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Griffin v. United States

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Western Division

May 14, 2018




         Before the Court are two motions filed by Defendant United States of America, Social Security Administration (“SSA”). The first is a Motion to Dismiss tort claims brought by Carolyn D. Griffin (“Griffin”) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Doc. 6.) The second is a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings regarding the portion of Griffin's action which stems from the SSA's decision to end her eligibility for disability benefits. (Doc. 7.) For the following reasons, SSA's Motion to Dismiss and the Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings are due to be GRANTED and the case is due to be DISMISSED.

         I. Facts and Procedural Background

         Griffin filed a pro-se complaint against the “Social Security Dept. of Tusc. AL” [sic] in the Circuit Court of Tuscaloosa County on September 25, 2017. The complaint alleged that Griffin had been “Wrongfully Trespassed . . . harassed . . . attacked, assaulted, and injured [and] [w]rongfully taken to jail” and that she had been improperly denied disability benefits. (Doc. 1-1.) Liberally construed, Griffin's Complaint asserts state-law tort claims against an agency of the United States Government encompassed by the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. §§ 2671-80. Defendant properly removed the action to this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1346(b)(1), 1441(a), and 1442(a)(1) on October 30th, 2017. (Doc. 1.) Griffin brings two causes of action. First, she alleges that she was wrongfully, physically harmed by United States government employees working for the SSA and requests $18, 000 in “damages from assault” as remedy for this claim. The claim is based on various alleged harms including wrongful arrest, harassment, and racial antagonism. (Doc. 1-1.) Second, she claims that her social security disability benefits have been “wrongfully taken” and requests that they be restored. (Id.)

         The SSA had previously found Griffin disabled as of October 12, 2004, but eventually determined that her disability ended as of September 1, 2015.[1] This decision was upheld on reconsideration. Griffin requested a review of the decision before an administrative law judge (“ALJ”), which she was granted. After the hearing, the ALJ issued a decision on May 3, 2017 upholding the determination that Griffin's disability had ceased. The ALJ sent a copy of the decision to Griffin and notified Griffin of her right to seek Appeals Council review within sixty days if she disagreed with the decision. The decision further notified Griffin that the Appeals Council would assume she received the decision within five days of the notice unless she showed otherwise. Griffin did not file a timely request for review, and instead waited until July 12, 2017, five days past the deadline of July 7, to appeal the decision. When the deadline initially passed, an employee of the SSA reached out to Griffin to determine whether she wanted to request review and provide an explanation of good cause for the untimely filing, but the attempt at contact was unsuccessful.

         Griffin's untimely request for Appeals Council review did not include a reason for her failure to file the request before the deadline. The Appeals Council notified Griffin by letter dated July 25, 2017 that her request for review had been untimely and invited her to explain the delay in filing and offer supporting evidence. Griffin was given thirty days to provide this information, but did not respond. On September 23, 2017 the Appeals Council issued a decision dismissing Griffin's request for review. Griffin filed the instant action appealing this decision and bringing her FTCA claim on September 25, 2017, but did not first submit an administrative tort claim as required by the Act.

         The intake, investigation, processing, and adjudication of administrative tort claims involving SSA under the FTCA are handled by the SSA's attorneys in the Division of Fiscal Law, Office of General Law, Office of the General Counsel. The Team Leader of this Division conducted a search of SSA's records and attested that Griffin has not filed an administrative tort claim against SSA.

         Griffin originally filed suit in state court on September 25, 2017, and the case was removed to this Court on October 30, 2017. Defendant filed its Answer, Motion to Dismiss, Memorandum in Support of Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, and Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings and Supporting Memorandum of Law on November 20th, 2017. The Court ordered Griffin to respond to SSA's Motion to Dismiss and Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings, but Griffin has failed to respond to either Motion.

         II. Standards of Review

         a. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         A motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure challenges a court's statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate a case. Motions to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) may take the form of either a facial or a factual attack. Scarfo v. Ginsberg, 175 F.3d 957, 960 (11th Cir.1999). Under a facial attack, the allegations in the complaint are taken as true for the purposes of the motion. Sea Vessel, Inc. v. Reyes, 23 F.3d 345, 347 (11th Cir. 1994). A factual challenge, on the other hand, questions the existence of subject matter jurisdiction based on matters outside the pleadings. Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990). Under a factual challenge, the Court may hear conflicting evidence and decide the factual issues that determine jurisdiction. Colonial Pipeline Co. v. Collins, 921 F.2d 1237, 1243 (11th Cir. 1991).

         Here, SSA presents both facial and factual attacks to the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction. As the SSA also presenting a factual challenge, “the burden is on the plaintiff to prove that jurisdiction exists.” OSI, Inc. v. US, 285 F.3d 947, 951 (11th Cir. 2002).

         b. Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings

         Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that “[a]fter the pleadings are closed-but early enough not to delay trial-a party may move for judgment on the pleadings.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). “Judgment on the pleadings is appropriate when there are no material facts in dispute, and judgment may be rendered by considering the substance of the pleadings and any judicially noticed facts.” Hawthorne v. Mac Adjustment, Inc., 140 F.3d 1367, 1370 (11th Cir. 1998). “In determining whether a party is entitled to judgment on the pleadings, [the court] accept[s] as true all material facts alleged in the non-moving party's pleading, and . . . view[s] those facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Id. Courts ...

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