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Richter v. U.S. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

July 25, 2017

RUTH RICHTER, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Richard G. Kopf Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff's Complaint against the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) alleges that the SSA violated unspecified provisions of the Civil Rights Act of 1964; her rights under the First, Fifth (due process), and Eighth Amendments of the United States Constitution; and unnamed sections of the Americans With Disabilities Act when the SSA “cut me off of SSI” and failed to “schedule a timely ALJ hearing on a disputed SSI matter.” Plaintiff alleges that the unidentified “matter” was appealed in 1999 and 2014, and the SSA failed to schedule any of the “3 ALJ appeal hearings” and the “3 inperson [sic] conferences.” (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF pp. 1-2.) Plaintiff also complains that the SSA made it difficult for her to obtain necessary forms and “consistently refuses to answer my questions.” (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 1.) Plaintiff makes no requests for monetary damages or other relief.[1]

         Plaintiff has been given leave to proceed with this case in forma pauperis (Filing No. 5.) and has filed a “Motion for Summary Judgment” (Filing No. 7) because she “did not get a response to the complaint filed May 1, 2017 by USPS mail.” This case was reassigned to me on July 18, 2017. (Filing No. 8.)

         I. STANDARDS FOR INITIAL REVIEW

         The court is required to review in forma pauperis complaints to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). The court must dismiss a complaint or any portion of it that states a frivolous or malicious claim, that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         Pro se plaintiffs must set forth enough factual allegations to “nudge[] their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, ” or “their complaint must be dismissed.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 569-70 (2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”).

         “The essential function of a complaint under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is to give the opposing party ‘fair notice of the nature and basis or grounds for a claim, and a general indication of the type of litigation involved.'” Topchian v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 760 F.3d 843, 848 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Hopkins v. Saunders, 199 F.3d 968, 973 (8th Cir. 1999)). However, “[a] pro se complaint must be liberally construed, and pro se litigants are held to a lesser pleading standard than other parties.” Topchian, 760 F.3d at 849 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         II. ANALYSIS

         Although Plaintiff does not expressly cite the Social Security Act as the basis for her Complaint, she specifically challenges the SSA's discontinuation of her SSI benefits and the method by which it did so.

         A. No Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies as to Wrongful Discontinuation of Benefits Claim

         Broadly construing Plaintiff's Complaint, it is apparent that this court lacks jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claim that the SSA wrongly discontinued her SSI benefits because Plaintiff does not allege or establish that she has exhausted her administrative remedies.

         In order to exhaust her administrative remedies, Plaintiff must obtain a decision from an Administrative Law Judge after a hearing, 20 C.F.R. § 404.929, and, if dissatisfied with the outcome, seek review from the Appeals Council, 20 C.F.R. § 404.967. The Appeals Council may either deny review and allow the ALJ's decision to stand as the final determination of the Commissioner, or it can issue its own decision. 20 C.F.R. § 404.981. Only after these steps would Plaintiff's case become ripe for judicial review. Id.; see also Mitchael v. Colvin, 809 F.3d 1050, 1055 (8th Cir. 2016).

         Here, Plaintiff has neither referred to, nor submitted, any final decision from an ALJ or the Appeals Council, depriving this court of jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claim that the SSA wrongly discontinued her SSI benefits. Grisso v. Apfel, 219 F.3d 791, 793 (8th Cir. 2000) (“To the extent [the Plaintiff's] mandamus petition sought reimbursement of benefits, we agree with the district court that it lacked jurisdiction to review such a claim absent exhaustion of administrative remedies.”); Robinson v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., No. 89-1199, 1989 WL 109432, at *1 (6th Cir. Sept. 22, 1989) (affirming dismissal of claim for compensatory and punitive damages for deprivations allegedly suffered after Social Security benefits were wrongfully terminated because the claim “was not a review of an agency decision, [and] the court lacked jurisdiction under [42 U.S.C.] § 405(g)” to entertain it); Armstrong v. Astrue, 569 F.Supp.2d 888, 898 (D. Minn. 2008) (dismissing claim challenging amount of monthly SSA benefits when plaintiff failed to submit final decision from ALJ or Appeals Council for federal district court's review).

         B. ...


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