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Sanders v. Weinberger

decided: September 12, 1975.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, Hammond Division - No. H 74 C 146 ALLEN SHARP, Judge.

Tuttle,*fn* Tone and Bauer, Circuit Judges. Bauer, Circuit Judge, dissenting.

Author: Tuttle

TUTTLE, Circuit Judge.

Mister Sanders appeals the order of the district court dismissing his complaint challenging the refusal of the Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare to reopen or reconsider a 1966 disallowance of his claim for Social Security benefits. The sole question which we consider on appeal is whether the district court had jurisdiction to review the Secretary's decision. We conclude that there was jurisdiction, and accordingly we reverse.

The plaintiff applied in 1964 for Social Security disability benefits claiming that he was disabled due to a mental impairment, and that this disability arose prior to the expiration of his insured status under the Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 416(i), 423. This claim was denied.*fn1 A final agency order was entered. Judicial review of this order was not sought. The plaintiff made his second application in 1973, almost seven years after final agency action on his earlier application. This application was denied on the grounds of the prior determination's effect, res judicata, and the plaintiff's request for an administrative hearing and administrative review of this denial were similarly denied on the grounds of res judicata. Section 405(h) of the Act provides:

"The findings and decision of the Secretary after a hearing shall be binding upon all individuals who were parties to such hearing. No findings of fact or decision of the Secretary shall be reviewed by any person, tribunal, or governmental agency except as herein provided."

Under the Act, a claimant may seek judicial review of a final agency order denying disability benefits if the request for review is filed within sixty days. 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Such review is limited to a determination whether there was substantial evidence to support the agency findings.*fn2

Pursuant to his statutory authority, the Secretary has promulgated regulations which define the circumstances under which decisions become final and under which final decisions may be reopened.*fn3 20 C.F.R. § 404.937 provides that the agency may dismiss a request for a hearing on the grounds of res judicata :

"(a) Res judicata. Where there has been a previous determination or decision by the Secretary with respect to the rights of the same party on the same facts pertinent to the same issue or issues which has become final either by judicial affirmance or, without judicial affirmance or, without judicial consideration, upon the claimant's failure timely to request reconsideration hearing, or review or to commence a civil action with respect to such determination or decision."

The regulations also provide that a final adverse decision may be reopened within 12 months, and may be reopened after 12 months but within four years of the initial determination, upon a showing of "good cause"*fn4 which is defined in 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.958(a) and 404.957(c)(8). "Good cause" includes a showing of new and material facts, or "for the purpose of correcting clerical error or error on the face of the evidence on which [the] determination or decision was based."

Because the plaintiff failed to request that his application's denial be reopened within four years, the administrative law judge held that the Secretary's earlier adverse decision could only be reopened pursuant to 20 C.F.R. § 404.957(c) (8) for error on the face of the evidence, and that no such error on the face of the evidence had been shown.*fn5

As we have noted, until shortly before oral argument in this case counsel for the plaintiff did not have a copy of the administrative record in the earlier adverse determination and was thus understandably limited in his ability to make a showing of error "on the face of the evidence." The question before us is whether the decision of the agency not to reopen the prior determination is reviewable for an abuse of discretion.

It seems quite clear that the Act itself does not expressly authorize such review. Section 405(h), the Secretary argues, precludes judicial review save as it is expressly authorized by the Act itself. Thus, the Secretary argues, the review provisions of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706, are inapplicable. We disagree.

The circuits are divided on the question of whether section 10 of the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 701-706, contains an independent grant of subject-matter jurisdiction, without regard to the amount in controversy. We choose to follow those circuits which hold that it does. See Pickus v. United States Board of Parole, 507 F.2d 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1974); Bradley v. Weinberger, 483 F.2d 410 (1st Cir. 1973); Brennan v. Udall, 379 F.2d 803 (10th Cir. 1967); Deering Milliken, Inc. v. Johnston, 295 F.2d 856 (4th Cir. 1961); cf. Brandt v. Hickel, 427 F.2d 53, 55 n. 2 (9th Cir. 1970). See also Davis, Administrative Law Treatise § 23.02 (Supp. ...

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