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Steele v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 11, 2018

KIMBERLY STEELE, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          JOHN MICHAEL VAZQUEZ, U.S.D.J.

         This matter comes before the Court on the motion of Defendant, the Acting Commissioner of Social Security (“Commissioner”), to dismiss the Complaint of Plaintiff Kimberly Steele for failure to exhaust her administrative remedies pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). D.E. 16. Plaintiff is proceeding pro se. The motion was decided without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78 and Local Civil Rule 78.1. The Court has considered the parties' submissions and grants Defendant's motion to dismiss.

         I. Background

         On October 17, 2017, Plaintiff filed her Complaint. D.E. 1. Plaintiff alleges that the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) improperly reduced her supplemental security income (“SSI”). Id. at 2-4. In response, on April 20, 2018, the Commissioner filed the current motion, arguing that Plaintiff did not exhaust her administrative remedies. D.E. 16.

         In support of her motion, the Commissioner attaches a declaration from the Acting Chief of Court Case Preparation and Review Branch 2 of the Office of Appellate Operations (“Acting Chief”), Office of Disability Adjudication and Review, Social Security Administration. D.E. 16-1. The declaration attached a July 6, 2017 letter from the SSA to Plaintiff. Id. at 4-19. The letter indicates that Plaintiff's monthly SSI payment was being reduced from $766.25 to $534.31 due to a change in Plaintiff's “situation.” Id. at 4. Specifically, the letter explained, Plaintiff's living arrangements resulted in the decrease. Id. at 5, 10, 12. The July letter continued that the monthly SSI payments could change in the future if her situation changes, that Plaintiff has a right to review the information in SSA's records, and that Plaintiff may be entitled to an increase if she is paying a share of the household expenses. Id. at 6.

         The SSA's letter further notified Plaintiff of her appeals rights, specifying as follows:

• You have 60 days to file an appeal in writing
• The 60 days start the day after you receive this letter. We assume you received this letter 5 days after the date on the letter.
• You must have a good reason for waiting more than 60 days to file an appeal.

Id. at 7. The July 6, 2017 letter also informed Plaintiff that she could file an appeal with any Social Security office and provided the address of the office nearest Plaintiff. Id. at 8, 10. The Acting Chief indicates that that “[t]here is no indication in the file that the plaintiff filed a written appeal of the determination.” Id. at 3.

         Plaintiff has written to the Court on numerous occasions, both before and after the filing of the Commissioner's motion. D.E. 10, 11, 14, 20, 22, 23, [1] 26, 27, and 28. For the most part, however, Plaintiff does not address the Commissioner's contention that Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies. To be sure, Plaintiff indicates in conclusory fashion that she exhausted her administrative remedies, D.E. 26 at 7. The only specific claim that Plaintiff makes, however, is that she requested an appeal before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”). Id. at 8. Plaintiff provides no proof in support of this contention. At the same time, Plaintiff asserts that persons within SSA, an ALJ, and “Virginia state appeals court judges” instructed her not to file any additional appeals. Id. at 7. Plaintiff again provides no evidence to support this contention.

         Instead, Plaintiff's filings after the Commissioner's motion focus on requests for additional SSI payments and changed circumstances. She also appears to raise new claims. Plaintiff indicates that she is now living on her own and takes issue with an additional SSA letter dated May 11, 2018. D.E. 27 at 2, D.E. 27-1 at 1. She adds that she is entitled to a voucher for an air conditioner, D.E. 26 at 1, 3, and cost of living increases, id. at 9. She also indicates that she is entitled to greater monthly SSI payments than she was receiving before the reduction that led to the current suit. D.E. 23.

         II. Legal Standard and Analysis

         The Court has jurisdiction to review claims arising under the Social Security Act as provided in 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) ...


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