United States District Court, N.D. New York
GEORGE P. FERRO, ESQ., DELL LAW OFFICE, Albany, New York, for Plaintiff.
JOANNE JACKSON PENGELLY, ESQ., Special Assistant U.S. Attorney, HON. RICHARD S. HARTUNIAN, United States Attorney, Northern District of New York, Syracuse, NY, for Defendant.
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
DAVID E. PEEBLES, Magistrate Judge.
This action, commenced by plaintiff Paul Piazza to challenge a decision by the Commissioner of Social Security denying his application for disability benefits and supplemental security income ("SSI") payments, was dismissed as untimely nearly three years ago. Plaintiff has now moved for relief from the judgment of dismissal and requests reinstatement of his complaint pursuant to Rule 60 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that his motion be denied based both upon the inordinate length of time that has passed since the case was closed and on the merits.
This action eminates from concurrent applications filed by the plaintiff with the Social Security Administration ("SSA") on November 17, 2008, claiming that he is disabled and requesting payment of disability and SSI benefits. Dkt. No. 7-2 at 8. Following a hearing, an SSA administrative law judge ("ALJ") issued a decision denying the applications, finding that plaintiff did not qualify for the benefits because he was not disabled at the relevant times. Id. at 8-17. The ALJ's decision became a final determination of the agency on May 25, 2011, when the Social Security Administration Appeals Council ("SSAAC") issued a letter denying plaintiff's request for review of that decision. Id. at 22-24.
Plaintiff, who at the time was represented by counsel, commenced this action on August 12, 2011, seeking judicial review of the Commissioner's administrative determination pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). Dkt. No. 1. The Commissioner thereafter moved to dismiss plaintiff's complaint as untimely. Dkt. No. 7. On May 4, 2012, following briefing in connection with the motion, I issued a report recommending that it be granted and that plaintiff's application for judicial review be dismissed based upon the fact that it was not filed within sixty days of the presumed date of his receipt of notice of the Commissioner's final determination. Dkt. No. 12. I also concluded there was no basis to invoke equitable tolling to salvage plaintiff's otherwise untimely complaint. Id. That recommendation was adopted by District Judge David N. Hurd on June 18, 2012, and judgment dismissing plaintiff's complaint was entered on the same date. Dkt. Nos. 16, 17.
On February 17, 2015, the plaintiff submitted an application to the court requesting relief from the order and judgment dismissing this action. Dkt. No. 18. Plaintiff's motion is supported by his declaration claiming that he did not receive the SSAAC's letter denying his application for judicial review, dated May 25, 2011, and additionally describing the severe, residual pain that he experiences as a result of his physical condition. Id. at 4-6. Plaintiff's motion is opposed by the Commissioner, who argues that it is both untimely and fails to provide any cognizable basis for the court to revisit its earlier determination. Dkt. No. 19.
A. Timeliness of Plaintiff's Motion
Plaintiff's motion implicates both Rule 60(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Northern District of New York Local Rule 7.1(g). Under Rule 60(b), a motion for relief from a final judgment must be made "within a reasonable time." Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(c)(1); see also PRC Harris, Inc. v. Boeing Co., 700 F.2d 894, 897 (2d Cir. 1983). Pursuant to the court's local rules, however, plaintiff's motion must have been filed within fourteen days after the entry of the challenged judgment, "[u]nless otherwise governed by [Rule 60]." N.D.N.Y. L.R. 7.1(g). Because plaintiff's motion specifically relies upon Rule 60(b)(6) in requesting the relief sought, Dkt. No. 18 at 6, I will analyze the timeliness of it under Rule 60, rather than the local rules.
In this circuit, "[i]n considering whether a Rule 60(b)(6) motion is timely, [courts] must scrutinize the particular circumstances of the case, and balance the interest of finality with the reasons for delay." PRC Harris, Inc., 700 F.2d at 897; accord, Maldonado v. Local 803 I.B. of T. Health & Welfare Fund, 490 F.Appx. 405, 406 (2d Cir. 2013). In this instance, plaintiff's motion for reconsideration was filed on February 17, 2015, thirty-two months after the issuance of the court's order dismissing his complaint for judicial review and the entry of judgment closing the case. Plaintiff's motion offers no justification for such an inordinate delay. Under the circumstances, I recommend a finding that plaintiff's motion under Rule 60(b)(6) was not filed within a reasonable time and should be denied on this procedural basis. See Maldonado, 490 F.Appx. at 406 (affirming the district court's denial of the plaintiff's motion for reconsideration because he failed to provide any rationale for filing the motion sixteen months after judgment had been entered). Notwithstanding this recommendation, I also considered the merits of the motion out of an abundance of caution.
B. Merits of Plaintiff's Motion
As was noted above, plaintiff's motion specifically relies upon Rule 60(b)(6) in seeking relief from Judge Hurd's order dismissing his complaint and the judgment entered thereafter. Dkt. No. 18 at 3. In relevant part, that rule provides that, "[o]n motion and just terms, the court may relieve a party... from a final judgment, order, or proceeding for... any... reason that justifies relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 60(b)(6). In this circuit, "[i]t is well established... that a proper case' for Rule 60(b)(6) relief is one of extraordinary circumstances, ' or extreme hardship.'" United States v. Cirami, 563 F.2d 26, 32 (2d Cir. 1977) (quoting Ackerman v. United States, 340 U.S. 193, 199 (1950)); accord, ...