Chase v. Berryhill
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Magistrate Judge Stephanie A Gallagher on 11/13/2017. (dass, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
BARBARA ANN CHASE,
Case No.: SAG-17-1823
On July 4, 2017, Plaintiff Barbara Ann Chase (“Ms. Chase”) petitioned this Court to
review the Social Security Administration’s final decision to deny her claim for disability
benefits. [ECF No. 1]. Currently pending is the Commissioner’s Motion to Dismiss Ms.
Chase’s Complaint. [ECF No. 13]. I have reviewed that Motion, Ms. Chase’s Opposition, and
the Commissioner’s Reply. [ECF Nos. 13, 14, 15]. I find that no hearing is necessary. See
Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md. 2016).
For the reasons explained below, I will grant the
Commissioner’s Motion to Dismiss.
On April 28, 2017, the Appeals Council mailed Ms. Chase notice of its decision denying
her request for review of an adverse decision issued by an Administrative Law Judge, regarding
her claim for benefits. [ECF No. 14-1]. That notice also advised Ms. Chase of her statutory
right to commence a civil action within sixty days from receipt of the notice. Id. See 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g)-(h). The Commissioner’s implementing regulations have interpreted the statute to
permit sixty-five days from the date of the notice, to allow sufficient time for mailing the
notice. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.901, 422.210(c). Ms. Chase therefore had to file her civil action on or
before July 2, 2017. Instead, Ms. Chase filed her complaint two days late, on July 4, 2017.
[ECF No. 1].
Ms. Chase’s attorney, Howard D. Olinsky, Esq., filed a declaration alleging that his
office received the Commissioner’s denial letter on May 5, 2017, citing a date stamp on that
document to corroborate that assertion. [ECF No. 14-2]. It is unclear from the record presented
to this Court, however, whether Mr. Olinsky served as Ms. Chase’s counsel at the administrative
level. The notice of Appeals Council action was sent directly to Ms. Chase at her home address,
and was copied to a disability attorney named Bradford Myler in Lehi, Utah. [ECF No. 14-1].
The date when Mr. Olinsky’s office first received the denial letter cannot be determinative if he
was not counsel of record for Ms. Chase. Moreover, even if Mr. Olinsky had been counsel of
record and had received the denial letter directly from the Commissioner on May 5, 2017, Ms.
Chase has not submitted any evidence regarding the date that she personally received her copy of
the letter. None of the cases Ms. Chase cites suggests that the limitations period runs exclusively
from the date counsel receives notice. To the contrary, courts have held either that the operative
date is the date the letter is received personally by the claimant, see, e.g., Cook v. Commissioner
of Soc. Sec., 480 F.3d 432, 436 (6th Cir. 2007); Franks v. Apfel, Civil No. 98-15948, 1999 WL
362901, at *1 (9th Cir. May 20, 1999); Flores v. Sullivan, 945 F.2d 109, 111-12 (5th Cir. 1991),
or the date on which the letter is received by the claimant or her attorney, whichever occurs first.
See, e.g., Bess v. Barnhart, 337 F.3d 988, 990 (8th Cir. 2003). Here, with no evidence that Ms.
Chase personally received the letter outside of the standard five-day period for mailing, there is
no basis for this Court to alter the standard limitations period.
Congress has authorized lawsuits seeking judicial review of decisions by the
Commissioner only under certain limited conditions, including specified filing deadlines. City of
Tacoma v. Taxpayers of Tacoma, 357 U.S. 320, 336 (1958). The limitations period must
therefore be strictly enforced, absent (1) an agreement by the Commissioner to toll the deadlines,
or (2) a valid basis for equitable tolling of the deadlines. “[B]ecause of the importance of
respecting limitations periods, equitable tolling is appropriate only ‘where the defendant has
wrongfully deceived or misled the plaintiff in order to conceal the existence of a cause of
action.’” Kokotis v. U.S. Postal Service, 223 F.3d 275, 280 (4th Cir. 2000) (quoting English v.
Pabst Brewing Co., 828 F.2d 1047, 1049 (4th Cir. 1987)). Ms. Chase has not alleged, and the
record does not reflect, any misconduct on the part of the Commissioner in this case. As a result,
equitable tolling is not warranted. Ms. Chase filed her case after the statutory limitations period
had run. Accordingly, the Commissioner’s Motion to Dismiss is granted.
For the reasons set forth above, the Commissioner’s Motion to Dismiss, (ECF No. 13), is
GRANTED, and the Clerk is directed to CLOSE this case.
A separate order follows.
Dated: November 13, 2017
Stephanie A. Gallagher
United States Magistrate Judge
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