United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER (DKT. NOS. 20, 21, &
KATHERINE A. ROBERTSON United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the court on the request of Plaintiff Karen
Moquin (“Plaintiff”) for judicial review pursuant
to §§ 205(g) and 1631(c)(3) of the Social Security
Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 405(g) and
1383(c)(3), of a March 17, 2015 decision of the Commissioner
of Social Security (“Commissioner”) denying her
claims for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”)
and Social Security Disability Insurance
(“SSDI”). Both Plaintiff and the Commissioner
have filed motions seeking reversal of the Commissioner's
decision with remand for a rehearing (Dkt. Nos. 20, 32). The
parties disagree about whether the court's judgment
should enter on Plaintiff's original complaint (Dkt.
No.1), or a proposed amended complaint which Plaintiff seeks
leave to file (Dkt. Nos. 21, 21-1). The parties have
consented to this court's jurisdiction (Dkt. No. 12).
See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. For
the following reasons, the court will deny Plaintiff's
motion for leave to amend her complaint and will allow both
Plaintiff's and the Commissioner's motions for
reversal and remand.
applied for SSI and SSDI on September 30, 2013, alleging a
January 1, 2009 onset of disability due to diabetes,
depression, and anxiety (Administrative Record
(“A.R.”) at 10, 81, 94, 206-216). Plaintiff's
applications were denied initially and on reconsideration
(id. at 81-138). Plaintiff requested a hearing
before an ALJ, and one was held on February 11, 2015, at
which time Plaintiff claimed disability due to diabetes,
right elbow pain due to right elbow epicondylitis, hand and
shoulder pain due to polyarticular osteoarthritis, obesity,
depressive disorder, adjustment disorder, and generalized
anxiety disorder (id. at 13, 47, 60-61). Following
the hearing, the ALJ issued a decision on March 17, 2015,
finding that Plaintiff was not disabled and denying
Plaintiff's claims (id. at 7-38). The Appeals
Council denied review on March 18, 2016, and the ALJ's
decision became the final decision of the Commissioner
(id. at 1-7).
initiated this appeal by filing a complaint on May 13, 2016
(Dkt. No. 1). Though not part of the Administrative Record,
the parties have represented that, while Plaintiff's
appeal of the Commissioner's unfavorable decision was
pending, she reapplied for and, on December 9, 2016, was
granted SSI benefits retroactive to July 1, 2016 (Dkt. No. 21
at p. 1; Dkt. No. 25 at p. 2). On December 12, 2016,
Plaintiff filed a motion to reverse the Commissioner's
March 17, 2015 decision and remand for a rehearing (Dkt. No.
20). Thereafter, on January 10, 2017, presumably after she
received notice of the Commissioner's subsequent
favorable decision, Plaintiff filed a motion seeking leave to
amend her complaint to specify that the judicial review she
seeks is limited to the period from January 1, 2009, her
alleged onset date, to July 1, 2016, the date on which the
Commissioner found her to be disabled (Dkt. No. 21). The
Commissioner opposes Plaintiff's motion for leave to
amend and has filed a motion for entry of judgment under
sentence four of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), likewise seeking
reversal and remand to the Commissioner (Dkt. Nos. 25, 32).
Plaintiff has not consented to the Commissioner's motion
because of the Commissioner's opposition to
Plaintiff's proceeding on the basis of the amended,
rather than the original, complaint (Dkt. No. 25).
seeks leave to amend the “wherefore” clause of
her complaint, which provides, “WHEREFORE Plaintiff
seeks judicial review by this Court and the entry of judgment
for such relief as may be proper, including costs and
attorney's fees pursuant to the Equal Justice Act”
(Dkt. No. 1 at p. 2). By her proposed amended complaint,
Plaintiff seeks to insert the phrase “with regard only
to the period from January 1, 2009 to July 1, 2016, ”
following the word “proper” (Dkt. Nos. 21 at p.
1, 21-1 at p. 2). In moving for leave to amend, Plaintiff
invokes Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(d), which provides that “[o]n
motion and reasonable notice, the court may, on just terms,
permit a party to serve a supplemental pleading setting out
any transaction, occurrence, or event that happened after the
date of the pleading to be supplemented.” Id.
The Commissioner counters that Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2), which
provides that “a party may amend its pleading only with
the opposing party's consent or the court's leave,
” is the applicable provision. Id. The
parties' disagreement on this point is inconsequential.
Under both subdivisions of Fed.R.Civ.P. 15, the decision
whether or not to grant leave is subject to the court's
discretion. U.S. ex. rel. Gadbois v. PharMerica
Corp., 809 F.3d 1, 6 (1st Cir. 2015). While the text of
Rule 15(d) contains no standard to guide the district
court's exercise of discretion, 15(a) provides that leave
should be “freely give[n] … when justice so
requires, ” Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a), and the First Circuit
has approved of according the same liberal treatment to
requests under Rule 15(d). Gadbois, 809 F.3d at 7.
In both instances, the district court must weigh the totality
of the circumstances and may ground denial of a motion to
amend or supplement on factors such as futility, prejudice to
the opposing party, or unreasonable delay. Id.
the Commissioner objects to Plaintiff's motion on
futility grounds. “In assessing futility, the district
court must apply the standard which applies to motions to
dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).” Adorno v.
Crowley Towing & Transp. Co., 443 F.3d 122, 126 (1st
Cir. 2006) (citing Glassman v. Computervision Corp.,
90 F.3d 617, 623 (1st Cir. 1996)). According to the
Commissioner, Plaintiff's proposed amendment is futile
because it seeks relief beyond that which the court has
jurisdiction to grant. The court agrees. The court has
jurisdiction in this matter pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g) and 1383(c)(3), which authorize judicial
review of final decisions of the Commissioner of Social
Security. The final decision under review in this case is the
March 17, 2015 decision. Plaintiff's proposed amendment
seeks review of the time period after March 17, 2015 through
July 1, 2016, a period of time that is not the subject of the
final decision under review, and, therefore, is not before
this court. Essentially, what Plaintiff seeks by her
amendment is an order from this court precluding the
Commissioner from reviewing the subsequent grant of benefits.
While Plaintiff's desire to avoid putting this favorable
decision in jeopardy is understandable, the court is without
authority to so restrain the Commissioner with respect to a
final decision that is not before it. Encarnacion v.
Astrue, 724 F.Supp.2d 243, 245 (D.P.R. 2010) (citing
Gay v. Astrue, No. CA 07-403 M, 2008 WL 2004228, at
*1 n.1 (D.R.I. May 8, 2008)) (“The court lacks
jurisdiction over the subsequent award of benefits because no
appeal from that claim has been taken to the district
court”); Davis v. Astrue, No. 10-cv-404-PB,
2011 WL 5006936, at *2 (D.N.H. Oct. 20, 2011) (noting that
the court was without authority to authorize or preclude the
Commissioner from reopening a subsequent favorable
application for benefits that was not before it in connection
with the court's reversal and remand of the unfavorable
decision that was before the court). The decision whether to
reopen the subsequent favorable decision is the
Commissioner's, subject to the limitations provided by
the regulations, 20 C.F.R. §§ 416.1487-416.1488.
Davis, 2011 WL 5006936, at *2.
reliance on Jameson v. Astrue, No. 09-cv-237-JD,
2010 WL 1568474 (D.N.H., Mar. 15, 2010), adopted by
2010 WL 1568482 (D.N.H. Apr. 14, 2010), is inapposite. In
Jameson, the Commissioner had issued a partially
favorable decision awarding the plaintiff disability
insurance benefits, but effective as of a date more than two
years later than the plaintiff's claimed onset date.
Id. at *1. The plaintiff sought further review of
the onset date and remand for further consideration limited
to the disputed time period between the plaintiff's
alleged onset date and the date that the Commissioner found
the plaintiff to have been disabled in the decision under
review. Id. Thus, the issue in Jameson
bears a superficial resemblance to the issue in this case,
but there is a crucial difference. In Jameson, the
time period for which the plaintiff sought to limit review on
remand was included in the final decision under the
court's review. In this case, by contrast, Plaintiff
seeks to limit review to a period that exceeds that covered
by the Commissioner's decision.
Plaintiff's proposed amendment is futile, Plaintiff's
motion for leave to amend (Dkt. No. 21) is DENIED. Both
Plaintiff's and the Commissioner's motions for
reversal (Dkt. Nos. 20 and ...