United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
JOELLYN M. WALSH, Plaintiff
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant
Saporito Magistrate Judge
M. MUNLEY JUDGE
the court for disposition is Magistrate Judge Joseph F.
Saporito, Jr.'s report and recommendation (hereinafter
“R&R”) regarding Plaintiff Joellyn M.
Walsh's social security appeal. The R&R suggests
vacating the Commissioner of Social Security's decision
and remanding the case for a rehearing before a different
Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter “ALJ”). The
defendant has filed objections to the R&R and the matter
is ripe for disposition.
Plaintiff filed a claim for disability insurance benefits
under Title II of the Social Security Act on August 10, 2011.
(Doc. 8, Administrative Record (hereinafter “R.”)
at 126-27, 143). Plaintiff claims an inability to work due to
seronegative rheumatoid arthritis, degenerative disc disease,
osteoarthritis of the bilateral knees, anxiety and attention
deficit disorder. (R. at 417). The Commissioner denied her
review initially, and also denied it after a hearing before
an Administrative Law Judge (hereinafter “ALJ”).
Plaintiff then appealed the denial of benefits to this court.
(Doc. 1, Compl.).
case was assigned to Magistrate Judge Saporito for the
issuance of an R&R. Judge Saporito indicates that the
presiding ALJ had not been properly appointed by the
defendant and that the commissioner's final decision
should be reversed and remanded to the agency for a hearing
before a properly appointed ALJ. The defendant filed
objections to the R&R bringing the case to its present
court has federal question jurisdiction over this Social
Security Administration appeal. See 42 U.S.C. §
1383(c)(3) (“The final determination of the
Commissioner of Social Security after a hearing under
paragraph (1) shall be subject to judicial review as provided
in section 405(g) of this title to the same extent as the
Commissioner's final determinations under section 405 of
this title.”); see also 42 U.S.C. §
405(g) (“Any individual, after any final decision of
the Commissioner of Social Security made after a hearing to
which he was a party, irrespective of the amount in
controversy, may obtain a review of such decision by a civil
action commenced within sixty days after the mailing to him
of notice of such decision or within such further time as the
Commissioner of Social Security may allow. Such action shall
be brought in the district court of the United States for the
judicial district in which the plaintiff resides, or has her
principal place of business....”).
disposing of objections to a magistrate judge's report
and recommendation, the district court must make a de
novo determination of those portions of the report
against which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. §
636(b)(1)(c); see also Sullivan v. Cuyler, 723 F.2d
1077, 1085 (3d Cir. 1983). The court may accept, reject, or
modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations
made by the magistrate judge. Henderson v. Carlson,
812 F.2d 874, 877 (3d Cir. 1987). The district court judge
may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to
the magistrate judge with instructions. Id.
dispositive issue plaintiff raises on appeal is whether the
ALJ who heard her case was properly appointed under the
Appointments Clause of the United States Constitution, U.S.
Const. art. II, § 2, cl. 2. Plaintiff claims that the
ALJ was not constitutionally appointed, and therefore, the
case should be remanded for a new hearing before a properly
United States Supreme Court in Lucia v. S.E.C.
addressed the status of ALJs as they are used by the Security
and Exchange Commission. - - U.S. - -, 138 S.Ct. 2044 (2018).
The Court examined whether ALJs who preside over enforcement
proceedings are “Officers of the United States”
within the meaning of the Constitution's Appointments
Clause. If they are Officers of the United States under the
Appointments Clause, rather than simply employees, the ALJs
must be appointed by the President, a court of law or a
department head. Id. at 2051. The Court concluded
that the ALJs are in fact “officers” who must be
appointed pursuant to the Constitution. Id. at 2055.
Some ALJs were not properly appointed. If a party had a
hearing before an improperly appointed ALJ, he is entitled to
a new hearing before a properly appointed ALJ if he makes a
timely challenge. Id.
Lucia dealt with ALJs in the Securities and Exchange
Commission, its holding has been applied by courts to ALJs
who preside over social security benefit hearings. On July
16, 2018, the then Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
Nancy Berryhill, ratified the appointment of the ALJs ...