United States District Court, D. South Carolina
Richard Mark Gergel Judge.
matter comes before the Court following a vacating of this
Court's earlier order by the United States Court of
Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to determine whether
Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, had a plausible claim
for a writ of mandamus because the "administrative
process normally available is not accessible." Evans
v. Commissioner of Social Security, No. 16-1392, 2016 WL
6575081 (4th Cir. Nov. 7, 2016). This Court thereafter
directed the Commissioner to produce all documents associated
with Plaintiffs application for disability benefits to
determine whether Plaintiffs access to the administrative
processes of the Social Security Administration was in any
way obstructed or impaired. (Dkt. No. 47). The Commissioner
filed the requested documents on February 10, 2017. (Dkt. No.
54). Meanwhile, following remand, Plaintiff moved for leave
to file an amended complaint to add claims against his former
employer, Exel Inc., under the Employee Retirement Income
Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et
seq. (Dkt. No. 42).
matter was referred to the Magistrate Judge for pretrial
handling. The Magistrate Judge issued a Report and
Recommendation recommending that Plaintiffs claim under 42
U.S.C. 405(g) be dismissed without prejudice and the motion
to amend be denied as futile. (Dkt. No. 43). For reasons set
forth below, the Court dismisses Plaintiffs complaint under
42 U.S.C. § 405(g) without prejudice and grants the
motion for leave to file an amended complaint against his
former employer under ERISA.
filed an application for Disability Insurance Benefits
("DIB") on June 25, 2015 and another application
for Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") on July 8,
2015. Plaintiffs 2015 DIB application was denied on July 13,
2015 because he did not have a sufficient work history to be
eligible for DIB. His 2015 application for SSI benefits was
denied on July 15, 2015 because he made too much income.
(Dkt. Nos. 54 at 1-2; 54-1; 54-3). Plaintiff thereafter
timely filed a request for reconsideration of the denial of
his DIB application on July 21, 2015. (Dkt. No. 54-4).
Plaintiff received no response to his request for
reconsideration concerning his DIB application and filed his
appeal with this Court on December 15, 2015. (Dkt. No. 1).
This Court summarily dismissed the appeal by order dated
February 29, 2016 because of Plaintiff s failure to first
exhaust administrative remedies within the Social Security
Administration. (Dkt. No. 18). Plaintiff, still proceeding
pro se, appealed this Court's order of summary
dismissal. By order dated November 7, 2016, the Fourth
Circuit agreed that Plaintiffs appeal was not appropriate
because of his failure to exhaust administrative remedies but
vacated the district court's order to determine on remand
whether there might be a proper basis of the issuance of a
writ of mandamus. Evans, 2016 WL 6575081 at *1.
previously mentioned, this Court issued an order to the
Commissioner to produce all documents related to Plaintiffs
Social Security disability applications to determine if he
had access to the normal administrative processes. (Dkt No.
47). The Commissioner responded on February 10, 2017 by
filing a memorandum and by producing documents related to
four separate applications for disability benefits submitted
by Plaintiff in 2015 and 2016. The Commissioner advised the
Court that Plaintiffs 2016 applications for DIB and SSI were
presently being processed administratively at the request to
reconsider stage. The Commissioner indicated that the
Plaintiffs 2015 SSI application had been denied and no
request for reconsideration was filed by Plaintiff. (Dkt. No.
54 at 1-2).
regard to the Plaintiffs 2015 DIB application, the Court was
informed for the first time that there was a legitimate issue
regarding the Social Security Administration's processing
of this request for reconsideration. The Commissioner
explained that the Plaintiffs request for reconsideration
"was mistakenly sent to the incorrect processing
center" and went unaddressed. (Id. at 2). This
error was discovered in the course of the Commissioner
preparing a response to the Court's order of January 18,
2017. The Court was further informed that upon discovering
this processing error, the agency promptly addressed the
request for reconsideration and denied that request by a
notice dated January 27, 2017. Plaintiff was advised in
writing and by telephone communication that he had a right to
request an administrative hearing regarding the denial of his
2015 DIB application. (Id.)
motion for leave to file an amended complaint seeks to assert
ERISA claims against his former employer, Exel, Inc.
Plaintiff challenges a decision by his former employer to
deny him long term disability benefits and to terminate his
medical insurance. (Dkt. No. 42).
Plaintiffs Entitlement to a Writ of Mandamus
normal circumstances, a claimant seeking Social Security
disability benefits must exhaust his administrative remedies
before filing an appeal with the district court. Mathews
v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 328 (1976). An exception
exists where access to the normal administrative processes is
denied to the claimant. In this Court's experience, a
writ of mandamus would rarely be justified against the Social
Security Administration since the agency consistently
processes applications for benefits, requests for
reconsideration, and requests for administrative hearings.
The more common concern is the speed in which these claims
are processed, a subject which this Court has raised in a
number of prior orders.
fortunately, the Plaintiff persisted in his efforts to be
heard on his 2015 DIB application, which led to the
unexpected discovery that his request for reconsideration was
misplaced by the Social Security Administration. This issue
has now been remedied by the Social Security Administration
addressing Plaintiffs request for reconsideration and
noticing the right to review at an administrative hearing.
The record before the Court shows no similar problem
regarding Plaintiffs 2015 SSI application or his 2016 DIB and
SSI applications. Consequently, any request for mandamus
relief is now mooted by the Social Security
Administration's recent actions.
absence of any present evidence denying Plaintiff access to
the normal administrative processes, Plaintiffs appeal must
be dismissed since he has not exhausted his administrative
remedies. If Plaintiff continues to contest the denial of his
2015 DIB application after a final agency decision, he will
then be entitled to an appeal to the district ...