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Bell v. United States Department of Health and Human Services

United States District Court, D. Columbia.

September 16, 2014

CLIFTON ODELL BELL, Plaintiff,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, et al., Defendants

Page 321

CLIFTON ODELL BELL, Plaintiff, Pro se, Silver Spring, MD.

For SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, KAISER FOUNDATION HEALTH PLAN OF THE MID-ATLANTIC STATES, INC., Defendants: Scott Charles Sasjack, LEAD ATTORNEY, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, Office of the General Counsel, CMS Division, Washington, DC.

Page 322

MEMORANDUM OPINION

BERYL A. HOWELL, United States District Judge.

The pro se plaintiff in this action, Clifton Bell, seeks $5,000 in damages from the United States Department of Health and Human Services (" HHS" ) and Kaiser Foundation Health Plan Mid-Atlantic States, Inc. (" Kaiser" ) (collectively, the " defendants" ), based on an alleged failure of Defendant Kaiser to reimburse the plaintiff for a medical co-pay. See generally Compl., ECF No. 1. Since the face of the complaint indicates that this Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over this matter, the plaintiff's claim is dismissed.

I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiff alleges that he underwent an " urgent and medically necessary" surgery for which he was required to pay a $5,000 co-pay, apparently because he was denied coverage approval from Kaiser for six months preceding the surgery. See Compl. at 1. The plaintiff alleges that by failing to reimburse him $5,000 for the surgery, " the plaintiff's binding health care contract was breached by Kaiser . . . ." Id. at 2. The plaintiff further alleges that the Defendant HHS " did approve the (said) 2011 breach." Id. The plaintiff requests a jury trial and an order that Kaiser reimburse him in the amount of $5,000. Id. at 1.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

" 'Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction,' possessing 'only that power authorized by Constitution and statute.'" Gunn v. Minton, 133 S.Ct. 1059, 1064, 185 L.Ed.2d 72 (2013) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673, 128 L.Ed.2d 391 (1994)). Indeed, federal courts are " forbidden . . . from acting beyond our authority," NetworkIP, LLC v. FCC, 548 F.3d 116, 120, 383 U.S.App.D.C. 310 (D.C. Cir. 2008), and, therefore, have " an affirmative obligation 'to consider whether the constitutional and statutory authority exist for us to hear each dispute.'" James Madison Ltd. by Hecht v. Ludwig, 82 F.3d 1085, 1092, 317 U.S.App.D.C. 281 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (quoting Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192, 196, 297 U.S.App.D.C. 406 (D.C. Cir. 1992)). Absent subject matter jurisdiction over a case, the court must dismiss it. Arbaugh v. Y& H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 506, 126 S.Ct. 1235, 163 L.Ed.2d 1097 (2006); Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3).

When considering whether subject matter jurisdiction exists over an action, the court must accept as true all uncontroverted material factual allegations contained in the complaint and " 'construe the complaint liberally, granting plaintiff the benefit of all inferences that can be derived from the facts alleged' and upon such facts determine jurisdictional questions." Am. Nat'l Ins. Co. v. FDIC, 642 F.3d 1137, 1139, 395 U.S.App.D.C. 316 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (quoting Thomas v. Principi, 394 F.3d 970, 972, 364 U.S.App.D.C. 326 (D.C. Cir. 2005)). The court need not accept inferences drawn by the plaintiff, however, if those inferences are unsupported by facts alleged in the complaint or merely amount to legal conclusions. See Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235, 242, 352 U.S.App.D.C. 4 (D.C. Cir. 2002). Moreover, in evaluating

Page 323

subject matter jurisdiction, the court, when necessary, " may 'undertake an independent investigation to assure itself of its own subject matter jurisdiction,'" and consider " facts developed in the record beyond the complaint." Settles v. U.S. Parole Comm'n, 429 F.3d 1098, 1107, 368 U.S.App.D.C. 297 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (quoting Haase v. Sessions, 835 F.2d 902, 908, 266 U.S.App.D.C. 325 (D.C. Cir. 1987)); see also Herbert, 974 F.2d at 197 (in disposing of motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, " where necessary, the court may consider the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record, or the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts." ); Alliance for Democracy v. FEC, 362 F.Supp.2d 138, 142 (D.D.C. 2005). The burden of establishing any jurisdictional facts to support the exercise of subject matter jurisdiction rests on the plaintiff. See Hertz Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 96, 130 S.Ct. 1181, 175 L.Ed.2d 1029 (2010); Thomson v. Gaskill, 315 U.S. 442, 446, 62 S.Ct. 673, 86 L.Ed. 951 (1942); Moms Against Mercury v. FDA, 483 F.3d 824, 828, 376 U.S.App.D.C. 18 (D.C. Cir. 2007).

Litigants proceeding pro se are not held to the same standards in their filings as those represented by counsel, in order to ensure access to the judicial system even for those persons who lack an understanding of the procedural and substantive requirements of litigation. See Moore v. Agency for Int'l Dev., 994 F.2d 874, 876, 301 U.S.App.D.C. 327 (D.C. Cir. 1993) (citing Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed.2d 652 (1972)) (" Pro se litigants are allowed more latitude than litigants represented by counsel to correct defects in service of process and pleadings." )); Childers v. Slater, 197 F.R.D. 185, 188 (D.D.C. 2000) (noting that " pro se litigants generally are entitled to wider latitude than those who are represented by counsel" ). Nevertheless, even for unsophisticated, untrained ...


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