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Edwards v. Colvin

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

October 30, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


CATHY BISSOON, District Judge.


Presently pending before the Court is the Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint filed by Defendant, Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security ("Commissioner or "Defendant"). (ECF No. 3). For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted, as explained below.

A. Background

Donald Edwards ("Plaintiff"), received notice from the Social Security Administration ("SSA") in April and June of 2007 that he had been approved for benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 401, et seq. and § 1381 et seq. ("Act"). (ECF No. 4-1 at pp. 5-23). Plaintiff also was notified that the SSA had approved the fee agreement between Plaintiff and his representative, and that $5, 300 was being withheld to pay his representative. (ECF No 4-1 at pp. 6-7). On June 11, 2007, Plaintiff received a notice of "Important Information" regarding his Title II benefits, and was advised that if he disagreed with the decision, he had 60 days in which to ask for an appeal. (ECF No. 4-1 at pp. 34-35). The SSA's records do not reflect that Plaintiff appealed the decision. (ECF No. 4-1 at p. 3 ¶ 2(d)).

Plaintiff subsequently received several notices beginning on July 3, 2007, from the Department of Treasury, informing him that he owed money to the United States Department of Education, and that his benefit payments may be reduced. (ECF No. 4-1 at pp. 36-44). Plaintiff was informed that, pursuant to 31 U.S.C. § 3716, the Department of Treasury was required to reduce the amount of his benefits in order to pay such indebtedness in a process known as "offset." ( Id. ). These notices further informed Plaintiff that the SSA and the Department of Treasury were unable to answer any questions about the debt owed, and that only the agency to which he owed the debt could assist him in resolving it. ( Id. ).

In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that an arrest warrant was issued in September 2007 for a parole violation. (ECF No. 2 at p. 2). He further alleges that he was incarcerated for approximately eight (8) months, from January 2008 until September 2008. ( Id. ). During this timeframe and thereafter, Plaintiff received notices from the SSA regarding his Title II benefits, dated March 7, 2008, and June 2, 2009, regarding amounts withheld for court-ordered child support and/or alimony from the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. (ECF No. 4-1 at pp. 42-44).

Although not entirely clear from the allegations in the Complaint, it appears that Plaintiff claims that the SSA failed to pay him benefits totaling $7, 868.44 during the time he was incarcerated and while awaiting an administrative hearing before an administrative law judge. (ECF No. 2 at p. 2). He instituted this civil action pro se by filing a Motion for Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis, which was granted by the Court on November 22, 2013. (ECF No. 1). He seeks an order from the Court directing the Commissioner to place the withheld amount on his "direct express card." (ECF No. 2 at p. 2). The Commissioner has moved for dismissal of Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and/or Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (ECF No. 3).

B. Standard of Review

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) permits a defendant to move for dismissal of a complaint if the court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to hear the case. In a factual attack, such as here, the defendant challenges the factual basis underlying the court's subject-matter jurisdiction with extrinsic evidence, essentially making the argument that the allegations supportive of jurisdiction are not true. Cunningham v. Lenape Regional High Dist. Bd. of Educ., 492 F.Supp.2d 439, 447 (D.N.J. 2007). Because this Court must be satisfied at all times that it has the power to hear the case, it "may consider evidence outside the pleadings" "to resolve factual issues bearing on jurisdiction." Gould Electronics, Inc. v. U.S., 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000); Gotha v. U.S., 115 F.3d 176, 179 (3d Cir. 1997); Int'l Ass'n of Machinists & Aerospace Workers v. Nw. Airlines, 673 F.2d 700, 711 (3d Cir. 1982). Once the defendant presents extrinsic evidence contesting the jurisdictional facts set forth in the complaint, the court must permit the plaintiff to respond. Gould Electronics, 220 F.3d at 177. "The court may then determine jurisdiction by weighing the evidence presented by the parties, " " evaluating for itself the merits of the jurisdictional claims." Id .; Mortensen v. First Federal Sav. and Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977) (emphasis added). In making this evaluation, no presumption of truthfulness attaches to the allegations set forth in the complaint. Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891. Rather, the challenge must be evaluated solely on the merits of the evidence submitted on jurisdiction. Id.

When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must accept all of plaintiff's allegations as true and construe all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 233 (3d Cir. 2004). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). A claim "requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest the required element." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556) (internal quotations omitted). "This does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of the necessary element." Id.

Finally, a court must employ less stringent standards when considering pro se pleadings than when judging the work product of an attorney. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972). When presented with a pro se complaint, the court should construe the complaint liberally and draw fair inferences from what is not alleged as well as from what is alleged. Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003).

C. Analysis

The Commissioner first argues that Plaintiff's Complaint, to the extent it is based upon the amount withheld and awarded to his representative following an award of benefits under Title II and Title XVI of the Act, should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (ECF No. 4 at pp. 3-4).[1] The Court agrees. The only civil action permitted on a claim arising under Title II and/or Title XVI is an action to review the "final decision of the [Commissioner] made after a hearing." Califano v. Sanders, 430 U.S. 99, 108, 97 S.Ct. 980, 51 L.Ed.2d 192 (1977) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 405(g)). Determining the amount to be charged or received by a claimant's representative is a non-reviewable agency decision. 20 C.F.R. § 404.903(f) ("Administrative actions that are not initial determinations may be reviewed by us, but they are not subject to the administrative review process... and they are not subject to judicial review. These actions include, ... [d]etermining the fee that may be charged or received by a person who has represented you in connection with a proceeding before us[.]"). Accordingly, this Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to review the administrative action of the Commissioner in this regard, and this claim will be dismissed. See Palmer v. Barnhart, 89 F.App'x ...

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