United States District Court, D. Maryland
Commissioner, Social Security Administration
Deborah L. Boardman United States Magistrate Judge
Plaintiff and Counsel:
14, 2019, Plaintiff Yolonda B. filed a complaint, pro
se, seeking redetermination of benefits that she alleges
are owed to her by the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”). ECF 1. The Commissioner filed a Motion
to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, citing
Plaintiff's untimely complaint and her failure to exhaust
her administrative remedies. ECF 15. Plaintiff filed a
response in opposition. ECF 17. I have carefully reviewed the
parties' filings, and no hearing is necessary. Loc. R.
105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons set forth below, the
Commissioner's Motion to Dismiss must be granted.
motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction challenges a
court's authority to hear the matter brought by a
complainant. See Davis v. Thompson, 367 F.Supp.2d
792, 799 (D. Md. 2005). Generally, when a court considers a
motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, it
“may regard the pleadings as mere evidence on the issue
and may consider evidence outside the pleadings without
converting the proceeding into one for summary
judgment.” Velasco v. Gov't of Indonesia,
370 F.3d 392, 398 (4th Cir. 2004); see also Adams v.
Bain, 697 F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982) (“A
trial court may consider evidence by affidavit, depositions,
or live testimony.”). In considering this motion, I
have considered the declaration filed by Janay Podraza, the
Chief of Court Case Preparation and Review Branch II of the
Office of Appellate Operations at SSA, along with its
supporting documentation. ECF 15-2.
plaintiff carries the burden of establishing subject matter
jurisdiction. Lovern v. Edwards, 190 F.3d 648, 654
(4th Cir. 1999) (citing Thomas v. Gaskill, 315 U.S.
442, 446 (1942); Goldsmith v. Mayor of Balt., 845
F.2d 61, 63-64 (4th Cir. 1088)). 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)). Nevertheless, where a plaintiff, pro
se or represented, 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, 607-08 (D. Md. 2003),
aff'd 85 Fed.Appx. 960 (4th Cir. 2004).
filed applications for Disability Insurance Benefits
(“DIB”) and Supplemental Security Income
(“SSI”) on November 5, 2013. ECF 15-2 ¶ 3.
After an unfavorable decision by an Administrative Law Judge
(“ALJ”) on November 22, 2016, Plaintiff appealed
to the Appeals Council (“AC”) and the AC granted
review. Id. On April 9, 2018, the AC issued a
partially favorable decision, finding Plaintiff disabled
beginning November 22, 2016, under SSI, but not DIB.
Id. The SSA subsequently found Plaintiff not
eligible for SSI payments because “[her] resources
[were] worth more than $2, 000.00” and, therefore, she
“[did] not meet the non-medical rules” for SSI
benefits. ECF 15-3 at 11 (letter notice dated September 4,
2018). On April 11, 2019, the SSA informed Plaintiff that she
met the non-medical rules for the months of December 2016
through February 2017. ECF 15-3 at 27. After filing this
action, the SSA issued a notice dated August 14, 2019,
finding Plaintiff met the resource limitation beginning June
2019. ECF 15-4.
Commissioner first argues that, to the extent Plaintiff is
seeking review of the AC's partially favorable decision
of April 9, 2018, her complaint fails to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted because it was not filed within
the applicable statute of limitations. ECF 15-1 at 8-9.
Congress has authorized lawsuits seeking judicial review of
decisions by the Commissioner only under certain limited
conditions, including specified filing deadlines. See
Weinberger v. Salfi, 422 U.S. 749, 763 (1975). The
limitations period must therefore be strictly enforced,
absent (1) an agreement by the Commissioner to toll the
deadlines or (2) a valid basis for equitable tolling of the
deadlines. See id.
the Social Security Act, any appeal must be “commenced
within sixty days after the mailing to [a plaintiff] of
notice of such decision or within such further time as the
Commissioner . . . may allow.” 42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
Here, the final decision of the Commissioner is the AC's
decision dated April 9, 2018. Plaintiff filed her complaint
over a year later, and Plaintiff neither requested an
extension of the deadline nor made a showing that she had not
received the AC's decision within the presumed time
period under the regulations. Therefore, this Court lacks
jurisdiction to review the decision.
to the extent Plaintiff is seeking review of the SSA's
denial of SSI benefits during the months of March 2017
through May 2019,  the Commissioner argues that
Plaintiff's complaint is barred because she failed to
exhaust administrative remedies. ECF 15-1 at 9-12.
federal government and its agencies, including the SSA, are
immune from suit, absent a statute expressly permitting a
court to exercise jurisdiction. Fed. Deposit Ins. Corp.
v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994). Under the Social
Security Act, 42 U.S.C. § 301 et. seq., United
States District Courts have the authority to review decisions
of the Commissioner of Social Security pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g). The Act precludes judicial review absent a
“final decision, ” see Califano v.
Sanders, 430 U.S. 99, 108 (1977), and clarifies that the
remedy provided by 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) is exclusive:
“No findings of fact or decision of the Commissioner of
Social Security shall be reviewed by any person, tribunal, or
governmental agency except as herein provided.” 42
U.S.C. § 405(h). Social Security Administration
regulations define a “final decision” of the
Commissioner as an “initial determination” that
has been pursued through all steps of the administrative
review process. See 20 C.F.R. § 416.1400(a).
Indeed, the Supreme Court has long required parties to
exhaust administrative remedies before seeking relief from
the courts. See McCarthy v. Madigan, 503 U.S. 140,
144-45 (1992). The Social Security administrative review
process entails four steps: (1) an initial determination; (2)
reconsideration; (3) an Administrative Law Judge hearing and
decision; and (4) Appeals Council review or denial thereof.
20 C.F.R. § 416.1400(a)(1)-(4). Once a claimant has
completed that process, a “final decision” has
been issued, and the claimant may seek judicial review. 20
C.F.R. § 416.1400(a)(5). Appeal of a final decision
ordinarily must be “commenced within sixty days after
the mailing” to the claimant of notice of the decision.
42 U.S.C. § 405(g).
admits that she received the SSA's notices dated
September 4, 2018, and April 11, 2019, explaining her denial
of SSI benefits for non-medical reasons. ECF 17. Each letter
explicitly stated Plaintiff's appeal rights. See
ECF 15-3 Exh. 4-5. The SSA does not have a record of
Plaintiff appealing either of these letters. ECF 15-2
(Podraza Declaration). In her response, Plaintiff alleges
that she submitted paperwork to the SSA in response to the
SSA's request for information regarding a spend down to
account for approximately $20, 000 she received in a legal
settlement and information for a pension from a former
employer. ECF 17 at ¶¶ 3, 5, 6; see also
ECF 1-3 at 21 (Plaintiff's letter dated June 13, 2019,
requesting review of her case). Notably, Plaintiff does not
argue that she attempted to appeal either of the SSA's
letter notices, nor does she ask the Court to interpret her
paperwork as an appeal of the SSA's letter
notices. See ECF 1, 17. Rather, Plaintiff
filed her response to the Commissioner's Motion to
Dismiss to “show why [her] appeal was not filed in a
timely matter.” ECF 17 ¶ 1; see also ECF
1-3 at 21 (“I am NOT eligible to receive SSI benefits
because as a working person I am over the limit with
Plaintiff did not seek a hearing before an ALJ, and the AC
did not review her claim or deny her request for review.
Plaintiff notes that, because the AC found her disabled, she
was “lead to believe [she] had won [her] case”
and implies there was nothing for her to appeal
administratively. ECF 17 ¶ 1. However, if Plaintiff
disputed the amount of the benefits for which she believed
she was eligible, she was entitled to administrative review
of the agency's action. See 20 C.F.R. §
404.902 (setting forth “initial determinations”
subject to administrative review, including the amount of a
claimant's benefits, any overpayment or underpayment of
benefits, and the establishment or termination of a period of
disability). Because Plaintiff did not proceed through the
stages of the administrative appeal process, Plaintiff has
not received a judicially reviewable final decision of the
Commissioner, and there is no final administrative decision
for this Court to review. Accordingly, this Court does not
have jurisdiction over Plaintiff's complaint.
reasons set forth herein, the Commissioner's Motion to
Dismiss, ECF 15, is GRANTED. The ...