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Langill v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. New Hampshire

February 20, 2015

Amanda Michelle Langill
v.
Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner, Social Security Administration Opinion No. 2015 DNH 027

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

PAUL BARBADORO, District Judge.

Amanda Michelle Langill seeks judicial review of the Commissioner's refusal to reopen her previously denied claim for disability insurance benefits. She argues that she established good cause to reopen because she showed that mental incapacity prevented her from understanding the procedures for appealing her denied claim. For the reasons that follow, I conclude that substantial evidence supports the Commissioner's decision. I therefore grant the Commissioner's motion to affirm her decision and deny Langill's motion to reverse.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Procedural History

In July 2009, Langill, acting without legal counsel, filed a claim for disability insurance benefits and supplemental security income. In her claim, Langill alleged disability due to "[f]ibromyalgia, rapid heartbeat, sinus arrhythmia, and foot problems." Tr. at 290. The Social Security Administration denied Langill's claim in October 2009. Langill did not timely seek further review of the Commissioner's denial, rendering the decision final.

On August 2, 2011, Langill filed another claim for disability benefits, this time represented by counsel. In that claim, Langill sought supplemental security income as of her application date. She also asked the Commissioner to reopen her previously denied claim for disability insurance benefits, alleging an onset date of December 31, 2008, her date last insured. Her claim was denied in December 2011, and she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). That hearing took place on October 24, 2012.

On October 26, 2012, the ALJ found Langill disabled as of her application date, August 2, 2011, and awarded her supplemental security income benefits as of that date. Tr. at 22. The ALJ, however, declined to reopen Langill's prior claim for disability insurance benefits. Tr. at 14-15. He found that Langill had not submitted new and material evidence, and he determined that Langill did not lack the mental capacity to understand the procedures for seeking further review of her claim when it was denied in October 2009. Tr. at 14-15. Thus, he concluded, Langill had failed to demonstrate good cause to reopen her initial claim. Tr. 14-15.

The Appeals Council affirmed the ALJ's decision in November 2013. On December 9, 2013, Langill filed a complaint in this Court seeking judicial review of the ALJ's refusal to reopen her 2009 application for disability insurance benefits. Doc. No. 1. On May 23, 2014, Langill filed an amended complaint. Doc. No. 13. As is relevant here, the amended complaint alleges that Langill "suffered violation of her due process because the ALJ did not follow SSA regulations to determine if she had good cause for re-opening... [Langill] showed good cause based on mental capacity." Id. at 1.[1]

The Commissioner moved to dismiss Langill's amended complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Doc. No. 15. I denied the Commissioner's motion in January 2015, concluding that Langill had raised a colorable constitutional claim by alleging lack of mental capacity to understand how to appeal the denial of her 2009 claim. Doc. No. 18. I now proceed to rule on both the Commissioner's motion to affirm her decision, Doc. No. 19, and Langill's motion to reverse or remand the decision, Doc. No. 11.

B. Stipulated Facts

Pursuant to this Court's Local Rule 9.1, the parties have submitted a joint statement of stipulated facts. Doc. No. 20. Because their joint statement is part of the Court's record, I need not recount it here. Facts relevant to the disposition of this matter are discussed as necessary below.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Under 42 U.S.C. ยง 405(g), I am authorized to review the pleadings submitted by the parties and the administrative record and enter a judgment affirming, modifying, or reversing the "final decision" of the Commissioner. My review "is limited to determining whether the ALJ used the proper legal standards and found facts [based] upon the proper quantum of evidence." Ward v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 211 F.3d 652, 655 (1st Cir. 2000). Findings of fact made by the ALJ are accorded deference as long as they are supported by substantial evidence. Id . Substantial evidence to support factual findings exists "if a reasonable mind, reviewing the evidence in the record as a whole, could accept it as adequate to support his conclusion.'" Irlanda Ortiz v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 955 F.2d 765, 769 (1st Cir. 1991) (per curiam) (quoting Rodriguez v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 647 F.2d 218, 222 (1st Cir. 1981)). If the substantial evidence standard is met, factual findings are conclusive even if the record "arguably could support a different conclusion." Id. at 770. Findings are not conclusive, however, if they are derived by "ignoring evidence, misapplying the law, or judging matters entrusted to ...


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