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Lewis v. Berryhill

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia, Elkins

March 12, 2018

WILLIAM KIRBY LEWIS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          ROBERT W. TRUMBLE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This case arises from Plaintiff William Kirby Lewis's (“Plaintiff”) second Title II application for disability and disability insurance benefits (“DIB”). After Plaintiff's second application proceeded through the administrative process, a United States Administrative Law Judge (“the ALJ”) concluded that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Although Plaintiff seeks judicial review of the ALJ's decision, Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill (“Defendant” or “the Commissioner”) moves to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint, arguing that this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to review a dismissal for administrative res judicata. Because the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the undersigned recommends that Defendant's motion to dismiss be granted and Plaintiff's complaint be dismissed with prejudice.

         II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On July 15, 2012, Plaintiff filed his first Title II claim for DIB, alleging that his disability began on October 15, 2011. Declaration of Marie Counsins, ECF No. 9-1 at 3. Plaintiff's claim was denied initially on April 23, 2013, and there is no evidence to suggest that this decision was appealed. Id.

         Two years later, on May 21, 2014 Plaintiff filed a second Title II application for DIB, alleging that his disability began on January 15, 2012, which was later amended to August 3, 2012. Id. This application was denied initially and on reconsideration. Id. After these denials, Plaintiff filed a written request for a hearing before an ALJ. Id. After the hearing, the ALJ issued a decision concluding that Plaintiff was not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Id.

         Although Plaintiff filed a request for review, the Appeals Council sent a Notice of Appeals Council Action informing Plaintiff that it found no reason to reopen the final decision on Plaintiff's first application for DIB, which was issued on April 23, 2013. Id. at 4. In addition, the notice informed Plaintiff that the doctrine of res judicata applied to his second application for DIB because the evidence he submitted was “duplicative, cumulative, or did not relate to the period at issue.” Id. Because it found that res judicata applied, it informed Plaintiff that it planned to vacate the ALJ's decision and dismiss his request for a hearing. Id. On October 27, 2017, the Appeals Council issued a Notice of Order doing just that: It vacated the ALJ's order and dismissed Plaintiff's request for a hearing based on res judicata. Id.

         On October 30, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this Court to obtain judicial review of the Commissioner's final decision pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2015). Compl., ECF No. 1. On February 5, 2018, Defendant filed her Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint. Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl., ECF No. 8. Plaintiff filed his response on February 19, 2018, Mem. in Opp. to Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 11, [1] and Defendant filed her reply seven days later, Def.'s Reply to Pl.'s Resp. to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl., ECF No. 12.

         The matter is now before the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for a Report and Recommendation to the District Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) and Local Rule of Civil Procedure 9.02(a). Having reviewed the parties' motions, the undersigned now issues the following Report and Recommendation.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standard

         As courts of limited jurisdiction, it is well established that federal courts must have subject-matter jurisdiction to hear and decide a case on the merits. See Erwin Chemerinsky, Federal Jurisdiction 285 (7th ed. 2016). Federal courts possess “only the jurisdiction authorized them by the United States Constitution and by federal statute.” United States ex rel. Vuyyuru v. Jadhav, 555 F.3d 337, 347 (4th Cir. 2009). Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), a party may move to dismiss a case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. “In such cases, the plaintiff has the burden of establishing a factual basis for jurisdiction.” Johnson v. W.Va. Div. of Rehab. Servs., No. 3:16-9308, 2017 WL 1395501, at *2 (S.D. W.Va. Apr. 17, 2017) (citing Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992); Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. Co. v. United States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991)).

         B. Contentions of the Parties

         In her motion to dismiss, Defendant argues that this Court does not have jurisdiction to review dismissals based on administrative res judicata. See generally Br. in Supp. of the Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss. ECF No 9. In response, Plaintiff argues that the Appeals Council erred by vacating the ALJ's decision and denying his request for review based on re judicata because the ALJ's decision was a de facto reopening of Plaintiff's first application for DIB, and, therefore, the doctrine of res judicata does not apply. ECF No. 11 at 2-4. In reply, Defendant insists that ...


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