Laird v. Ramirez

Decision Date24 April 1995
Docket NumberNo. C 95-3015.,C 95-3015.
Citation884 F. Supp. 1265
PartiesPaula LAIRD, on her own behalf and on behalf of others similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. Al RAMIREZ, in his official capacity as Director of the Iowa Department of Education, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Iowa

COPYRIGHT MATERIAL OMITTED

Tom Krause of Legal Services Corp., Des Moines, IA, for plaintiff Paula Laird.

Christie J. Scase, Asst. Atty. Gen. of the State of Iowa, Des Moines, IA, for defendant Al Ramirez.

                                                      TABLE OF CONTENTS
                 I.  INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND ....................................................................... 1268
                II.  ANALYSIS .......................................................................................... 1270
                A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction .................................................................... 1270
                1. Facial Or Factual Challenge Pursuant To Rule 12(b)(1) ......................................... 1271
                2. Dismissal Or Amendment? ....................................................................... 1273
                B. Jurisdiction Under 28 U.S.C. § 1343(a)(3) ................................................. 1274
                C. Jurisdiction Under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 ....................................................... 1274
                1. Principles of Exclusivity .................................................................. 1275
                2. The SSA and § 1983 causes of action ................................................... 1278
                3. Preliminary requirements for § 1983 causes of action .................................. 1281
                4. Preclusion of the § 1983 claim in Laird's first cause of action ....................... 1283
                a. Enforceable rights? ..................................................................... 1283
                b. The remedial scheme of Titles II and XVI ................................................ 1283
                c. The remedial scheme and preclusion ...................................................... 1284
                5. Preclusion of the § 1983 claim in Laird's second cause of action ...................... 1285
                a. Coexistence of remedies ................................................................. 1285
                b. Coexistence of the remedies here ........................................................ 1286
                III. CONCLUSION ........................................................................................ 1286
                

ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS

BENNETT, District Judge.

This motion to dismiss requires the court to explore the vexing jurisdictional question of whether plaintiffs may pursue a class action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to compel state officials to comply with standards, policies, procedures, and federal court decisions in making disability determinations under Titles II and XVI of the Social Security Act (SSA). The defendant has moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the ground that the SSA provides a comprehensive remedial scheme thus precluding plaintiff's challenge pursuant to § 1983. In resolving this question, the court must grapple with applying the murky principles of statutory exclusivity lurking in the "Sea Clammers doctrine" and its progeny.

This lawsuit has been filed as a class action for injunctive and declaratory relief to compel the Iowa Disability Determination Services Bureau (DDSB), as the body authorized to make initial disability determinations within the meaning of the Social Security Act, to evaluate disability claims according to proper standards and procedures. The plaintiff and the class she seeks to represent assert that they are not challenging specific disability determinations made by the defendant, but only the standards, policies, and procedures defendant utilizes in determining disability for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income purposes. The defendant is the Director of the Iowa Department of Education, of which the DDSB is a division. Although plaintiff has moved for class certification, no class has yet been certified. Plaintiff has also moved for a preliminary injunction. Defendant has not yet answered the complaint nor responded to the motion for preliminary injunction, but instead has moved to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed. R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1).

I. INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND

Named plaintiff Paula Laird filed the complaint in this class action lawsuit on February 15, 1995, following denial of her application for disability benefits based on major depression and low back spasms. The defendant is Al Ramirez, the Director of the Iowa Department of Education. The Iowa Department of Education, through its Disability Determination Services Bureau (DDSB), is authorized to make the initial determinations for Iowa claimants of whether or not such claimants are disabled within the meaning of the Social Security Act. Based on allegations of immediate and irreparable harm as the result of financial distress caused by improper determinations that plaintiffs are not disabled, plaintiffs also filed a motion for preliminary injunction on February 15, 1995. On March 9, 1995, plaintiff moved for conditional class certification and requested an immediate hearing.

By order dated March 14, 1995, the court set a hearing on plaintiffs' motions for conditional class certification and for a preliminary injunction for April 10, 1995. However, on March 30, 1995, defendant moved to dismiss this matter for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). After consultation with the parties, the court determined that it should consider the motion to dismiss first. The hearing scheduled for April 10, 1995, was therefore cancelled, and a telephonic hearing on the motion to dismiss was scheduled for April 19, 1995. The court promised a prompt disposition of the motion to dismiss, and indicated further that if it was necessary to address the motions for preliminary injunction and conditional class certification after disposition of the motion to dismiss, that a hearing on those matters would be rescheduled as soon as possible. This ruling fulfills that promise.

The complaint in this matter seeks injunctive and declaratory relief on behalf of the plaintiff class to compel the DDSB to make initial disability determinations according to proper standards and procedures. Paragraph 2 of the complaint provides the critical explanation of the nature and purpose of this lawsuit:

This is a class action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking injunctive and declaratory relief from defendant's actions in evaluating Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income benefits based on disability to plaintiffs. This action is not a challenge to specific disability determinations made by defendant, but to the standards, policies and procedures defendant utilizes in determining disability for Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income purposes. The relief sought is not an award of benefits for any class member, but is for declaratory and injunctive relief that would require the defendant to utilize proper standards and procedures in the disability determination process.

Complaint, ¶ 2. The prospective class is identified as disabled residents of the State of Iowa who in the two years preceding the filing of this action have been or may in the future be denied Social Security Disability Insurance and Supplemental Security Income benefits as a result, in whole or in part, of one or more of the identified policies, practices, or procedures of the defendant. Complaint, ¶ 7. The class excludes persons who appealed the denial of benefits and who received a favorable decision at a higher administrative or court level, or who were denied benefits because they returned to substantial gainful activity, or who were children. Complaint, ¶ 8.

The policies, practices, and procedures plaintiffs challenge are described in the complaint as follows:

a. DDS did not properly evaluate the Claimant's subjective allegations under 20 C.F.R. § 404.1529 and § 416.929, and Polaski v. Heckler, 739 F.2d 1320, 1322 (8th Cir.1984), supplemented, 751 F.2d 943, 948 (8th Cir.1984);
b. DDS did not give the proper weight to the well-supported opinion of the treating physician, contrary to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1527 and § 416.927, and Ghant v. Bowen, 930 F.2d 633 (8th Cir.1993 1991);
c. DDS did not utilize the services of a qualified vocational specialist in evaluating the Claimant's claim, contrary to 20 C.F.R. § 404.1469a(d) and § 416.969(d), McCoy v. Schweiker, 683 F.2d 1138 (8th Cir.1983 1982), and Social Security Ruling 83-14.

Complaint, ¶ 7. The complaint makes two claims for relief. The first claim asserts that by evaluating claims for disability in the manner described above, defendant "has violated the rights of the plaintiff and the class she represents under the Social Security Act and pertinent regulations." Complaint, ¶ 24. The second claim for relief asserts that defendant's policies and practices "have failed to properly incorporate federal regulations, judicial decisions and standards in the evaluation of disability cases at initial and reconsideration levels of the administrative determination process," Complaint, ¶ 25, and that "by applying one of two separate standards of review in disability determinations, Defendant Ramirez has violated plaintiffs' rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution." Complaint, ¶ 26.

In the complaint, Laird asserted that this court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 and 28 U.S.C. § 1343(a)(3), that venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b), and that her claims and those of the class she desires to represent are "authorized by 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and declaratory judgment is authorized by 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202." Complaint, ¶¶ 3 & 4. On March 30, 1995, Ramirez moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1...

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