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Greenhalgh v. Berryhill

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

May 14, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, et al. Defendants.



         THIS MATTER is before the Court upon review of Plaintiff's pro se “Civil Rights Complaint Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983” [ECF 1] (“Complaint”). For the reasons stated below, the Court will ORDER Plaintiff to SHOW CAUSE as to why his Complaint should not be dismissed without prejudice for its failure (1) to “contain . . . a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction” for the claim against the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) and (2) to “state a claim upon which relief can be granted” for the claim against the New Mexico Human Services Department (“HSD”). Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(1), 12(b)(6).

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff claims that he is disabled because he (1) was diagnosed with hepatitis C, (2) has “[p]ossible torn ligaments in [his] right knee, caus[ing] [him] to limp, ” which in turn has “caus[ed] problems with [his] hip and spine alignment, ” and (3) has experienced his health “declin[ing] at a rapid pace.” Compl. 2.[1] Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants, the SSA and the HSD, wrongly denied him disability benefits or “claims for general assistance.” Id. at 1-2. Plaintiff asserts that these Defendants denied him such benefits or assistance because “not enough evidence ha[d] been admitted, ” and he further asserts that he is not responsible for this lack of evidence because he has “signed many consent to release forms, ” hand-delivered pertinent information, and even telephoned both Defendants. Id. at 3, 5. Consequently, he requests that this Court grant him “all past due back pay plus hardship dues.” Id. at 5.

         Plaintiff's Complaint is presented on a six-page form, entitled “Civil Rights Complaint (42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983), ” which is found on this Court's website. See United States District Court, District of New Mexico, Local Forms, available at (last visited on May 14, 2019). In the “Jurisdiction” section, Plaintiff states that Defendants denied him disability benefits or assistance while “acting under color of state law” and that “[j]urisdiction is invoked pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) [and] 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Compl. 1-2. And in the “Cause of Action” section, Plaintiff did not fill out the portion where he is supposed to identify any “constitutional rights, privileges or immunities [that] have been violated.” Id. at 3. Instead, Plaintiff simply asserts, in the “Supporting Facts” section, that Defendants “violated [his] right[s] by denying [him] benefits.” Id.

         II. LAW

         A. Jurisdictional Pleading Requirements

         Although “[a] pro se litigant's pleadings are to be construed liberally, ” Hall v. Bellmon, 935 F.2d 1106, 1110 (10th Cir. 1991), such a litigant must nevertheless “follow the same rules of procedure that govern other litigants.” Garrett v. Selby Connor Maddux & Janer, 425 F.3d 836, 840 (10th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks omitted). Under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure “[a] pleading that states a claim for relief must contain . . . a short and plain statement of the grounds for the court's jurisdiction.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(1) (emphasis added). In other words, this rule “requires a plaintiff to allege ‘facts sufficient to invoke the court's jurisdiction.'” Keller v. Comm'r, SSA, 748 Fed.Appx. 192, 194 (10th Cir. 2018) (unpublished) (quoting Walden v. Bartlett, 840 F.2d 771, 775 (10th Cir. 1988)); see also Mocek v. City of Albuquerque, 813 F.3d 912, 932 (10th Cir. 2015) (stating that under Rule 8(a)(1), “a complaint must state the jurisdictional basis for all of the claims alleged therein” (emphasis added) (citations omitted)). Otherwise, if such facts are not pleaded, the Court may “dismiss a [litigant's] case without prejudice for failure to comply with Rule 8.” Nasious v. Two Unknown B.I.C.E. Agents, at Arapahoe Cty. Justice Ctr., 492 F.3d 1158, 1162 & n.3 (10th Cir. 2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 41 (permitting a Court to dismiss a plaintiff's complaint for failure to “comply with these rules [of civil procedure]”).

         Claims arising under the Social Security Act may only receive judicial review when 42 U.S.C. § 405 permits such a review. See 42 U.S.C. § 405(h) (stating that “[n]o findings of fact or decision of the Commissioner of Social Security shall be reviewed by any person, tribunal, or governmental agency except as herein provided”); Keller, 748 Fed.Appx. at 194 (stating that “[j]udicial review of claims arising under the Social Security Act is permitted only in accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405”). And this statute grants federal courts jurisdiction to review “any final decision of the Commissioner.” § 405(g) (emphasis added). Furthermore, “a decision of the Commissioner is not ‘final' for jurisdictional purposes unless the claimant first exhausts his administrative remedies.” Allred v. SSA, 315 Fed.Appx. 74, 75 (10th Cir. 2009) (unpublished) (citing 20 C.F.R. §§ 404.900(a), 416.1400(a); Marshall v. Shalala, 5 F.3d 453, 455 (10th Cir. 1993); Califano v. Sanders, 430 U.S. 99, 102 (1977)); see also 20 C.F.R. § 416.1400(a)(5) (stating that the Commissioner's “final decision” occurs after a claimant has “completed the [four] steps of the administrative review process”).[2] Therefore, if a plaintiff has not exhausted his administrative remedies, then “[a]bsent a colorable constitutional claim . . . a district court does not have jurisdiction to review the [Commissioner's] decision.” Nelson v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 927 F.2d 1109, 1111 (10th Cir. 1990) (emphasis added); see also Sanders, 430 U.S. 109 (applying to lawsuits against the Commissioner the “well-established principle that when constitutional questions are in issue, the availability of judicial review is presumed”).

         B. Alleging a Claim Under § 1983

         Even if a plaintiff has successfully invoked the court's jurisdiction, a court may nevertheless dismiss a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for a plaintiff's “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” And a court may make such a dismissal sua sponte and “without affording the plaintiff notice or an opportunity to amend” when (1) it is “‘patently obvious' that the plaintiff could not prevail on the facts alleged” and (2) “allowing [the plaintiff] an opportunity to amend his complaint would be futile.” Curley v. Perry, 246 F.3d 1278 (10th Cir. 2001) (quoting Hall, 935 F.2d at 1110) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Hall, 935 F.2d at 1109-10 (stating that “[a]lthough dismissals under Rule 12(b)(6) typically follow a motion to dismiss . . . a court may dismiss sua sponte when” these two conditions are met).

         “To state a claim under [42 U.S.C.] § 1983 a plaintiff must allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and must show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law.” Hall v. Witteman, 584 F.3d 859, 864 (10th Cir. 2009) (quoting West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988)). Furthermore, “[s]ection 1983 provides a federal forum to remedy many deprivations of civil liberties, but it does not provide a federal forum for litigants who seek a remedy against a State for alleged deprivations of civil liberties.” Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66 (1989); see also Id. at 66, 70-71 (holding that “neither a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are ‘persons' under § 1983, ” that such a rule also applies to “governmental entities that are considered ‘arms of the State' for Eleventh Amendment purposes, ” and that “[t]he Eleventh Amendment bars such suits [against a State] unless the State has waived its immunity”).


         A. Plaintiff's SSA Claim Lacks a ...

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