United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Western Division
MARIE A. BECTON Plaintiff,
NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Defendant.
C. DEVER III CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
7, 2017, Marie Becton ("Becton" or
"plaintiff') filed a complaint against Nancy
Berryhill ("Berryhill" or "defendant") in
her capacity as Acting Commissioner of Social Security [D.E.
1]. Becton seeks the reversal of a survivor's benefit
determination and $950, 000.00 in damages. See Id.
On October 10, 2017, defendant moved to dismiss for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(1) [D.E. 12]. On March 13, 2018, Becton filed
a "motion for relief reiterating the relief sought in
her complaint [D.E. 18]. As explained below, the court grants
defendant's motion to dismiss and denies Becton's
motion for relief.
March 2015, Becton brought a similar action in the United
States District Court for the District of Maryland. The court
dismissed that action for a lack of subject matter
jurisdiction. See Becton v. Comm'r. Soc. Sec.
Admin.. SAG-15-613, 2016 WL 674647 (D. Md. Feb. 17,
2016), affd. 667 Fed.Appx. 399 (4th Cir. 2016) (per
curiam) (unpublished) ("Becton I").
Defendant contends that this court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction for the same reasons that the District of
Maryland lacked jurisdiction in Becton I-because
Becton did not exhaust her administrative remedies before
commencing this action. See [D.E. 12] 2.
plaintiff has the burden of proving subject matter
jurisdiction. See, e.g.. Richmond. Fredericksburg &
Potomac R.R. v. United States. 945 F.2d765, 768 (4th
Cir. 1991). Becton alleges federal question jurisdiction
under 28 U.S.C. § 1331. See Compl. [D.E. 1] 2. Section
1331, however, does not grant federal jurisdiction to hear
causes of action to recover benefits against the "United
States, the Commissioner of Social Security, or any officer
or employee thereof." See 42 U.S.C. § 405(h);
Weinberger v. Salfi. 422 U.S. 749, 758-59 (1975);
Derricott v. Koch. DKC 14-3234, 2015 WL 4459962, at
*5 (D. Md. July 20, 2015) (unpublished), report and
recommendation adopted by 2015 WL 4647800 (D. Md.
Aug. 4, 2015) (unpublished); Kellevv.Soc. Sec.
Admin.. 4:11-CV-76-FL, 2011 WL 6934565, at *2 (E.D. N.C.
Nov. 29, 2011) (unpublished), report and recommendation
adopted by 2011 WL 6934562 (E.D. N.C. Dec. 30, 2011)
established federal jurisdiction to review final decisions of
the Commissioner in 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). "Any
individual, after any final decision of the
Commissioner... made after a hearing... may obtain a review
of such decision by a civil action." Id.
(emphasis added). Before contesting a decision of the
Commissioner in this court, a claimant must exhaust the
agency's internal review process. See Mathews v.
Eldridge. 424 U.S. 319, 327-28 (1976); Farrow v.
Astrue. 4:12-CV-11-FL, 2012 WL 4925939, at *2 (E.D. N.C.
Sept. 27, 2012) (unpublished), report and
recommendation by 2015. WT. 497.6417 (E.D. N.C. Oct. 16,
2012) (unpublished). "The only avenue for judicial
review [of agency decisions] ¶ 42 U.S.C. § 405(g),
which requires exhaustion of the administrative remedies
provided under the Act as a jurisdictional
prerequisite." Mathews. 424 U.S. at 327
(emphasis added). This "administrative process consists
of four steps: (1) initial determination, (2)
reconsideration, (3) hearing before an administrative law
judge ("ALJ"), and (4) Appeals Council
Review." Knox v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec.
Admin.. 5:08-CV-572-FL, 2009 WL 4545168, at *5 (E.D.
N.C. Dec. 4, 2009) (unpublished); see 20 C.F.R. §
416.1400(a)(1)-(4). A plaintiff who has not completed all
four steps has not exhausted her administrative remedies, and
therefore lacks the "final decision" that 42 U.S.C.
§ 405(g) requires to bring a civil action in district
court. See Derricott. 2015 WL 4459962, at *5.
September 24, 2004, Becton filed a claim for widow's
insurance benefits. See [D.E. 12-2] 10. In late 2011 or early
2012, Becton's widow's insurance benefits were
terminated due to an offset calculated against her own
federal pension. See Id. Becton disagreed with the
Commissioner's interpretation of her entitlement to these
benefits and requested reconsideration. See id. at
4-5, 10. On March 16, 2012, Becton received notice of the
Commissioner's decision concerning reconsideration of her
claim. See Id. at 10-13. On reconsideration, the
Commissioner affirmed the original determination, and
informed Becton of her right to request a hearing before an
ALJ if she disagreed. See id, at 3, 8, 13. Becton did not
request mat hearing but instead filed Becton I in the United
States District Court for the District of Maryland. See
Id. at 3.
March 2012 reconsideration notice is not a "final
decision" of the Commissioner. See Knox. 2009
WL 4545168, at *5. Thus, Becton has failed to exhaust her
administrative remedies, and this court lacks jurisdiction to
adjudicate her claims. See Becton 1, 2016 WL 674647,
also has not shown why this court should excuse her failure
to exhaust administrative remedies. See Bowen v. City of
New York. 476 U.S. 467, 483-85 (1986). A plaintiffs who
has not exhausted the administrative remedies available may
nonetheless bring a case in federal court if "(1) the
claim is collateral to the claim for benefits; (2) the
claimant would be irreparably harmed, and (3) relief is
consistent with the policies underlying the exhaustion
requirement." Knox. 2009 WL 4545168. at * 1:
see Bowen. 476 U.S. at 483-85: Hvatt v.
Heckler. 807 F.2d 376.378 (4th Cir. l986) Becton alleges
a claim for benefits, and her claim is not collateral. Thus,
her failure to exhaust is not excusable.
defendant's motion to dismiss [D.E. 12] is GRANTED, and