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Santini v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Idaho

October 1, 2014

MARIO L. PAGAN SANTINI, Petitioner,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Respondent.

MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

CANDY W. DALE, Magistrate Judge.

INTRODUCTION

Petitioner, Mario L. Pagan Santini, alleges that he was improperly found ineligible for his Title XVI supplemental security income (SSI) disability benefits due to income earned during his established disability period. Respondent, Social Security Administration (SSA), moves to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), claiming a lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Dkt. 28.) All parties have consented in writing to proceed before the undersigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). See Fed R. Civ. P. 73(a); Dist. Idaho Loc. Civ. R. 73.1. (Dkt. 22.)

Respondent puts forth three arguments to support the Motion to Dismiss: (1) Santini's failure to exhaust his administrative remedies; (2) Santini's failure to establish a colorable constitutional claim; and (3) a lack of circumstances justifying equitable tolling of the 60-day limitations period of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). For the reasons outlined below, the Court will grant Respondent's Motion to Dismiss.

FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Santini filed for disability benefits on September 7, 2006, due to an injury he sustained in July of 2006. An Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) found Santini eligible for SSI benefits on May 6, 2009. The SSA issued an award letter to Santini on June 23, 2009, which included notice that Santini was ineligible for SSI benefits for September of 2006 due to wages Santini earned during that month. This letter also included notice of Santini's ability to appeal the decision, provided information and instructions on the appeal process, and included a list of resources available to Santini. The award letter stated that Santini had 60 days to appeal the decision from the date of receipt of the letter. It further stated that receipt of the letter would be presumed to occur 5 days after the letter was issued unless the claimant could show that he did not receive the letter within that 5-day period. The award letter also informed Santini that, if he missed the 60-day deadline for an appeal, he must show "good reason" for the delay.

More than three years later, on July 16, 2012, Santini appealed the ineligibility finding. Santini's appeal was denied upon reconsideration on November 7, 2012, due to administrative finality and an untimely appeal. Nevertheless, on December 17, 2012, Santini filed a written request for a hearing. On January 4, 2013, an ALJ dismissed Santini's request for a hearing based on untimeliness and failure to establish good cause for missing the deadline to request a hearing. Also on January 4, 2013, a Notice of Dismissal was issued to Santini. This Notice of Dismissal included, among other things, instructions on how to file an appeal and notice of the 60-day time limit to file an appeal from the date of receipt of the notice.

Thereafter, Santini requested the Appeals Council review the ALJ's dismissal of his appeal of the June 23, 2009 award letter. On April 4, 2013, the Appeals Council issued Notice that Santini's request for review was denied. Santini filed the present civil action on July 18, 2013, seeking review of the ALJ's January 4, 2013 Order of Dismissal and the Appeals Council's denial of his request for review.

LEGAL STANDARD

"Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). This Court "possess[es] only that power authorized by the Constitution and statute, which is not to be expanded by judicial decree." Id. (internal citations omitted). This Court presumes that a cause of action "lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting the jurisdiction." Id. (internal citations omitted). Further, this Court must dismiss a cause of action if it "determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3).

However, because Santini is a pro se petitioner, his complaint "must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010). Accordingly, the Court will liberally construe Santini's filings and afford him the benefit of any reasonable doubt. Id.

ANALYSIS

Individuals are entitled to judicial review of an SSA action by commencing a civil action following "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." 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The petitioner must commence the civil action "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." Id. The statute makes clear that this is the only jurisdictional basis for judicial review, stating: "No 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).

The Supreme Court of the United States has held that this language "cannot be read to authorize judicial review of alleged abuses of discretion in refusing to reopen claims for social security benefits."[1] Califano v. Sanders, 430 U.S. 99, 107-08 (1977). Section 405(g) "clearly limits judicial review to a particular type of agency action, a final decision of the [Commissioner of Social Security] made after a hearing." Id. at 108 (internal quotations omitted). The Supreme Court recognized that the purpose of this statute was to "impose a 60-day limitation upon judicial review of the [Commissioner's] final decision on the initial claim for ...


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