United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
CHARLES E. STULLER, Plaintiff,
Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER
THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE
case was reassigned to the undersigned for all further
proceedings pursuant to General Order 2017-4 [ECF No. 3]
effective May 1, 2017. This matter is before the Court on the
Defendant's Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 12], which the
Court converted to a Motion for Summary Judgment on June 6,
2017 [ECF No. 18]. The Plaintiff, Charles E. Stuller, filed
his Complaint outside the 60-day limitation period provided
the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The Appeals
Council found that the Plaintiff did not provide good cause
for an extension request for the filing deadline.
Additionally, under Seventh Circuit precedent, the Plaintiff
has not provided an adequate basis for equitably tolling the
filing date for his Complaint. Therefore, the Court grants
the Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment.
judgment is warranted when “the movant shows that there
is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant
is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Summary judgment is the moment in
litigation where the non-moving party is required to marshal
and present the court with evidence on which a reasonable
jury could rely to find in his favor. Goodman v.
Nat'l Sec. Agency, Inc., 621 F.3d 651, 654 (7th Cir.
2010). A court's role in deciding a motion for summary
judgment “is not to sift through the evidence,
pondering the nuances and inconsistencies, and decide whom to
believe. [A] court has one task and one task only: to decide,
based on the evidence of record, whether there is any
material dispute of fact that requires a trial.”
Waldridge v. Am. Heochst Corp., 24 F.3d 918, 920
(7th Cir. 1994). Although a bare contention that an issue of
material fact exists is insufficient to create a factual
dispute, a court must construe all facts in a light most
favorable to the nonmoving party, view all reasonable
inferences in that party's favor, see Bellaver v.
Quanex Corp., 200 F.3d 485, 491-92 (7th Cir. 2000), and
avoid “the temptation to decide which party's
version of the facts is more likely true, ” Payne
v. Pauley, 337 F.3d 767, 770 (7th Cir. 2003).
social security claimant must file a civil action in federal
district court within sixty days after receiving notice from
the Appeals Council informing the claimant that the body made
a final decision. The Plaintiff's date of receipt of the
notice is presumed to be five days after the date that it is
issued. 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1401, 422.210(c).
September 4, 2015, the Appeals Council denied the
Plaintiff's request for review of the ALJ's decision,
making the ALJ's decision the final decision of the
Commissioner, upon which it issued the Plaintiff's notice
to file a claim for review in this Court. (Hartt Decl. at 24-
27.) Thus, the Plaintiff's presumptive date of receipt
was September 9, 2015. The Plaintiff's counsel filed a
letter on October 30, 2015, asking the Appeals Council to
extend the Plaintiff's date to file his Complaint in this
Court. (Id. at 29.) The Appeals Council denied that
request, finding that the Plaintiff did not provide good
cause. Therefore, the filing deadline for an action in this
Court remained November 9, 2015. The Plaintiff, however, did
not file his Complaint [ECF No. 1] until November 17, 2015.
Thus, the Plaintiff's action is barred by the 60-day
limitation set forth in 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), unless he
can now provide a basis for equitable tolling. Here, under
Seventh Circuit precedent, the Plaintiff has not alleged
circumstances that justify extending the statute of
limitations beyond sixty days.
regulations permit the Social Security Administration, upon a
showing of good cause, to extend the time for filing an
action in federal district court. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 416.1411, 416.1482; see also Loyd v.
Sullivan, 822 F.2d 218, 219 (7th Cir. 1989)
(“[T]he decision to grant an extension rests within the
discretion of the [Commissioner] . . . .). The Appeals
Council will extend the time for filing an action in federal
district court only upon a showing of good cause.
See C.F.R. §§ 416.1411, 416.1482. A court
determines good cause upon considering the circumstances that
kept the plaintiff from making the request on time, including
whether an action by the Social Security Administration
misled the plaintiff; whether the plaintiff did not
understand the legal requirements; or whether any physical,
mental, education, or linguistic limitations prevented a
timely filing. 20 C.F.R. § 416.1411(a). The regulations
also list examples of circumstances where good cause may
exist, such as serious illness that prevents the claimant
from contacting the Appeals Council, a death or serious
illness in the claimant's immediate family, destruction
of important records in a fire or other accident, or not
receiving the notice sent by the Appeals Council. 20 C.F.R.
October 30, 2015, the Plaintiff requested an extension
because his counsel needed more time to procure necessary
forms from the Plaintiff to prepare the filing. (Hartt Decl.
at 29.) This was the only reason given. The Plaintiff now
alleges, for the first time, that multiple address and
telephone number changes due to homelessness and
incarceration caused the delay in filing his Complaint. The
original extension request did not include this information,
and as such this information was not considered by the
Appeals Council. The Plaintiff did not allege any action by
the Social Security Administration that misled him, an
inability to understand the legal requirements, or that any
impairment prevented him from filing timely. See 20
C.F.R. § 416.1411(a). Accordingly, the Appeals Council
denied the Plaintiff's request, and Plaintiff's
counsel acknowledged that any complaint needed to be filed by
November 9, 2015.
in which an extension should be granted are enumerated in 20
C.F.R. § 416.1411, and these scenarios share the common
elements of (1) lack of awareness of the filing date, such as
lack of receipt of the notice of decision or Agency
miscommunication, or (2) intervening events that prevented
timely filing, for reasons out of the plaintiff's
control. See Neuzil v. Astrue, No. 2:12-CV-34, 2013
WL 2445212 at *6 (M.D. Tenn. June 5, 2013) (declining to find
good cause where the plaintiff made mistakes). “Good
cause . . . requires a showing of something more than
negligent forgetfulness.” Suciu v. Barnhart,
405 F.Supp.2d 874, 879 (M.D. Tenn. 2005) (applying a similar
provision in 20 C.F.R. § 404.957). The Plaintiff did not
raise these types of allegations at the time he requested an
extension to the Appeals Council, and therefore did not
provide good cause for an extension.
Plaintiff also argues that he is entitled to equitable
tolling because he demonstrated diligence in contacting his
attorney to update his contact information and whereabouts.
The 60-day time limit at issue is a statute of limitations
and is not jurisdictional. Bowen v. City of New
York, 476 U.S. 467, 478 (1986). “While in most
cases the Secretary will make the determination whether it is
proper to extend the period within which to review must be
sought, cases may arise where the equities in favor of
tolling the limitations period are ‘so great that
deference to the agency's judgment is
inappropriate.'” Id. at 480 (quoting
Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 330 (1976)). In
the Seventh Circuit, however, “[e]quitable tolling is a
doctrine used sparingly, reserved for those situations in
which extraordinary circumstances prevent a party from filing
on time. It applies only to cases in which circumstances
prevent a litigant from filing despite the exercise of due
diligence, regardless of the defendant's conduct.”
Bensman v. U.S. Forest Service, 408 F.3d 945, 964
(7th Cir. 2005) (internal citations omitted).
tolling is appropriate where a plaintiff receives misleading
information from a Social Security office, Bolden v.
Chater, No. 94-C-7675, 1996 WL 374122, at *1-2 (N.D.
Ill. June 28, 1996), or when a pro se Plaintiff is unsure of
the filing deadline and attempts diligently (albeit
unsuccessfully) to contact a Social Security office to
uncover the deadline, James v. Berryhill, No.
17-C-5252, 2017 WL 5128984, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 6, 2017).
The Seventh Circuit strictly construes equitable tolling, and
ordinarily even good faith errors by an attorney or client
are an insufficient to invoke the doctrine. Wilson v.
Battles, 302 F.3d 745, 748-49 (7th Cir. 2002). In this
circuit, equitable tolling is not appropriate when a pro se
litigant is aware of a filing deadline, has not been misled
by the Social Security Administration, and does not timely
file a complaint. See Chamberlain v. Colvin, 2016 WL
2609578, at *4-5 (N.D. Ind. May 5, 2016); see also
Nielson v. Astrue, No. 10-C-4647 (N.D. Ill. June 6,
instant case is more like Chamberlain and
Nielson, and less like Bolden or
James, and hence equitable tolling is inappropriate.
Diligence correspondence between attorney and client is
different from diligently pursuing and filing a claim. The
60-day statute of limitations provided by Congress serves to
“move cases to speedy resolution in a bureaucracy that
processes millions of claims annually.” Bowen,
476 U.S. at 481. Here, the Plaintiff and counsel were aware
of the correct deadline for the Complaint. The Social
Security Administration did not mislead the Plaintiff or
counsel. The Plaintiff has not demonstrated the ...