United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
pro se, Rashonda Walden has filed a complaint asking
the Court to review her son's ongoing social security
benefits proceedings. Doc. 1. The Court now screens
plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
doesn't provide the Court with much. She complains that
the attorney hired to file her son's claim with the
Social Security Administration has repeatedly been delinquent
in submitting certain documents needed to flesh out the
administrative record, resulting in her son's
administrative hearing being rescheduled (perhaps more than
once, it isn't clear). Doc. 1 at 3. She has since fired
that attorney and now asks this Court to somehow intervene in
the administrative proceedings. Id. The relief she
seeks (an award of benefits? an administrative hearing before
a federal magistrate judge? in camera review of the
100 pages of medical records attached with the Complaint?) is
unclear, but she names the Commissioner, the Appeals Council,
and the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review as
defendants. Id. at 2.
attaches, however, a letter from counsel dated June 20, 2018,
informing her of an unfavorable decision denying benefits
because “we were unable to obtain any really favorable
opinions from [NBK]'s doctors.” Doc. 1 at 97. He
advises her that she can appeal the decision to the Appeals
Council. Id. While this is clearly distressing for
plaintiff, it also clarifies that she is far from exhausting
her administrative remedies. And she must do so
before coming to this Court for relief.
the Social Security Act, an individual claiming entitlement
to benefits goes through a four step process. She first
receives an initial determination. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.902, 416.1402. If the decision is not
favorable, she may seek reconsideration. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.907, 416.1407. If the reconsideration
is unfavorable, she may request a hearing before an ALJ.
See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.929, 416.1429. If she
disputes the ALJ's determination, she may request that
the decision be reviewed by the Appeals Council. See
20 C.F.R. §§ 404.967, 416.1467. Only after
negotiating each of these procedural hurdles may a
claimant obtain review of the Commissioner's final
decision by a federal district court. See 20 C.F.R.
§§ 404.981, 416.1481. Since NBK's claim is not
yet finished winding its way through the administrative
appeals process, it is unexhausted and cannot be reviewed
Court, likewise, does not have jurisdiction to hear any claim
for denial of social security benefits because judicial
review is limited to only the “final decisions”
of the Commissioner of Social Security. 42 U.S.C.
§§ 405(g), (h), 1383(c)(3); Califano v.
Sanders, 430 U.S. 99, 108 (1977). A Social Security
benefits decision is not final, allowing for judicial review,
until the decision has gone through the entire four-step
process, including Appeals Council review. See 20
C.F.R. §§ 404.900(a), 416.1400(a); see also
Weinberger v. Salfi, 422 U.S. 749, 766 (1975). Given
that NBK does not yet have that “final decision”
of the Commissioner, the Court lacks jurisdiction to hear his
Complaint. See 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.900(a),
Complaint should be DISMISSED both for
failure to exhaust and for lack of jurisdiction. In other
words, plaintiff must go to the Appeals Council and seek
their review of the ALJ's decision. She may gather those
missing records and try to have them incorporated into the
Administrative Record, to sway the Appeals Council to take
further administrative actions. But she cannot do that here.
Report and Recommendation (R&R) is submitted to the
district judge assigned to this action, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(B) and this Court's Local Rule 72.3.
Within 14 days of service, any party may file written
objections to this R&R with the Court and serve a copy on
all parties. The document should be captioned
“Objections to Magistrate Judge's Report and
Recommendations.” Any request for additional time to
file objections should be filed with the Clerk for
consideration by the assigned district judge.
the objections period has ended, the Clerk shall submit this
R&R together with any objections to the assigned district
judge. The district judge will review the magistrate
judge's findings and recommendations pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The parties are advised that
failure to timely file objections will result in the waiver
of rights on appeal. 11th Cir. R. 3-1; see Symonett v.
V.A. Leasing Corp., 648 Fed.Appx. 787, 790 (11th Cir.
2016); Mitchell v. United States, 612 Fed.Appx. 542,
545 (11th Cir. 2015).
REPORTED AND RECOMMENDED
 In cases where the plaintiff is
proceeding in forma pauperis, which the Court
GRANTS here on indigency grounds, doc. 2, it
is required to screen each case and dismiss it upon
determination either that the allegation of poverty is untrue
or that the action or appeal is frivolous or malicious, fails
to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks