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Morris v. Berryhill

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division

February 14, 2017

TIMOTHY SCOT MORRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GRAY M. BORDEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This is an appeal from a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security (the “Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff Timothy Scot Morris' applications for benefits. The case is ripe for review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3). The parties have consented to the entry of a final judgment by the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Rule 73.1 of the Local Rules for the United States District Court for the Middle District of Alabama. Docs. 14 & 15. Based upon a review of the parties' briefs, the relevant authority, and the record as a whole, the court finds that, for the reasons that follow, the Commissioner's decision is due to be AFFIRMED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On November 15, 2011, Morris filed an application for a period of disability, disability insurance benefits, and supplemental security income benefits, alleging a disability onset date of August 28, 2009. Docs. 18-2 & 18-3. Morris' claims were denied at the initial administrative level. Doc. 18-4. Morris then requested review by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”), and on August 12, 2013, he appeared, along with a non-attorney representative, [2] and testified at a hearing before the ALJ.[3] Doc. 18-2.

         On August 26, 2013, the ALJ denied Morris' claims. Doc. 18-2. The cover letter attached to the ALJ's decision, entitled “Notice of Decision, ” is dated and addressed to Morris and his representative. Doc. 18-2. The Notice of Decision advised Morris of his appeal rights, explaining:

If you disagree with my decision, you may file an appeal with the Appeals Council.
* * *
To file an appeal, you or your representative must ask in writing that the Appeals Council review my decision. You may use our Request for Review form (HA-520) or write a letter.
* * *
You must file your written appeal within 60 days of the date you get this notice. The Appeals Council assumes you got this notice 5 days after the date of the notice unless you show you did not get it within the 5-day period.
The Appeals Council will dismiss a late request unless you show you had a good reason for not filing it on time.

Doc. 18-2. Based on the above, Morris' deadline to file a request for review with the Appeals Council was October 30, 2013 (i.e., 65 days after the ALJ issued his August 26, 2013 decision).

         The record indicates that, on December 24, 2014, Morris' representative faxed to the Appeals Council a “Request for Review of Hearing Decision/Order” form along with a separate letter requesting Appeals Council review of the ALJ's August 26, 2013 decision. Doc. 18-2. The form and the letter are addressed to the Appeals Council's office in Falls Church, Virginia, [4] and both are dated September 3, 2013. Doc. 18-2. Notably, while the form and the letter submitted with Morris' December 24, 2014 facsimile are both dated September 3, 2013, there is no other evidence or documentation in the record demonstrating that either of those documents was actually filed with the Appeals Council on September 3, 2013, or at any other time before Morris' October 30, 2013 deadline expired.

         On January 20, 2015, the Appeals Council sent Morris and his representative written notification that his request for review was untimely. Doc. 18-2. In that letter, the Appeals Council explained that Morris' deadline to request review was October 30, 2013, that the Appeals Council's records show that his request was filed on December 24, 2014, and that there “is no statement or other information about why you did not file the appeal on time.” Doc. 18-2. The Appeals Council concluded its letter by requesting that Morris submit “a statement showing the ...


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