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Thomas v. Commissioner of the Social Security Administration

November 18, 2010

SADE N. THOMAS, A/K/A SADE N. KEYTON
v.
COMMISSIONER OF THE SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION SADE N. THOMAS, APPELLANT



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, D.C. Civil Action No. 2-07-cv-04779 (Honorable Stanley R. Chesler).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jones, District Judge.

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued April 20, 2010

Before: SCIRICA and AMBRO, Circuit Judges, and JONES*fn1, District Judge.

OPINION OF THE COURT

Sade N. Thomas ("Thomas" or "Appellant") appeals the District Court's order of September 17, 2008 partially remanding the final decision of appellee, Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner"), denying her claim for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act ("the Act"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 401-433. The District Court exercised jurisdiction under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and this Court has jurisdiction over Thomas' appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.*fn2

For the reasons set forth below, we vacate the District Court's order and remand the matter to the District Court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

On December 18, 2003, Thomas, through her paternal grandmother and legal guardian Anna Keyton, applied for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI"), pursuant to Title XVI of the Act. Thomas suffers from epilepsy and a variety of other health issues, including gastritis, headaches, hypoglycemia, anemia, allergies, and eczema. Her application was denied initially and upon reconsideration. Thereafter, at Thomas' request, a hearing was held by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") on November 2, 2005. On December 6, 2005, the ALJ issued a decision finding that Thomas was not disabled. Thomas appealed the ALJ's decision to the Social Security Administration Appeals Council ("Appeals Council"). On August 9, 2007, the Appeals Council denied her appeal.

On October 2, 2007, Thomas filed an appeal of the Commissioner's decision with the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. After full briefing, the District Court issued an order, dated September 17, 2008 and filed September 19, 2008, affirming the Commissioner's decision with regard to whether Thomas met Listings 111.02(A)(1) and 111.02(A)(2) but remanding the case to the Commissioner for further explanation of the Commissioner's determination that Thomas did not functionally equal the listings. On November 17, 2008, Thomas appealed this order of the District Court, which is presently before this Court on review.

During the pendency of this appeal, the ALJ issued an amended decision on February 26, 2009 explaining his rationale for finding thatThomas did not functionally equal the listings. Notably, the ALJ did not give the parties an opportunity to be heard, via a hearing or through submissions, prior to rendering the amended decision. Thereafter, on March 20, 2009, the District Court filed an amended order reversing the Commissioner's decision denying Thomas benefits and remanding the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings in accordance with the opinion filed with its earlier September 17, 2008 order.

II.

We review the District Court's remand order for abuse of discretion. See Harman v. Apfel, 211 F. 3d 1172, 1176, 1178 (9th Cir. 2000); Higgins v. Apfel, 222 F. 3d 504, 505 (8th Cir. 2000). Pursuant to this standard, we must affirm the District Court's holding unless its decision is based upon a factual error, an improper conclusion of law, or an inappropriate application of the ...


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