United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
MARSHA M. CHESBRO, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendant.
E. Skirtich, Esq.
PARADISE BAXTER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Marsha M. Chesbro (“Plaintiff”) filed this
pro se civil action in a Magisterial District Court
in Erie County, Pennsylvania, naming as the Defendant Justin
Martin, an employee of the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”). Plaintiff's lawsuit stems from the
SSA's efforts to recover certain payments that were made
to Plaintiff after she returned to work without notifying the
SSA. By Order dated March 26, 2018, the Honorable Mark R.
Hornak dismissed Justin Martin from this case and directed
the United States of America (hereafter, “United
States” or “Government”) to be substituted
as the proper party Defendant for purposes of all further
proceedings. ECF No. 9.
pending before the Court is the United States' motion to
dismiss the within action for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction or, alternatively, for failure to state a claim.
ECF No. 21. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant
the Government's motion to dismiss for lack of
jurisdiction. The Government's alternative motion to
dismiss for failure to state a claim will be denied as moot.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
defendant moves to dismiss a claim for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1),
the court must determine whether the defendant is making a
“facial or factual challenge to the court's subject
matter jurisdiction.” Gould Elecs., Inc. v. United
States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000) (citing
Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n,
549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977)). “In reviewing a
facial attack, the court must only consider the allegations
of the complaint and documents referenced therein and
attached thereto, in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff.” Id. On the other hand, a factual
attack challenges the trial court's “very power to
hear the case.” Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891.
Accordingly, “the trial court is free to weigh the
evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power
to hear the case.” Id. Further, “no
presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiff's
allegations, and the existence of disputed material facts
will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself
the merits of jurisdictional claims.” Id.
Importantly, in evaluating a factual attack, “the court
may consider and weigh evidence outside the pleadings to
determine if it has jurisdiction.” Gould
Elecs., 220 F.3d at 178. In either situation, it is the
plaintiff's burden to demonstrate the existence of
subject matter jurisdiction. See Lee v. Janosko, No.
2:18-CV-01297, 2019 WL 2392661, at *2 (W.D. Pa. June 6, 2019)
(“The plaintiff has the burden of establishing that the
court has subject matter jurisdiction, . . . and the
defendant can challenge whether the plaintiff has done so,
through either a facial challenge or a factual challenge to
the complaint.”) (citations omitted).
case, the United States is asserting a factual Rule 12(b)(1)
challenge. To that end, the Government has submitted evidence
outside the pleadings, which this Court is free to consider
and weigh in determining whether it has subject matter
jurisdiction. Gould Elecs., 220 F.3d at 178.
Although Plaintiff was given ample notice and opportunity to
respond to the Government's jurisdictional arguments and
offer evidence on her own behalf, she has not done so.
Accordingly, the Court will decide the Government's
motion on the basis of the record as it presently stands.
2010, Plaintiff applied for, and was granted, old-age
benefits from the SSA. Decl. of Andrew Mumford, ¶13, ECF
No. 22-1. At some point after she began to receive these
benefits, Plaintiff returned to work. Id.
Plaintiff's earnings made her ineligible for a portion of
the retirement benefits that were paid to her between 2010
and 2013. Id. Accordingly, the SSA sent notices to
Plaintiff on June 19, 2012 and August 30, 2012, informing her
of the overpayment. Id. ¶6. Eventually, the SSA
recouped the overpayment by withholding amounts from
Plaintiff's monthly benefits and by applying certain
underpayments against the outstanding balance. Id.
sought reconsideration of the SSA's initial determination
that she had been overpaid; however, the SSA affirmed its
initial determination on August 16, 2014. Mumford Decl.
¶¶8-9. Plaintiff subsequently received a hearing
before an Administrative Law Judge, who rendered an
“unfavorable” decision on March 24, 2017.
Id. ¶¶10-11. The ALJ concluded, in
relevant part, that Plaintiff had been paid “full and
complete retirement benefits” by the SSA and that
“no overpayment or underpayment [was] due” on her
account. Id. ¶11.
never appealed the ALJ's decision to the SSA's
Appeals Council. Mumford Decl. ¶12; see also
Decl. of Paul K. Nitze, ECF No. 22-2. Instead, she filed a
complaint in Magisterial District Court Number MDJ-06-1-03 in
Erie County, alleging that SSA officials had committed fraud
by taking money from her benefits account. ECF No. 6-2. As
relief, she sought $10, 000.00 in damages. Id.
United States Attorney for the Western District of
Pennsylvania then removed the case to this judicial district
and successfully moved the Court to substitute the United
States as the relevant Defendant. ECF Nos. 6-9. The case was
transferred to the undersigned on September 18, 2018. ECF No.
axiomatic that federal district courts are courts of limited
jurisdiction. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. v.
Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). As a result,
“[t]hey possess only that power authorized by the
constitution and statute, . . . which is not to be expanded
by judicial decree[.]” Id. (citations
omitted). The default presumption is that “a cause lies
outside this limited jurisdiction[.]” Id.
(citation omitted). Also relevant to the Court's
jurisdictional analysis is the doctrine of sovereign
immunity, which shields the United States and ...