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Stephen M. v. Commissioner, Social Security

United States District Court, D. Maryland

February 21, 2019



          Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge.

         Pursuant to Standing Order 2014-01, the above-captioned case has been referred to me to review the parties' motions and to make recommendations pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule 301.5(b)(ix). ECF 3. I have considered the Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff's Response, and Plaintiff's Motion to Compel. ECF 25, 28, 24. I find that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). This Court must uphold the decision of the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) if it is supported by substantial evidence and if the SSA employed proper legal standards. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3); Craig v. Chater, 76 F.3d 585, 589 (4th Cir. 1996); Coffman v. Bowen, 829 F.2d 514, 517 (4th Cir. 1987). For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that the SSA's Motion to Dismiss be GRANTED, Plaintiff's Motion to Compel be DENIED, and the Court AFFIRM the SSA's judgment pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         I. FACTS

         Plaintiff has filed for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”) three times, in 1988, 2000, and 2014. Tr. 2298. The SSA's denial of Plaintiff's 2000 application was ultimately affirmed by United States District Judge Roger Titus, following a Report and Recommendation by United States Magistrate Judge Thomas M. DiGirolamo. McFadden v. Barnhart, Civil No. RWT-04- 1516 (D. Md. July 25, 2005). Plaintiff filed his most recent application for DIB on April 18, 2014. Tr. 2586-87. His application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Tr. 2400-06. An ALJ dismissed Plaintiff's request for a hearing on September 2, 2016, under the doctrine of res judicata. Tr. 2298-2300. The Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's request for review on September 23, 2017, making the ALJ's dismissal the final, reviewable decision of the SSA. Tr. 2293-94. Plaintiff timely filed the instant action on November 27, 2017. ECF 1.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) governs motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). While the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that a court has jurisdiction over the claim or controversy at issue, a Rule 12(b)(1) motion should be granted “only if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.” Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991) (citing Trentacosta v. Frontier Pac. Aircraft Indus., 813 F.2d 1553, 1558 (9th Cir. 1987)). In a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the pleadings should be regarded as “mere evidence on the issue, ” and courts “may consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.” Id. (citing Adams v. Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982); Trentacosta, 813 F.2d at 1558).

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff claims a variety of bases for subject matter jurisdiction, including: the Social Security Act, the United States Constitution, the Mandamus Act, federal question jurisdiction, and the Declaratory Judgment Act. The SSA argues that all of these bases are lacking. I agree, and discuss each in turn.

         A. Jurisdiction to Review Application of Res Judicata under the Social Security Act

         First, the SSA argues that this Court lacks jurisdiction over Plaintiff's appeal because the SSA properly applied the principle of res judicata to bar Plaintiff's claim. ECF 25-1 at 4-11. The Social Security Act (“the Act”) provides, in relevant part:

Any individual, after any final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made after a hearing to which he was a party, irrespective of the amount in controversy, may obtain a review of such decision by a civil action commenced within sixty days after the mailing to him of notice of such decision or within such further time as the Commissioner of Social Security may allow.

42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Section 405(h) of the SSA further provides that “[n]o findings of fact or decision of the Commissioner of Social Security shall be reviewed by any person, tribunal, or governmental agency except as herein provided.” Id. § 405(h). Thus, § 405(g) is generally “the sole avenue for judicial review of all claim[s] arising under” the SSA. See Heckler v. Ringer, 466 U.S. 602, 602 (1984) (quotation and citation omitted).

         The SSA can apply the doctrine of res judicata to avoid claimants “indefinitely extend[ing]” the adjudication of their claims after a denial of benefits. Easley v. Finch, 431 F.2d 1351, 1353 (4th Cir. 1970). An ALJ can apply res judicata to dismiss a hearing request if the SSA “made a previous determination or decision . . . about [a claimant's] rights on the same facts and on the same issue or issues, and this previous determination or decision has become final by either administrative or judicial action.” 20 C.F.R. § 404.957(c)(1). When a claimant appeals a dismissal on the basis of res judicata, “the district court has jurisdiction to determine, as appropriate, whether res judicata has properly been applied, or whether, though res judicata might properly have been applied, the claim has nevertheless been reopened.” McGowen v. Harris, 666 F.2d 60, 66 (4th Cir. 1981) (citing Farley v. Califano, 599 F.2d 606, 608 (4th Cir. 1979)). The court's examination of the SSA's application of res judicata is an exercise of the court's “inherent jurisdiction to determine its own jurisdiction.” Id. (citing Texas & Pac. Ry. v. Gulf, Colo. & Santa Fe Ry., 270 U.S. 266, 274 (1926)).

         Here, the ALJ applied res judicata to dismiss Plaintiff's request for review because Plaintiff's current claim was based on “the same facts and same issues” as his 2000 application. Tr. 2300. The ALJ decision in Plaintiff's 2000 application evaluated his claim for DIB from his alleged onset date, August 7, 1987, through his date last insured, June 30, 1994. Tr. 74-75. Plaintiff's 2014 application covered ...

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