Miller v. Colvin
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER re: 16 MOTION for Reconsideration re 15 Memorandum & Order, filed by Plaintiff Lisa K. Miller. IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Miller's Motion for Reconsideration (Doc. No. 16) is granted. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Co urt's October 17, 2016 Memorandum and Ordergranting Defendant's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 15) is hereby VACATED. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant shall file an Answer within 60 days of thisOrder. Along with its Answer, Defendant shall fil e a transcript of the record, in accordance with 42 U.S.C. 405(g). IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the time limitations contained in the Case Management Order entered on May 17, 2016 shall otherwise apply. Signed by Magistrate Judge Abbie Crites-Leoni on 12/9/16. (CSG)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
LISA K. MILLER,
CAROLYN W. COLVIN,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
) Case No. 4:16CV685 ACL
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Plaintiff Lisa K. Miller brings this action pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ' 405(g), seeking
judicial review of the Social Security Administration Commissioner’s denial of her application for
benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. Presently pending before the Court is Miller’s
Motion for Reconsideration of the Court’s Memorandum and Order granting Defendant’s Motion
to Dismiss. (Doc. 16.) For the reasons discussed below, Miller’s Motion for Reconsideration
will be granted.
I. Procedural History
Miller’s application for benefits was denied in a written opinion by an administrative law
judge (“ALJ”) dated April 24, 2014. (Doc. 13-2.) On August 12, 2015, the Appeals Council
denied Miller’s request for review, and notified Miller that she had sixty days to file a civil action.
(Doc. 13-3.) The Appeals Council further stated that the sixty-day period starts the day after
Miller received the Appeals Council’s letter, and that it is assumed she received the letter five days
after the date of the letter. Id. In a letter dated October 19, 2015, Miller requested an extension
of time to file a civil action. (Doc. 13-4.) On January 12, 2016, the Appeals Council granted
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Miller’s request for an extension, and extended the time within which she could file a civil action
to thirty days from the date she received that letter. (Doc. 13-5.) The Appeals Council again
explained that it is assumed she received the letter within five days after the date of the letter. Id.
Miller filed the instant Complaint on May 16, 2016.
Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss on July 21, 2016, in which she argued that Miller’s
appeal of the Commissioner’s final decision must be dismissed because it was untimely filed.
In her Response, Miller stated that she disagreed with Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, and
provided additional argument in support of her claim for disability benefits.
In a Memorandum and Order dated October 17, 2016, the Court found that Miller’s
Complaint was due on February 16, 2016, and that her Complaint filed on May 16, 2016 was
untimely. (Doc. 15.) The undersigned further found that Miller had provided no argument or
evidence demonstrating that equitable tolling applied in this case. Defendant’s Motion to
Dismiss was, therefore, granted and Miller’s action was dismissed.
On November 4, 2016, Miller filed the instant Motion for Reconsideration, in which she
explains why her Complaint was untimely, and requests that the Court reconsider the October 17,
2016 Memorandum and Order granting Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 16.)
II. Miller’s Motion for Reconsideration
The Court construes Miller’s Motion for Reconsideration as a motion pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b). Rule 60(b) motions may only be used to reconsider a final order
on certain enumerated grounds such as “(1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect;
(2) newly discovered evidence ...; (3) fraud ..., misrepresentation, or misconduct by an opposing
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party; (4) the judgment is void; (5) the judgment has been satisfied, released or discharged ...; or
(6) any other reason that justifies relief.” A party moving for reconsideration pursuant to any
portion of Rule 60(b) must “establish ‘exceptional circumstances’ to obtain the ‘extraordinary
relief’ the rule provides.” De Wit v. Firstar Corp., 904 F. Supp. 1476, 1496 (N. D. Iowa 1995)
(quoting United States v. One Parcel of Prop. Located at Tracts 10 and 11 of Lakeview Heights,
Canyon Lake, Comal County, Texas, 51 F.3d 117, 119 (8th Cir. 1995)). A district court has wide
discretion in deciding whether to grant a Rule 60(b) motion, but the Eighth Circuit has cautioned
that “exceptional circumstances are not present every time a party is subject to potentially
unfavorable consequences as a result of an adverse judgment properly arrived at.” Atkinson v.
Prudential Prop. Co., Inc., 43 F.3d 367, 373 (8th Cir. 1994).
In her Motion for Reconsideration, Miller provides an explanation for the untimeliness of
her Complaint. Miller states that she was told by an employee at the “Hannibal District office”
that her “district to appeal at the civil level is in Kansas City, Mo., office of Region Chief Council,
Region 7..” (Doc. 16 at 1.) Miller states that she sent her Complaint1 to the Kansas City office,
and that it was forwarded to the Hannibal District office. Id. Miller attached a copy of her
Complaint, which is stamped “Received FEB 17 2016, OGC/SSA” on the back of the document
(Doc. 16 at 8.), and “HANNIBAL, MISSOURI, MAR 09 2016, D0741 SSA DISTRICT OFFICE”
on the front of the document (Id. at 5). Miller explains that she subsequently spoke to someone at
the “Appeals Court,” who informed her that her “district for appealing in civil courts” was in St.
Louis, at the following address: Office of the Clerk, United States District Court, Eastern District
of Missouri, 111 S. Tenth Street, St. Louis, Missouri 63102.” Id. at 2. Miller states that she
Miller refers to this document alternatively as a “request letter,” “complaint letter” and “letter.”
For ease, the Court will refer to this document as a Complaint.
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spoke with someone from the United States District Court in St. Louis (“St. Louis Court”) and
“explained her circumstances.” Id. at 3. The individual with whom she spoke indicated that he
would send her a form, and directed her to complete the form and send it to the St. Louis Court.
Id. Miller states that she mailed her Complaint to the St. Louis Court at that time. Id. Miller
also indicated that she received the form sent to her by the St. Louis Court on April 6, 2016, and
that she completed the form and mailed it to the St. Louis Court. Id. Finally, Miller states that
approximately one month after mailing the form, she was notified that her case was being
“continued at the office of the Clerk, United States District Court Southeastern Division, 555
Independence Street, Cape Girardeau, Missouri 63703.” Id.
Title 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) governs judicial review of final decisions of the Commissioner in
Social Security matters. Pursuant to § 405(g),
[a]ny 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.
The promulgated regulations provide that a civil action under § 405(g) “must be commenced
within sixty days after notice of the Appeals Council decision ‘is received by the individual.’”
Bess v. Barnhart, 337 F.3d 988, 989 (8th Cir. 2003) (per curiam ) (quoting 20 C.F.R. §
422.210(c)); see also 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481. The regulations further provide that the
date the individual receives notice is presumed to be five days after the date of the notice, “unless
there is a reasonable showing to the contrary.” 20 C.F.R. § 422.210(c); see also 20 C.F.R. §§
The sixty-day time period is not jurisdictional, but rather constitutes a statute of limitations.
Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 478 (1986) (citing Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319,
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328 n. 9 (1976); Weinberger v. Salfi, 422 U.S. 749, 764 (1975)). “[T]he statute of limitations
embodied in § 405(g) is a mechanism by which Congress was able to move cases to speedy
resolution in a bureaucracy that processes millions of claims annually.” City of New York, 476
U.S. at 481. It is well established that, in the absence of equitable tolling, failure to comply with
the sixty-day limitation warrants dismissal. See generally Bess, 337 F.3d 988; Turner v. Bowen,
862 F.2d 708, 710 (8th Cir. 1988) (per curiam ).
As noted above, equitable tolling of the sixty-day limitation is allowed “in some cases,”
City of New York, 476 U.S. at 480, and specifically in those cases “where the equities in favor of
tolling the limitations period are ‘so great that deference to the agency’s judgment is
inappropriate.’” Id. (quoting Eldridge, 424 U.S. at 330). The Eighth Circuit has allowed
equitable tolling in situations where the claimant has actively pursued her judicial remedies by
filing a defective pleading during the statutory period, or where circumstances involve conduct (by
someone other than the claimant) that is misleading or fraudulent such as where the claimant has
been induced or tricked by her adversary’s misconduct into allowing the filing deadline to pass.
Medellin v. Shalala, 23 F.3d 199, 204 (8th Cir. 1994); Turner, 862 F.2d at 710 (citing Smith v.
McClammy, 740 F.2d 925, 927 (11th Cir. 1984)). Equitable relief, however, is typically extended
“only sparingly.” Medellin, 23 F.3d at 204.
In this case, at the time the Court ruled on Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, the Court was
not aware of the history of Miller’s attempts to properly file a Complaint. In her Response in
Opposition to Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, Miller only discussed the merits of her claim for
disability benefits. (Doc. 14.) Miller also attached medical records.2 (Doc. 14-1.)
The Court notes that the Complaint discussed herein was included within this Attachment.
Because the Complaint was in the middle of a fifty-seven-page document of medical records and
Miller did not discuss it in her Response, the Court overlooked the Complaint when ruling on
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from Miller’s Motion for Reconsideration that she mistakenly thought she was initiating a civil
action by mailing her Complaint to the Social Security Administration (“SSA”). Miller’s
confusion likely resulted from the notice from the Appeals Council advising her that she must send
a copy of the Complaint and summons to the SSA Office of the General Counsel. (Doc. 13-3 at
Miller’s Complaint was received by the SSA Office of the General Counsel on February
17, 2016. (Doc. 16 at 8.) As previously noted, the Appeals Council extended the time in which
to file a civil action to thirty days from the date of its January 12, 2016 letter, and the law presumes
that Miller received the letter within five days of its issuance—January 17, 2016—unless there is a
showing to the contrary. See 20 C.F.R. '' 404.901, 416.1401. The Court, therefore, found in the
Memorandum and Order granting Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss that Miller’s Complaint was due
on February 16, 2016. The Court notes that January 17, 2016 was a Sunday. If it is presumed
that Miller received the letter by the next business day of Monday, January 18, 2016, then Miller
had until February 17, 2016, to file a civil action. Miller’s Complaint was received by the SSA on
February 17, 2016, within the filing deadline.
Although the equitable tolling doctrine has been applied sparingly, equitable relief has
been extended where the claimant has “actively pursued his judicial remedies by filing a defective
pleading during the statutory period.” Irwin v. Dep’t of Veterans Affairs, 498 U.S. 89, 96 (1990)
(citing Burnett v. New York Central R. Co., 380 U.S. 424 (1965) (Plaintiff timely filed complaint in
wrong court), and Herb v. Pitcairn, 325 U.S. 77 (1945) (same)). In addition, equitable tolling has
been applied where the claimant “has been induced or tricked by his adversary’s misconduct into
allowing the filing deadline to pass.” Id. (citing Glus v. Brooklyn Eastern Dist. Terminal, 359
Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss.
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U.S. 231 (1959) (adversary’s misrepresentation caused plaintiff to let filing period lapse)).
Further, there is a judicial preference for adjudication on the merits. See Roark v. Astrue, No.
4:07CV2067HEA, 2009 WL 3261844 (E.D. Mo. Oct. 8, 2009) (applying equitable tolling, noting
that “the Court is of the opinion that Plaintiff should be allowed to proceed, particularly
considering the notion that suits should, if possible, be resolved on the merits”).
Here, Miller’s Motion for Reconsideration demonstrates that Miller diligently attempted to
pursue her judicial remedies, but mistakenly sent her Complaint to the SSA office rather than the
United States District Court. The Complaint was received by the SSA within the filing period.
Miller has set out her efforts to file her Complaint in the proper court, which was not accomplished
due to no fault of her own, until May 16, 2016. If the Court were aware of this information when
ruling on Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, the outcome would have been different. Thus, because
Miller is pro se, and actively pursued her judicial remedies by mailing her Complaint to the wrong
entity within the filing deadline, and due to the judicial preference of resolving suits on the merits,
the Court will exercise its discretion and grant Miller’s Motion for Reconsideration.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Miller’s Motion for Reconsideration (Doc. No. 16) is
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Court’s October 17, 2016 Memorandum and Order
grating Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 15) is hereby VACATED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendant shall file an Answer within 60 days of this
Order. Along with its Answer, Defendant shall file a transcript of the record, in accordance with
42 U.S.C. ' 405(g).
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the time limitations contained in the Case
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Management Order entered on May 17, 2016 shall otherwise apply.
s/ Abbie Crites-Leoni
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Dated this 9th day of December, 2016.
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