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Santiago v. Colvin

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

September 23, 2014

CAROLYN W. COLVIN, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, Defendant.


MARK G. MASTROIANNI, District Judge.


Anna Lydia Santiago ("Plaintiff") brings this action seeking a writ of mandamus directing the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration ("Commissioner") to pay Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits in accordance with a decision issued by an administrative law judge ("ALJ") on March 12, 2013, which decision subsequently was reopened. The Commissioner has filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. For the following reasons, the court will grant the Commissioner's motion.[1]


The same standard of review applicable to a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) applies to a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1). See Negron-Gaztambide v. Hernandez-Torres , 35 F.3d 25, 27 (1st Cir. 1994). Accordingly, the court "must credit the plaintiff's well-pled factual allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor." Merlonghi v. United States , 620 F.3d 50, 54 (1st Cir. 2010). "A plaintiff, however, may not rest merely on unsupported conclusions or interpretations of law.'" Murphy v. United States , 45 F.3d 520, 522 (1st Cir. 1995) (quoting Washington Legal Found. v. Mass. Bar Found. , 993 F.2d 962, 971 (1st Cir. 1993)); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) ("[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions."). Ultimately, to avoid dismissal on a Rule 12(b)(1) motion for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the plaintiff has the burden of proving that jurisdiction lies with the court. See Murphy , 45 F.3d at 522.


The following facts come from Plaintiff's complaint and documents referenced therein. See Trans-Spec Truck Serv., Inc. v. Caterpillar Inc. , 524 F.3d. 315, 321 (1st. Cir. 2008) ("When... a complaint's factual allegations are expressly linked to-and admittedly dependent upon-a document (the authenticity of which is not challenged), that document effectively merges into the pleadings and the trial court can review it in deciding a motion to dismiss....") (quoting Beddal v. State St. Bank & Trust Co. , 137 F.3d 12, 16-17 (1st Cir. 1998)); Watterson v. Page , 987 F.2d 1, 3 (1st Cir. 1993) (courts may also consider "official public records" at the motion to dismiss stage).

On February 14, 2008, Plaintiff reapplied for SSI benefits, which she was awarded on reconsideration on August 14, 2008.[2] (Plaintiff's Complaint ("Compl.") ¶ 4.) Retroactive benefits from that award, however, were withheld to repay a putative overpayment on her prior claim from June of 2005 through April of 2006. (Id.) On March 12, 2013, an ALJ issued a decision finding that Plaintiff had not, in fact, been overpaid SSI benefits from June of 2005 through April of 2006.[3] (Id. ¶ 5.) On April 5, 2013, the Office of Disability Adjudication and Review ("ODAR") informed Plaintiff that the matter had been "reopened" and was scheduled for another hearing. (Id. ¶ 6.) ODAR also sent Plaintiff a letter on April 10, 2013 stating that the ALJ

has decided to reopen his decision issued on March 12, 2013, pursuant to 20 C.F.R. 416.1488(b), which permits the reopening of a determination, revised determination, or decision for any reason within two years of the initial determination for good cause. Good cause for reopening is established because the evidence that was considered in making the decision clearly shows on its face that an error was made. Specifically, his initial decision mistakenly treated your client as being covered by the Clark v. Astrue decision. The Clark decision only included individuals whose benefits were suspended or denied after October 24, 2006; your client's benefits were suspended on May 11, 2006.

(Exhibit 1 (attached to Defendant's Memorandum of Law in Support of Motion to Dismiss ("Defs' Memo")) at 10.)

Plaintiff alleges that because no party appealed the March 12, 2013 decision, and none of the "conditions for reopening" under 20 C.F.R. § 416.1488 were applicable, "the decision became final and binding" under 20 C.F.R. § 416.1455, despite the reopening. (Compl. ¶ 8.) Accordingly, Plaintiff seeks a writ of mandamus directing the Commissioner to give effect to the March 12, 2013 decision and to pay her SSI benefits in accordance therewith.

On June 24, 2013, Plaintiff filed her complaint, which invokes both 28 U.S.C. § 1331, the federal question jurisdiction statute, and 28 U.S.C. § 1361, the mandamus jurisdiction statute, as the basis for this court's jurisdiction. The Commissioner has explained that, upon request from Plaintiff, the ALJ has postponed indefinitely the reopened hearing in light of this action.


In seeking dismissal, the Commissioner argues that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction because Plaintiff has not exhausted her administrative remedies. In particular, the Commissioner argues that 42 U.S.C. § 405 provides the exclusive means for reviewing social security decisions and specifically precludes actions brought under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. The Commissioner also argues that mandamus jurisdiction is not available because the Commissioner does not owe Plaintiff a clear, nondiscretionary duty. In response, Plaintiff argues that 42 U.S.C. § 405 does not deprive the court of subject matter jurisdiction because she is seeking enforcement, rather than review, of a social security decision. Plaintiff further argues that mandamus jurisdiction is appropriate because the ALJ had no authority to reopen the March 12, 2013 decision. Thus, ...

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