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Luyk v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 5, 2017

MARY L. LUYK, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.

          ENTERED BY MAGISTRATE JUDGE KRISTEN L. MIX

          Kristen L. Mix United States Magistrate Judge

         This matter is before the Court[2] on the Social Security Administrative Record [#14], [3] filed October 11, 2016, in support of Plaintiff's Complaint [#1] seeking review of the decision of Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, (“Defendant” or “Commissioner”) denying Plaintiff's claim for disability insurance benefits and disabled widow's benefits pursuant to Title II of the Social Security Act (the “Act”), 42 U.S.C. § 401 et seq., and for supplemental security income benefits pursuant to Title XVI of the Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1381 et seq. On November 28, 2016, Plaintiff filed an Opening Brief [#21] (the “Brief”). Defendant filed a Response [#22] in opposition, and Plaintiff filed a Reply [#23]. The Court has jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's final decision under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and 1383(c). The Court has reviewed the entire case file and the applicable law and is sufficiently advised in the premises. For the reasons set forth below, the decision of the Commissioner is AFFIRMED.

         I. Background

         The complicated procedural history of this lawsuit is crucial to its resolution, and the Court therefore first provides that time line in detail. Plaintiff alleges that she became disabled at the age of fifty-two on March 22, 2007. Tr. 209.[4] As a result, on June 18, 2008, Plaintiff filed an application for disability insurance benefits and widow's insurance benefits under Title II and an application for supplemental security income under Title XVI. Tr. 209-24. On December 3, 2010, an Administrative Law Judge (the “ALJ”) issued an unfavorable decision. Tr. 13-22. On May 18, 2012, the Appeals council denied Plaintiff's Request for Review of Hearing Decision. Tr. 5-9.

         On June 18, 2012, Plaintiff filed new Title II and Title XVI applications, alleging a disability onset date of May 19, 2012. Tr. 1157-70. Meanwhile, on October 2, 2012, she also filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court seeking review of the Commissioner's decision to deny her first set of applications. See generally Civil Action No. 1:12-cv-02610-WJM. After receiving initial denials by the Administration on her second set of applications, Plaintiff filed a request on February 20, 2013 to have a hearing before an ALJ on those applications. Tr. 1060.

         On October 16, 2013, the District Court issued an Order Reversing Administrative Law Judge's Decision and Remanding to the Commissioner in connection with Plaintiff's first set of applications. Tr. 781-809. Thereafter, the Commissioner filed a Motion to Alter or Amend Judgment Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e), which the District Court granted on May 30, 2014, in its Order Granting Motion to Amend Judgment and Affirming Decision of the Administrative Law Judge. Tr. 815-24.

         On June 27, 2014, the Appeals Council, apparently unaware that the District Court had amended its judgment to affirm the ALJ's decision on Plaintiff's first set of applications, issued an Order remanding Plaintiff's case to the ALJ. Tr. 812-13. In that Order, the Appeals Council stated:

The U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado, Denver (Civil Action Number 1:12-cv-02610-WJM) has remanded this case to the Commissioner of Social Security for further administrative proceedings . . . .
The claimant filed electronic subsequent claims for a Period of Disability/Disability Insurance Benefits and Supplemental Security Income on June 18, 2012. The Appeals Council's action with respect to the present electronic claims renders the subsequent claims duplicate or causes it to involve an overlapping period of time. Therefore, the [ALJ] will consolidate the claims, create a single electronic record and issue a new decision on the consolidated claims . . . .
Therefore, the Appeals Council vacates the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security and remands this case to an [ALJ] for further proceedings consistent with the order of the court.
In compliance with the above, the [ALJ] will offer the claimant the opportunity for a hearing, take any further action needed to complete the administrative record and issue a new decision.

Tr. 812-13. Thus, in short, the ALJ was directed to simultaneously consider Plaintiff's first and second sets of applications. Tr. 812-13.

         On November 13, 2014, a different ALJ held another hearing on Plaintiff's applications.[5] Tr. 690-758. On January 23, 2015, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. Tr. 666-80. On June 6, 2016, the Appeals Council issued a decision in connection with Plaintiff's request for review of the January 23, 2015 ALJ decision. Tr. 639-43. In part, the Appeals Council realized its error regarding Plaintiff's first set of applications and sought to correct that mistake. Tr. 639-43.

On January 23, 2015, the [ALJ] found that the claimant was not under a disability from March 22, 2007 through the date of the decision . . . and that she is not entitled to benefits and payments based on the applications dated June 18, 2008. On February 23, 2015, the claimant submitted written exceptions to the [ALJ's] decision.
On April 27, 2016, the Appeals Council notified the claimant that it had assumed jurisdiction of this case . . . . In that notice, it proposed to vacate the subject decision as the final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security for the applications dated June 18, 2008. It further proposed to vacate its remand order dated June 27, 2014. It also proposed to adopt the subject decision's findings, apply those findings to the applications dated June 18, 2012, and to issue a decision finding that the claimant is not entitled to or eligible for benefits and payments based on the applications dated June 18, 2012 and a disability onset date of December 4, 2010. The Appeals Council advised the claimant that it would consider written statements submitted within 30 days from the date of the notice.
On May 4, 2016, the claimant submitted a written response indicating her understanding of the need to vacate the [ALJ's] January 23, 2015 decision. However, she objected to the Appeals Council issuing an unfavorable decision based on the subject decision's findings. She contended that she is entitled to a new hearing and a new decision based on the 2012 applications and her request for hearing dated February 28, 2013.
For the reasons discussed below, the Appeals Council does not agree. . . .
The Appeals Council adopts the [ALJ's] statements regarding . . . the issues in the case, its evidentiary facts, and its findings to the extent that those statements, issues, facts and findings refer to disability beginning ...

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