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Winters v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

April 9, 2019

Tanya Winters, Plaintiff,
Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.



         At issue is Defendant Commissioner of Social Security Administration's (hereinafter, “Defendant”) Motion to Dismiss the Complaint Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) (Doc. 31). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On June 24, 2010, Plaintiff filed an application for disability benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 31-1 at 3). Plaintiff's application was denied at the initial level on November 17, 2010, (Doc. 31-2 at 2-5), and at the reconsideration level on March 21, 2011, (Doc. 31-3 at 2-4). Following a hearing on December 9, 2011, the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) issued a fully favorable decision on May 25, 2012, finding Plaintiff was disabled since February 22, 2009-her alleged onset date. (Doc. 31-4 at 2-14). That same day, on May 25, 2012, the Social Security Administration (SSA) issued a Notice of Decision to Plaintiff informing her that if she wished to appeal the fully favorable decision, she must file a request for review with the Appeals Council within 60 days from the date she received the Notice of Decision. (Id. at 2). The Chief of Court Case Preparation and Review Branch 1 of the Office of Appellate Operations at the SSA avers, however, that “[t]here is no record that the plaintiff requested Appeals Council review of the May 25, 2012 decision, and the Council has taken no action to review the decision on its own motion.” (Doc. 31-1 at 3). The SSA sent Plaintiff a Notice of Award on June 29, 2012, notifying Plaintiff that she was entitled to monthly Title II benefit payments beginning August 2009. (Doc. 31-5 at 2).

         On August 2, 2018, Plaintiff filed a civil action in this Court seeking review of a decision regarding disability insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 1 at 2).[1] Plaintiff claims that the Commissioner's factual findings are not supported by substantial evidence because “the record shows that Plaintiff's disability began June 1, 1998 and not that of the date the Commissioner found which is [] February 2009.” (Id. at 3). In response to the question in the Complaint asking when Plaintiff received notice that the Commissioner's decision was final, Plaintiff wrote “unknown.” (Id.). Plaintiff also did not attach to her Complaint any copy of the Commissioner's alleged final decision, nor a copy of any notice informing her that her appeal was denied by the Appeals Council. (Id.).

         On February 22, 2019, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) (hereinafter, “Motion”). (Doc. 31). Defendant argues the Court does not have jurisdiction to review the SSA's decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) because Plaintiff has failed to fully exhaust her administrative remedies. (Id. at 1-2). On March 22, 2019, Plaintiff filed a response (Doc. 36) to Defendant's Motion. Plaintiff's response to Defendant's Motion does not address jurisdiction, nor discuss whether she exhausted her administrative remedies prior to filing her Complaint.[2] (See Doc. 36). Defendant did not file any reply in support of its motion.


         The defense of lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time by the parties or by the court. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3). Under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, dismissal is appropriate when the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a claim. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction” and may only hear cases as authorized by the Constitution or Congress. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994) (citations omitted). “It is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction.” Id. (internal citations omitted); see also Indus. Tectonics, Inc. v. Aero Alloy, 912 F.2d 1090, 1092 (9th Cir. 1990) (“The party asserting jurisdiction has the burden of proving all jurisdictional facts.”) (citing McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936); Fenton v. Freedman, 748 F.2d 1358, 1359 n.1 (9th Cir. 1984)). Accordingly, on a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the plaintiff must demonstrate that subject matter jurisdiction exists to defeat dismissal. See id.

         When considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), the district court may review any evidence to resolve factual disputes concerning the existence of jurisdiction. McCarthy v. United States, 850 F.2d 558, 560 (9th Cir. 1988) (citing Land v. Dollar, 330 U.S. 731, 735 n. 4 (1947) (“[W]hen a question of the District Court's jurisdiction is raised . . . the court may inquire by affidavits or otherwise, into the facts as they exist.”)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         The United States and its agencies, including the SSA, are immune from suit absent a waiver. Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp. v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994). “Sovereign immunity is jurisdictional in nature.” Id. “It is axiomatic that the United States may not be sued without its consent and that the existence of consent is a prerequisite for jurisdiction.” United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212 (1983). “[W]here a statute creates a right and provides a special remedy, that remedy is exclusive.” United States v. Babcock, 250 U.S. 328, 331 (1919).

         The Social Security Act provides the sole avenue for judicial review of any claim arising under the Act, including claims under Titles II and XVI. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(h) (“No findings of fact or decision of the Commissioner of Social Security shall be reviewed by any person, tribunal, or governmental agency except as herein provided.”). The remedy provision in section 405(g) provides, in relevant part:

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. . . .

42 U.S.C. § 405(g) (emphasis added). “This provision clearly limits judicial review to a particular type of agency action, a ‘final decision of the Secretary made after a hearing.'” Califano v. Sanders, 430 U.S. 99, 108 (1977); see ...

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