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Spence v. Astrue

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

November 20, 2019

MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration



         Vanessa Spence (“Plaintiff”) seeks judicial review, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), of the initial decision of the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration (“the Commissioner”), denying her claim for disability insurance benefits (“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”) benefits under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act. Before this Court is the Commissioner's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure12(b)(1). The Commissioner has filed a brief in support of its motion and Plaintiff has responded to it. For the reasons set forth below, the Commissioner's motion is granted and the Complaint is dismissed, without prejudice, as this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.


         On January 22, 2019, Plaintiff applied for DIB and SSI benefits, alleging disability. Def. Br. at 1; Resp. at 2. The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied Plaintiff's initial claim; therefore, she requested a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”). Def. Br. at 1. The SSA granted Plaintiff's request and scheduled a hearing before an ALJ on November 27, 2019. Prior to her hearing, Plaintiff filed a pro se Complaint in this Court on July 12, 2019. Def. Br. at 1; Plaintiff's Complaint (Document No. 1). The Commissioner filed the current motion to dismiss that pleading. (Document No. 13). Both parties have consented to the undersigned's jurisdiction to decide this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).


         A. Federal Rule 12(b)(1) Standard

         “When subject matter jurisdiction is challenged under Rule 12(b)(1), the plaintiff must bear the burden of persuasion.” Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 501 U.S. 1222, 111 S.Ct. 1839, 115 L.Ed.2d 1007 (1991). The Third Circuit has stated:

When there is a factual question about whether a court has jurisdiction, the trial court may examine facts outside the pleadings…because at issue in a factual 12(b)(1) motion is the trial court's jurisdiction - its very power to hear the case…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.

Robinson v. Dalton, 107 F.3d 1018, 1021 (3d Cir. 1997) (internal quotations and citations omitted.) Only when the pleader will not be able to assert a colorable claim of subject matter jurisdiction, may a district court dismiss the complaint. See Mortensen v. First Federal Savings and Loan Association, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977).

         B. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

         Before federal judicial review of the Commissioner's decision can occur, a claimant must generally proceed through a four-step process. Smith v. Berryhill, 139 S.Ct. 1765, 1772 (2019). “First the claimant must seek an initial determination as to [her] eligibility. Second, the claimant must seek reconsideration of the initial determination. Third, the claimant must request a hearing, which is conducted by an ALJ. Fourth, the claimant must seek review of the ALJ's decision by the Appeals Council.” Id. (citing 20 C.F.R § 416.1400). However, without a “‘final decision,' the District Court has no jurisdiction to review the Commissioner's determination.” Fitzgerald v. Apfel, 148 F.3d 232, 234 (3d Cir. 1998). The Third Circuit has held that district courts lack jurisdiction when a Social Security claimant has not exhausted their administrative remedies. See Van Williams v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 152 Fed.Appx. 153, 154-55 (3d Cir. 2005) (non-precedential); see also Fitzgerald, 148 F.3 at 234. Nevertheless, per the United States Supreme Court, federal courts may retain jurisdiction over colorable claims of constitutional violations “despite a lack of a final decision.” See Califano v. Sanders, 430 U.S. 99, 108-09, 97 S.Ct. 980, 51 L.Ed.2d 192 (1977).

         Plaintiff, appropriately, requested a hearing before an ALJ after the SSA denied her initial application. Def. Br. at 1. However, instead of waiting for her November 27, 2019 hearing, Plaintiff sought relief in federal court. She neither attended a hearing before an ALJ nor presented her case to the Appeals Council, as required; hence, her administrative remedies are not exhausted and the decision of the Commissioner is not final. Therefore, unless special circumstances excuse exhaustion, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction and the Commissioner's Motion for Dismissal should be granted. Notably, Plaintiff does not allege such administrative exhaustion.

         Instead, Plaintiff attempts to bypass exhaustion requirements by relying on constitutional violations, but neither is colorable. Plaintiff asserts two claims. First, in response to the Commissioner's motion, she alleges that under Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S.Ct. 1602, 16 L.Ed.2d 694 (1966), her rights are “secured by the Constitution” and should not be abrogated. Plaintiff further asserts that the SSA violated her Fourteenth Amendment due process rights and her Fifth Amendment right “to life, ”[2] because she was never evaluated by the Administration's doctors. Resp. at 3. Even construing Plaintiff's pro se Complaint liberally[3], these assertations fail to establish a colorable claim of constitutional violations that would justify this Court's exercise of jurisdiction.

         Miranda is inapposite in the context of the social security appeal process, because it governs custodial interrogations, self-incriminations, and confessions. See Miranda, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). Plaintiff's Miranda rights are ...

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