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Walters v. Saul

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Terre Haute Division

July 1, 2019

JOHN M. WALTERS o/b/o J. L., Plaintiff,
ANDREW M. SAUL, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, [1] Defendant.


          JAMES R. SWEENEY II, JUDGE United States District Court

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant, Andrew M. Saul, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration's Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [ECF No. 6.]



         On July 15, 2014, Plaintiff John M. Walters filed an application with the Social Security Administration (the “SSA”) for child's insurance benefits under Title II of the Social Security Act on behalf of a minor, J.L. [ECF No. 7-1 at 7-8 (Mr. Walters was a custodial parent of J.L. at the time of the application.).] The application was initially denied on September 2, 2014, and upon reconsideration on February 4, 2015. [ECF No. 7-1 at 7.] Mr. Walters requested a hearing on April 8, 2015. [ECF No. 7-1 at 7.] A hearing was conducted by an Administrative Law Judge (“ALJ”) on September 12, 2016. [ECF No. 7-1 at 7.] The ALJ issued an unfavorable decision on September 28, 2016, concluding that Mr. Walters was not entitled to benefits on behalf of J.L. [ECF No. 7-1 at 10.] Following appeal, the Appeals Council denied review on September 15, 2017. [ECF No. 7-1 at 3.]

         On October 6, 2017, a timely civil action was filed with the Court seeking judicial review pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). [ECF No. 7-1 at 3 (Walters v. Saul, 2:17-cv-466-WTL-MJD).] On February 13, 2018, the Honorable District Judge William T. Lawrence granted the Commissioner's motion to remand the case pursuant to the sixth sentence of 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). [ECF No. 7-1 at 11 (The Court provided instructions that “[u]pon receipt of the court order, the Appeals Council will remand the case to an Administrative Law Judge for reconstruction of the administrative record and to hold another hearing and issue a new decision.”).]

         On March 27, 2018, the Appeals Council issued an order that vacated the final decision of the Commissioner and remanded the case for further administrative proceedings in accordance with the Court's order and pursuant to statute. [ECF No. 7-1 at 14-15 (The Appeals Council explained that “[t]he record upon which the Administrative Law Judge based the decision dated September 28, 2016 could not be located. Extensive efforts to locate the record have been unsuccessful and the Council has been unable [to] redevelop the evidence. Accordingly, remand is warranted for reconstruction of the record.”).][2]

         On December 18, 2018, Mr. Walters, proceeding pro se, filed the instant action against the Commissioner alleging a violation of federal law pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. [ECF No. 1.] Mr. Walters reports that the SSA informed him that his case was “still under review” with an ALJ, “however I believe that enough time has passed.” [ECF No. 1 at 1.] Mr. Walters requests “that the Court reverses it's original motion, and to vacate its original motion to send this back to the lower court, and to set a trial date to [hear] this case in Federal Court and allow the Plaintiff to have his day in court.” [ECF No. 1 at 2.] The relief Mr. Walters seeks is the disability benefits sought in his application to the SSA, including approximately $138, 600 in a back-pay award according to Mr. Walters's calculations. [ECF No. 1 at 2.]

         On February 11, 2019, the Commissioner filed a motion to dismiss the instant action “because it duplicates the plaintiff's pending case filed in October 2017 and therefore fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted under governing statute and case law.” [ECF No. 6.]



         The Court grants the Commissioner's motion to dismiss. While the Court sympathizes with Mr. Walters that a significant amount of time has passed since he filed his application with the SSA and the agency's failure to keep or locate the administrative record has contributed to further delay, the Court is not able to provide the relief that Mr. Walters seeks under federal law. “It is axiomatic that the United States may not be sued without its consent and that the existence of consent is a prerequisite for jurisdiction.” United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212 (1983).

         Based on the clear expression of intent by Congress, the Court is not able to provide relief under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. “No action against the United States, the Commissioner of Social Security, or any officer or employee thereof shall be brought under section 1331 or 1346 of Title 28 to recover on any claim arising under this subchapter [Title II of the Social Security Act].” 42 U.S.C. § 405(h). The Supreme Court has held, “[o]n its face, this provision bars district court federal-question jurisdiction over suits, such as this one, which seek to recover Social Security benefits.” Weinberger v. Salfi, 422 U.S. 749, 756-57 (1975).

         The exclusive avenue for the remedy sought by Mr. Walters is pursuant to 42 U.S.C § 405(g). The Supreme Court has “held that 42 U.S.C. [§] 405(h) precludes federal-question jurisdiction in an action challenging denial of claimed benefits. The only avenue for judicial review is 42 U.S.C. [§] 405(g), which requires exhaustion of the administrative remedies provided under the Act as a jurisdictional prerequisite.” Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 327 (1976). Because Mr. Walters proceeds pro se in this action, the Court will liberally construe his pleading and evaluate potential relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง ...

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