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Cruz v. Commissioner of Social Security

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

November 12, 2019

JOHANNA CRUZ, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RICHARD A. LLORET, U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Johanna Cruz was denied Social Security benefits by the decision of an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Ms. Cruz contends that the ALJ's unfavorable decision was reached in error. Doc. No. 2 (Complaint). Before I can reach the merits of Ms. Cruz's claims, however, I must decide whether this action should be dismissed for her failure to pay the administrative and filing fee.

         PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On June 10, 2019, Ms. Cruz initiated this action and filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Doc. No. 1. I denied her in forma pauperis motion, finding her financial status, as represented in her application, enabled her to pay the filing fee.[1]Doc. No. 7. I instructed Ms. Cruz that in order to proceed with this case, she must pay the $400 administrative and filing fee within thirty days. See Id. This meant she had until July 22, 2019 to pay the fee. Having been informed that she had not yet paid the fee as of July 23, 2019, see Doc. No. 8, I granted Ms. Cruz an additional twenty-one days to meet this requirement, see Doc. No. 9. I specifically warned her that if she failed to pay, her case may be dismissed for failure to prosecute. Id. On September 23, 2019, Ms. Cruz's counsel informed me that Ms. Cruz “does not wish to pay the filing fee.” Doc. No. 10. I then directed counsel to explain why this matter should not be dismissed for failure to prosecute. Doc. No. 11. On November 4, 2019, counsel complied and filed a responsive brief. See Doc. No. 12.

         For the reasons discussed below, I conclude that Ms. Cruz's action should be dismissed.

         DISCUSSION

         A district court may dismiss an action if a plaintiff fails to prosecute the case or comply with a court order. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(b); Allen v. American Fed. of Gov't Employees, 317 Fed.Appx. 180, 181 (3d Cir. 2009) (not precedential) (citing to Spain v. Gallegos, 26 F.3d 439, 454 (3d Cir. 1994)) (“A court may dismiss a case with prejudice for want of prosecution under Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b) in order to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases . . . .”). However, before doing so, the district court generally must evaluate the factors identified in Poulis v. State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 747 F.2d 863 (3d Cir. 1984). See, e.g., Hildebrand v. Allegheny Cty., 923 F.3d 128, 131- 32 (3d Cir. 2019); Spain, 26 F.3d at 455-56; Rawls v. Gibbs, 741 Fed.Appx. 108, 109 (3d Cir. 2018) (not precedential); Shelley v. Patrick, 361 Fed.Appx. 299, 301 n.5 (3d Cir. 2010) (not precedential). These factors include (1) the extent of the plaintiff's responsibility; (2) the prejudice to the defendant; (3) whether the plaintiff has a history of improper delay; (4) whether the plaintiff's failure to file was willful or in bad faith; and (6) whether the plaintiff's claims are meritorious. Poulis, 747 F.2d at 868.

         None of these factors alone are dispositive, and they do not all “need to be satisfied to justify dismissal of a complaint for lack of prosecution.” Hildebrand, 923 F.3d at 132. But because dismissal is a severe consequence, it should be “a sanction of last, not first, resort, ” and any doubts should be “resolved in favor of reaching a decision on the merits.” Id. (quoting Poulis, 747 F.2d at 867, 869, then Adams v. Trs. Of the N.J. Brewery Emps.' Pension Tr. Fund, 29 F.3d 863, 879 (3d Cir. 1994)). After careful review, I find that the Poulis factors weigh in favor of dismissing this action.

         A. Extent of plaintiff's responsibility.

         First, Ms. Cruz contends that she is “without sufficient means to pay the required filing fee, ” suggesting that her responsibility is limited. Doc. No. 12, at 2-3.[2] I disagree. When considering her motion to proceed in forma pauperis, I determined that Ms. Cruz was able to pay the filing fee in this case. Notably, Ms. Cruz represented in her application to proceed in forma pauperis that she owned three cars, including a 2016 BMW 325, and a house valued at $120, 000. Accordingly, I find that Ms. Cruz is responsible for not paying the filing fee here and that this factor strongly weighs in favor of dismissal.

         B. Prejudice to the defendant.

         With regard to the second factor, Ms. Cruz argues that the Commissioner has not yet been prejudiced, as the summons have not issued and he has not been joined as a party. Doc. No. 12, at 3. I agree, and this factor does not weigh in favor of dismissal. See, e.g., Johnson v. Nutter, No. 15-423, 2016 WL 7217642, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Dec. 12, 2016); Nieves v. Capozza, No. 18-1402, 2019 WL 5328819, at *2-3 (W.D. Pa. Sept. 24, 2019). However, it should be noted that “continued inaction frustrates and delays resolution of this action' by preventing the defendants from receiving notice of this lawsuit and seeking a timely resolution of [the] claims.” Bowie v. Perry, No. 19-13, 2019 WL 2412488, at *2 (W.D. Pa. May 13, 2019).

         C. History of improper delay.

         Next, Ms. Cruz suggests that she does not have a history of improper delay in this case, pointing to the fact that she has “twice advised the court that she is unable to pay the filing fee, ” has not sought an extension, and remains unable to pay. Doc. No. 12, at 3-4. A history of improper delay is “generally established by repeated ‘delay or delinquency.” Nieves, 2019 WL 5328819, at *3 (quoting Adams, 29 F.3d at 874). While I agree that Ms. Cruz does not have a history of improper delay in this matter, she has informed ...


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