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Brooks v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Orlando Division

July 23, 2018

YVONE ETHEDIA BROOKS, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          ORDER [1]

          THOMAS B. SMITH United States Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Yvone Ethedia Brooks seeks review of Defendant the Commissioner of Social Security's March 25, 2015 dismissal of her request for an administrative hearing (Docs. 1, 15). The Commissioner has moved to dismiss this case on the ground that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction (Doc. 15).[2] The Court has considered the motion and Plaintiff's response (Doc. 20). For the reasons set forth below, the motion to dismiss is due to be granted in part and denied in part.

         Background

         Plaintiff receives Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) payments from Defendant (Doc. 1, ¶ 3). At an unknown point in time, Defendant concluded that it had overpaid $17, 652 in SSI benefits to Plaintiff and decided to withhold money from her future benefits until the overpayment was recovered (Doc. 16, ¶ 3; Doc. 16-1 at 1). On May 3, 2013, Defendant sent Plaintiff a letter, informing her that it had overpaid her benefits and that $16, 301.80 remained due and unpaid (Doc. 16-1 at 1). The letter advised Plaintiff that she had 60 days to request review of Defendant's decision (Id., at 2).

         On June 24, 2013, Plaintiff's attorney sent a letter to Defendant, informing it that he had been retained by Plaintiff “to represent her in her appeal of a purported Notice of Overpayment of her SSI benefits” (Doc. 16-2 at 2). Included with the letter were a formal Request for Reconsideration (Id., at 1), and a Consent for Release of Information signed by Plaintiff (Id., at 2). Defendant received this correspondence the next day (Id., at 1-2).

         Plaintiff's lawyer sent another letter to Defendant on September 6, 2013, stating that he had not received a response to Plaintiff's request for reconsideration or her consent to the release of information (Doc. 16-4 at 3). Apparently, Defendant denies receipt of this letter.

         On October 3, 2013 Defendant sent a letter to Plaintiff informing her that it had denied her request for reconsideration (Doc. 16-3). The letter also advised Plaintiff that she had 60 days to request a hearing (Id., at 1). The letter does not show a copy to Plaintiff's lawyer and both he and Plaintiff deny receiving the letter (Doc. 20 at 2; Id.).

         Plaintiff's lawyer sent a third letter to Defendant on August 21, 2014, advising that he had not received responses to either of his first two letters (Id., at 2). Included with this letter was a Request for Hearing by Administrative Law Judge and a request for “immediate action” (Id.) (emphasis in original). Defendant received this letter on August 22, 2014 (Id., at 1).

         On March 26, 2015, an administrative law judge (“ALJ”) denied Plaintiff's request for a hearing and entered a Notice of Dismissal (Doc. 16-5). In a separate Order of Dismissal, the ALJ explained that Plaintiff's request for a hearing came more than 65 days after the denial of her request for reconsideration and was therefore, untimely (Id., at 4). The Notice and Order were addressed to Plaintiff, they do not show copies to her lawyer.

         Plaintiff sent Defendant a handwritten letter on June 19, 2015 in which she complained that she was being treated unfairly by her lawyer and Defendant (Doc. 16-6 at 1). She said she needed an opportunity to “get the record straight, ” and asked Defendant to vacate the order dismissing her case (Id., at 2). She also said she had just learned that her lawyer had not filed papers with the Appeals Council and had not followed up on her appeal (Id., at 1-2).

         Because the ALJ's Order of Dismissal was not sent to Plaintiff's lawyer, the Appeals Council found good cause for the later filing of Plaintiff's request for Appeals Council review (Doc. 16-2 at 2). But, the Appeals Council found that the ALJ had not abused his discretion or committed an error of law and therefore, it denied Plaintiff's request for review (Id.).

         On January 11, 2018, Plaintiff filed this action for judicial review of Defendant's decision to garnish her SSI benefits due to an overpayment (Doc. 1). She alleges that she did not receive due process and, consequently, the garnishment action is illegal (Id., at ¶ 12). Plaintiff seeks review of the ALJ's Order of Dismissal and the Appeals Council's decision to deny review. She asks this Court to reverse Defendant's administrative decision and “issue an Order compelling defendant to schedule a new administrative hearing …” (Id., at ¶ 20). Plaintiff maintains that the Court has jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g), 1383(c)(3), and 28 U.S.C. § 1361 to grant her relief (Id., ¶ 3).

         The parties disagree about (1) whether this Court has jurisdiction; (2) whether Plaintiff's untimely request for reconsideration should be excused; and (3) whether Defendant violated Plaintiff's constitutional right to due process by garnishing her benefits before giving her an ...


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