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Robinette v. Commissioner of Social Security

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

July 26, 2018

JUSTIN MICHAEL ROBINETTE, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF Social Security, Defendant.

          ORDER

          CARLOS E. MENDOZA UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. 1), which seeks judicial review of a final decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“Commissioner”) denying his request for a hearing regarding the termination of his Social Security benefits. Also, before the Court is the Commissioner's Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 16). United States Magistrate Judge Daniel C. Irick issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R, ” Doc. 23), in which he recommends that the Court deny the motion and reverse and remand the case for further proceedings on the merits of Plaintiff's claim. The Commissioner filed an Objection to the R&R (Doc. 26), to which Plaintiff filed a Response (Doc. 27). After a de novo review of the record, the Court will adopt and confirm the R&R.

         I. Legal Standard

         Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), when a party makes a timely objection, the Court shall review de novo any portions of a magistrate judge's report and recommendation concerning specific proposed findings or recommendations to which an objection is made. See also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(3). De novo review “require[s] independent consideration of factual issues based on the record.” Jeffrey S. v. State Bd. of Educ. of Ga., 896 F.2d 507, 513 (11th Cir. 1990) (per curiam). The district court “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

         II. Analysis

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         A federal court's review of claims for disability benefits is limited by the Social Security Act, which provides, in relevant part, that:

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 within such further time as the Commissioner of Social Security may allow.

42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         Relying on Bloodsworth v. Heckler, 703 F.2d 1233 (11th Cir. 1983) and Counts v. Commissioner of Social Security, No. 6:09-cv-1257-Orl-22KRS, 2010 WL 5174498 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 15, 2010), Judge Irick concluded that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this matter because Plaintiff received a final decision from the Commissioner once Plaintiff sought, and the Appeals Council declined, review of the administrative law judge's (“ALJ”) order dismissing his request for a hearing.

         In objecting to the R&R, the Commissioner asserts that Bloodsworth does not control the outcome of this case because, in Bloodsworth, the ALJ issued a decision after conducting a hearing, and the Appeals Council declined to review the ALJ's decision, thereby making the decision final. In this case, however, Plaintiff did not appear for his hearing. Therefore, the Commissioner maintains that Plaintiff never received “a final decision” subject to judicial review under § 405(g).[1]

         However, in the words of the Eleventh Circuit, the Commissioner's argument “makes linguistic but not legal sense.” Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1239. “The dismissal of a request for Appeals Council review is binding and not subject to further administrative review.” Id. at 1237 (citing 20 C.F.R. § 404.981 (1982)); see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.972. As corollary, the dismissal of a request for Appeals Council review is a “final decision” from which a claimant is entitled to file a timely appeal in federal court pursuant to § 405(g). Bloodsworth, 703 F.2d at 1237 (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.972 and 404.981). Therefore, if the Court were to adopt the Commissioner's argument, Plaintiff would be left with no recourse to challenge a final decision from the Commissioner.

         As one court eloquently put it, “[h]e cannot seek further administrative review because he has exhausted all of his administrative remedies, and yet under the [Commissioner]'s argument he is foreclosed from judicial review because he has not exhausted his administrative remedies.” Macheski v. Leavitt, No. 4:06-cv-85 CDL, 2007 WL 2710466, at *4 (M.D. Ga. Sept. 13, 2007). These are the very results that the Eleventh Circuit rejected in Bloodsworth.

         Applying the principles and rationale in Bloodsworth, the Court finds that Plaintiff exhausted his administrative remedies once he sought, and the Appeals Council denied, review of the ALJ's order dismissing his request for a hearing. By denying review of the ALJ's decision, the Appeals Council finalized the decision, thereby opening the door to appeal to this Court regardless of whether Plaintiff had a hearing before the ALJ. Accordingly, the Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this matter. See Wright v. Colvin, No. 3:12-cv-1007-J-32TEM, 2013 WL 5567409, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 9, 2013) (concluding that the court had subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiff's appeal where the plaintiff had no hearing before the ALJ who ...


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