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Watson v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Eastern Division

December 7, 2017

CANTRISA WATSON PLAINTIFF
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         Plaintiff Cantrisa Watson (“Watson”) began this case by filing a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 405(g). In the complaint, she challenged the final decision of the Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”).

         The (“Commissioner”) filed a motion to dismiss and accompanied it with several exhibits. See Docket Entry 16.[1] In the motion, she maintained that the complaint should be dismissed. It was the Commissioner's position that the complaint was not filed within sixty days after the presumptive receipt of notice by Watson of the Commissioner's final decision or within further time allowed by the Commissioner, and there was no justification for tolling the sixty day deadline.

         The Court reviewed the Commissioner's motion to dismiss and could not tell at that time whether the exhibits would be considered in resolving the motion. Out of abundance of caution, the Court elected to treat the motion as one for summary judgment. The parties were given an opportunity to present all materials pertinent to the motion for summary judgment.

         Watson subsequently filed a response to the Commissioner's now motion for summary judgment. In the response, Watson did not deny filing an untimely complaint. She maintained, though, that her untimely filing should be excused because she suffers from a “terrible mental disease” that impacts her memory and concentration. See Docket Entry 19 at CM/ECF 2.

         The facts at the heart of this case are not in dispute. The Commissioner accompanied her motion with a declaration from Cristina Prelle (“Prelle”), an official with the Social Security Administration. In the declaration, Prelle made the following representations, all of which the Court accepts as true:

[Watson] filed an application for a period of disability and disability insurance benefits on September 14, 2010, alleging that her disability began on August 1, 2007 (Exhibit 1). The claim was denied initially on May 11, 2011 (Exhibit 2) and upon reconsideration on May 25, 2011 (Exhibit 3).
[Watson] filed a request for hearing. On May 22, 2012, an Administrative Law Judge issued a decision denying [Watson's] claim for benefits under Title II, and mailed a copy thereof to [Watson] (Exhibit 4). On March 27, 2013, the Appeals Council remanded the case back to an Administrative Law Judge for further administrative proceedings (Exhibit 5).
On July 23, 2014, an Administrative Law Judge issued a decision denying [Watson's] claim for benefits under Title II, and mailed a copy thereof to [Watson] (Exhibit 6).
Thereafter, [Watson] requested review of this decision. On December 28, 2015, the Appeals Council sent, by mail addressed to [Watson] at P.O. Box 105, Parkin, AR 72373, notice of its action on [Watson's] request for review and of the right to commence a civil action within sixty (60) days from the date of receipt (Exhibit 7).
At the time of signing this Declaration [i.e., on April 28, 2016], [Prelle] is not aware of any request for an extension of time to file a civil action as specified in said notice and in section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended (42 U.S.C. 405(g)) and in section 422.210 of the Social Security Administration regulations No. 22 (20 CFR 422.210).
On March 28, 2016, a civil action was filed in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas.

See Docket Entry 21, Declaration of Cristina Prelle at 3-4.

         42 U.S.C. 405(g) provides, in part, that a claimant may obtain review of the Commissioner's final decision by “a civil action commenced within sixty days after the mailing to [the claimant] of notice of such decision or within such further time as the Commissioner may allow.” The word “mailing” as used in 42 U.S.C. 405(g) does not mean the date on which notice is placed in the postal system. Instead, the word “mailing” means the date on which the claimant receives notice. See 20 C.F.R. 404.981 (action may be filed within sixty days after the “date you receive notice”). The “date the claimant receives notice” means five days after the date of notice, unless there is a reasonable showing to the contrary. See 20 C.F.R. 422.210(c). See also 20 C.F.R. 404.901 (unless claimant can show that she did not receive the notice within five days).

         The undisputed facts establish that notice of the Commissioner's final decision was dated December 28, 2015. See Docket Entry 21, Declaration of Cristina Prelle at 4. See also Docket Entry 21, Exhibit 7 at 1. Watson is presumed to have received notice, and the sixty day period began, five days later, i.e., on or about January 2, 2016, unless there is a reasonable showing to the contrary.[2] She has offered nothing to suggest that she did not receive notice on or about January 2, 2016. Watson thus had up to or about March 3, 2016, to file a timely complaint challenging the final ...


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