United States District Court, D. Nevada
ROBERT L. HOWARD, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
SCREENING ORDER (AM. COMPL – ECF NO.
A. LEEN, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
matter involves Plaintiff Robert L. Howard’s appeal and
request for judicial review of the Acting Commissioner of
Social Security, Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill’s final
decision denying his claim for disability insurance benefits
under Title II of the Social Security Act (the
“Act”), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401–33. Mr.
Howard has submitted an Amended Complaint (ECF No. 5) in
accordance with the court’s Order (ECF No. 3)
dismissing the original complaint with leave to amend. The
Amended Complaint is referred to the undersigned for
re-screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and LR
IB 1-3 of the Local Rules of Practice.
granting a request to proceed in forma pauperis, a
federal court must additionally screen the complaint and any
amended complaints filed prior to a responsive pleading.
Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1129 (9th Cir. 2000)
(en banc) (§ 1915(e) “applies to all in forma
pauperis complaints”). The simplified pleading
standard set forth in Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure applies to all civil actions, with limited
exceptions. Alvarez v. Hill, 518 F.3d 1152, 1159
(9th Cir. 2008). For purposes of 28 U.S.C. §
1915’s screening requirement, a properly pled complaint
must therefore provide “a short and plain statement of
the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to
relief.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2); see also Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007).
Although Rule 8 does not require detailed factual
allegations, it demands “more than labels and
conclusions” or a “formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action.” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citation omitted). A
complaint “must contain sufficient allegations of
underlying facts to give fair notice and to enable the
opposing party to defend itself effectively.” Starr
v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011).
Mr. Howard challenges a decision by the Social Security
Administration (“SSA”) denying his disability
insurance benefits under Titles II of the Act. See
Am. Compl. (ECF No. 5) ¶ 6. To state a valid benefits
claim, a complaint must give the defendant fair notice of
what the plaintiff’s claim is and the grounds upon
which it rests. See Starr, 652 F.3d at 1216.
Although this showing need not be made in great detail, it
must be presented in sufficient detail for the court to
understand the disputed issues so that it can meaningfully
screen the complaint. See 4 Soc. Sec. Law &
Prac. § 56:4 (2015).
Amended Complaint seeks judicial review of the
Commissioner’s decision denying benefits and asks the
court to reverse that decision, or alternatively, to remand
this matter for a new hearing. A district court can affirm,
modify, reverse, or remand a decision if a plaintiff has
exhausted his administrative remedies and timely filed a
civil action. However, judicial review of the
Commissioner’s decision to deny benefits is limited to
determining: (a) whether there is substantial evidence in the
record as a whole to support the findings of the
Commissioner; and (b) whether the correct legal standards
were applied. Morgan v. Comm’r Soc. Sec.
Admin., 169 F.3d 595, 599 (9th Cir. 1999).
review of the original complaint, the court determined that
Mr. Howard failed to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted. See Screening Order (ECF No. 3). He did not
state the nature of the disability or allege when it
commenced. Id. Additionally, Howard merely alleged
that the Commissioner’s decision to deny benefits was
wrong but failed to indicate why the decision was
wrong. Id. The court found that a complaint merely
stating that the decision was wrong but failing to describe
the underlying reasons was insufficient to satisfy Rule
8’s pleading requirement. Id. (citing
Starr, 652 F.3d at 1216).
Amended Complaint alleges that Mr. Howard has been disabled
since the application date of December 2, 2014, through the
decision date of March 3, 2017. See Am. Compl. (ECF
No. 5) ¶ 5. The Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) found Howard to have the severe
impairments of mood disorder and alcohol abuse. Id.
¶ 9(a). Despite these severe impairments, the ALJ found
him to retain the residual functional capacity to perform the
full range of work with certain non-exertional limitations.
Id. ¶ 9(b). Mr. Howard alleges that the ALJ
erred by relying on the vocational expert’s testimony,
which deviates from the information in the Dictionary of
Occupational Titles (“DOT”). Id. ¶
9(e). Additionally, Howard asserts the ALJ erred by rejecting
the consultative examiner’s opinion that Howard is
limited to a range of light work, which would be disabling
based on Howard’s vocational profile. Id.
¶ 9(f). The Amended Complaint contains sufficient
allegations of underlying facts to give the Defendant fair
notice of Howard’s disagreement with the SSA’s
final determination. The court therefore finds that his
Amended Complaint states a claim for initial screening
IT IS ORDERED:
1. The Clerk of Court shall issue summons to the United
States Attorney for the District of Nevada and deliver the
summons and Amended Complaint (ECF No. 5) to the U.S. Marshal
2. The Clerk of the Court shall also issue summons to the
Commissioner of the Social Security Administration and
Attorney General of the United States.
3. Mr. Howard shall serve the Commissioner of the Social
Security Administration by sending a copy of the summons and
Amended Complaint by certified mail to: (1) Office of
Regional Chief Counsel, Region IX, Social Security
Administration, 160 Spear St., Suite 899, San Francisco,
California 94105-1545; and (2) the Attorney General of the
United States, Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania
Avenue, N.W., Room 4400, Washington, D.C. 20530.
4. Following the Defendant’s filing of an answer, the
court will issue a scheduling order setting a briefing
5. From this point forward, Mr. Howard shall serve upon
Defendant or, if appearance has been entered by counsel, upon
the attorney, a copy of every pleading, motion, or other
document filed with the Clerk of the Court pursuant to LR IC
1-1 and 4-1 of the Local Rules of Practice. In accordance
with LR IC 4-1(d), the parties shall include with each filing
a certificate of service stating that a true and correct copy
of the document was served on an opposing party or counsel
for an opposing party and indicating how service was
accomplished. The court may disregard any paper received by a
district judge or magistrate judge that has not been filed