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CANALES v. SULLIVAN

September 19, 1990

DOLORES CANALES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
LOUIS W. SULLIVAN, M.D., SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Sweet, District Judge.

OPINION

Plaintiff Dolores Canales ("Canales") has moved the Court to reconsider and vacate its order and judgment (the "Order") dismissing Canales' complaint and to reopen this case to review it on the merits. For the reasons set forth below the motion is denied.

Prior Proceedings

On February 23, 1990 an Order was entered dismissing Canales's complaint. The memorandum opinion cited the failure of Canales to comply with the 60-day time limitation of the Social Security Act (the "Act") for filing a civil action seeking review of the Secretary's decision to deny benefits, 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), and the failure to submit any papers to provide a basis upon which to even consider an equitable tolling of the statute.*fn1

Canales had applied for Disability Insurance benefits and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits based on disability. The complaint, filed on August 12, 1988, was filed 104 days after the final decision denying benefits filed by the Appeals Council on April 29, 1988. Canales never made a request to the Secretary for an extension of time in which to file a civil complaint and no extension was granted.

Canales is fifty-three years old and suffers from a variety of medical and psychiatric impairments. She has been under bi-monthly psychiatric care since January 1986 for paranoid ideations, crying spells, and irritability. She was diagnosed as suffering from major depression with psychotic features. Since the motion to dismiss was presented to the court, Canales has been deemed disabled and entitled to benefits because of her mental illness in a decision dated March 6, 1990 issued by the Social Security Administration, North Bronx District Office.

Canales, now represented by counsel, has submitted papers indicating that the court was under the misimpression that Canales was represented during her administrative proceedings. Canales contends that her failure to file a timely appeal was caused not by deliberate intent but by the very same mental disability for which she is seeking benefits and thus, under these circumstances, the doctrine of equitable tolling should be applied to afford her an opportunity to have her rights decided on the merits.

Rule 60(b)

Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure enumerates six grounds upon which a party may seek relief from a final judgment. "Properly applied, the rule preserves a balance between serving the ends of justice and ensuring that litigation reaches an end within a finite period a time." House v. Secretary of Health and Human Serv., 688 F.2d 7, 9 (2d Cir. 1982) (citations omitted).

Rule 60(b) provides that:

  [T]he court may relieve a party or a party's legal
  representative from a final judgment, order, or
  proceeding for the following reasons: (1) mistake,
  inadvertence, surprise or excusable neglect . . .;
  (3) fraud . . ., misrepresentation, or other
  misconduct of an adverse party; (4) the judgment
  upon which it is based has been reversed or
  otherwise vacated, or it is no longer equitable
  that the judgment should have prospective
  application, or (6) any other reasons justifying
  relief from the operation of the judgment.

Rule 60(b) grants courts "broad authority" to relieve a party from a final judgment "upon such terms as are just" as long as one of the six reasons set forth in the Rule apply. Liljeberg v. Health Serv. Acquisition Corp., 486 U.S. 847, 108 S.Ct. 2194, 2204, 100 L.Ed.2d 855 (1988).

The Second Circuit has recognized that this Circuit's interpretations of the scope of Rule 60(b)(6) has varied greatly. Nemaizer v. Baker, 793 F.2d 58, 63 (2d Cir. 1986) ("whether the water in the reservoir [of equitable power] is scant or grand is far from clear"). Most recently, Judge Leval has stated that Rule 60(b) requires that "the evidence in support of the motion must be `highly convincing,' a party must show good cause for failure to act sooner, and no undue hardship must be imposed on other parties." Security Pacific Mortg. & Real Estate Serv., Inc. v. Herald Center Ltd., 731 F. Supp. 605, 611 (S.D.N.Y. 1990) (citing Kotlicky v. U.S. Fidelity & Guar. Co., 817 F.2d 6, 9 (2d Cir. 1987)).


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