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Mayer v. Astrue

July 7, 2009

FRANKI MAYER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER, SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Karen E. Schreier Chief Judge

ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR REVERSAL AND REMAND AND DENYING MOTION TO GRANT BENEFITS

Plaintiff, Franki Mayer, appeals from the Administrative Law Judge's (ALJ) denial of her disability benefits. Defendant, Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of Social Security (the Commissioner), requests that the court enter a judgment with remand for further administrative proceedings pursuant to sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Mayer contends that the court is without the power to remand under sentence four absent a substantive ruling in the case and moves the court to make a substantive ruling in favor of reversal and remand and order an immediate payment of benefits based on the present state of the administrative record. This court reverses the Administrative Law Judge's dismissal and remands for further proceedings. Additionally, this court denies Mayer's motion for an immediate award of benefits.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

I. Application Overview

Mayer filed for disability insurance benefits multiple times. For the sake of simplicity, this opinion will refer to these applications by number. On April 24, 1995, Mayer filed Application #1 with an alleged onset date of December 24, 1994. AR at 523. She later amended her onset date through her counsel to August 20, 1997. Id. On October 31, 1997, the ALJ issued an order denying Application #1, and the Appeals Council denied review on April 23, 1998. Id. On September 24, 1998, this court upheld the ALJ's denial. See Mayer v. Apfel, 5:98-cv-05052-RHB. On July 26, 1999, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit upheld the ALJ's denial. See Mayer v. Apfel, 187 F.3d 642 (8th Cir. 1999).

While Application #1 was pending before this court, Mayer filed Application #2 on June 12, 1998, with an alleged onset date of January 1, 1997. AR at 523. At a July 21, 1999, hearing, Mayer amended the onset date because the ALJ had jurisdiction commencing on November 1, 1997, which was the day after the ALJ's denial of the Application #1. Id. On December 2, 1999, the ALJ denied Mayer's Application #2. Id. Mayer appealed this denial, and the Appeals Council denied review on February 8, 2000. Id. Mayer then appealed to this court, which reversed the ALJ's denial on October 23, 2003, and remanded the case to the ALJ for further consideration. Id. The ALJ dismissed the remanded case on May 19, 2002, three days before the scheduled hearing, and Mayer again appealed to this court for judicial review of the dismissal.

Finally, on October 27, 2000, Mayer filed Application #3, again alleging an onset date of January 1, 1997. Id. At a hearing before the ALJ on December 11, 2002, Mayer amended her onset date to December 2, 1999, pursuant to the recommendations of a Social Security employee because the ALJ had denied her previous application on that date. Id. At a January 24, 2003, hearing, the ALJ concluded that Mayer had been disabled since December 3, 1999, but not prior to that date.*fn1 Stipulation, Docket 12-2 at 5.

This opinion addresses the ALJ's dismissal of Mayer's claim regarding Application #2 and the impact that the alleged onset date in Application #3 had on the ALJ's dismissal.

II. Applications at Issue

Mayer filed Application #2 for disability insurance benefits on June 12, 1998. AR at 523. She alleged an onset date of disability of January 1, 1997, at first, but she amended her onset date to November 1, 1997, at the administrative hearing. AR at 535-36. As mentioned above, Application #2 was denied both initially and a second time upon reconsideration. AR at 536. At Mayer's request, a hearing took place on July 21, 1999, before an ALJ, and both Mayer and her attorney attended the hearing. Id. The ALJ issued an unfavorable opinion on December 2, 1999, and found Mayer not disabled because she retained the residual functional capacity to perform all exertional levels of work. Id. Mayer appealed this decision to the Social Security Appeals Council, and on July 25, 2002, the Appeals Council declined Mayer's request for review. Id. Mayer then sought judicial review of the decision from this court.

While Mayer's appeal of the 1999 decision was pending with the Appeals Council and later the court, Mayer filed Application #3 on October 27, 2000, with an alleged onset date of January 1, 1997. AR at 643. On October 28, 2000, a Social Security field worker, Scott Weischedel, conducted a teleclaim interview with Mayer in which he recommended amending the onset date for Application #3 to December 3, 1999. Weischedel explained that the "prior ALJ denial made December 2, 1999 and prior claim is currently pending at the Appeals Council. My onset recommendation is limited to day after the day of previous ALJ decision = 12/3/99." AR at 669. At the time, Mayer's Application #2, which concerned the period of November 1, 1997, to December 2, 1999, was pending at the Appeals Council. Id.

Mayer filed Application #3 with an amended onset date of December 2, 1999, but these claims were also denied at the initial and reconsideration stages. Stipulation, Docket 12-2 at 4. On November 20, 2002, Mayer's counsel sent a letter to the ALJ in preparation for a hearing regarding Application #3. AR at 696. In this letter, Mayer's counsel informed the ALJ that Mayer had re-applied for benefits following a denial of Application #2 on August 20, 1997. AR at 696. Mayer's counsel also informed the ALJ that the Appeals Council found no basis for granting review for the 1999 unfavorable decision for Application #2 on July 25, 2002, and that Mayer had appealed the issue to the district court. Id.

At the Social Security hearing on December 12, 2002, the following discussion took place on the record ...


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