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Adria C. v. Commissioner, Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Maryland

October 1, 2019

ADRIA C., Plaintiff,


          Stephanie A. Gallagher, United States District Judge.

         On March 14, 2019, Plaintiff Adria C., who proceeds pro se, petitioned this Court to review the Social Security Administration’s (“SSA’s”) 2014 decision to award her disability benefits.[1] ECF 1. The SSA filed a Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), on the grounds that Plaintiff did not exhaust her administrative remedies prior to filing her complaint, and 12(b)(6), on the grounds that Plaintiff did not state a claim upon which relief can be granted. ECF 25.[2] Plaintiff opposed the motion. ECF 27. I find that no hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons explained below, I will grant the SSA’s Motion to Dismiss.

         I. FACTS

         The following facts are derived from Plaintiff’s Complaints and their attachments, and the allegations are assumed true for the purposes of this motion. Plaintiff received a fully favorable decision of disability from the Social Security Administration on December 8, 2014. ECF 1-4. Plaintiff’s application for benefits stated an onset date of June 1, 2012. ECF 1-3. Plaintiff sustained an injury to her meniscus at work in 2010. ECF 1-2 ¶ 1. Plaintiff underwent surgery and continued having difficulties with her meniscus after surgery. Id.Plaintiff saw several doctors after having surgery, but none identified the cause of, or solution for, the injury. Id. ¶ 2. These doctors were paid through Medicaid. Id. The SSA sent Plaintiff’s application to the Cochran firm for legal representation in her disability case. Id. ¶ 5.

         Plaintiff contacted her Senators’ offices, her Congressman’s office, the Maryland Board of Physicians, and other entities to inform them that she was intentionally put on disability “because doctors did not identify [her] injury and SSA [chose] lawyers to misrepresent [her].” Id. ¶ 10. The Cochran firm received Plaintiff’s signed retainer in 2013. Id. ¶ 12. Plaintiff alleges in her Complaint that the Cochran firm knew or should have known that hers was a medical malpractice case, and not a disability case. Id. Plaintiff additionally alleges that she would have had her injury fixed had she been able to proceed with a medical malpractice case. Id. Plaintiff further alleges that she is not disabled, and that the SSA, and the doctors and lawyers involved, committed illegal, fraudulent, and criminal acts in forcing her to receive disability benefits. See Id . ¶¶ 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) governs motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). While the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that a court has jurisdiction over the claim or controversy at issue, a Rule 12(b)(1) motion should be granted “only if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law.” Ferdinand-Davenport v. Children’s Guild, 742 F.Supp.2d 772, 777 (D. Md. 2010) (quoting Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., a Div. of Standex Int’l Corp., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999)). In a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the pleadings should be regarded as “mere evidence on the issue, ” and courts may “consider evidence outside the pleadings without converting the proceeding to one for summary judgment.” Evans, 166 F.3d at 647 (quoting Richmond, Fredericksburg & Potomac R.R. v. Unites States, 945 F.2d 765, 768 (4th Cir. 1991)).

         A plaintiff carries the burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction. See Lovern v. Edwards, 190 F.3d 648, 654 (4th Cir. 1999) (citing Thomson v. Gaskill, 315 U.S. 442, 446 (1942); Goldsmith v. Mayor of Balt., 845 F.2d 61, 63-64 (4th Cir. 1988)). However, a pro se plaintiff’s complaint should not be dismissed “unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief.” Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147, 1151 (4th Cir. 1987) (quoting Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 521 (1972)) (quotation and citation omitted). Pro se filings, “however unskillfully pleaded, must be liberally construed.” Noble v. Barnett, 24 F.3d 582, 587 n.6 (4th Cir. 1994) (citing Vinnedge v. Gibbs, 550 F.2d 926, 928 (4th Cir. 1977)). Where a plaintiff has failed to exhaust administrative remedies before bringing a claim, the action should be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(1). See Khoury v. Meserve, 268 F.Supp.2d 600, 607 (D. Md. 2003), aff’d, 85 Fed.App’x 960 (4th Cir. 2004).

         Under Rule 12(b)(6), a defendant may test the legal sufficiency of a complaint by way of a motion to dismiss. In re Birmingham, 846 F.3d 88, 92 (4th Cir. 2017); Goines v. Valley Cmty. Servs. Bd., 822 F.3d 159, 165-66 (4th Cir. 2016); McBurney v. Cuccinelli, 616 F.3d 393, 408 (4th Cir. 2010), aff’d sub nom., McBurney v. Young, 569 U.S. 221 (2013); Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion constitutes an assertion by a defendant that, even if the facts alleged by a plaintiff are true, the complaint fails as a matter of law “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”

         Whether a complaint states a claim for relief is assessed by reference to the pleading requirements of Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). That rule provides that a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” The purpose of the rule is to provide the defendants with “fair notice” of the claims and the “grounds” for entitlement to relief. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007).

         To survive a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain facts sufficient to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570; see Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) (citation omitted) (“Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for ‘all civil actions’ . . . .”); see also Willner v. Dimon, 849 F.3d 93, 112 (4th Cir. 2017). While a plaintiff need not include “detailed factual allegations” in order to satisfy Rule 8(a)(2), the rule demands more than bald accusations or mere speculation. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see Painter’s Mill Grille, LLC v. Brown, 716 F.3d 342, 350 (4th Cir. 2013). If a complaint provides no more than “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action, ” it is insufficient. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Rather, to satisfy the minimal requirements of Rule 8(a)(2), the complaint must set forth “enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest” a cognizable cause of action, “even if . . . [the] actual proof of those facts is improbable and . . . recovery is very remote and unlikely.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (internal quotation marks omitted).

         In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint” and must “draw all reasonable inferences [from those facts] in favor of the plaintiff.” E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted); see Semenova v. MTA, 845 F.3d 564, 567 (4th Cir. 2017); Houck v. Substitute Tr. Servs., Inc., 791 F.3d 473, 484 (4th Cir. 2015); Kendall v. Balcerzak, 650 F.3d 515, 522 (4th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 565 U.S. 943 (2011). But, a court is not required to accept legal conclusions drawn from the facts. See Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). “A court decides whether [the pleading] standard is met by separating the legal conclusions from the factual allegations, assuming the truth of only the factual allegations, and then determining whether those allegations allow the court to reasonably infer” that the plaintiff is entitled to the legal remedy sought. A Society Without a Name v. Virginia, 655 F.3d 342, 346 (4th. Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 566 U.S. 937 (2012).

         III. ANALYSIS

         The SSA first argues that this Court lacks jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s appeal because Plaintiff failed to exhaust her administrative remedies before filing suit and is not, therefore, appealing from a final decision of the Commissioner. ECF 25. The SSA, as an agency of the United States Government, enjoys immunity from suit absent express waiver. See F.D.I.C. v. Meyer,510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994). The applicable waiver of immunity in this case is found in the Social Security Act, which provides, in relevant part, that “[a]ny individual, after any final decision of the Commissioner of Social Security made after a hearing to which he was a party . . . may obtain a ...

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