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Cook v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Tacoma

June 12, 2017

MICHAEL G. COOK, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS

          ROBERT J. BRYAN United States District Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on defendant Commissioner Nancy A. Berryhill's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Dkt. 9. Plaintiff Michael G. Cook has filed a response. Dkt. 12-1. Because plaintiff has not exhausted his administrative remedies nor raised a colorable constitutional claim, this Court lacks jurisdiction to hear this matter. For these reasons, defendant's motion to dismiss is granted.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         Plaintiff first applied for Social Security disability insurance benefits in 2009. See Dkt. 10 at Exhibit 7, p. 4. The Commissioner denied plaintiff's application, and plaintiff did not request reconsideration or a hearing. Id.

         Plaintiff applied for disability benefits again in 2012. See id. at Exhibits 1, 3. The Commissioner denied this application, and plaintiff requested a hearing before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). See id. at Exhibit 3, p. 4. However, plaintiff then asked to withdraw his request for a hearing, and the ALJ accordingly dismissed the request for a hearing. See id. Plaintiff then asked the Appeals Council to review the dismissal. See id. at Exhibit 4. The Appeals Council declined. See id.

         Plaintiff then filed a third application for disability benefits in 2013. See id. at Exhibit 7, pp. 4-6. After the application was denied, plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ and asked the ALJ to reopen the first two applications. See id. The ALJ declined to reopen the earlier applications and dismissed plaintiff's request for a hearing. See id. The Appeals Council denied plaintiff's request for review of this aspect of the ALJ's decision. See id. at Exhibit 8.

         Plaintiff filed a complaint with this Court seeking judicial review. See Dkt. 3. The Commissioner filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that this Court is without subject matter jurisdiction to hear this matter. See Dkt. 9; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1).

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Federal courts have limited jurisdiction and “possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994) (citations omitted). When presented with a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, a plaintiff has the burden to demonstrate that this Court has jurisdiction. See id.; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). When presented with a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), the Court favorably views “the facts alleged to support jurisdiction.” McNatt v. Apfel, 201 F.3d 1084, 1087 (9th Cir. 2000) (citing Boettcher v. Sec. Health & Human Servs., 759 F.2d 719, 720 (9th Cir. 1985)).

         This Court has statutory jurisdiction to review “any final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made after a hearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Pursuant to the relevant federal regulations, a claimant obtains a judicially reviewable final decision only after completing all of the required steps, including asking for reconsideration of an initial determination, requesting a hearing, and requesting review by the Appeals Council. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.907, 404.929, 404.967. A claimant seeking judicial review must either receive a decision by the Appeals Council or notice from the Appeals Council that it has denied the claimant's request for review. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 122.210(a).

         Although the Court has jurisdiction pursuant to statute to review only the final decision of the Social Security Administration made after a hearing, a discretionary decision by the Administration that is not a final decision may be subject to an exception where the Commissioner's decision “is challenged on constitutional grounds.” Evans v. Chater, 110 F.3d 1480, 1482 (9th Cir. 1997) (citing Califano v. Sanders, 430 U.S. 99, 109 (1977)); 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Ninth Circuit has “held that ‘the Sanders exception applies to 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.'” Udd v. Massanari, 245 F.3d 1096, 1099 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting Evans, 110 F.3d at 1483); see also Sanders, 430 U.S. at 107-09. According to the Ninth Circuit, a “challenge that is not ‘wholly insubstantial, immaterial, or frivolous' raises a colorable constitutional claim.” Udd, 245 F.3d at 1099 (quoting Boettcher, 59 F.2d at 722).

         As stated by the Supreme Court, “[c]onstitutional questions obviously are unsuited to resolution in administrative hearing procedures and, therefore, access to the courts is essential to the decision of such questions.” Sanders, 430 U.S. at 109. The Court noted the “well-established principle that when constitutional questions are in issue, the availability of judicial review is presumed.” Id. (citations omitted).

         Because an individual's interest in social security benefits is a property interest created by statute and protected by the Fifth Amendment, if a claimant has properly raised a due process claim with respect to the denial of such benefits, this Court has jurisdiction over this matter. See Sanders, 430 U.S. at 109; Mathew ...


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