United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER REGARDING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION
FOR WRIT OF MANDAMUS AND DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO
KATHERINE A. ROBERTSON United States Magistrate Judge.
Sherri Stewart ("Plaintiff) has moved for a writ of
mandamus directing the Acting Commissioner of Social Security
("Commissioner") to pay retroactive Social Security
Disability Insurance ("SSDI") benefits that were
awarded to Plaintiff. The Commissioner, in turn, has moved to
dismiss Plaintiffs motion on the ground that the payment of
the benefits in February 2017 has rendered the motion moot.
Notwithstanding Plaintiffs agreement that the mandamus motion
is moot to the extent it requests the court to direct the
Commissioner to pay the retroactive SSDI benefits, she asks
the court to allow so much of her motion as seeks an award of
attorney's fees and costs under the Equal Access to
Justice Act ("EAJA"), 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d). The
Commissioner rejoins that Plaintiffs EAJA request is
parties have assented to the court's jurisdiction.
See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. After
a hearing on May 22, 2017, the court DENIES Plaintiffs motion
for a writ of mandamus (Dkt. No. 47) and ALLOWS the
Commissioner's motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 52) for the
reasons set forth below.
protracted procedural history of this case, which focuses on
the calculation of retroactive SSDI benefits in light of
Plaintiff s receipt of workers' compensation benefits, is
necessary to understanding the issues before the court. On
April 10, 2009, Plaintiff applied for SSDI (Dkt. No. 1-3 at
6). She was found not disabled on June 2, 2009 (Dkt. No. 47-7
at 4). However, on November 11, 2010, upon reconsideration,
she was determined to have been disabled as of December 2008
and was awarded retroactive benefits from December 2008 to
October 2010 (Dkt. No. 1-3 at 6; Dkt. No. 47-7 at 4). On
February 18, 2011 and March 23, 2011, the Social Security
Administration ("SSA") billed Plaintiff for its
alleged overpayment of her retroactive SSDI benefits due to
offsets by workers' compensation benefits that she
received (Dkt. No. 1-3 at 6). Plaintiff disagreed with the
SSA's calculation of the amount of the offset, claimed
that she was owed additional retroactive SSDI benefits, and
requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge
("ALJ") after the SSA denied her request for
reconsideration (Dkt. No. 1-3 at 6). On September 7, 2012,
Plaintiff and the SSAs Office of Dispute Resolution
("ODAR") agreed on a settlement amount, which they
recommended to the ALJ (Dkt. No. 47-7 at 5). On September 25,
2012, accounting for the workers' compensation offset,
the ALJ awarded the following retroactive benefits to which
Plaintiff and ODAR had agreed: $11, 520 to Plaintiff; $6, 298
to her daughter; and $4, 020 to her son (Dkt. No. 1-3 at 7-8;
Dkt. No. 47-7 at 5).
the Commissioner did not pay the retroactive SSDI benefits
the ALJ awarded, on May 3, 2013, Plaintiff sought mandamus
relief in this court (Dkt. No. 1; Dkt. No. 1-3 at 8). In
August 2013, a claims authorizer in the Centralized ALJ Group
of the Processing Center of the SSAs Office of Centralized
Operations reviewed Plaintiffs file in response to her writ
of mandamus and determined that the ALJ miscalculated
Plaintiffs workers' compensation offset for December 2008
through July 2010 and, thus, the ALJ's decision was
erroneous (Dkt. No. 14-1 ¶¶ 3, 5, 6, 7). The claims
authorizer referred the case to the Appeals Council by
submitting a "protest memorandum" (Dkt. No. 14-1 at
¶ 9). On January 24, 2014, the Appeals Council notified
Plaintiff that it had vacated the ALJ's decision and
remanded the case to the ALJ for further proceedings,
including a new hearing (Dkt. No. 34-3; Dkt. No. 41 at
On December 12, 2013, Plaintiff asked this court to issue a
temporary restraining order and/or preliminary injunction to
prevent the hearing on the ground that the Appeals Council
did not have jurisdiction to remand the case to the ALJ (Dkt.
No. 23). The Commissioner agreed to stay the ALJ's
hearing pending the court's decision on Plaintiffs motion
(Dkt. No. 40). On December 30, 2014, Magistrate Judge Kenneth
P. Neiman denied Plaintiffs motion for a writ of mandamus
based on Plaintiffs failure to exhaust the administrative
avenues of relief made available when the Appeals Council
reopened the case and remanded it to the ALJ (Dkt. No. 41).
Judge Neiman further denied Plaintiffs motion for a temporary
restraining order and/or preliminary injunction, closed the
case, and remanded it to the ALJ for hearing (id). See
Stewart v. Colvin, Civil Action No. 13-30092-KPN, 2014
WL 7405753, at *l-2 (D. Mass. Dec. 30, 2014),
remanded, No. 15-1162 (1st Cir. Jan. 13, 2016).
Plaintiff appealed Judge Neiman's ruling (Dkt. Nos. 42,
45, 46). On January 13, 2016, the First Circuit affirmed
Judge Neiman's decision, concluding that "exhaustion
of administrative remedies is required" (Dkt. No. 45).
who presided over the first hearing in September 2012 also
presided over the second hearing and issued her decision on
September 30, 2016 (Dkt. No. 47-7). The ALJ addressed
whether: (1) there was an overpayment or underpayment of
Plaintiff s and her children's retroactive SSDI benefits
considering the workers' compensation offset; (2) there
was an error in the settlement terms that were incorporated
into her September 25, 2012 decision; and (3) the SSA's
protest was timely (Dkt. No. 47-7 at 6). The ALJ determined
that Plaintiff was entitled to recover the settlement amount
that was included in her September 25, 2012 decision (Dkt.
No. 47-7 at 6-12). Consequently, the ALJ found that Plaintiff
and her children had been underpaid and awarded the
following: $11, 520 to Plaintiff; $6, 298 to her daughter;
and $4, 020 to her son (Dkt. No. 47-7 at 11-12). These
amounts were to be reduced by the "maximum amount [of
attorney's fees] allowed" (Dkt. No. 47-7 at 12).
Plaintiff had not received payment on December 28, 2016, she
filed another motion for a writ of mandamus (Dkt. No. 47). On
February 21, 2017, the Commissioner opposed Plaintiffs motion
and moved for dismissal of her complaint based on payment to
Plaintiff and her children on or about February 2 and 6, 2017
(Dkt. No. 53-1). Plaintiff agrees that so much of her motion
as was directed at obtaining payment from the Commissioner is
moot, but argues that she is entitled to attorneys' fees
and costs under the EAJA (Dkt. No. 54). The Commissioner
disputes this contention (Dkt. No. 57).
Payment of Retroactive Benefits
law makes clear - and the parties agree - that Plaintiffs
request for mandamus is moot. Plaintiff sought issuance of a
writ of mandamus from this court to compel the Commissioner
to pay the retroactive benefits that the ALJ awarded to
Plaintiff on September 30, 2016 (Dkt. No. 47). "Mandamus
is regarded as an extraordinary writ reserved for special
situations." In re City of Fall River, 470 F.3d
30, 32 (1st Cir. 2006). See AlliedChem. Corp. v. Daiflon,
Inc., 449 U.S. 33, 34 (1980) (per curiam). "Among
its ordinary preconditions are that the agency or official
have . . . failed to act. . . in disregard of a clear legal
duty and that there be no adequate conventional means for
review." In re City of Fall River, 470 F.3d at
32. See Heckler v. Ringer, 466 U.S. 602, 616 (1984)
("The common-law writ of mandamus, as codified in 28
U.S.C. § 1361, is intended to provide a remedy for a
plaintiff only if he has exhausted all other avenues of
relief and only if the defendant owes him a clear
nondiscretionary duty."); Moriarty v. Colvin,
Civil Action No. 13-30157-KPN, 2014 WL 4966083, at *4 (D.
Mass. Sept. 30, 2014) ("Section 1361 provides that
district courts 'shall have original jurisdiction of any
action in the nature of mandamus to compel an officer or
employee of the United States or any agency thereof to
perform a duty owed to the plaintiff") (quoting 28
U.S.C. § 1361).
request for mandamus relief was rendered moot when the
Commissioner satisfied her payment obligation before this
court acted on Plaintiffs motion. See Marcano v.
Apfel, 112 F.Supp.2d 227, 229 (D.P.R. 2000)
("[M]ost of [p]etitioner's claims [that were the
subject of the writ of mandamus] have in fact become moot
because they have been paid."). A court lacks
jurisdiction if a case is moot. See North Carolina v.
Rice, 404 U.S. 244, 246 (1971) ("Mootness is a
jurisdictional question because the Court 'is not
empowered to decide moot questions or abstract
propositions;' [its] impotence 'to review moot cases
derives from the requirement of Article III of the
Constitution under which the exercise of judicial power
depends upon the existence of a case or
controversy.'") (citations omitted); Powell v.
McCormack, 395 U.S. 486, 496 (1969) ("[A] case is
moot when the issues presented are no longer 'live'
or the parties lack a legally cognizable interest in the
outcome."); McLaughlin v. Boston Sch. Comm.,
952 F.Supp. 33, 35 (D. Mass. 1996). Consequently, denial of
Plaintiff s mandamus motion is warranted.
Award of Attorney's Fees and ...