First Circuit Court of Appeal Addresses Statute of Limitations in Social Security Disability Appeal

Whether state court or federal court, the civil justice system relies upon due process to ensure all parties are fairly heard and considered. Part of due process is the statute of limitations, which provides deadlines for parties for many parts of the litigation, including filing, responding, requesting evidence, and providing evidence. If deadlines are missed, the party missing the deadline can potentially be precluded from either moving forward with the litigation as the plaintiff, or maintaining an affirmative defense as the defendant. The First Circuit Court of Appeals addressed the effect of a missed deadline in a Massachusetts Social Security Disability appeal for benefits in a recent case (No. 16-2188).

The SSI claimant filed for Social Security Disability Insurance benefits (SSDI) in 2012, which were denied three months later and on reconsideration three months after that. A hearing was held 14 months later, ultimately concluding in an unfavorable decision for the claimant. The ALJ found he was not disabled and was ineligible for SSDI. The claimant then asked the agency’s Appeals Council to review the administrative law judge’s determination. The council denied the request, finalizing the ALJ’s denial of benefits.

The council’s denial included a notice that the claimant has 60 days to file a civil action or ask a federal court for a review. The notice specifically stated that the 60 days start the day after the claimant receives the letter and that it is assumed the letter was received within five days after the date stamped on the Notice, unless the claimant can show otherwise. The notice also advises that if the claimant is unable to file for a review within 60 days, an extension is available as long as there is a good reason for waiting more than 60 days to ask for a court review. This request for an extension must be in writing.

The council’s notice was sent on July 21, 2015. The claimant’s lawsuit asking for a judicial review of the final decision was filed in federal district court on September 28, 2015. The Commissioner moved to dismiss the claimant’s lawsuit on March 4, 2016, alleging the complaint was filed untimely under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (2015). The U.S. Magistrate recommended the motion be granted in a Report and Recommendation, which was accepted by the federal district court. The claimant then filed the present appeal.

In its analysis, the circuit court affirmed the information provided in the notice was based both on the statutory provisions created by Congress and on case law addressing notice. The filing period is not to be considered jurisdictional but a period of limitations. The Council’s notice was dated July 21, 2015, so the presumed five days allowed for delivery ended on July 26, 2015. Sixty days after this would be September 24, 2015 – four days before the claimant filed suit. In his appeal, the claimant argued the 60-day period started with his actual receipt of the notice on August 1, 2015, which would extend the 60-day period to September 30, 2015. To support his argument, the claimant included a copy of the fax and affidavit sent on August 1, 2015. The circuit court disagreed that this was proof of his receipt, concluding it only showed the day he contacted his attorney.

The appellate court pointed out that the claimant’s recollection that he received the notice much later than five days was not enough to rebut the presumption that the notice was received within five days. The circuit court was also not persuaded by the claimant’s argument the Commissioner failed to show the notice was mailed on July 21, 2015, pointing out it is the claimant’s burden to rebut the presumption rather than the agency’s burden to prove it was mailed on the date of the notice. The dismissal was affirmed.

If you have applied for SSI and have been denied, contact our office for experienced Social Security counsel. This case shows how important deadlines can be, so contact the Massachusetts Social Security Disability attorneys at the Law Office of James K. Meehan today for a free, confidential consultation at 508.822.6600.

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