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Purnell v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

September 9, 2016

Krista Purnell, Plaintiff,
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Eileen S. Willett United States Magistrate Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Defendant's “Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e)” (Doc. 33). For the reasons set forth herein, the Motion (Doc. 33) is denied.

         I. DISCUSSION

         A. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(e)

         Under Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a party may file a “motion to alter or amend a judgment.” The Ninth Circuit has explained that

[s]ince specific grounds for a motion to amend or alter are not listed in the rule, the district court enjoys considerable discretion in granting or denying the motion.” McDowell v. Calderon, 197 F.3d 1253, 1255 n.1 (9th Cir. 1999) (en banc) (per curiam) (internal quotation marks omitted). But amending a judgment after its entry remains “an extraordinary remedy which should be used sparingly.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). In general, there are four basic grounds upon which a Rule 59(e) motion may be granted: (1) if such motion is necessary to correct manifest errors of law or fact upon which the judgment rests; (2) if such motion is necessary to present newly discovered or previously unavailable evidence; (3) if such motion is necessary to prevent manifest injustice; or (4) if the amendment is justified by an intervening change in controlling law. Id.

Allstate Ins. Co. v. Herron, 634 F.3d 1101, 1112 (9th Cir. 2011). Rule 59(e) “may not be used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been made prior to the entry of judgment.” Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 485 n.5 (2008) (citation omitted).

         B. Analysis of Defendant's Motion (Doc. 33)

         1. First Ground for Rule 59(e) Relief

         Defendant argues that the Court “erroneously concluded that a presumption of continuing disability applies in the Plaintiff's favor in medical improvement cases involving a closed period of disability, contrary to the 1984 amendment to the Social Security Act, establishing this determination is to be made on a ‘neutral' basis.” (Doc. 33 at 3). This is similar to the argument made in Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's Opening Brief:

At the outset, Plaintiff incorrectly asserts the ALJ failed to meet the Commissioner's burden of producing evidence sufficient to overcome a presumption of continuing disability in this case. See Tr. 241 (claiming the Commissioner must rebut a ‘presumption of continuing disability'). Since the 1984 Amendments to the Social Security Act addressing the medical improvement standard, however, Congress has specifically rejected the concept of presumed continuing disability.

(Doc. 25 at 5-6). Defendant's argument is contrary to the definition of a presumption of law. Defendant's argument is also contrary to legislative history pertaining to the 1984 amendments to the Social Security Act, which is summarized below.

         From 1969 to 1976, it was the Social Security Administration's (“SSA”) policy to not terminate benefits for anyone whose condition had not improved since the initial determination of eligibility. H.R. Rep. No. 98-618, 98th Cong., 2d Sess. 1984, 1984 WL 37436, at *9. But that policy was reversed in 1976 in internal SSA directives. Id. In the 1970s, the rate of benefit terminations due to a beneficiary's recovery or return to work significantly fell. Id. at *9-10. “As a result, congressional interest was expressed, beginning in 1978, in requiring SSA to look at people who had been receiving benefits for a long time to see if they were still eligible.” Id. at 10. Legislators found that “SSA's standard procedures for re-examining only a small number of beneficiaries seemed to be inadequate in light of the declining number of benefit terminations for return to work.” Id.

         In 1980, “Social Security Disability Amendments made a number of significant changes in disability program operations.” Id. “[T]he legislation required a dramatic increase in the amount of management review and oversight of the program, with the objective of tightening central federal control . . . and re-invigorating ongoing review of current beneficiaries.” Id. One amendment required review at least once every three years of all beneficiaries not permanently disabled, beginning in January ...


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