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Mendez v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Nevada

March 20, 2019

ROSA I. MENDEZ, Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.



         Plaintiff Rosa I. Mendez has submitted an Application to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (ECF No. 1) pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 along with a proposed Complaint (ECF No. 1-1). The Application and Complaint are referred to the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and LR IB 1-3 of the Local Rules of Practice.

         I. In Forma Pauperis Application

         Ms. Mendez's Application includes the affidavit required by § 1915(a) showing an inability to prepay fees and costs or give security for them. Accordingly, the request to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") will be granted. The court will now review the proposed Complaint.

         II. Screening the Complaint

         A. Legal Standards

         Federal courts must screen any IFP complaint or amended complaint before allowing the case to move forward, issuing summons, and requiring an answer or responsive pleading. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1129 (9th Cir. 2000). Courts are required to dismiss an IFP action if the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The standard for determining whether a plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under § 1915 is the same as the standard under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure[1] for failure to state a claim. Watison v. Carter, 668 F.3d 1108, 1112 (9th Cir. 2012). A screening under Rule 12(b)(6) is essentially a ruling on a question of law. North Star Intern, v. Ariz. Corp. Comm 'n, 720 F.2d 578, 580 (9th Cir. 1983); Navarro v. Block, 250 F.3d 729, 732 (9th Cir. 2001) (noting that the purpose of Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the legal sufficiency of a complaint). When a court dismisses a complaint pursuant to § 1915, a plaintiff is ordinarily given leave to amend with directions as to curing its deficiencies, unless it is clear from the face of the complaint that the deficiencies cannot be cured by amendment. Cato v. United States, 70 F.3d 1103, 1106 (9th Cir. 1995).

         A properly pled complaint must provide "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To avoid dismissal, a plaintiff must allege enough facts to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim has facial plausibility when a plaintiff alleges factual content that allows the court to make a reasonable inference that a defendant is liable for the claim alleged. Teixeira v. County of Alameda, 873 F.3d 670, 678 (9th Cir. 2017) (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)). Although Rule 8(a) does not require detailed factual allegations, it demands "more than labels and conclusions." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Merely reciting the elements of a cause of action and providing only conclusory allegations will not be enough to survive the court's review. Id. at 679-80.

         Here, Ms. Mendez challenges a decision by the Social Security Administration ("SSA") denying her supplemental security income under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. Compl. ¶ 3. To state a valid benefits claim, a complaint must give the Commissioner fair notice of the plaintiffs claim and the grounds upon which it rests. Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d 1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011) (a complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations "to enable the opposing party to defend itself effectively"). A plaintiff must present sufficient detail for the court to understand the disputed issues so that it can meaningfully screen the complaint. E.g., 4 Soc. Sec. Law & Prac. § 56:4 (2016); 2 Soc. Sec. Disability Claims Prac. & Proc. §§ 19:92-93 (2nd ed. 2015). To do so, a complaint should state when and how a plaintiff exhausted her administrative remedies and the nature of her disability, including the date she claims she became disabled. The complaint should also contain a short and concise statement identifying why the SSA's decision was wrong and showing that the plaintiff is entitled to relief. Sabbia v. Comm 'r Soc. Sec. Admin., 669 F.Supp.2d 914, 918 (N.D. Ill. 2009) (social security appellants "must not treat the matter as a simple formality" by submitting "extremely perfunctory" allegations in a complaint for judicial review), aff'd, 433 Fed.Appx. 462 (7th Cir. 2011); Soc. Sec. Disability Law & Pro. § 9:8 (Apr. 2018 update) ("The complaint must include a statement as to what the Commissioner did that was wrong, and why it was wrong." (emphasis added)).

         B. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

         Before a plaintiff can sue the Commissioner in federal court, she must exhaust her administrative remedies. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); Bass v. Social Sec. Admin., 872 F.2d 832, 833 (9th Cir. 1989) ("Section 405(g) provides that a civil action may be brought only after (1) the claimant has been party to a hearing held by the Secretary, and (2) the Secretary has made a final decision on the claim"). Generally, if the SSA denies an application for disability benefits, a claimant can request reconsideration of the decision. If the claim is denied upon reconsideration, a claimant may request a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). If the ALJ denies the claim, a claimant may request review of the decision by the Appeals Council. If the Appeals Council declines to review the ALJ's decision, a claimant may then request review by the United States District Court. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.981, 416.1481.

         A civil action for judicial review must be filed within 60 days after receipt of the Appeals Council's notice of a final decision. Id; 42 U.S.C. § 405(g); 20 C.F.R. § 405.501. The SSA assumes that the notice of final decision will be received by mail within five days of the date on the notice unless shown otherwise. 20 C.F.R. §§416.1401, 422.210(c). Thus, an action commenced within 65 days is presumed timely. Id. If a claimant does not file a civil action within the allowed time frame, he or she loses the right to judicial review. 20 C.F.R. § 404.900(b). The civil action must be filed in the judicial district in which the claimant resides. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).

         In this case, Ms. Mendez alleges that on January 4, 2019, the Appeals Council denied the request for review and the ALJ's decision became the Commissioner's final decision. Compl. ¶ 8. Thus, it appears she has exhausted her administrative remedies. She timely commenced this action as the Complaint was filed on March 1, 2019, and the Complaint indicates that she resides within the District of Nevada. Id. ¶ 1. Accordingly, Mendez has satisfied these prerequisites for judicial review.

         C. Grounds for Ms. Mendez's Appeal and the ...

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