Id. at 122. [Int ernal quot at ions omit t ed]. In Barrs v. Sullivan, t he claimant asked a court t o t oll t he sixt y day deadline and permit an unt imely filing because he had brain damage. The dist rict court denied t he request , and t he Unit ed St at es Court of Appeals for t he Fift h Circuit affirmed t he denial of t he request . The Court of Appeals so found because, int er alia, t he claimant offered “ no medical document at ion t o support his argument t hat his ment al condit ion was so deficient as t o excuse him from complying wit h t he limit at ions period” and offered no evidence of impropriet y on t he Commissioner’ s part . See Id. at 122. In t his inst ance, t he equit ies in favor of t olling t he sixt y day period are not so great t hat deference t o t he agency’ s j udgment is inappropriat e. The Court so finds for t wo reasons. First , t here is no evidence t hat Wat son’ s alleged ment al impairment adversely impact s her memory or concent rat ion. Inst ead, t he record suggest s t hat t he impairment has lit t le impact on t hose abilit ies. Wit h regard t o t hose abilit ies, t he Administ rat ive Law Judge (“ ALJ” ) found t he following: -5- On May 1, 2014, [Wat son] underwent a ment al diagnost ic evaluat ion wit h Kennet h B. Jones, Ph.D. [Wat son] report ed a hist ory of depression. However, t he examiner not ed t hat [Wat son] had no sleep problems, conversed easily, maint ained int erest in previous act ivit ies and present ed wit h an affect wit hin normal limit s. Therefore, t he examiner concluded t hat t here was no evidence of depression. ... In conclusion, Dr. Jones complet ed a medical source st at ement . He not ed t hat [Wat son’ s] impairment did not affect her abilit y t o underst and, remember and carry out inst ruct ions. ... See Docket Ent ry 21, Exhibit 6 at 9. Second, alt hough Wat son maint ains t hat t he Commissioner commit t ed numerous impropriet ies, Wat son has offered not hing t o subst ant iat e her assert ions. This case is t herefore not one of t he rare cases in which t he sixt y day deadline will be t olled and an unt imely filing excused. There is no genuine disput e as t o any mat erial fact , and t he Commissioner is ent it led t o j udgment as a mat t er of law. The Commissioner’ s mot ion for summary j udgment is grant ed. See Docket Ent ry 16. Wat son’ s complaint is dismissed, and j udgment will be ent ered for t he Commissioner. IT IS SO ORDERED t his 7t h day of December, 2017. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE -6-