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Winters v. Commissioner of Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Arizona

August 8, 2019

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

          ORDER

          JAMES A. TEILBORG SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         At issue is Defendant Commissioner of Social Security Administration's (hereinafter, “Defendant”) Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (Doc. 38). For the reasons set forth below, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint (Doc. 35) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On May 25, 2012, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found that Plaintiff had been disabled under the Social Security Act since February 22, 2009. (Doc. 32-1 at 28). This decision noted that the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) would later advise Plaintiff regarding the non-disability requirements for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) payments and, if Plaintiff was eligible, the amount and the months for which payment would be made. Id. On July 10, 2012, the SSA notified Plaintiff that she met the requirements to receive SSI as of July 2010 based on being disabled, and that she was eligible for back payments totaling $1, 836.82. (Id. at 29-30). The SSA also advised Plaintiff that, as a result of excess income and resources, she was not eligible to receive SSI payments for June 2010, for August 2010 through July 2011, and for April 2012 on. (Id. at 31). Although Plaintiff asked the SSA to review this determination, on July 26, 2013, an ALJ determined that Plaintiff continued to be ineligible for SSI payments since June 2010 because her income and resources exceeded the allowable limit. (Id. at 70-72).

         On August 21, 2015, Plaintiff again applied for SSI, but her application was denied via a Notice of Disapproved Claim dated October 16, 2015 because she continued to have too much income to be eligible for SSI. (Id. at 90). On October 30, 2015, Plaintiff filed a reconsideration request, which was denied after a formal conference on November 23, 2015. (Id. at 116, 119). Thereafter, Plaintiff requested a hearing with an ALJ to review the SSA's denial of her reconsideration request, (id. at 123-25), which was held August 16, 2017. (Id. at 14). On November 14, 2017, an ALJ affirmed the Notice of Disapproved Claim from October 16, 2015 based on the finding that Plaintiff continued to be ineligible for the receipt of SSI because she had income and/or resources in excess of the allowable amount. (Id. at 14-15). That same day, the SSA issued a Notice of Unfavorable Decision, which instructed Plaintiff that if she wished to appeal the unfavorable decision to the Appeals Council, she must file a written appeal within 60 days from the date she received that notice. (Id. at 10-12). On June 18, 2018, the Appeals Council issued a letter entitled “Notice of Appeals Council Action” notifying Plaintiff that it had denied her request for review, and instructing her that she has 60 days to file a civil action or else could ask the Appeals Council for an extension of her time to file. (Id. at 6- 9). Plaintiff was granted an extension of time within which to commence a civil action through October 15, 2018. (Id. at 5).

         On October 15, 2018, Plaintiff filed her original Complaint in this case, seeking review of the decision regarding SSI under Title XVI of the Social Security Act. (Doc. 1 at 2). Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that the Commissioner's factual findings are not supported by substantial evidence and were based on legal error because “Plaintiff is wrongfully said to have a Social Security ‘adult-child.'” (Id. at 3). On March 25, 2019, Defendant filed an Answer to Plaintiff's original Complaint and the Certified Administrative Record. (Docs. 30, 32). Plaintiff filed the Amended Complaint at issue here on March 28, 2019. (Doc. 35).[1] In her Amended Complaint, Plaintiff states that the basis for federal court jurisdiction is federal question under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and lists the specific statutes at issue as 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the Americans with Disability Act of 1990. (Id. at 3). Although Plaintiff does not check the box indicating that the basis for federal court jurisdiction is diversity of citizenship, she alleges an amount in controversy over $75, 000 because she believes she is owed more than 10 years' worth of benefits which have not been disbursed to her. (Id. at 4).

         On May 14, 2019, Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (Doc. 38). Defendant argues that the Court does not have jurisdiction to review the Social Security Administrator's decision under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), because Plaintiff has failed to fully exhaust her administrative remedies, and because 42 U.S.C. § 405(h) bars suits brought under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 challenging the SSA's decisions. (Id. at 5-6). Plaintiff filed an affidavit in response, but does not address Defendant's jurisdictional arguments. (See Doc. 44).[2]

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         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 Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 377. 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 contains a limited waiver of sovereign immunity and 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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