United States District Court, D. Arizona
Murray Snow, Chief United States District Judge
before the Court is the appeal of Plaintiff James Allen
Smyser, which challenges the Social Security
Administration's decision to not reopen a previous
determination. Because the Court lacks jurisdiction to review
this determination, the appeal will be dismissed.
February 1994, an application for Title XVI social security
income benefits and an application for Title II child
disability benefits was filed on behalf of Plaintiff Smyser.
(Tr. at 12). He was awarded social security income benefits
but was denied childhood disability benefits. Plaintiff was
denied childhood disability benefits initially and upon
reconsideration. A hearing request was filed in March 1995,
but an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) dismissed
the request in April 1996.
2013, Plaintiff filed a new application for childhood
disability benefits, alleging a disability onset date of June
1978. (Tr. at 21). Plaintiff's claim was denied both
initially and upon reconsideration. (Tr. at 53; Tr. at
54-55). Plaintiff then appealed to an ALJ. (Tr. at 59). The
ALJ conducted a hearing on the matter in January 2014, and
subsequently issued a decision denying benefits due to res
judicata. (Tr. at 32-36). Plaintiff then appealed his
decision to the Appeals Council, which remanded, finding that
res judicata did not apply in these circumstances because the
previous Title II folder could not be found. (Tr. at 41-44).
Then, the ALJ held a new hearing and subsequently issued a
decision finding the Plaintiff disabled with an onset date of
June 1978. (Tr. 14-19). Plaintiff then requested that the ALJ
reopen the 1994 case, but the ALJ declined, explaining her
reasoning in a letter to him. (Tr. at 526-27). The ALJ
explained that she could not reopen his 1994 case under the
existing regulations. (Id.). Smyser appealed. The
Appeals Council found that reopening of the 1994 application
was not warranted, because regulations prevented reopening
after four years, and good cause for reopening did not exist.
(Tr. at 12).
Court reviews the Commissioner's final decision to ensure
that the findings are supported by substantial evidence, and
that the decision is free of harmful legal error.
See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
argues that the ALJ violated his due process rights by
failing to reopen the 1994 determination of the Commissioner.
But because Smyser fails to allege a colorable constitutional
claim, the Court must dismiss this appeal.
Social Security Act limits the judicial review of the
Commissioner's decisions to “any final decision . .
. made after a hearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A
decision not to reopen a prior benefits determination is
discretionary and does not ordinarily qualify as a final
decision. See Califano v. Sanders, 430 U.S. 99,
107-09 (1977). Yet the Ninth Circuit has held courts may
nonetheless exercise jurisdiction where a claimant has
alleged “any colorable constitutional claim of due
process violation that implicates a due process right either
to a meaningful opportunity to be heard or to seek
reconsideration of an adverse benefits determination.”
Evans v. Chater, 110 F.3d 1480, 1483 (9th Cir. 1997)
(citations omitted). A challenge that is not “wholly
insubstantial, immaterial, or frivolous” raises a
colorable constitutional claim. Boettcher v. Sec'y of
Health & Human Serv., 759 F.2d 719, 722 (9th Cir.
1985). To properly raise a colorable procedural due process
claim, a plaintiff must allege facts that would indicate that
“he suffered from a mental impairment and was not
represented by counsel at the time of the denial of
benefits.” Udd v. Massanari, 245 F.3d 1096,
1099 (9th Cir. 2001).
fails to allege a colorable constitutional claim here.
Instead of claiming that he failed to understand the 1994
denial of his claim for child disability benefits due to a
mental impairment or lack of counsel, Smyser instead alleges
that he was entirely unaware of the 1994 claim, and that
there was no evidence that the Commissioner provided notice
of its denial. (Doc. 16 at 13). There is no evidence in the
record that shows Smyser suffered from mental impairments.
(See Tr. at 313, 317, 321, 344, 348, 357, 407)
(noting normal mental status). Smyser explains that his
parents handled his affairs for him at the time, and that he
did not know that part of his disability benefits application
had been denied. While an inability to handle one's
affairs due to a physical impairment may be relevant in
determining good cause under the Social Security
Administration's regulations, it is insufficient to
support a constitutional violation. See SSR 91-5p
(noting that good cause may be established where “any .
. . physical condition . . . limits the claimant's
ability to do things for him/herself.”). And while the
records from his original application no longer exist, notice
of the denial may be inferred from the fact that someone
requested a hearing to appeal the Social Security
Administration's denial. That notice satisfies due
process in this context.
additionally cites cases from outside of this circuit that
are inapplicable to the facts of this case. (Doc. at 16 at
12) (citing Triggs v. Chater, 927 F.Supp. 1394 (D.
Colo. 1997); Culbertson v. Secretary of Health and Human
Services, 859 F.2d 319, 322 (4th Cir. 1988)).
Triggs and Culbertson hold that a claimant
may not be bound by a previous decision of the Commissioner
if the claimant did not participate in that earlier decision.
Triggs, 927 F.Supp. at 1395 (citing
Culbertson, 859 F.2d at 323). They do not hold that
the Commissioner must extend the benefits awarded
back to the original application date, as Plaintiff argues
here. Here, the Appeals Council allowed Smyser to file a new
application for ...