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The Daily Digest, 3/24/11

Some litigants have successfully used their brain dysfunction to obtain tolling of a missed filing deadline. While equitable tolling most often arises in habeas proceedings, the same principle, that under extraordinary circumstances a filing deadline may be tolled, applies in other legal contexts.

The Plaintiff in the case today claimed his constitutional right to due process was violated when the social security administration refused to reopen a case that he had failed to appeal fourteen years earlier. He claimed that his “organic brain” dysfunction left him so impaired that he was unable to seek review when he was denied benefits. Federal courts have subject matter jurisdiction to review such denials only when a colorable claim of a constitutional violation is present. The court found one here.

Subject-Matter Jurisdiction, Organic Brain Dysfunction, Due Process and Tolling
White v. Astrue, 2011 WL 900289 (N.D.Cal. 2011)
This case arises from Defendant’s motion to dismiss under 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, which the court denies. Because Plaintiff introduced expert evidence that he suffered from “organic brain” dysfunction, he raised a colorable constitutional claim conferring subject matter jurisdiction to the court. The Plaintiff sought to overturn the Social Security Administration’s (“SSA”) decision not to reopen the denial of a 1990 application for benefits. On his first appeal, the Court remanded the case to the SSA, finding that Plaintiff’s due process rights had been violated. On remand, the SSA again declined to reopen its original determination. Plaintiff now challenges that second determination. In June of 1990, Plaintiff filed an application for supplemental security income. He claimed that he was entitled to disability benefits because he suffered from “neck and back problems.” The SSA denied his application for benefits and rejected his request for reconsideration. Plaintiff did not pursue that application for benefits in further proceedings. In 2004, the ALJ held that Plaintiff had been disabled since October of 1997, due to a variety of severe physical and psychological impairments. Thereafter, Plaintiff sought to renew the earlier application he had filed back in 1990. He claimed that he failed to appeal the SSA’s unfavorable ruling on that application because he suffered from “a mental impairment so severe that he was incapable of appealing his prior denials of benefits.” The Supreme Court has held that federal court review of SSA decisions do not “authorize judicial review of alleged abuses of agency discretion in refusing to reopen claims for social security benefits,” except for claims that rest on constitutional grounds. Plaintiff’s Complaint provides some facts showing a colorable constitutional violation. Specifically, Plaintiff furnishes the ALJ’s decision, which recounts expert testimony that Plaintiff suffered from an “organic brain syndrome” that effected him during the time his claim was first denied in 1991. The expert further testified “if the claimant were acting alone he would have an impaired ability to request review of his adverse disability determination.” The Court found this testimony sufficient to raise a colorable claim of a constitutional violation.

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