United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia
ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION [DKT. NO.
27], DENYING AS MOOT MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT [DKT. NO.
28], OVERRULING PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS [DKT. NO. 29], AND
DISMISSING THE CASE WITHTOUT PREJUDICE
S. KLEEH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
with the Court is the Report and Recommendation
(“R&R”) issued by Magistrate Judge Michael J.
Aloi on June 20, 2019 [Dkt. No. 27] that recommends dismissal
of this matter. Plaintiff, Heather Shae Hill
(“Hill” or “Plaintiff”), proceeding
pro se, brought this action pursuant to Section
205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended (42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g)), to obtain judicial review of a final decision
of the Commissioner of Social Security denying her claim for
disability benefits under the Social Security Act [Dkt. No.
with her August 24, 2018, Complaint [Dkt. No. 1], Plaintiff
filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis [Dkt. No.
2], which was granted by the magistrate judge on September 6,
2018 [Dkt. No. 4]. Plaintiff was provided written Notice of
the General Guidelines for Appearing Pro Se in
Federal Court [Dkt. No. 3], and a summons was issued to the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration
(“Defendant” or “Commissioner”) [Dkt.
No. 5]. A Certified Mailing forwarded by the Court to
Plaintiff at the address on her Complaint was returned to the
Clerk's Office as “undeliverable/unclaimed/unable
to forward” on September 24, 2018 [Dkt. No. 6].
Commissioner filed a timely Answer to Plaintiff's
Complaint on November 8, 2018, together with a copy of the
Social Security Administrative Record [Dkt. Nos. 10, 11]. On
December 14, 2018, the magistrate judge entered an order
directing the filing of briefs pursuant to Local Rule of
Civil Procedure 9.02 [Dkt. No. 14]. Plaintiff was to file her
brief within thirty (30) days of the Court's December 14,
2018, order [Id.]. The order also detailed the items
that pro se Plaintiff was to address in her brief,
including a statement of the exact issues for review, a
statement of the case with its disposition at the
administrative level, a proposed stipulation of facts
including a chronological narrative of Plaintiff's
relevant medical history with citations to the administrative
record, an argument as to each issue for review, and a
conclusion [Id.]. The Order was delivered to
Plaintiff on December 18, 2018 [Dkt. No. 15].
January 9, 2019, pro se Plaintiff filed the first of
four motions requesting an extension of the brief deadline
[Dkt. No. 16]. The Court granted the first motion for
extension of time, scheduling the brief deadline for February
11, 2019 [Dkt. No. 17]. Plaintiff received the order on
January 16, 2019 [Dkt. No. 18]. A second motion for extension
of time was filed by Plaintiff on February 5, 2019 [Dkt. No.
19], which was granted by order on February 7, 2019 [Dkt. No.
20]. Pro se Plaintiff was given until April 10,
2019, to file her brief [Id.]. That order was
received by Plaintiff as evidenced by her next motion for
extension of time which was submitted to the Clerk's
Office by facsimile on April 8, 2019 [Dkt. No. 21]. The Court
granted pro se Plaintiff a third extension and
directed that her brief be filed by June 10, 2019 [Dkt. No.
22]. The order extending the deadline for her brief was
delivered to pro se Plaintiff's address on April
13, 2019, based on the return receipt docketed by the Court
on April 15, 2019 [Dkt. No. 23].
10, 2019, rather than file her brief, Plaintiff filed a
fourth motion for extension of time [Dkt. No. 24]. This
motion was denied by Order entered on June 11, 2019 [Dkt. No.
25], and delivered to pro se Plaintiff's address
on June 17, 2019 [Dkt. No. 26]. On June 20, 2019, the
magistrate judge issued the R&R recommending dismissal of
Plaintiff's case for failure to prosecute [Dkt. No. 27].
The R&R instructed the parties that they had fourteen
(14) days from its entry date to file specific written
objections [Id.]. As with all filings, the R&R
was forwarded to pro se Plaintiff by Certified Mail
to the address on file with the Clerk's Office [Dkt. No.
27-1]. While a Certified Mail return receipt has not yet been
returned to the Clerk's Office for the June 20, 2019,
R&R, the United States Postal Service
(“USPS”) online tracking system shows that the
R&R was delivered to an individual at Plaintiff's
address on Saturday, June 22, 2019, at 12:26
On Monday, June 24, 2019, Plaintiff hand-delivered a brief to
the Clerk's Office that was docketed as a Motion for
Summary Judgment [Dkt. No. 28]. Plaintiff included a
letter attachment to the brief that apologized to the Court
for not having filed her brief on June 10, 2019 [Dkt. No.
27, 2019, the pro se Plaintiff called the
Clerk's Office to advise that she did not receive the
Court's June 20, 2019, R&R [Dkt. No. 27], which was
sent by Certified Mail to her address on record, but that she
noticed on PACER the R&R was filed on June 20, 2019. The
Clerk's docket note reflecting the telephone call shows
that the USPS confirmed delivery of the R&R to
Plaintiff's address on June 22, 2019. The Clerk's
Office emailed a copy of the R&R to pro se
Plaintiff on June 27, 2019, and Plaintiff confirmed receipt.
28, 2019, Plaintiff filed an Objection [Dkt. No. 29]
to the R&R by facsimile to the Clerk's Office [Dkt.
No. 29-1]. Notably, pro se Plaintiff's objection
states that she did not receive the R&R from the Court
until it was emailed to her by the Clerk's Office on June
27, 2019 [Dkt. No. 29]. Plaintiff objects to the
R&R on the basis of excusable neglect as a result of her
medical conditions, acute and chronic, that were beyond her
control, and on her conclusory belief that Defendant suffered
no prejudice as a result of the missed briefing deadline and
that the judicial proceedings have not been negatively
impacted [Dkt. No. 29].
objection notes that the order denying her fourth motion to
extend the briefing deadline, filed on June 10, 2019, was not
entered by the Court until June 11, 2019 [Id.].
However, she fails to mention the previous three (3) orders
by which the Court extended the original filing deadline from
January 14, 2019 [Dkt. No. 14] to February 11, 2019 [Dkt. No.
17], and then to April 10, 2019 [Dkt. No. 20]. Finally, the
Court granted Plaintiff's third motion for extension of
time [Dkt. No. 22], and directed that her brief be filed on
June 10, 2019 [Dkt. No. 22]. This date is approximately seven
(7) months after the Commissioner Answered the Complaint,
assembled and filed the extensive administrative record, and
served pro se Plaintiff with a copy of the
administrative record [Dkt. Nos. 10, 11, 12]. Plaintiff
failed to timely file her brief, and failed to comply with
the Court's December 14, 2018, order [Dkt. No. 14], when
her fourth motion for an extension of time was filed on the
briefing deadline rather than before. Pro se
Plaintiff erroneously assumed that she would receive another
Court's order directing the filing of briefs states that
a party may seek an extension of time for any pleading or
memorandum, but that the motion for extension must be filed
before the date upon which the pleading or memorandum is due
[Dkt. No. 14]. The docket shows that Plaintiff made her
filings in a variety of ways, including by hand-delivery to
the Clerk's Office, United States Mail, and facsimile
from number 304-291-8001 [Dkt. Nos. 16, 21, 24, 28, 29].
Additionally, the Notice of General Guidelines for Pro
Se Parties [Dkt. No. 3], states that a pro se
litigant must keep the Court and opposing counsel, if any,
advised of his or her most current address “at all
times, ” and that failure to do so may result in the
action being dismissed without prejudice. Plaintiff states
that she did not receive the magistrate judge's R&R
until it was emailed to her on June 27, 2019. However, the
USPS tracking system confirms that the R&R was delivered
to Plaintiff's address on June 22, 2019. On June 24,
2019, Plaintiff filed a brief by hand-delivery to the
Clerk's Office, at which time the case docket was
available for review. During a June 27, 2019, telephone call
with the Clerk's Office, Plaintiff explained that she
accessed the PACER electronic database and noticed that the
R&R had been filed in her case. Although Plaintiff advised
the Clerk's Office that she had not receive the R&R
by mail, pro se Plaintiff did not notify the Court
that her address was incorrect or had changed.
under Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and
the inherent power of the Court, a case may be dismissed with
prejudice for want of prosecution. Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b);
Link v. Wabash R.R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 629-32, 82
S.Ct. 1386, 1388-89 (1962)(noting that federal courts have
inherent power to dismiss action for failure to prosecute
either sua sponte or on party's motion).
“The power to invoke this sanction is necessary in
order to prevent undue delays in the disposition of pending
cases and to avoid congestion in the calendars of the
District Courts.” Link, 370 U.S. at 629, 82
S.Ct. at 1388. In considering whether to impose such a
dismissal, the Court should consider “(1) the degree of
personal responsibility of the plaintiff, (2) the amount of
prejudice caused the defendant, (3) the existence of ‘a
drawn out history of deliberately proceeding in a dilatory
fashion,' and (4) the existence of a sanction less
drastic than dismissal.” Chandler Leasing Corp. v.
Lopez, 669 F.2d 919, 920 (4th Cir. 1982)(per
curiam); see Ballard v. Carlson, 882 F.2d 93, 96
(4th Cir. 1989)(upholding dismissal of pro
se plaintiff's claims and noting that pro
se litigants, like other litigants, “are subject
to the time requirements and respect for court orders without
which effective judicial administration would be
pro se litigants are not held to the same high
standards as attorneys, pro se litigants must meet
certain standards, including “time requirements and
respect for court orders without which effective judicial
administration would be impossible.” Hughes v.
Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 10 n. 7 (1980); Haines v.
Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); Ballard, 882
F.2d at 96. Where a plaintiff fails to prosecute her Social
Security appeal, dismissal is a necessary and appropriate
remedy for the efficient administration of justice. See
Link, 370 U.S. at 631 (1962)(holding that district court
did not abuse its discretion in dismissing a case with
prejudice for failure to prosecute in order to “achieve
the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases”);
Robinson v. Wix Filtration Corp., LLC, 559 F.3d 403,
409-11 (4th Cir. 2010)(recognizing continued validity of
Link, court found that the district court did not
abuse its discretion in denying a Rule 59(e) motion based on
party's failure to respond to dispositive motion).
factors outlined in Chandler Leasing weigh in favor
of dismissal of Plaintiff's case. Plaintiff is pro
se and is responsible for her conduct in this matter.
She was on notice that a failure to prosecute or to follow
the Court's orders can lead to dismissal of her action as
a sanction. Plaintiff did not file her brief as directed on
June 10, 2019, and instead filed a fourth motion for an
extension of time on that date [Dkt. No. 24]. The Court made
clear in its original briefing order that a motion for
extension of time must be filed before the date upon which
the pleading or memorandum is due [Dkt. No. 14]. Moreover,
Plaintiff claims not to have received the R&R with the
magistrate judge's recommendation of dismissal until June
27, 2019, when the Clerk's Office emailed her a copy
after she called and requested the same following her review
of the electronic case docket on PACER. However, there is no
dispute that the R&R was delivered to Plaintiff's
address on June 22, 2019. Plaintiff's contention that she did
not receive the R&R is inconsistent with the USPS proof
of delivery to her address, and Plaintiff alone bears the
responsibility of providing the Court with a reliable means
of communicating with her. This factor weighs in favor of
Plaintiff's failure to prosecute her case has rendered
Defendant unable to address the merits of Plaintiff's
Complaint without unreasonable delay. Defendant has been
required to answer the Complaint, as well as compile and file
the Administrative Record. Defendant has also been required
to devote resources to monitoring the docket and case
filings. This factor also weighs in favor of dismissal
because Defendant cannot adequately defend a ...