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Cassidy v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Arizona

May 26, 2017

James Cassidy, Plaintiff,
Carolyn W Colvin, Defendant.


          Eileen S. Willett United States Magistrate Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 8). Defendant asserts that this action must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. For the reasons set forth herein, the Motion (Doc. 8) will be denied.[1]

         I. DISCUSSION

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff has filed two successive applications for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act.[2] Social Security denied Plaintiff's first application on April 30, 2012. (Doc. 8-1 at 5-7). Plaintiff did not request review of the denial that application.

         On March 1, 2013, Plaintiff filed a second disability application, which alleged a disability onset date of November 1, 2008. (Doc. 1-2 at 4). On May 26, 2013, Social Security denied the claim. (Id.). On August 12, 2013, upon Plaintiff's request for reconsideration, Social Security affirmed the denial of benefits. (Id.). Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ. (Id.). On December 4, 2013, the assigned ALJ stated that she “compared the evidence considered in reaching the previous determination with that relating to the claimant's current claim” and “finds that no new and material evidence has been submitted . . . .” (Id.). After concluding that Plaintiff's second disability benefit application involved the same facts and issues as Plaintiff's first disability benefit application, the ALJ did not find it appropriate to reopen Plaintiff's first application. (Id.). The ALJ dismissed Plaintiff's request for a hearing regarding his second disability benefit application under the doctrine of res judicata. On September 26, 2016, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review. (Doc. 1-5 at 1-2).

         B. Legal Standards

         1. Res Judicata

         In Chavez v. Bowen, 844 F.2d 691, 693 (9th Cir. 1988), the Ninth Circuit explained that “the principles of res judicata apply to administrative decisions, ” and “in order to overcome the presumption of continuing nondisability arising from the first [ALJ's] findings of nondisability, ” the claimant must prove “‘changed circumstances' indicating a greater disability.” Pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.957(c)(1), an ALJ may dismiss a claimant's request for a hearing if “[t]he doctrine of res judicata applies . . . .” An ALJ “may not apply res judicata where the claimant raises a new issue, such as the existence of an impairment not considered in the previous application.” Lester v. Chater, 81 F.3d 821, 827 (9th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). “Nor is res judicata to be applied where the claimant was unrepresented by counsel at the time of the prior claim.” Id. at 827-28.

         2. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), dismissal is appropriate when the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a claim. Under the Social Security Act, district courts have jurisdiction to review “any final decision . . . made after a hearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Ninth Circuit has held that Social Security's decision not to reopen a previously adjudicated disability claim is a “purely discretionary decision and is therefore not considered a ‘final' decision within the meaning of § 405(g).” Krumpelman v. Heckler, 767 F.2d 586, 588 (9th Cir. 1985) (citing Davis v. Schweiker, 665 F.2d 934, 935 (9th Cir. 1982)). “District courts, therefore, have no jurisdiction to review a refusal to re-open a claim for disability benefits or a determination that such a claim is res judicata.” Id. However, a “district court has the jurisdiction to determine, and should determine, whether the claim precluded is the same as the claim previously determined.” Id. (citing McGowen v. Harris, 666 F.2d 60, 66 (4th Cir. 1981) (“[U]pon a challenge to its jurisdiction on the basis that administrative res judicata has been applied in bar of a claim . . ., the district court has jurisdiction to determine, as appropriate, whether res judicata has properly been applied . . . .”).

         In addition, the Ninth Circuit has recognized that judicial review is available as to a non-final decision made by Social Security in “a case in which a claimant raises a colorable constitutional challenge to the Secretary's decision.” Panages v. Bowen, 871 F.2d 91, 93 (9th Cir. 1989). Such a constitutional challenge “must relate to the manner or means by which the Secretary decided not to reopen the prior decision, rather than to the merits of the prior decision or the means by which that decision was reached.” Id. A “mere allegation of a due process violation” is not a colorable constitutional claim.” Anderson v. Babbitt, 230 F.3d 1158, 1163 (9th Cir. 2000) (citing Hoye v. Sullivan, 985 F.2d 990, 992 (9th Cir. 1993)). The claim must be supported by “facts sufficient to state a violation of substantive or procedural due process.” Id. (quoting Hoye, 985 F.2d at 992).

         C. Analysis

         Defendant asserts that the ALJ “appropriately dismissed Plaintiff's request for hearing due to res judicata.” (Doc. 8 at 4). To support this assertion, Defendant has provided a Declaration of Nancy Chung, who is the Chief of Court Case Preparation and Review Branch 1 of the Office of Appellate Operations at the Social Security Administration. (Doc. 8-1 at 1-4). Ms. Chung states that she has custody of Plaintiff's official file relating to his disability applications. (Id. at 3). Ms. Chung recounts the general procedural history regarding Plaintiff's disability insurance benefit applications, but does not detail whether the applications involved the same facts and issues. See Trulson v. Com'r, Soc. Sec. Admin., 319 F. App'x 635 (9th Cir. 2009) “[A] new issue in a second benefits application will render res judicata inapplicable . . . .”). The Court finds that Defendant has failed to provide sufficient information from which the Court may determine whether the ALJ properly decided the res judicata issue. See McGowen, 666 F.2d at 66 (“In order to make this jurisdictional determination, the district court ...

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