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R.S. v. Saul

United States District Court, N.D. California

September 20, 2019

R.S., Plaintiff,
v.
ANDREW M. SAUL, Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO DISMISS, ORDERING CROSS-MOTIONS FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT RE: DKT. NO. 15

          NATHANAEL M. COUSINS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff R.S. filed a complaint against Commissioner of Social Security Andrew M. Saul[1] alleging that he was wrongfully denied disability benefits. Dkt. Nos. 1, 3. The Commissioner moved to dismiss, arguing that R.S.’s motion was filed outside the 60-day appeals window without a request for an extension of time. Dkt. No. 15. R.S. opposed the motion to dismiss, arguing that his late appeal was the result of excusable neglect under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60. Dkt. No. 22. The Court FINDS that R.S.’s late filing was due to excusable neglect and that equitable tolling should apply. The motion to dismiss is DENIED. The parties are hereby ORDERED to file motions for summary judgment in accordance with the Court’s Social Security Procedural Order at Dkt. No. 5.

         I. Background

         R.S.’s claim for disability benefits was denied by an Administrative Law Judge on November 24, 2017. Dkt. No. 15, Ex. A. He requested a review of that decision, and the Appeals Council denied his request for review on November 6, 2018. Id. A Notice of the Appeals Council’s denial was mailed to R.S. on November 6, 2018. Id. The Notice indicates that R.S. had 60 days to file a civil action to contest his denial of benefits, “start[ing] the day after” he received the letter. Id. The Notice stated that receipt is assumed 5 days after the letter was mailed. Id. R.S. filed his complaint in this case on January 11, 2019. Dkt. No. 1.

         II. Legal Standard

         42 U.S.C. § 405(g) states that a civil action appealing a final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made after a hearing must be commenced within 60 days after the plaintiff’s receipt of notice of the decision. The 60-day period begins to run on the day after the plaintiff receives notice of the Appeals Council’s action. 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.968, 416.1468. The notice is presumed to have been received “5 days after the date on the notice.” 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.901, 416.1401.

         The 60-day period is not jurisdictional, but constitutes a statute of limitations. Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 328, n. 9 (1976); Weinberger v. Salfi, 422 U.S.749, 754 (1975). As such, it is subject to equitable tolling. Bowen v. City of New York, 476 U.S. 467, 478–79 (1986). The 60-day statute of limitations in § 405(g) is “contained in a statute that Congress designed to be ‘unusually protective’ of claimants.” Id. at 480. Congress’s authorization of the Secretary to toll the 60-day limits expresses “its clear intention to allow tolling in some cases.” Id. In addition to the Secretary’s authority, the Court may apply traditional equitable tolling principles to the 60-day period. Id, ; Honda v. Clark, 386 U.S. 484, 501 (1967).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60 provides equitable relief from a judgment, order, or proceeding due to mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect. Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(1). Excusable neglect includes failure to comply with a filing deadline due to an attorney’s negligence, taking into account all relevant circumstances. Lemoge v. United States, 587 F.3d 1188, 1192 (9th Cir. 2009); Pioneer Inv. Srvs. Co. v. Brunswick Assoc. Ltd., 507 U.S. 380, 394 (1993). Four factors guide the Court’s analysis of the relevant circumstances: (1) danger of prejudice to the opposing party, (2) length of delay and its potential impact on the proceedings, (3) reason for the delay, and (4) whether the movant acted in good faith. Bateman v. United States Postal Serv., 231 F.3d 1220, 1223–24 (9th Cir. 2000). In this Circuit, Rule 60 should be construed liberally to ensure the general purpose of seeing that cases are tried on their merits. Rodgers v. Watt, 722 F.2d 456, 459 (9th Cir. 1983).

         III. Discussion

         Here, the Appeals Council’s notice of final decision was mailed to R.S. on November 6, 2018. Dkt. No. 15, Ex. A. The letter states: “You have 60 days to file a civil action (ask for court review). The 60 days starts the day after you receive this letter. We assume you received this letter 5 days after the date on it unless you show us that you did not receive it within the 5-day period.” Id. This means that the letter was presumptively received 5 days after November 6, 2018, or, on November 11, 2018. As the letter states, the 60-day period started “the day after” receipt. Id. The day after the November 11, 2018, receipt was November 12, 2018. The sixty-day period beginning on November 12, 2018, ended on January 10, 2019. Plaintiff filed his complaint on January 11, 2019. Dkt. No. 1.

         The Commissioner’s motion to dismiss this case based on R.S.’s untimely filing argues repeatedly that the deadline for R.S. to file his complaint was January 9, 2019. Dkt. No. 15 at 4. This is incorrect. The deadline, as explained above, was January 10, 2019. With this in mind, the Court goes on to discuss the four factors to determine whether R.S.’s one-day-late filing was due to excusable neglect under Rule 60 and decides whether to apply traditional equitable tolling principles here.

         A. Rule 60

         First, the Court notes that the Commissioner argues in his reply brief that Rule 60 does not apply to motions to dismiss. However, he cites no authority to support this notion. Though a motion to dismiss itself is not a “final judgment, order, or proceeding” the Commissioner’s motion to dismiss seeks dismissal of this entire action. The Court’s granting of that motion would constitute a final order in this case. Therefore, the Court finds the application of the Rule 60 principles appropriate here.

         To decide whether neglect was excusable under Rule 60, the Court considers: (1) danger of prejudice to the opposing party, (2) length of delay and its potential impact on the proceedings, (3) reason for the delay, and (4) whether the movant acted in good faith. Batema ...


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