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Polson v. Colvin

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

January 7, 2014

Shawna L. Polson, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.


LAWRENCE O. ANDERSON, Magistrate Judge.

This case arises on the Court's review of pro se Plaintiff's Complaint and Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis, filed at the same time on December 30, 2013. (Docs. 1-2)

I. The Complaint

Though she cites irrelevant federal statutes, Plaintiff's pro se Complaint appears to appeal from an adverse ruling by the Commissioner on a claim for Social Security disability benefits. The Complaint simply alleges without further elaboration: "The pleader (Plaintiff) is entitled to relief and review because [Plaintiff] received new and material evidence and the decision [sic] is contrary to the weight of all the evidence now in the record." (Doc. 1) Plaintiff does not specify the issue(s) she is appealing to the District Court of Arizona as a result a denial at the administrative level of Plaintiff's Social Security claim. Moreover, Plaintiff does not identify the "new and material evidence" to which she refers or explain why she believes this evidence may be presented for apparently the first time on appeal rather than at the administrative level.

II. Social Security Appeals

A. Role of the District Court

Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is the federal statute governing judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Schweiker v. Chilicky, 487 U.S. 412, 424 (1988). "The Commissioner's denial of disability benefits may be set aside only when the ALJ's findings are based on legal error or not supported by substantial evidence in the record. If the evidence can support either outcome, the Commissioner's decision must be upheld." Benton v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 1030, 1035 (9th Cir. 2003) (citation omitted); Sandgathe v. Chater, 108 F.3d 978, 980 (9th Cir. 1997) ( per curiam ); Smolen v. Chater, 80 F.3d 1273, 1279 (9th Cir. 1996). A Social Security claimant may not successfully appeal a denial of disability benefits simply because her claim was denied without clearly setting forth valid reason(s) why the Administrative Law Judge's ("ALJ") or Appeals Council's decisions were erroneous.

Under the Social Security Act, the only avenue for judicial review is outlined in 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which requires exhaustion of administrative remedies "as a jurisdictional prerequisite" before a district court may consider a Social Security appeal. Medeiros v. U.S. Social Sec. Admin., 2012 WL 629152, at *3 (D. Haw. Jan. 3, 2012) (quoting Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 327-30 (1976)). Judicial review is only available after "any final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made after a hearing." Id. (quoting Bass v. Soc. Sec. Admin, 872 F.2d 832, 833 (9th Cir. 1989)). An ALJ's "[d]ecision does not become final until the plaintiff requests review before an Appeals Council, and the Appeals Council either grants or denies review." Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.900).

"District courts have a limited scope of judicial review for disability claims after a decision by the Commissioner to deny benefits under the Act." Kimzey v. Commissioner of Social Sec., 2011 WL 1230818, at *1 (E.D. Cal. March 30, 2011). The sole function of a district court is to determine whether the decision of the Commissioner is supported by substantial evidence and whether the proper legal standards were applied. Clark v. Apfel, 98 F.Supp.2d 1182 (D. Or. 2000); Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233, 1239 (11th Cir. 1983). Substantial evidence means more than a mere scintilla, but less than a preponderance; it is "such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion." Richardson v. Perales, 402 U.S. 389, 401 (1971) (citations omitted); Reddick v. Chater, 157 F.3d 715, 720 (9th Cir. 1998). The ALJ is responsible for resolving conflicts, determining credibility, and resolving ambiguities. Magallanes v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 747, 750 (9th Cir. 1989). If sufficient evidence supports the ALJ's determination, a district court cannot substitute its own determination. Young v. Sullivan, 911 F.2d 180, 184 (9th Cir. 1990). A district court must uphold the Commissioner's determination that plaintiff is not disabled if the Commissioner applied the proper legal standard and there is substantial evidence in the record as a whole to support the decision. Hoffman v. Heckler, 785 F.2d 1423, 1425 (9th Cir. 1986).

B. Jurisdictional Review

Section 405(g) mandates that a claimant seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's final administrative decision must file such action with the appropriate district court "within sixty (60) days after the mailing to h[er] of notice of such decision or within such further time as the Secretary may allow." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); see also Lawson v. Astrue, 2010 WL 2594938, at *1 (W.D. Wash. June 24, 2010). "By regulation, the Secretary has required that any civil action be filed within sixty (60) days of receipt of the notice." Lawson, 2010 WL 2594938, at *1 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 422.210(c)). "The date of receipt is presumed to be five days after the date of notice, unless there is a reasonable showing to the contrary." Id. (citing 20 C.F.R. § 422.210(c)). "Any action seeking review of a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security must be commenced within sixty days after the mailing of the notice of such decision." Anthes v. U.S., 214 Fed.Appx. 694 (9th Cir. 2006) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)).

A federal district court is a court of limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing jurisdiction is on the party claiming jurisdiction. McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 182-183 (1936). "[I]t is presumed that a cause lies outside[]" the jurisdiction of federal courts unless proven otherwise. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). "A federal court is presumed to lack jurisdiction in a particular case unless the contrary affirmatively appears." Stevedoring Servs. of Am., Inc. v. Eggert, 953 F.2d 552, 554 (9th Cir.1992) (quoting Stock West, Inc. v. Confederated Tribes, 873 F.2d 1221, 1225 (9th Cir. 1989)). "A [district] court has an obligation to inquire sua sponte into its subject matter jurisdiction, and to proceed no further if such jurisdiction is wanting." Feldman v. Allstate Ins. Co., 322 F.3d 660, 665 (9th Cir. 2003).

There is no date alleged in the Complaint when the Commissioner's administrative decision became final nor is there attached to the Complaint the Appeals Council's notice mailed to Plaintiff of its final decision. Thus, the Court is unable to determine whether the ...

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