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Ward v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Middle Division

October 24, 2019

CHARLES HAMILTON WARD, Claimant,
v.
ANDREW SAUL, Acting COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Respondent.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          KARON OWEN BOWDRE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This Social Security matter comes before the court on the “Commissioner's Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint with Supporting Memorandum of Law.” (Doc. 6). The Commissioner contends that Mr. Ward failed to exhaust his administrative remedies and has no “final decision . . . made after a hearing” to seek judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Mr. Ward filed a response arguing that the Appeals Council's denial of his request for a review of the ALJ's dismissal of his request for a hearing is a final decision giving this court subject matter jurisdiction over this matter. (Doc. 8).

         The motion is now ripe for review. For the following reasons, the court finds that it has subject matter jurisdiction over this matter and will DENY the motion to dismiss (Doc. 6).

         I. BACKGROUND

         An Administrative Law Judge granted Mr. Ward's claim for benefits under Title XVI of the Social Security Act on February 27, 2013 because of his severe back impairments and generalized anxiety disorder. (Docs. 6 & 8-1). Mr. Ward developed cancer and received radiation treatments throughout 2015 and 2016. As of August 7, 2018, his cancer was in remission, but Mr. Ward suffers from a serious left jaw condition caused by his radiation treatments. (Doc. 8-1).

         On April 19, 2017, the Social Security Administration concluded that Mr. Ward was no longer eligible for Title XVI disability benefits after a continuing disability review. (Doc. 6 at 2). Mr. Ward requested reconsideration, and a Disability Hearing Officer upheld the unfavorable determination on September 22, 2017 and concluded that Mr. Ward's disability had ended in April of 2017. (Id. at 3).

         Mr. Ward then requested a hearing before an ALJ on October 4, 2017. Mr. Ward's hearing was scheduled for May 1, 2018. The SSA mailed Mr. Ward a Notice of Hearing on January 18, 2018, and he signed an Acknowledgement of Receipt, indicating his plan to appear at the hearing. The SSA mailed a second Notice of Hearing to Mr. Ward on February 9, 2018, and a Reminder Notice on April 4, 2018. (Doc. 6 at 2).

         On May 1, 2018, the same day as the scheduled hearing, the ALJ dismissed Mr. Ward's request for a hearing “because he did not appear at the hearing and that no good cause had been established.” (Doc. 6 at 3). Mr. Ward indicated that he planned to attend the hearing without counsel but missed the ALJ hearing because “[he] got confused on the date.” Mr. Ward also pointed to his confusion caused by his generalized anxiety disorder to support this explanation. (Doc. 8-1).

         Mr. Ward then filed an appeal to the Appeals Council without counsel and submitted medical records from January 2018 and a work status report from May 2018. (Doc. 8-1, 8-2 at 2). On July 3, 2018, the Appeals Council denied his request for review and determined the “additional evidence [did] not relate to the period at issue.” (Doc. 8-2 at 2).[1]

         On September 6, 2018, Mr. Ward filed this civil action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's decision. (Doc. 1). The Commissioner's motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction followed. (Doc. 6).

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The Commissioner presents a factual attack on the court's subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Factual attacks “challenge the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, irrespective of the pleadings, ” and the court can consider matters outside the pleadings. Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (quotations omitted). Mr. Ward, as the party invoking the court's subject matter jurisdiction, bears the burden of establishing that jurisdiction exists. Taylor v. Appleton, 30 F.3d 1365, 1367 (11th Cir. 1994). If the court determines that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the claim. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3).

         The authority for judicial review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security is set forth and limited by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). A district court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over an appeal of the Commissioner's decision unless the party seeking review has exhausted his or her administrative remedies as set forth in the Social Security Act. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) and (h). Section 405(g) of the Social Security Act states:

Any individual, after 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, may obtain a review of such decision by a civil action commenced within sixty days after the mailing to him of notice of such decision or ...

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