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Yellen v. Social Security Administration

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

August 9, 2019

MICHAEL YELLEN Plaintiff,
v.
SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION, ANDREW SAUL, Commissioner of Social Security Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT NANCY A. BERRYHILL'S MOTION TO DISMISS FOR LACK OF SUBJECT-MATTER JURISDICTION

          Alan C. Kay Sr., United States District Judge

         For the reasons discussed below, Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill's Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject-Matter Jurisdiction, ECF No. 19, is hereby GRANTED. Plaintiff's Complaint is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Michael Yellen (“Plaintiff”), proceeding pro se, is a resident of the state of Hawai`i who alleges that he has been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (“PTSD”). Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶ 2. Plaintiff alleges that his PTSD diagnosis arose from his 21-year incarceration.[1] Compl. ¶ 2. On January 8, 2018, Plaintiff filed an application for Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), Declaration of Glen Haas (“Haas Decl.”), ECF No. 19-1, ¶ 5, and on February 8, 2018, Plaintiff filed an application for Social Security Disability Insurance (“SSDI”). Haas Decl. ¶ 3; Def. Exh. A, ECF No. 19-2. The Social Security Administration (“SSA”) denied Plaintiff's application for SSDI on February 13, 2018, Haas Decl. ¶ 3; Def. Exh. B, ECF No. 19-3, and on June 1, 2018 the SSA denied Plaintiff's application for SSI. Haas Decl. ¶ 5; Def. Exh. C, ECF No. 19-4. The SSA denied Plaintiff's SSDI application because he has not earned enough work credits to qualify for SSDI. Hass Decl. ¶ 5; Def. Exh. B. Plaintiff's Complaint suggests that he has not earned enough work credits to qualify for SSDI because his 21-year incarceration precluded him from working. Compl. ¶ 6. The SSA denied Plaintiff's SSI application because it determined that he is not disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Haas Decl. ¶ 5; Def. Exh. C. Plaintiff did not request reconsideration of either determination. Haas Decl. ¶¶ 4, 6.

         On October 31, 2018, Plaintiff filed his Complaint in which he challenges the earnings requirement of the Social Security Act, which requires individuals to have worked and paid Social Security taxes for a certain number of years in order to be insured for SSDI. See 42 U.S.C. § 423(c)(1). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the earnings requirement violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). Compl. ¶¶ 9-10. Plaintiff does not appear to assert claims related to the denial of his application for SSI benefits.

         On April 1, 2019, Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill, then Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [2] (“Defendant”) filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject-Matter Jurisdiction (“Motion”) pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), ECF No. 19. On May 2, 2019, Plaintiff filed his Opposition, ECF No. 21, and on May 15, 2019, Defendant filed a Reply. ECF No. 22. The Court held a hearing on Defendant's Motion on August 8, 2019.

         STANDARD

         A. Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

         A court's subject-matter jurisdiction may be challenged under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). “A party invoking the federal court's jurisdiction has the burden of proving the actual existence of subject-matter jurisdiction.” Thompson v. McCombe, 99 F.3d 352, 353 (9th Cir. 1996).

         Rule 12(b)(1) challenges may be either “facial” or “factual.” Wolfe v. Strankman, 392 F.3d 358, 362 (9th Cir. 2004). In a facial attack, “the challenger asserts that the allegations contained in a complaint are insufficient on their face to invoke federal jurisdiction.” Id. (quoting Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004)). When opposing a facial attack on subject-matter jurisdiction, the nonmoving party is not required to provide evidence outside the pleadings. Wolfe, 392 F.3d at 362; see Doe v. Holy See, 557 F.3d 1066, 1073 (9th Cir. 2009) (treating defendant's challenge to subject-matter jurisdiction as facial because defendant “introduced no evidence contesting any of the allegations” of the complaint). In deciding a facial Rule 12(b)(1) motion, the court must assume the allegations in the complaint are true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Wolfe, 392 F.3d at 362 (citations omitted).

         By contrast, in a factual attack, “the challenger disputes the truth of the allegations that, by themselves, would otherwise invoke federal jurisdiction.” Wolfe, 392 F.3d at 362 (quoting Safe Air, 373 F.3d at 1039). The moving party may bring a factual challenge to the court's subject-matter jurisdiction by submitting “affidavits or any other evidence properly before the court.” St. Clair v. City of Chico, 880 F.2d 199, 201 (9th Cir. 1989). The nonmoving party must then “present affidavits or any other evidence necessary to satisfy its burden of establishing that the court, in fact, possesses subject-matter jurisdiction.” Colwell v. Dep't of Health & Human Servs., 558 F.3d 1112, 1121 (9th Cir. 2009) (citation omitted). In these circumstances, the court may look beyond the complaint without having to convert the motion into one for summary judgment. U.S. ex rel. Meyer v. Horizon Health Corp., 565 F.3d 1195, 1200 n.2 (9th Cir. 2009). When deciding a factual challenge to the court's subject-matter jurisdiction, the court “need not presume the truthfulness of the plaintiffs' allegations.” Id.

         B. Special Considerations for Pro Se Litigants

         A pro se litigant's pleadings must be read more liberally than pleadings drafted by counsel. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972); Wolfe, 392 F.3d at 362; Eldridge v. Block, 832 F.2d 1132, 1137 (9th Cir. 1987). When a plaintiff proceeds pro se and technically violates a rule, the court should act with leniency toward the pro se litigant. Draper v. Coombs, 792 F.2d 915, 924 (9th Cir. 1986); Pembrook v. Wilson, 370 F.2d 37, 39-40 (9th Cir. 1966). However, “a pro se litigant is not excused from knowing the most basic pleading requirements.” Am. Ass'n of Naturopathic Physicians v. Hayhurst, 227 F.3d 1104, 1107-08 (9th Cir. 2000) (citations omitted).

         Courts may deny a pro se plaintiff leave to amend where amendment would be futile. Flowers v. First Hawaiian Bank, 295 F.3d 966, 976 (9th Cir. 2002) (citing Cook, Perkiss & Liehe, Inc. v. N. California Collection Serv. Inc., 911 F.2d 242, 247 (9th Cir. 1990); Lucas v. Dep't of Corr., 66 F.3d 245, 248-49 (9th Cir. 1995) (holding that dismissal of a pro se complaint without leave to amend is proper only if it is clear that the deficiencies cannot be cured by amendment or after the pro se litigant is given an opportunity to amend).

         DISCUSSION

         Defendant has brought a factual challenge to the Court's subject-matter jurisdiction because Defendant has submitted a declaration and several exhibits in support of the Motion. See Savage v. Glendale Union High Sch., 343 F.3d 1036, 1039 n.2 (9th Cir. 2003). Defendant presents two central arguments in the Motion: (1) Plaintiff has failed to exhaust ...


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