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Kinsley v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

October 2, 2019

MAXWELL KINSLEY, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS

          BRIAN A. TSUCHIDA CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Pro se Plaintiff Maxwell Kinsley brings this action against the Commissioner of Social Security, for judicial review of a decision by the Commissioner. The Commissioner moves to dismiss this action based on Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) or, in the alternative, under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Dkt. 9. Counsel for the Commissioner called and emailed Plaintiff in an attempt to confer on this motion, but received no response. Dkt. 9, p.1. Plaintiff filed no response to the motion to dismiss.

         Having considered the motion, Plaintiff's failure to respond, and remaining record, the Court concludes it lacks subject matter jurisdiction and therefore, the Commissioner's motion to dismiss should be granted and this case should be dismissed with prejudice.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff's complaint is related to his applications for Title II and Title XVI benefits under the Social Security Act. Dkt. 3, p. 2. He asks that the court award disability benefits or remand for further administrative proceedings. Id., p. 4.

         Plaintiff applied for benefits in November 2012. Dkt. 9, Exh. 2, Declaration of Christianne Voegele, Chief of Court Case Preparation in the Office of Appellate Operations, pp. 2-3. Over the next six years, Plaintiff obtained two ALJ decisions that were each remanded by the Appeals Council. Id., Exh. 1, pp. 3-6. Ultimately, on remand from the Appeals Council in November 2018, a new ALJ dismissed Plaintiff's request for a hearing due to Plaintiff's failure to appear. Id., Exh. 1, p. 5. Plaintiff requested review of this decision from the Appeals Council, but he sought this review after the 60-day deadline. Id. In April 2019, the Appeals Council dismissed Plaintiff's request for review. Id., p. 6.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A party may file a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) challenging the subject matter jurisdiction of the Court. “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). As such, they may only review cases as authorized by either the Constitution or a federal statute. Id. “If jurisdiction is lacking at the outset, the district court has no power to do anything with the case except dismiss [it].” Morongo Band of Mission Indians v. California Bd. of Equalization, 858 F.2d 1376, 1380 (9th Cir. 1988) (quotation omitted).

         Congress has limited federal courts' jurisdiction over determinations by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). Under the Social Security Act, federal courts may only review a “final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made after a hearing.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Although the Social Security Act does not define the term “final decision, ” the Commissioner has done so by regulation. Weinberger v. Salfi, 422 U.S. 749, 751 (1975) (recognizing power of Commissioner to define “final decision”); see also 42 U.S.C. § 405(a) (outlining Commissioner's powers). Under the applicable regulations, a claimant must first complete the SSA's administrative review process before he can obtain a judicially reviewable final decision. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1400(a)(1)-(5) (enumerating the four steps in the administrative review process); Califano v. Sanders, 430 U.S. 99, 108 (1977) (Section 405(g) “clearly limits judicial review to ... a ‘final decision' of the [Commissioner] made after a hearing.”). “A final decision has two elements: (1) presentment of the claim to the Commissioner, and (2) complete exhaustion of administrative remedies.” Kildare v. Saenz, 325 F.3d 1078, 1082 (9th Cir. 2003). Without a final agency decision, a district court has no subject-matter jurisdiction. 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c); 20 C.F.R. § 416.1400(a)(5); Sanders, 430 U.S. at 108-09.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Exhaustion

         The SSA's prescribed administrative remedies consist of the following four steps: First, the SSA provides the claimant with an initial determination. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1400(a) (1). Second, if the claimant is dissatisfied with the initial determination, he may ask the SSA to reconsider it. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1400(a)(2). Third, if the claimant is dissatisfied with the reconsidered decision, he may request a hearing before an ALJ. 20 C.F.R. § 16.1400(a)(3). And finally, if the claimant is not satisfied with the ALJ's decision, he may request that the SSA's Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1400(a)(4). The Appeals Council may either grant review or deny the request and allow the ALJ's decision to stand as the final decision of the Commissioner. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1467.

         There is no final decision subject to federal judicial review unless and until all four steps of the administrative review process have been completed. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1400(a) (5). If the claimant fails to complete all four steps of the administrative review process, the SSA's initial determination is binding and the claimant may not seek judicial review in the federal courts. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1405, 416.1421, 416.1455, 416.1481.

         Here, Plaintiff failed to complete all four steps of the administrative review process. In January 2018, the ALJ dismissed Plaintiff's request for a hearing because Plaintiff failed to appear. Dkt. 9, Ex. 2, Voegele Dec., p. 5, Exh. 33 (Notice of Dismissal). Because Plaintiff did not obtain a “final decision of the Commissioner made after a hearing to which he was a party, ” as required by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), he has plainly not exhausted his administrative remedies. Without a final ...


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