Hill v. Colvin, 1:14CV354

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Middle District of North Carolina
Writing for the CourtBEATY, District Judge.
Docket Number1:14CV354
PartiesCHRISTINA L. HILL, Plaintiff, v. CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, and the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendants.
Decision Date23 February 2016

CHRISTINA L. HILL, Plaintiff,
v.
CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security,
and the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Defendants.

1:14CV354

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA

February 23, 2016


MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

BEATY, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on the Motion to Dismiss [Doc. #31] of Defendants Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, and the United States and Plaintiff Christina L. Hill's Motion to Amend [Doc. #38] her Response [Doc. #34] to the Motion to Dismiss. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant Plaintiff's Motion to Amend and grant Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL POSTURE

On April 28, 2014, Plaintiff filed her Complaint [Doc. #1] against Defendants the Social Security Administration ("SSA") and three SSA employees: Terry Stradtman, Tom Ferrero, and Troy Greenwald. Plaintiff has since filed a First Amended Complaint [Doc. #19] and a Second Amended Complaint [Doc. #27-1] against Defendants Stradtman, Ferrero, Greenwald, and the SSA. The Court granted Plaintiff's unopposed Motion for Leave to file a Second Amended Complaint [Doc. #27] on June 24, 2015. (Order [Doc. #28].)

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In her Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants violated 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. (Fair Debt Collection Practices Act), 15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. (Fair Credit Reporting Act), 31 U.S.C. § 3701 et seq. (Debt Collection Improvement Act),1 18 U.S.C. § 1001 (making false statements), 18 U.S.C. § 641 (embezzling or stealing public money, property or records),2 18 U.S.C. § 1951 (extortion), 18 U.S.C. § 666 (theft or bribery concerning programs receiving federal funds), and 18 U.S.C. § 1341 (mail fraud). (Second Am. Compl. [Doc. #27-1], at 15-21.)3 Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants engaged in the intentional infliction of emotional distress against her. (Id. at 17.) As a result of these allegations, Plaintiff seeks an injunction prohibiting Defendants from engaging in further violations of the above statutes, from transferring her account to any debt collector, from placing Plaintiff on any "deadbeat list," or from impugning her reputation as a consumer. (Second Am. Compl. [Doc. #27-1], at 21.) Plaintiff also seeks statutory and punitive monetary awards. (Id. at 21-23.) As explained below, Plaintiff may also be seeking review of an Administrative Law Judge's decision that was partially unfavorable to her.

On a Notice of Substitution [Doc. #36], the Court substituted Defendants Carolyn Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, and the United States for Defendants

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Stradtman, Ferrero, Greenwald, and the SSA. (Order [Doc. #37].) Additionally, the claims against Defendants Stradtman, Ferrero, and Greenwald were dismissed. (Id.)

Plaintiff's allegations stem from facts arising out of alleged overpayments of benefits by the SSA to Plaintiff. On or about April 3, 2011, the SSA notified Plaintiff that the SSA had assessed an overpayment against her.4 On or about May 11, 2011, Plaintiff mailed a letter to the SSA requesting a waiver of the overpayment. (Second Am. Compl. [Doc. #27-1], at 5.) On June 29, 2011, the SSA acknowledged receiving this response and said that it would "contact Plaintiff later concerning this request." (Letter from SSA [Doc. #27-4].)

SSA regulations specify that "no adjustment or recovery action will be taken until after the initial waiver determination is made." 20 C.F.R. § 404.506(b). Nonetheless, Plaintiff received numerous letters over the next two years from the SSA asking that Plaintiff repay some or all of the alleged overpayment. (See, e.g., Billing Statement [Doc. #27-7] (Aug. 4, 2011); Billing Statement [Doc. #27-8] (Aug. 17, 2011); Billing Statement [Doc. #27-11] (Jan. 17, 2012); Billing Statement [Doc. #27-20] (Nov. 15, 2012); Billing Statement [Doc. #27-23] (May 24, 2013); Billing Statement [Doc. #27-22] (June 3, 2013).)

"The Field Office scheduled a personal conference to discuss [Plaintiff's] request for waiver" for June 5, 2013, but Plaintiff did not attend the conference. (ALJ Decision [Doc. #32-

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6], at 1.)5 The Field Office then denied Plaintiff's waiver request on June 19, 2013. (ALJ Decision [Doc. #32-6], at 1.) Plaintiff immediately sought reconsideration of the waiver denial. (Id.)

Unbeknownst to Plaintiff, on or about July 25, 2013, the SSA reported to Equifax an undue balance related to the overpayment dispute. (Letter from Equifax to Christina L. Hill [Doc. #27-24].) In August of 2013, Plaintiff became aware that the SSA had made this report. (Second Am. Compl. [Doc. #27-1], at 9; myFico - Account Details [Doc. #27-27].) On August 12, 2013, SSA employee Tom Ferrero called Plaintiff and confirmed to her that the delinquency had been prematurely added and that it would be removed. (Second Am. Compl. [Doc. #27-1], at 9; Defs.' Mem. Supp. Mot. to Dismiss [Doc. #32], at 20.) The SSA later confirmed in writing that it was "contacting the credit bureaus and requesting that all reference to [Plaintiff's] overpayment be deleted from [her] credit report." (Letter from SSA [Doc. #27-28].)

Plaintiff's earlier "request for reconsideration [of the waiver request] was denied on September 11, 2013 and again on October 30, 2013." (ALJ Decision [Doc. #32-6], at 1.) On November 1, 2013, Plaintiff filed a request for a hearing by an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ"). (Request for Hearing by Administrative LawJudge [Doc. #27-32]). On April 28, 2014, Plaintiff filed her Complaint [Doc. #1] in this Court.

In response to Plaintiff's November 2013 request, a hearing before the ALJ was held on September 4, 2014. (ALJ Decision [Doc. #32-6], at 1.) On April 8, 2015, the ALJ entered a

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decision partially favorable and partially unfavorable to Plaintiff. (Notice of Decision [Doc. #32-6].) The ALJ waived $21,715 of the overpayment and did not waive $16,432 of the overpayment. (Id. at 4-5.) The ALJ waived a portion of the overpayment because Plaintiff was not at fault in causing that portion of the overpayment and recovering that portion of the overpayment would be against equity and good conscience. (Id.) The other portion of the overpayment was not waived because Plaintiff was not completely without fault in causing that portion of the overpayment. (Id. at 3-5.) Plaintiff does not allege that she has sought review of the ALJ's decision with the Appeals Council nor is there any evidence on the record suggesting she has done such. (See Decl. of Kathie Hartt [Doc. #32-1], at 2-3 (Office of Disability Adjudication and Review's official file for Plaintiff contains no mention of Plaintiff seeking review with Appeals Council)).

On this point, it is unclear whether Plaintiff is seeking review by the Court of the ALJ's decision.6 Because pro se filings are to be construed liberally, e.g., Hudspeth v. Figgins, 584 F.2d 1345, 1347 (4th Cir. 1978), the Court will also construe Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint as a request for review of the ALJ's decision, in addition to asserting her various other claims

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described above.

On July 28, 2015, Defendants Stradtman, Ferrero, Greenwald, and the SSA filed a Motion to Dismiss [Doc. #31] Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff opposed the Motion to Dismiss in a Response [Doc. #34]. On September 21, 2015, as mentioned above, Defendants Colvin and the United States were substituted for Defendants Stradtman, Ferrero, Greenwald, and the SSA. On September 25, 2015, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Amend [Doc. #38] her Response [Doc. #34] to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. Therefore, Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [Doc. #31] and Plaintiff's Motion to Amend [Doc. #38] are currently before the Court.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff's Motion to Amend

The Court will first consider Plaintiff's Motion to Amend [Doc. #38] her Response to the Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff's proposed amendments consist of changes to her Response that recognize the substitution of the parties in this case as opposed to consisting of new arguments or responses to Defendants' arguments. Plaintiff's Motion therefore appears to have been an effort to bring her response into conformity with this Court's earlier party substitution Order [Doc. #37] rather than being any type of attempt to circumvent the normal rules for filing responses. See Local Rule 7.3 (specifying ordinary methods of responding to motions). Furthermore, Defendants did not oppose Plaintiff's Motion to Amend. Therefore, the Court

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will grant Plaintiff's Motion to Amend [Doc. #38].

B. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

The Court will next consider Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [Doc. #31] for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and then for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).

1. Standard for Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1)

Rule 12(b)(1) allows a party to move for dismissal of a claim based upon a "lack of subject-matter jurisdiction." The federal courts are courts of limited subject matter jurisdiction. "The federal courts . . . are empowered to hear only those cases that (1) are within the judicial power of the United States, as defined in the Constitution, and (2) that have been entrusted to them by a jurisdictional grant by Congress." 13 Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure Juris. § 3522 (3d ed. 2015) (emphasis added and footnote omitted). When a federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over a case, the case must be dismissed. Id. As will be seen below, the primary subject matter jurisdiction concern in this case is whether Congress has provided the appropriate jurisdictional grant.

"The plaintiff has the burden of proving that subject...

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