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Jefferson v. Mack

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Southeastern Division

April 8, 2019

ASHLEY MACK, et al. Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court on the motion of plaintiff Elmer Lee Jefferson for leave to commence this civil action without prepayment of the required filing fee. (Docket No. 2). Having reviewed the motion and the financial information submitted in support, the Court has determined that plaintiff lacks sufficient funds to pay the filing fee and will be granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a). Additionally, for the reasons discussed below, the Court will dismiss this action for failure to state a claim. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         Legal Standard on Initial Review

         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), the Court is required to dismiss a complaint filed in forma pauperis if it is frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. To state a claim, a plaintiff must demonstrate a plausible claim for relief, which is more than a “mere possibility of misconduct.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. at 678. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief is a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw upon judicial experience and common sense. Id. at 679. The court must “accept as true the facts alleged, but not legal conclusions or threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements.” Barton v. Taber, 820 F.3d 958, 964 (8th Cir. 2016). See also Brown v. Green Tree Servicing LLC, 820 F.3d 371, 372-73 (8th Cir. 2016) (stating that court must accept factual allegations in complaint as true, but is not required to “accept as true any legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation”).

         When reviewing a pro se complaint under § 1915(e)(2), the Court must give it the benefit of a liberal construction. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). A “liberal construction” means that if the essence of an allegation is discernible, the district court should construe the plaintiff's complaint in a way that permits his or her claim to be considered within the proper legal framework. Solomon v. Petray, 795 F.3d 777, 787 (8th Cir. 2015). However, even pro se complaints are required to allege facts which, if true, state a claim for relief as a matter of law. Martin v. Aubuchon, 623 F.2d 1282, 1286 (8th Cir. 1980). See also Stone v. Harry, 364 F.3d 912, 914-15 (8th Cir. 2004) (stating that federal courts are not required to “assume facts that are not alleged, just because an additional factual allegation would have formed a stronger complaint”). In addition, affording a pro se complaint the benefit of a liberal construction does not mean that procedural rules in ordinary civil litigation must be interpreted so as to excuse mistakes by those who proceed without counsel. See McNeil v. United States, 508 U.S. 106, 113 (1993).

         The Complaint

         Plaintiff is a pro se litigant who has brought this civil action pursuant to Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (RA), and Title XVI of the Social Security Act (SSA). (Docket No. 1 at 3). He also alleges that his Fourteenth Amendment rights were violated. He has named Ashley Mack, a Social Security Administration Employee, and Carolyn W. Colvin, Acting Commissioner of Social Security, as defendants. (Docket No. 2). He states that this is a personal injury claim that has arisen because defendants acted so carelessly that he must be compensated for his emotional injury. (Docket No. 1 at 5).

         Plaintiff states that this present action is related to Jefferson v. Colvin, No. 1:15-cv-97-CAS (E.D. Mo.), a Social Security benefits claim that closed in 2016. That case involved the determination by an administrative law judge (ALJ) that plaintiff had received overpayments of supplemental security income (SSI) payments. Specifically, the ALJ determined that plaintiff had been overpaid SSI benefit payments in the amount of $2, 055.17 while incarcerated in 2009. Plaintiff, however, disputed that amount and the Court determined that the correct amount of the overpayment was $674. The matter was remanded to the ALJ to “develop the record fully and fairly” with regards to plaintiff's challenge to the calculation of his SSI benefits.

         On November 9, 2018, plaintiff states that he received a letter from Ashley Mack, an employee with the SSA. The letter concerned potential SSI overpayments that plaintiff may have received from August 1, 2016 to the present. Plaintiff states this “oversteps the ALJ and the United States District Court Judge, and [the] U.S. Magistrate Judge in this case.” He further asserts that he does not possess the information that Mack requested and that when he went to report to the SSA, he was not allowed inside the building. However, plaintiff insists that he called the SSA and reported any unemployment income he may have received.

         In a supplemental filing, plaintiff states that on December 14, 2018, defendant Mack “used an illegal proceeding to obtain information from the plaintiff denying the equal protection of the laws.” (Docket No. 7 at 1). He claims that Mack ordered him to come to the SSA office in order to investigate his eligibility to receive benefits. When he arrived at the office, though, he was advised by an unnamed individual or individuals that he was not allowed to be at the office in person. This was the result of plaintiff allegedly threatening an employee two years earlier. (Docket No. 7 at 2).

         Subsequently, plaintiff spoke to Mack on the phone, and they discussed plaintiff's receipt of unemployment benefits and how that could affect his SSI eligibility. Plaintiff states that he “questioned…Mack about being banned from the entrance” of the SSA office. He asserts that Mack could not tell him the name of the employee that he had threatened, which he alleges is a violation of his right to face his accuser. Plaintiff also told Mack that he did not know how to obtain the unemployment records she needed, but was told that she had those records.

         In a further supplemental filing to his complaint, plaintiff alleges that defendant Mack wrongfully used her office to deprive him of his Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Docket No. 9 at 2). He further accuses her of negligence in “proceeding in contempt of court.” (Docket No. 9 at 1).

         Plaintiff claims that Mack's action in sending him the letter regarding potential overpayments constitutes negligent infliction of emotional distress. (Docket No. 1 at 5). He states that “under federal law, any person who wrongfully uses his office to deprive another of his civil rights will be ...

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