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Donna J. Willard v. Michael J. Astrue

September 26, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorablelarryalanburns United States District Judge


Plaintiff, an applicant for Social Security benefits, sought review of an administrative decision of the Commissioner of Social Security pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). This matter was referred to Magistrate Judge William McCurine for a report and recommendation. After receiving cross motions for summary judgment, Judge McCurine issued his report and recommendation (the "R&R") on January 6, 2011. The R&R recommended granting Plaintiff's motion and remanding this matter to the Commissioner for further proceedings.

Defendant filed his objections to the R&R on January 24, 2011. Objections were due on January 21, but along with his late objections, Defendant also filed an ex parte application for leave to file the objections late. The application was unopposed, and for good cause shown, it is GRANTED. The objections are accepted as filed. Plaintiff also filed a reply to the objections.

I. Legal Standards for R&R

A district court has jurisdiction to review a Magistrate Judge's report and recommendation on dispositive matters. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). "The district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to." Id. "A judge of the court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The standards for review of the Commissioner's decision, and the law governing benefits and res judicata are set forth in the R&R. These standards are uncontested and the Court adopts them.

II. Discussion

The background facts are uncontested and well known to the parties so the Court does not repeat them in full here. The central core of facts is as follows. Plaintiff filed four earlier applications for Supplemental Security Income, in 1974, 1976, 1979, and 1980. The first three were denied, and the last was granted, with a finding that she was disabled as of that date. Then in 2006, Plaintiff applied for Child's Insurance benefits based on the eligibility of her late mother, who died in 1968. The administrative law judge (ALJ ) denied this application on the basis that res judicata prevented a finding that Plaintiff was disabled before age 22. Specifically, the ALJ found:

As a procedural matter, the claimant currently alleges a disability onset date of July 15, 1968. However, the Administration determined that the claimant was not disabled from January 1, 1974, (the claimant's alleged disability onset date in her first claim) through the date of the final determination in 1974 . . . .

In all four SSI applications, despite having had the opportunity to allege any disability onset date, the claimant failed to allege that she was disabled prior to attaining age 22. It was not until she turned 58 years old that she first alleged that she was disabled prior to July 15, 1970.*fn1

Accordingly, based on the foregoing, the undersigned finds that the principles of res judicata bar any consideration of the period prior to April 29, 1974, the filing date of her first SSI application. Therefore, the claimant cannot be considered "disabled" prior to attaining age 22 and is not entitled to child's insurance benefits.

Administrative Record ("AR") at 16.

The R&R found the ALJ improperly relied on res judicata as a reason for denying benefits, without adequate evidence that an identical issue was decided before. The R&R pointed out the administrative record did not contain Plaintiff's earlier applications for benefits, and the ALJ's decision didn't identify or cite to identical issues raised and decided earlier.

The R&R also found that Plaintiff's disability in the period before April 29, 1974, the date when she filed her first SSI application, was never adjudicated.

Defendant objects that although the original applications are no longer available, the record does contain computer coded information summarizing Plaintiff's claims. According to these records, Plaintiff alleged later onset dates, which wouldn't qualify her for the benefits she now seeks. Defendant also objects that Plaintiff several times claimed an onset date later than she now claims. Defendant also objects ...

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