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Felder v. Colvin

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

November 26, 2019

WHITNEY N. FELDER, Plaintiff,
v.
EX- CAROLYN W. COLVIN, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          WENDY BEETLESTONE, J.

         Plaintiff Whitney Felder filed this civil rights action based on allegations that her rights were violated in connection with the Social Security Administration's (“SSA”) handling of her claims for social security benefits. She seeks leave to proceed in forma pauperis. For the following reasons, the Court will dismiss this case for failure to state a claim.

         I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY [1]

         A. Felder's Previously-Filed Social Security Cases

         In 2016, Felder filed a pro se complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which was drafted by her father and which sought review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security that denied her claim for Supplemental Social Security income. See Felder v. Kurlander, Civ. A. No. 16-1231 (E.D. Pa.). The case was referred to Magistrate Judge Jacob Hart, who issued a report and recommendation to remand Felder's case in part to the SSA for further development of the record in support of her disability claim. Thereafter, Felder and her father filed a “Complaint for Damages, ” two documents entitled “Our Response to the Notice (Motion for a Public Court Trial Hearing), ” and a Motion for a jury trial.

         Counsel subsequently entered his appearance for Felder, moved to withdraw the complaint for damages and associated documents, and asked that the Court “remand [the case] for further proceedings as set forth in the Report and Recommendation.” In an Order entered on the docket April 19, 2017, the Honorable Joseph F. Leeson, Jr. adopted Judge Hart's report and recommendation and remanded the matter to the SSA.

         On December 6, 2018, Felder and her father filed a document styled as a “Complaint for Damages” and a “Motion to Reopening Hers [sic] Case for Public Trail [sic], and Law Suit.” Judge Leeson declined to reopen the case and explained to Felder that if she “wishe[d] to file a civil rights complaint or to appeal any new rulings by the Commissioner of Social Security that she must do so in a separate civil action and pay any associated filing fees, or seek leave to proceed in forma pauperis.” On January 9, 2019, Felder filed a new case, through counsel, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) for review of a decision of the Commissioner of Social Security in the wake of administrative proceedings that occurred after the prior remand. Felder v. Berryhill, Civ. A. No. 19-151 (E.D. Pa.). That case has been fully briefed and is currently pending before Judge Hart.

         B. The Instant Civil Action

         On August 1, 2019, while her second social security case was pending and following Judge Leeson's denial of the motion to reopen the first case, Felder and her father filed her Complaint in the instant civil action, which is styled similarly to the “complaint for damages” filed in her first social security case. The Complaint names former Acting Commissioner of Social Security Carolyn W. Colvin and Commissioner of Social Security Andrew Saul as Defendants. The caption of the Complaint indicates it is raising claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 1985 and 1986[2] for “DISCRIMINATON & DEPPRIVATION OF RIGHTS SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS. ABUSE, DERRELICTION OF THE PERFORMANCE OF DUTY, NEGLECT, ABUSE OF POWER/POSITION, CONSPIRACY TO FATHER THE ABUSE OF MENALLY ILL PERSON, OATH OF OFFICE VIOLATION.”[3] The Complaint alleged that the Administrative Law Judges erred in denying Felder benefits and sought to reopen Felder's first social security case, Civil Action Number 16-1231.

         The Complaint was drafted from the perspective of Felder's father, who holds a power of attorney for his daughter, and was signed by both Felder and her father.[4] In an Order entered on the docket August 8, 2019, the Court informed Felder's father that he may not represent Felder in this civil rights case because he is not an attorney and terminated him as a party to this case. The Court also directed Felder to either pay the applicable fees or seek leave to proceed in forma pauperis within thirty days if she sought to proceed with this civil action. When Felder failed to comply with that Order, the Court dismissed this case for failure to prosecute but specifically noted in a footnote that the dismissal was without prejudice to Felder proceeding in her pending social security case, Civil Action Number 19-151.

         Thereafter, the Court received what appeared to be an Amended Complaint signed by Felder and her father. The Amended Complaint named former Acting Commissioners of Social Security Nancy A. Berryhill and/or Colvin as Defendants, and again purported to raise claims for damages under the civil rights statutes. The Amended Complaint indicated in the caption that Felder's claims were based on discrimination and deprivation of rights in connection with the denial of social security benefits. However, the body of the Complaint took issue with the Court's decisions in the instant civil action by arguing that Felder had already been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis in her prior social security cases and complaining that the initial Complaint was docketed as a new civil action (as opposed to being docketed in Felder's first social security case, which was closed in 2017). It is apparent that Felder and her father essentially envision the three cases as one.

         After receiving the Amended Complaint, the Court vacated its dismissal order and gave Felder an additional thirty days to either pay the applicable fees or seek leave to proceed in forma pauperis status. The Court explained to Felder that it could not take judicial notice of prior grants of in forma pauperis status and explained that her initial Complaint was docketed as a new case because it raised civil rights claims based on her underlying social security case, while her pending social security case filed by counsel sought review of the Commissioner's most recent decision. The Court again noted that Felder's father may not represent her in this matter in the event he was trying to do so.

         Felder responded by filing a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. The Court will grant that Motion because it appears that Felder is incapable of paying the fees to commence this civil action. However, the Court will dismiss her Amended Complaint with prejudice for failure to state a claim.[5] The dismissal will be without prejudice to Felder proceeding in her underlying social security case, Civil Action Number 19-151.

         II. ...


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