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Stanley v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

March 29, 2017

ELLEN ELIZABETH PACKENHAM STANLEY and ELLEN ELIZABETH PACKENHAM STANLEY, as Representative Payee for M.J.S., Plaintiffs,
v.
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, [1] Defendant.

          Ellen Elizabeth Packenham Stanley, pro se.

          Craig R. Baune, Assistant United States Attorney, UNITED STATES ATTORNEY'S OFFICE, for defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ON REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE

          JOHN R. TUNHEIM Chief Judge

         This case arises from a series of adjustments made by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) to social security benefits allegedly owed to Plaintiff Ellen Elizabeth Packenham Stanley. Stanley filed an Amended Complaint pursuant to the Federal Tort Claims Act (“FTCA”), 28 U.S.C. § 2671 et seq., alleging the SSA negligently reduced Stanley's social security benefits. United States Magistrate Judge Katherine Menendez issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) on January 17, 2017, recommending dismissal of Stanley's Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Stanley filed timely objections, arguing the government waived sovereign immunity in the FTCA and, therefore, the FTCA supplies the Court with jurisdiction. Because the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this action, the Court will overrule Stanley's objections, adopt the R&R, in part, and dismiss Stanley's Amended Complaint without prejudice.

         BACKGROUND

         From approximately May through July 2014, Stanley allegedly suffered a decrease in social security benefits because SSA employees improperly input an equity settlement into the “earnings” category in the SSA computer system. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 7, 9, May 12, 2016, Docket No. 8.) According to Stanley, the SSA improperly reduced her social security benefits from $411 to $1 a month. (Id. ¶ 7.) Stanley asserts she contacted the SSA numerous times regarding the reduction in benefits, but “was ignored and was not given the proper paperwork and/or interview.” (Id. ¶ 8.) Stanley alleges the SSA's negligence caused: her “household to become financially unstable”; eviction from Stanley's home; the death of Stanley's dog; and both “physical[] and psychological[]” pain to Stanley and her son M.J.S.[2] (Id. ¶¶ 7, 10.)

         In July 2015, Stanley filed a claim for damages with the SSA alleging SSA employees negligently decreased her social security benefits in violation of the FTCA.[3](Decl. of Lucinda E. Davis (“Davis Decl.”) ¶ 3 & Ex. 1, Aug. 9, 2016, Docket No. 21.) On August 13, 2015, the SSA denied Stanley's claim. (Id., Ex. 2 at 1.) The SSA found Stanley failed to submit evidence showing “a negligent act or omission of a federal employee acting within the scope of his or her employment caused [Stanley's] injury.” (Id.) The SSA further advised Stanley of its position that the FTCA did not permit claims related to benefits calculations against the SSA. (Id. (citing 42 U.S.C. § 405(h)).) The SSA informed Stanley that the proper procedure for appealing this determination was to “fil[e] suit in the appropriate United States District Court within six (6) months.”[4] (Id.)

         Stanley filed the Amended Complaint on May 12, 2016, alleging the SSA negligently reduced Stanley's social security benefits in violation of the FTCA.[5](See Am. Compl. at 11.) Stanley's Amended Complaint set forth allegations substantially similar to the claim Stanley asserted before the SSA in July 2015. (See Davis Decl., Ex. 1 at 3-5.) The government moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint, arguing the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. (Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss, Aug. 9, 2016, Docket No. 17.) The Magistrate Judge issued an R&R recommending the Court grant the government's motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (R&R at 7, Jan. 17, 2017, Docket No. 40.) Stanley filed timely objections to the R&R, arguing the Magistrate Judge erred in finding the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this matter.

         DISCUSSION

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         After a magistrate judge files an R&R, a party may file “specific written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2); accord D. Minn. LR 72.2(b)(1). “The objections should specify the portions of the magistrate judge's report and recommendation to which objections are made and provide a basis for those objections.” Montgomery v. Compass Airlines, LLC, 98 F.Supp.3d 1012, 1017 (D. Minn. 2015) (quoting Mayer v. Walvatne, No. 07-1958, 2008 WL 4527774, at *2 (D. Minn. Sept. 28, 2008)). On a dispositive motion, the Court reviews “properly objected to” portions of an R&R de novo. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); accord D. Minn. LR 72.2(b)(3).

         Here, the government moves to dismiss Stanley's Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). A Rule 12(b)(1) motion challenges the Court's subject matter jurisdiction and requires the Court to examine whether it has authority to decide the claims. Uland v. City of Winsted, 570 F.Supp.2d 1114, 1117 (D. Minn. 2008). In resolving a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) based on a “facial” attack, [6] “all of the factual allegations concerning jurisdiction are presumed to be true and the motion is successful if the plaintiff fails to allege an element necessary for subject matter jurisdiction.” Titus v. Sullivan, 4 F.3d 590, 593 (8th Cir. 1993). “In other words, in a facial challenge, the court ‘determine[s] whether the asserted jurisdictional basis is patently meritless by looking to the face of the complaint, and drawing all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.'” Montgomery, 98 F.Supp.3d at 1017 (quoting Biscanin v. Merrill Lynch & Co., 407 F.3d 905, 907 (8th Cir. 2005)).

         II. SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION

         Stanley primarily challenges the R&R's recommendation that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this action. Specifically, Stanley challenges the R&R's conclusion that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because the exclusive remedy provision in the Social Security Act - 42 U.S.C. § 405(h) - “precludes pursuing tort claims via the FTCA.” (R&R at 5; see also Pl.'s Obj. to R&R at 4, Jan. ...


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