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Mouratidis v. Stradton

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 17, 2019

TERRY M. STRADTON, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiff Louis Mouratidis, who receives benefits through the Social Security Administration (“SSA”), filed this civil action claiming that his civil rights were violated in connection with the handling of proceedings related to alleged overpayment of those benefits. He also filed a Motion for Leave to Proceed In Forma Pauperis (ECF No. 1). For the following reasons, the Court will grant Mouratidis leave to proceed in forma pauperis and dismiss his Complaint without prejudice to him filing an amended complaint against the Commissioner of Social Security pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).


         Mouratidis named as Defendants two “John Dou” hearing officers at the SSA; “Miss Kimbler, ” who is identified as a supervisor at the SSA; and Terry M. Stradtan, who is identified as a Regional Commissioner for the SSA. The Complaint includes numerous exhibits. At bottom, the Court understands Mouratidis to be challenging the conclusions of hearing officers employed by the SSA that he overpaid benefits and was not entitled to a waiver of overpayment.

         According to the Complaint, the SSA concluded that Mouratidis was entitled to disability benefits in 2011, apparently in connection with various neurological conditions. In July of 2012, Mouratidis was arrested and incarcerated for a period of eighty-seven days. He was committed to an institution for a mental health evaluation in connection with his criminal case. A copy of the docket for his criminal case, which is attached to the Complaint, indicates the charges were dismissed in 2013 for lack of prosecution. Employees at the SSA concluded that Mouratidis was overpaid $1, 410.40 in benefits while incarcerated.

         Mouratidis requested a waiver of overpayment on numerous occasions. It appears he alleged, and continues to allege, that he was not at fault for the overpayment because his incarceration was unjust and illegal in various respects. However, the SSA denied his requests for a waiver. Mouratidis claims that the hearing officers failed to take his evidence into consideration and denied him due process. (Compl. at 15.)[1] In 2017, Mouratidis received a letter about another overpayment, this time in the amount of $1, 468.70. Mouratidis believes this calculation is also erroneous. The Complaint suggests that the SSA has continued to offset Mouratidis's social security payments to account for one or both of those overpayments.

         Mouratidis alleges that when he visited the SSA in June of 2019, he learned that his records had been “manipulated . . . in ways [he] can't explain” and claims he was denied a copy of the record. (Id. at 17.) The Complaint indicates that Mouratidis also filed a renewed application for benefits.

         Mouratidis indicates the he intends to raise claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981, § 1983, § 1985(3), and § 1986, primarily based on the manner in which the SSA handled the overpayment matters.[2] Mouratidis claims violations of his First, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. He also invokes various criminal statutes and social security regulations. Mouratidis seeks an injunction directing the Defendants to stop offsetting funds from his social security payments, reimbursement of the overpayments charged to him, and compensatory damages.


         The Court will grant Mouratidis leave to proceed in forma pauperis because it appears that he is not capable of paying the fees to commence this civil action. Accordingly, Mouratidis's Complaint is subject to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and (ii), which require the Court to dismiss a complaint if, among other things, it is frivolous or fails to state a claim. A complaint is frivolous if it “lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact, ” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989), and is legally baseless if it is “based on an indisputably meritless legal theory.” Deutsch v. United States, 67 F.3d 1080, 1085 (3d Cir. 1995).

         Whether a complaint fails to state a claim under § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is governed by the same standard applicable to motions to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), see Tourscher v. McCullough, 184 F.3d 236, 240 (3d Cir. 1999), which requires the Court to determine whether the complaint contains “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 (2009) (quotations omitted). “[M]ere conclusory statements do not suffice.” Id. Furthermore, “[i]f 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). As Mouratidis is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his allegations liberally. Higgs v. Att'y Gen., 655 F.3d 333, 339 (3d Cir. 2011).


         Mouratidis does not indicate what, exactly, the Defendants did or did not do to give rise to the claims against them, but it appears that Mouratidis named them in this lawsuit because of their positions as employees of the SSA. He indicates that Stradton is named as a Defendant because he “is legally responsible for the overall operation of the [department] and each institutions [sic] under his jurisdiction.”[3] (Compl. at 11.) Mouratidis apparently named Kimbler as a Defendant because she is “legally responsible for the operation for hearing officer for waiver of overpayment recovery applications in accordance with Social Security program operations manual system . . . waiver provisions for SSI overpayment.” (Id.) The two “John Due” Defendants are “legally responsible for the operations for hearing officer for waiver of overpayment recovery operations . . . .” (Id.) It is not clear whether or to what extent any of the Defendants presided over or played a personal role in the handling, processing, or evaluation of Mouratidis's claims.

         A. Claims under ยงยง 1981, 1983, 1985(3) & 1986 ...

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