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Taylor v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 16, 2019

LINDA TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          LINDA TAYLOR Plaintiff appearing pro se

          KATIE M. GAUGHAN SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION OFFICE OF THE GENERAL COUNSEL On behalf of Defendant

          OPINION

          NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.

         This matter comes before the Court pursuant to Section 205(g) of the Social Security Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), regarding Plaintiff's application for Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”)[1] and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”)[2] under Title II and Title XVI of the Social Security Act. 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. One issue before the Court is whether the Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) erred in finding that there was “substantial evidence” that Plaintiff was not disabled at any time since her alleged onset date of disability, July 21, 2009. Plaintiff has also asserted claims that the Social Security Administration, two administrative law judges, and a vocational expert discriminated against her because of her race.

         For the reasons stated below, the Court will afford Plaintiff leave to file an amended complaint regarding her claims of race discrimination, and stay the resolution of Plaintiff's disability claim until the Court has reviewed Plaintiff's amended complaint.

         I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 12, 2014, Plaintiff, Linda Taylor, protectively filed an application for SSI and DIB, [3] alleging that she became disabled as of July 21, 2009. Plaintiff claims that she can no longer work at her previous jobs as a garment sorter and a hotel housekeeper because she suffers from numerous impairments, including left shoulder degenerative joint disease, degenerative disc disease, Sjogren's syndrome, [4] depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder.

         After Plaintiff's initial claim was denied on December 23, 2014, and upon reconsideration on April 23, 2015, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an ALJ, which was held on August 11, 2017. On September 13, 2017, the ALJ issued an unfavorable decision. Plaintiff's Request for Review of Hearing Decision was denied by the Appeals Council on May 5, 2018, making the ALJ's September 13, 2017 decision final.

         Plaintiff states that she filed a previous claim for SSI and DIB in Florida on December 7, 2009, claiming the same alleged disability onset date of July 21, 2009. (Docket No. 15 at 2.) That application was denied initially on February 8, 2010, and a hearing before an ALJ was held on June 3, 2010. (Id.) It is unclear what occurred after that date, but it is evident that Plaintiff's application was ultimately denied.

         Plaintiff claims that the ALJ erred in various ways when he denied the claim she filed in New Jersey, and she also argues that she was not treated fairly by the SSA during her first disability claim in Florida. Plaintiff further argues that the SSA does not treat people equally and she was discriminated against because of her race. Plaintiff contends, “SSA [has] broken the laws on a regular bas[is], ” and “SSA officials have been stalking her, harassing her, and recording her.” (Docket No. 15 at 3.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         In addition to Plaintiff's appeal of the denial of her SSI and DIB claim advanced pursuant 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), the Court recognizes that Plaintiff may also intend to assert a standalone race discrimination claim against the SSA in addition to her appeal of the denial of her disability claim. The law may allow Plaintiff to lodge such a claim against the SSA, which is independent of any claims arising under § 405(g). See Penner v. Schweiker, 701 F.2d 256, 260 (3d Cir. 1983) (explaining that § 405(g) did not act as a bar to the resolution of constitutional questions raised by the claimant when seeking review of the Secretary's decision because “Constitutional questions obviously are unsuited to resolution in administrative hearing procedures and, therefore, access to the courts is essential to the decision of such questions, ” and finding that “judicial review was proper where the Secretary's decision to deny or discontinue social security benefits is challenged on constitutional grounds notwithstanding the absence of a prior administrative hearing”). The Court will therefore assess Plaintiff's race discrimination claim before considering the substance of her denial of benefits appeal because that claim could potentially impact her appeal.

         In her complaint, in addition to the SSA, Plaintiff names as defendants the two administrative law judges who handled both of her disability claims, and the vocational expert who testified at the hearing for her second disability claim. (Docket No. 1 at 1, 2.) Plaintiff's allegations are as follows verbatim:

I believe my claim/case was not approved due to ineffect counsel, social security abuse its powers of authority. Also I believe treated and handle on a discrimination/bias level. Also I believe in my files there are false statements information on medical records and other documents are missing from my file. Social Security Rules of Laws does not apply equal with peoples that has the same ...

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