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Quevedo v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

February 15, 2018

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, [1] Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Remand or Reverse Administrative Agency Decision, filed August 11, 2017. Doc. 21. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b), this matter has been referred to me for a recommended disposition. Doc. 23. Having reviewed the parties' submissions, the relevant law, and the relevant portions of the Administrative Record, the Court recommends that Plaintiff's Motion be denied.

         I. Procedural History

         Ms. Natalia Quevedo (“Plaintiff”) filed applications under Title XVI of the Social Security Act for supplemental security income (“SSI”) and under Title II for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”), both on October 21, 2010. Administrative Record[2] (“AR”) at 83, 69; see also AR at 166-71, 172-75. In both applications Plaintiff alleged a disability onset date of January 1, 2007. AR at 166, 172. The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) addressed the applications separately.

         A. Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”)

         SSA denied Plaintiff's application for SSI on November 22, 2010, citing spousal income as the reason for denial. AR at 83-90. While Plaintiff adamantly denies that she is married (see Doc. 22 at 9-12), her application states, “I live with Francis Fabian Romero. We present ourselves to others as husband and wife.” AR at 166. Her application also lists Mr. Romero's income as $3, 000 monthly (AR at 168), which SSA used to determine that Plaintiff's income exceeds eligibility limits for SSI. AR at 83. The notice of denial informed Plaintiff of her right to appeal, and the 60-day time limit for an appeal. AR at 84-85; see also 20 C.F.R § 416.1409. Plaintiff never appealed this initial determination.

         B. Disability Insurance Benefits (“DIB”)

         In addition to her SSI application, Plaintiff had earlier filed an application for DIB on October 21, 2010 (AR at 69), with an alleged onset date of January 1, 2007 (AR at 172) and a date last insured of December 31, 2011. AR at 79. On July 20, 2011, SSA initially denied Plaintiff's application because her “condition is not severe enough to keep [her] from working.” AR at 91; see also AR at 69-70. The notice of initial determination informed Plaintiff of her right to appeal and of the 60-day time limit to appeal. AR at 91-92; see also 20 C.F.R. § 404.909(a). On June 13, 2012, well outside the 60-day time limit, Plaintiff filed a request for reconsideration (AR at 95-96, 123) with a statement alleging good cause for her untimely appeal. AR at 98-100. On August 13, 2012, SSA granted the request (AR at 212), but upon reconsideration affirmed the initial denial of DIB benefits. AR at 71-82, 101-03.

         On November 14, 2012, Plaintiff requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). AR at 108-09. ALJ Frederick Upshall held a hearing on March 31, 2014 (AR at 33), and on August 12, 2014, he issued an unfavorable decision. AR at 12. Using the five-step sequential evaluation process (see 20 C.F.R. § 404.1520(a)(4); Wall v. Astrue, 561 F.3d 1048, 1052 (10th Cir. 2009)), the ALJ determined that, “through the date last insured, considering the [Plaintiff's] age, education, work experience, and residual functional capacity, the [Plaintiff] was capable of making a successful adjustment to other work that existed in significant numbers in the national economy.” AR at 26. Plaintiff requested review by the Appeals Council on October 4, 2014. AR at 11. The Appeals Council denied the request for review on August 27, 2015 (AR at 4), making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the Commissioner. Doyal v. Barnhart, 331 F.3d 758, 759 (10th Cir. 2003). Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint on July 25, 2016. Doc. 1.

         II. Discussion

         In her Motion to Remand, Plaintiff does not make any arguments challenging the Commissioner's denial of her DIB claim.[3] See generally Doc. 22. Instead, Plaintiff's Motion to Remand focuses solely on the SSI claim. She argues that SSA should not have denied her SSI application based on spousal income and that her SSI claim should now be reopened. See generally Docs. 22; 26.

         A. Plaintiff did not appeal her SSI claim, the SSI claim was not before the ALJ, and there is no final decision for this Court to review.

         Plaintiff first asserts that her SSI application should not have been denied based on her “spouse's” income when she does not have a spouse. Doc. 22 at 9-12. Plaintiff provides a long list of places in the record, such as statements in medical records and her testimony, where she refers to Mr. Romero as her boyfriend, not her husband. Doc. 22 at 9-12. Before the Court can consider such an argument, however, Plaintiff must show that she exhausted her administrative remedies; in the absence of that showing, this Court lacks jurisdiction to address the SSI claim.

         “The sole statutory grant of district court jurisdiction to review a denial of social security benefits by the Secretary is 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).” Bartlett v. Schweiker, 719 F.2d 1059, 1060 (10th Cir. 1983). Section 405(g) provides that “[a]ny individual, after any final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made after a hearing to which he was a party . . . may obtain a review of such decision by civil action . . . .” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). What constitutes a “final decision” is further defined by regulation. See Weinberger v. Salfi, 422 U.S. 749, 766 (1975).

         The administrative steps an SSI applicant must follow before seeking judicial review are set forth in 20 C.F.R. § 416.1400(a). First, the SSA issues an initial Doc. 22 at 13-14. Plaintiff fails to develop whether this argument challenges the ALJ's determination of her DIB claim or her SSI claim, but the quoted section lies within other paragraphs discussing only the SSI claim. In her Reply, Plaintiff makes clear that this argument is in reference to her SSI claim, not DIB. See Doc 26 at 7 (“By failing to address the error that amounted in her ...

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