The opinion of the court was delivered by: NEALON
WILLIAM J. NEALON, CHIEF JUDGE.
Presently pending before the court in this case is a Report of Magistrate J. Andrew Smyser dated June 8, 1987 which recommends that summary judgment be granted in favor of defendant. For the reasons set forth below, the court will adopt the Magistrate's Report.
Plaintiff suffered serious injuries
in a truck accident on June 19, 1979. He previously filed applications for disability benefits on February 1, 1980 and April 1, 1980. The Secretary rendered a final decision adverse to plaintiff on these applications on March 19, 1982. Meanwhile, plaintiff was incarcerated in the state prison system from February 2, 1980 through April 1982.
Plaintiff filed his current application on August 5, 1985. Following an administrative hearing, an administrative law judge (ALJ) awarded benefits by a decision dated May 15, 1986. Specifically, the ALJ found that plaintiff was disabled as of September 29, 1983 and awarded benefits from that date.
Asserting that his disability onset date was June 19, 1979, plaintiff requested that the Appeals Council review the ALJ's decision. His request was denied on October 9, 1986.
Seeking judicial review of the Secretary's determination of his disability onset date, plaintiff commenced this action on December 5, 1986. The parties filed cross summary judgment motions, the merits of which were addressed by the Magistrate in his Report. The Magistrate found that the ALJ had not conducted a de facto review of plaintiff's two previous applications and, thus, had not waived the res judicata effect of the Secretary's March 19, 1982 decision denying plaintiff's prior applications. The Magistrate further determined that plaintiff's due process rights had not been violated by the Secretary's refusal to reopen his earlier applications. Finally, the Magistrate agreed with plaintiff that the res judicata doctrine applied up to the date of the ALJ's decision on plaintiff's previous applications, November 13, 1981, as opposed to the date of the Secretary's final decision on those applications, March 19, 1982. The Magistrate concluded, however, that there was substantial evidence in the administrative record supporting the Secretary's decision that plaintiff was not disabled before September 29, 1983.
Plaintiff filed Objections to the Magistrate's Report and a Brief in Support thereof on June 19, 1987. He presents the following arguments:
(1) By considering evidence relating to plaintiff's condition prior to March of 1982, the ALJ de facto reopened plaintiff's prior applications and thereby waived the doctrine of res judicata.
(2) Plaintiff, who was then in prison, was treated in a fundamentally unfair manner during the processing of his previous applications in that the Secretary failed to adequately expand the administrative record. The Secretary, then, failed to rectify this due process violation when he refused to reopen plaintiff's two earlier applications.
(3) The defendant has raised res judicata, which precludes the relitigation of identical claims but not the doctrine of collateral estoppel, which bars the relitigation of identical issues. Since plaintiff presents a new claim and since collateral estoppel was never raised, no preclusive effect should be applied to his current application.
(4) A review of the record indicates that plaintiff was disabled before September 29, 1983.
No further documents were submitted by the parties, and the present dispute is now ripe for consideration.
De Facto Reopening of Prior Applications
Where an ALJ correctly determines that the reopening of a previously adjudicated claim is barred by res judicata, a district court is without jurisdiction to review that decision. Stauffer v. Califano, 693 F.2d 306 (3d Cir. 1982). However, where a subsequent claim reveals evidence warranting a reopening of earlier claims and where the Secretary, although not expressly stating that sufficient cause for reopening exists, reviews the entire claim and renders a final decision on the merits after a hearing, a reviewing court is not precluded from finding that a reopening has occurred. Purter v. Heckler, 771 F.2d 682, 693 (3d Cir. 1985). See also McGowen v. Harris, 666 F.2d 60, 65 (4th Cir. 1981) (if a subsequent application for benefits presents the same claim as the initial application for res judicata ...