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Bryant v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

June 18, 2019


          William L. Campbell, Jr. Judge.


          Alistair E. Newbern United States Magistrate Judge.

         To The Honorable William L. Campbell, Jr., District Judge

         In this civil action, pro se and in forma pauperis Plaintiff Amelia Bryant appeals the Social Security Administration's decision to deny her disability insurance benefits. (Doc. No. 1.) The Administration has filed a motion to dismiss, arguing that Bryant's appeal is untimely. (Doc. No. 11.) The Magistrate Judge agrees and will recommend that the Administration's motion be granted and that this action be dismissed with prejudice.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         Bryant filed an application for disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act on October 1, 2013, asserting that she had been disabled since September 30, 2008. (Doc. No. 1-1.) Bryant alleges that, during the period relevant to her application, she suffered from cataracts in both eyes, Type 2 diabetes, diastolic dysfunction, ASA chronic respiratory distress syndrome, atopic rhinitis, hyperlipidemia, primary open angle glaucoma of both eyes, nuclear sclerosis, chronic sinusitis, urticaria, hypertension, hypothyroidism, and asthma. (Doc. Nos. 1, 1-1.)

         In an August 2, 2016 decision, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) denied Bryant's application, finding that Bryant had failed to establish that she was disabled prior to her last insured date of September 30, 2008. (Doc. No. 13-1.) Specifically, the ALJ concluded that, although Bryant suffered from diabetes, hypertension, and chronic sinusitis during the relevant time period, none of those ailments had significantly limited her ability to perform basic work-related activities for twelve consecutive months so as to render Bryant disabled. (Id.) Bryant requested review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council on September 26, 2016, and included various treatment records from 2009 through 2016. (Doc. No. 13-2.) The Appeals Council denied Bryant's request on September 27, 2017, finding that none of the evidence Bryant submitted was relevant to the ALJ's determination that she was not disabled as of September 30, 2008. (Id.) The Appeals Council mailed Bryant a notice of its decision, which informed her of her right to file a civil action challenging the ALJ's decision and that she had sixty days from the date she received the notice to do so. (Id.) The notice further stated that Bryant could “ask the Appeals Council to extend [her] time to file” if she were unable to commence a civil action within the sixty allotted days. (Id. at PageID# 176.)

         Bryant mailed the Appeals Council a request for an extension on November 10, 2017. (Doc. No. 13-3.) She stated that she had received the Appeals Council's notice on September 30, 2017, but that she was unable to file a civil action due to medical problems with her eyes, for which she had recently received surgery. (Id.) The Appeals Council granted Bryant's request for an extension in a letter dated February 20, 2018, providing Bryant with an additional thirty days to file a civil action. (Doc. No. 13-4.) The letter explained that the thirty-day clock would begin when Bryant received the letter and that, unless Bryant showed otherwise, the Appeals Council would presume that Bryant received the letter five days after February 20, 2018. (Id.) The letter also explained that, if Bryant had any questions, she could “call, write, or visit any Social Security office.” (Id. at PageID# 180.)

         Bryant did not file this civil action within thirty-five days of the Appeals Council's February 20, 2018 letter, as she was required to do. Bryant brought this action on May 30, 2018. (Doc. No. 1.) The Administration thus argues in its motion to dismiss that Bryant's complaint is untimely and therefore subject to dismissal. (Doc. No. 11.) In support of its motion, the Administration filed several documents, including the declaration of Janay Podraza, the Acting Chief of Court Case Preparation and Review Branch 3 of the Office of Appellate Operations; Bryant's November 10, 2017 request for an extension; and the Appeals Council's February 20, 2018 letter granting that request (Doc. Nos. 13-13-4).

         Bryant did not respond to the Administration's motion, and the Court ordered her to show cause why this action should not be dismissed as untimely or due to her failure to prosecute her claims. (Doc. No. 14.) Bryant responded that she had been involved in a hit-and-run car accident in September 2018 and had been receiving medical treatment over the following four months. (Doc. No. 15.) In a subsequent order, the Court found that Bryant's response to the show-cause order was adequate given her pro se status and provided her with additional time to respond to the Administration's motion. (Doc. No. 22.) The Court also found that, because Bryant's complaint neither included nor referenced any of the documents that the Administration filed in support of its timeliness argument, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(d) required that the Administration's motion to dismiss be construed as one for summary judgment under Rule 56. (Id.) The order provided that the Administration could file any additional evidentiary materials by May 1, 2019, that Bryant could file any response in opposition and supporting materials by May 29, 2019, and that the Administration could file a reply by June 12, 2019. (Id.)

         The Administration filed a notice on May 1, 2019, stating that it “has no further material in support and relies on the declaration and evidence” it had already submitted. (Doc. No. 23.) Bryant responded in opposition on May 29, 2019. (Doc. No. 24.) In that filing, Bryant does not address the Administration's argument that this action was untimely filed and, instead, offers various medical records spanning from March 2018 through February 2019. (Id.)

         II. Legal Standard

         42 U.S.C. § 405(g) governs judicial review of any decision of the Administration to deny an individual disability insurance benefits. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). To obtain review, a plaintiff must file a civil action “within sixty days after the mailing to [her] of notice of [the final decision of the Administration made after a hearing to which she was a party] or within such further time as the Commissioner of Social Security may allow.” Id.; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.982 (allowing the Appeals Council to extend the deadline to file a civil action in federal court upon a written showing of good cause). This requirement is not jurisdictional; instead, it serves as a statute of limitations the “dual purpose” of which is to “eliminat[e] stale claims and provid[e] ‘a mechanism by which Congress [is] able to move cases to speedy resolution in a bureaucracy that processes millions of claims annually.'” Alexander v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., No. 13-11696, 2015 WL 4429521, at *2 (E.D. Mich. July 20, 2015) (quoting Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 481 (1986)). “Courts have strictly construed the statute of limitations in Social Security appeals.” Id. (collecting cases); see also Cook v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 480 F.3d 432, 437 (6th Cir. 2007) (holding that Social Security appeal filed one day past the § 405(g) deadline was untimely).

         Consistent with Rule 12(d), the Administration's motion to dismiss will be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56. That rule provides that “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In determining whether the moving party has met its burden, a court must view the factual evidence and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Stiles ex rel. D.S. v. Grainger Cty., 819 F.3d 834, 848 (6th Cir. 2016). However, to preclude summary judgment, the nonmoving party must go beyond the pleadings and present specific facts demonstrating the existence of a genuine issue for trial. Shreve v. Franklin Cty., 743 F.3d 126, 132 (6th Cir. 2014) (citations omitted). “A mere scintilla of evidence by the nonmoving party is insufficient to defeat summary judgment; ‘there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [nonmoving party].'” St. Clair Marine Salvage, Inc. v. Bulgarelli, 796 F.3d 569, 574 n.2 (6th Cir. 2015) (alteration in original) (quoting Anderso ...

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