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Woody v. Social Security Administration

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

September 5, 2019

LINDA M. WOODY, Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL Security Administration, COMMISSIONER, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OF OPINION

          L. SCOTT COOGLER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. Introduction

         Presently before this Court is a Motion to Dismiss the Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and/or failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), filed by Defendant, the Commissioner of Social Security. (Doc. 9.) Plaintiff, Linda M. Woody, has responded in opposition to the motion. (Doc. 11.) For the following reasons, the motion is due to be granted and this action dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

         II. Background

         Plaintiff filed a pro se complaint alleging errors with respect to unspecified Social Security Administration (“SSA”) determinations (Doc. 1). She checked a box indicating the claim type for which she sought review was “Widow or Widower Claim” and did not check the box to indicate Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”). (Id.) Materials Plaintiff attached to her complaint include a January 2017 notice explaining how portions of Plaintiff's 2017 Retirement, Survivors, and Disability Insurance (“RSDI”) payments would be withheld to collect an existing overpayment; an undated, unsigned Request for Reconsideration explaining that she was not married in 1995; a 2016 Social Security Benefit Statement; and a March 2, 2016, notice that Plaintiff had been overpaid $4, 398 in SSI benefits. It is not clear whether Plaintiff seeks court review of an SSI overpayment determination or the determination that her SSI payments would be offset by RSDI benefits.

         The Commissioner has attached to its motion to dismiss the declaration of Michael Sampson, Chief of the Court Case Preparation and Review Branch of the Office of Appellate Operations, SSA. (Doc. 9-1.) Mr. Sampson attests that he is responsible for the processing of claims under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, whenever a civil action has been filed in the State of Alabama, and that documents relating to Plaintiff's claim have been examined under his supervision. Those documents are attached to the declaration. Mr. Sampson's declaration offers the following information. On June 25, 1990, Plaintiff applied for SSI pursuant to the Social Security Act. Subsequently, on February 19, 1992, an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) found Plaintiff disabled and benefits were awarded. (Doc. 9-1 at 3.) In February 1995, Plaintiff was receiving Mother's Insurance Benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act, see 42 U.S.C. § 402(g), when SSA determined that Plaintiff had been overpaid. (Id.) In September 1995, SSA denied Plaintiff's request for a waiver of overpayment because Plaintiff was at fault in causing the overpayment. (Id.)

         On January 12, 2016, SSA notified Plaintiff that her SSI payments would decrease from $773 per month to $0 per month due to her failure to apply for other benefits for which she might be qualified. (Doc. 9-1 at 3 & Ex. 2.) Plaintiff then applied for Widow's Insurance Benefits and requested a redetermination of her SSI eligibility on January 29, 2016. (Doc. 9-1 at 3 & Ex. 1, 3.) Shortly after, on February 5, 2016, SSA notified Plaintiff that her SSI payments would return to $773 per month beginning in March 2016. (Doc. 9-1 at 3 & Ex. 4.) However, on February 11, 2016, SSA notified Plaintiff that she was entitled Widow's Insurance Benefits at $1, 004 per month beginning in March 2016. (Doc. 9-1 at 3 & Ex. 5.) Therefore, because Plaintiff's Widow's Insurance Benefits increased her income to $1, 004 per month, SSA notified Plaintiff on February 12, 2016, that a Title XVI windfall offset would reduce her SSI payments back to $0, and informed her of her right to appeal this offset determination by submitting a written Request for Reconsideration within 60 days. (Doc. 9-1 at 3 & Ex. 6.)

         In response, Plaintiff filed a Request for Reconsideration of her Title XVI windfall offset on March 1, 2016. (Doc. 9-1 at 4 & Ex. 7.) On March 2, 2016, SSA notified Plaintiff that she received $4, 390 more SSI than she was entitled to because she was eligible for other Social Security benefits when she began receiving SSI payments, and informed her of her right to appeal the overpayment determination. (Doc. 9-1 at 4 & Ex. 8.)

         On April 11, 2016, SSA dismissed Plaintiff's March 1, 2016 Request for Reconsideration, apparently misconstruing it as a reconsideration request from a prior overpayment determination, rather than reconsideration of the offset determination. (Doc. 9-1 at 4 & Ex. 9.) Mr. Sampson's Court Case Preparation and Review Branch then contacted the field office to request further action on Plaintiff's Title XVI windfall offset Request for Reconsideration. (Doc. 9-1 at 4.)

         On January 20, 2017, SSA notified Plaintiff of her overpayment repayment plan, which included a plan to withhold her current $1, 004 per month RSDI payments to satisfy her $4, 390 overpayments of SSI, beginning in January 2017. (Doc. 9-1 at 4 & Ex. 10.) Information available to SSA does not show that Plaintiff requested further administrative review of the February 1995 overpayment determination, the February 11, 2016 award of Widow's Insurance Benefits, or the February 12, 2016 determination reducing Plaintiff's SSI payments. (Doc. 9-1 at 4-5.) Further, there is no evidence of a decision from an ALJ or the Appeals Council on any of those issues. (Doc. 9-1 at 5.)

         On January 26, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant pro se complaint against the “Social Security Administration” in this Court, alleging errors with respect to unspecified SSA determinations. (Doc. 1.) Plaintiff served Defendant on June 27, 2018. On October 10, 2018, Defendant filed its Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 9). This Court then issued an order to Plaintiff ordering her to show cause in a written pleading as to why Defendant's Motion to Dismiss should not be granted. (Doc. 10.) Plaintiff filed a response to the order stating merely that she was on SSI in 1991 and that she is unaware of any overpayment. (Doc. 11.)

         III. Standard of Review

         A party may challenge subject-matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) by either a facial attack or a factual attack. See McElmurray v. Consol. Gov't of Augusta-Richmond Cnty., 501 F.3d 1244, 1251 (11th Cir. 2007). “Facial attacks on the complaint require the court merely to look and see if the plaintiff has sufficiently alleged a basis of subject-matter jurisdiction, and the allegations in his complaint are taken as true . . . .” Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525, 1529 (11th Cir. 1990) (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted). In a factual attack, the court may consider facts outside the pleading and is “free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case.” Id. (internal citation omitted). A factual controversy therefore does not itself defeat a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1). See id. “If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). Lack of jurisdiction “may be raised by a party, or by a court on its own initiative, at any stage in the litigation . . . .” Arbaugh v. Y&H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 506 (2006). “[S]ubject-matter jurisdiction, because it involves a court's power to hear a case, can never be forfeited or waived.” U.S. v. Cotton, 535 U.S. 625, 630 (2002).

         IV. ...


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