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Gray v. Berryhill

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

October 23, 2017

PAMELA A. GRAY, Plaintiff,
v.
NANCY BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner Social Security Defendant.

          Mona K. Majzoub, Magistrate Judge

          OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO DISMISS FOR LACK OF SUBJECT-MATTER JURISDICTION [30] AND DENYING AS MOOT PLAINTIFF'S SECOND MOTION FOR TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER [16]

          LAURIE J. MICHELSON, U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Pamela Gray suffers from quadriparesis, a condition related to complications from polio. (R. 1, PID 30.) Because of her disability, she receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Earlier this year, the Social Security Administration (the agency) learned that Gray was no longer homeless and had been residing in a health and rehabilitation center since October 2015. As a result, the agency reduced Gray's benefits and sought reimbursement for the overpayments she received while living in the medical facility. Gray challenged the reduction to her benefits, which the Commissioner denied. The agency advised her of her right to seek a hearing before an Administrative Law Judge. But Gray instead filed this suit, hoping to reinstate her prior benefit amount. (R. 1.)

         Before the Court are two motions. Gray seeks a temporary restraining order. (R. 16.) As a result of the severe reduction in her monthly benefits, Gray contends she is no longer able to pay the monthly rental fee for a locker that stores her most treasured possessions and belongings. (R. 15, PID 110.) The Commissioner seeks dismissal of the case on the grounds that this Court lacks subject-matter matter jurisdiction over Gray's complaint and Gray has not stated a claim upon which relief can be granted. (R. 30.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court agrees with the Commissioner that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over Gray's complaint. As such, while the Court is not unsympathetic to Gray's predicament, the Court must deny her request for a TRO.

         I.

         A.

         From August 13, 2015, through October 8, 2015, Gray was homeless and lived in a Salvation Army shelter. (R. 1, PID 31.) While living there, Gray continued to receive her regular monthly SSI payment of roughly $726.[1] (R. 1, PID 3.)

         Starting in October of 2015, Gray moved into the Warren Woods Health and Rehabilitation Center. (R. 1, PID 18.) Gray claims a state-appointed guardian placed her in Warren Woods without her consent, and because she was moved into the short-term wing, she believed her stay would be temporary. (R. 16, PID 123-24.) So she did not inform the agency of the change to her living situation. (R. 1, PID 6.) But medical complications prolonged her stay at Warren Woods, and eventually the facility moved her to the long-term ward. (Id.)

         In early 2017, Gray began to receive letters from the agency. One from March 3 informed Gray that due to her change in residence and failure to let the agency know, the agency had overpaid her. (R. 16, PID 136.) The agency claimed that Gray owed $11, 887.88. (R. 16, PID 136.) The agency further explained that it would reduce Gray's benefits to $30 per month because she was living in a “public institution and Medicaid did not pay more than half the cost” of her care. (R. 16, PID 136; R. 1, PID 16-19.)

         Gray says that in April 2017, she asked the agency for a waiver of repayment and to reconsider the reduction in benefits as she was still homeless. (R. 1, PID 6, 14.)

         About one month later, the agency denied Gray's petition to reconsider, informing her that residing at Warren Woods Rehabilitation Center did not qualify her as homeless. (R. 1, PID 14.) The agency advised her of her right to request an administrative hearing, explained the administrative appeals process, and provided the time-frame for pursuing an appeal. (Id.) Gray did not pursue an administrative hearing or administrative appeal. (R. 1, PID 3.) According to Gray, the appeals process takes over eighteen months. And, she says, because the local Social Security office lost her waiver application, any administrative appeal is “foreclosed from giving needed relief.” (R. 1, PID 3.)

         In June 2017, the agency told Gray she would receive $37 in monthly SSI payments (instead of the $30 it mentioned in March). The agency's letter explained that Gray was living “in a medical facility, like a hospital or nursing home, ” and that “Medicaid was pay[ing] for more than half the cost of [her] care.” (R. 1, PID 18.) The agency also informed Gray she could receive up to $735 per month if she moved into an independent living situation. (Id.) Gray provides evidence that, since April 2017, she has been trying to move into an independent living situation. (R. 1, PID 27-30.)

         It appears that this reduction in Gray's SSI comes from various provisions of the Social Security Act and its implementing regulations. For example, the Act provides, in relevant part:

In any case where an eligible individual . . . is, throughout any month . . . in a medical treatment facility receiving payments (with respect to such individual . . .) under a State plan approved under title XIX, . . . the benefit under this title for such individual for such month shall be payable ...

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