United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia, Martinsburg
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
W. TRUMELE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
before the Court is Plaintiff Arthur Lee Hairston, Sr.'s
(“Plaintiff”) pro se Motion [ECF No. 2] for Leave
to Proceed In Forma Pauperis. Because Plaintiff seeks to
proceed in forma pauperis, the undersigned must
conduct a preliminary review to determine whether
Plaintiff's pro se Complaint [ECF No. 1] sets forth any
viable claims. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
Because the undersigned concludes that the Court lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims, the
undersigned recommends that Plaintiff's complaint be
dismissed, without prejudice, and Plaintiff's motion to
proceed in forma pauperis be denied as moot.
January 4, 2019, Plaintiff filed the instant pro se complaint
alleging that Defendants Social Security Administration
Compass Pointe Martinsburg, Mid-Atlantic Program Center, and
unknown individuals (collectively, “Defendants”)
have systematically discriminated against and extorted him.
See ECF No. 1, at 2. In his complaint, Plaintiff
alleges the following facts. Plaintiff was receiving Social
Security benefits before he began employment with the VAMC in
Martinsburg, West Virginia on December 27, 2015. Id.
at 1. Plaintiff notified the Social Security Administration
(“SSA”) of this employment, and he was placed on
a test period of employment from January 1, 2016 until
September 2016. Id. at 1-2. In a letter dated
October 27, 2017, the SSA informed Plaintiff that as of
January 1, 2017, he was no longer entitled to Social Security
benefits because he was engaging in substantial work. ECF No.
1-1, at 1. That letter also stated that Plaintiff had an
extended period of eligibility, during which benefits could
be reinstated, until September 2019. Id. Finally,
the letter indicated that Plaintiff had been overpaid Social
Security benefits because the SSA did not stop his checks
until October 2017 and therefore, Plaintiff was required to
refund that overpayment to the SSA within 30 days.
Id. at 2. In February 2018, Plaintiff ceased gainful
employment, and in August 2018, Plaintiff requested to have
his Social Security benefits reinstated. ECF No. 1, at 2.
appears to make two distinct claims in his complaint. First,
Plaintiff argues that Defendants' refusal to reinstate
Plaintiff's benefits is discriminatory. Id. He
alleges that Defendants have refused to reinstate his Social
Security benefits without reason. Id. at 1. However,
Plaintiff further argues that he is being denied
reinstatement of his benefits because of the overpayment of
benefits the SSA claims to have made to him between January
2017 and October 2017. Id. at 3. Second, Plaintiff
alleges that the SSA letter sent to Plaintiff is part of a
systematic pattern of discrimination against Plaintiff and is
harassment and extortion of Plaintiff. Id. at 2.
Plaintiff claims that it is Defendants' fault that
benefit payments did not stop as of January 2017 and that
Plaintiff never knew there was a test period or that payments
would be stopped as of January 2017. Id. Plaintiff
alleges that Defendants are using overpayment as a tool to
discriminate against and extort him. Id.
seeks monetary and compensatory damages, injunctive relief,
and other damages. Id. at 1. In particular,
Plaintiff seeks to be made whole and to be paid any and all
benefit payments denied due to the alleged discrimination.
Id. at 3.
filing a lawsuit in federal court, the plaintiff is required
to pay certain filing fees. The court has the authority to
allow a case to proceed without the prepayment of fees
“by a person who affirms by affidavit that he or she is
unable to pay costs . . . .” L.R. Gen. P. 3.01. The
plaintiff files this affidavit along with her request or
motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis.
Id. The Supreme Court of the United States has
explained that the purpose of the “federal in forma
pauperis statute . . . is designed to ensure that
indigent litigants have meaningful access to the federal
courts.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319,
plaintiff seeks to proceed in forma pauperis, the
court conducts a preliminary review of the lawsuit before
allowing the case to proceed. See 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e). This includes cases filed by non-prisoners. See
Michau v. Charleston Cnty., S.C., 434 F.3d 725, 727 (4th
Cir. 2006) (holding that the district court did not abuse its
discretion when it dismissed the non-prisoner complaints
under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)). The court must dismiss
a case at any time if the court determines that the complaint
is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a
defendant who is immune from such relief. See 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). A case is often dismissed
sua sponte (i.e., on the court's own decision)
before the defendant is notified of the case “so as to
spare prospective defendants the inconvenience and expense of
answering such complaints.” Neitzke, 490 U.S.
at 324. When reviewing pro se complaints, the Court must
construe them liberally. See Beaudett v. City of
Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).
construed, Plaintiff's complaint alleges that Defendants
engaged in discrimination and extortion by (1) denying him
reinstatement of Social Security benefits and (2) seeking the
repayment of an alleged overpayment of Social Security
benefits to Plaintiff via the letter dated October 27, 2017.
Before determining whether Plaintiff's complaint sets
forth any viable claims, the undersigned must first determine
whether this Court has subject-matter jurisdiction.
“court determines at any time that it lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the
action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3); see also Brickwood
Contractors, Inc. v. Datanet Eng'g, Inc., 369 F.3d
385, 390 (4th Cir. 2004) (stating that “questions of
subject-matter jurisdiction may be raised at any point during
the proceedings and may (or, more precisely, must) be raised
sua sponte by the court”). Subject-matter jurisdiction
in federal courts must be based on diversity jurisdiction or
federal-question jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331,
1332. Federal-question jurisdiction only requires that the
action “aris[e] under the Constitution, laws, or
treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331.
Pursuant to the well-pleaded complaint rule, “a federal
question must appear on the face of [the] plaintiff's . .
. complaint.” Sharp v. AT & T
Commc'ns, 660 F.Supp. 650, 650 (N.D. W.Va. 1987).
Here, Plaintiff claims this Court has federal-question
jurisdiction under § 1331. ECF No. 1, at
specific terms under which the SSA may be sued are set forth
in 42 ...