United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Eastern Division
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO
DANIEL BREEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
August 25, 2016, the pro se Plaintiff, Charles
Martin, initiated this action by filing a "Motion for
Declaratory Judgment." (Docket Entry ("D.E.")
1.) Martin averred that he had applied for Social Security
disability benefits over a period of ten years and received
unfavorable determinations. These decisions, he claimed,
resulted from discrimination and bias on the part of the
Social Security Administration. He also alleged that
Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") William R. Ingram
failed to adequately consider the opinions of his physicians
and disregarded vocational expert testimony.
order entered November 3, 2016, United States Magistrate
Judge Edward G. Bryant, in accordance with Administrative
Order 2013-05, directed the Clerk of Court to issue summonses
to the Commissioner of Social Security (the
"Commissioner") and the United States. (D.E. 8.) On
March 6, 2017, the Commissioner moved to dismiss the case in
its entirety pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules
of Civil Procedure. (D.E. 14.) Plaintiff filed his response
to the motion on April 3, 2017, (D.E. 15), making this matter
ripe for disposition.
12(b)(6) permits the district court to enter judgment against
a plaintiff for "failure to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6); see
also Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela v. Helmerich &
Payne Int'l Drilling Co., 137 S.Ct. 1312, 1323
(2017). The court is to "construe the complaint in the
light most favorable to the plaintiff, accept all
well-pleaded factual allegations as true, and examine whether
the complaint contains sufficient factual matter, accepted as
true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face." Salloum v. Harman Int'l Indus.,
Inc., ___ Fed.Appx. ___, 2018 WL 508580, at *2 (6th Cir.
Jan. 23, 2018) (internal quotation marks omitted). Although
"pro se complaints are to be held to less
stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers
and should therefore be liberally construed, "
Ongori v. Hawkins, No. 16-2781, 2017 WL 6759020, at
*1 (6th Cir. Nov. 15, 2017) (quoting Williams v.
Curtin, 631 F.3d 380, 383 (6th Cir. 2011)), the court
"need not accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a
factual allegation, or an unwarranted factual inference,
" Wiggins v. Ocwen Loan Serv., LLC, ___
Fed.Appx. ___, 2018 WL 459717, at *1 (6th Cir. Jan. 18, 2018)
(quoting Handy-Clay v. City of Memphis, Tenn., 695
F.3d 531, 539 (6th Cir. 2012)). In the instant motion to
dismiss, the Commissioner argues that the issues raised in
the motion for declaratory judgment have been previously
considered and ruled on by this Court and the Sixth Circuit
Court of Appeals.
Commissioner has attached to her motion copies of documents
filed in connection with Plaintiff's disability
claims. According to these materials, Martin first
applied for disability insurance benefits and supplemental
security income on September 26, 2006. Following a series of
hearings, appeals, and remands, ALJ Ingram issued his
determination denying the claims on September 26, 2013. On
October 15, 2014, the Appeals Council denied Plaintiff's
request for review, making the September 26, 2013, ruling the
final decision of the Commissioner.
accordance with 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), which provides in
pertinent part that "[a]ny individual, after any final
decision of the Commissioner . . . may obtain a review of
such decision by a civil action . . . brought in the district
court of the United States for the judicial district in which
the plaintiff resides . . ., " Martin brought an action
in the United States District Court for the Western District
of Tennessee against the Commissioner on December 1, 2014,
appealing the September 26, 2013, determination. See
Martin v. Colvin, No. 2:14-cv-02926-cgc (W.D. Tenn.). In
an order entered December 8, 2015, United States Magistrate
Judge Charmiane G. Claxton affirmed the determination of the
Commissioner. Her ruling was appealed to the Sixth Circuit
Court of Appeals, which affirmed her decision in an opinion
issued August 5, 2016.
on this history, the Commissioner contends that any attempt
to revisit claims asserted in the previous action is barred
by res judicata. The Court agrees. Res
judicata, which applies to Social Security claimants,
"is a common-law concept which prescribes that a final
judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or
their privies from relitigating issues that were or could
have been raised in that action." Drummond v.
Comm'r of Soc. Sec., 126 F.3d 837, 840-41 (6th Cir.
1997) (quoting Allen v. McCurry, 449 U.S. 90, 94
(1980)) (internal quotation marks omitted). "By
precluding parties from contesting matters that they have had
a full and fair opportunity to litigate, [the doctrine
protects] against the expense and vexation attending multiple
lawsuits, conserve[s] judicial resources, and foster[s]
reliance on judicial action by minimizing the possibility of
inconsistent decisions." Taylor v. Sturgell,
553 U.S. 880, 892 (2008) (internal quotation marks omitted).
The doctrine applies where:
(1) there is a final decision on the merits in the first
action by a court of competent jurisdiction; (2) the second
action involves the same parties, or their privies, as the
first; (3) the second action raises an issue actually
litigated or which should have been litigated in the first
action; and (4) there is an identity of the causes of action
between the first and second actions.
Hood v. United States, No. 17-1060, 2017 WL 5256873,
at *2 (6th Cir. Oct. 17, 2017) (citing Sanders v.
Confectionery Prods., Inc. v. Heller Fin., Inc., 973
F.2d 474, 480 (6th Cir. 1992)). All of the elements are
present here with respect to those claims before ALJ Ingram
or which could have been litigated in that proceeding. Thus,
they are barred by res judicata.
the Plaintiff insists in his response to the dispositive
motion that this action is not an attempt to relitigate prior
claims but to complain of the "unfair and illegal
treatment he received from this due process" due to
"corruption, " "discriminat[ion], " and
"bias" within the Social Security Administration,
which violated his rights under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1985
and 1986. (D.E. 15 at PageID 105-06.)
1985 prohibits certain conspiracies, including those to deny
a citizen's rights. Although the Plaintiff does not cite
to a particular subsection of the statute, the Court assumes
his claim is brought pursuant to § 1985(3), which
provides in pertinent part that "[i]f two or more
persons in any State or Territory conspire . . . for the
purpose of depriving, either directly or indirectly, any
person or class of persons of the equal protection of the
laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws,
" the injured party "may have an action for the
recovery of damages occasioned by such injury or
deprivation." 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3).
prohibition outlined in subsection (3) "was enacted as a
significant part of the civil rights legislation passed in
the aftermath of the Civil War." Ziglar v.
Abbasi, 137 S.Ct. 1843, 1865 (2017). To state a claim, a
plaintiff "must prove a conspiracy to deprive a person
or class of persons of the equal protection of the laws, and
an act in furtherance of the conspiracy which causes the
constitutional deprivation." Ohio ex rel. Moore v.
Brahma Inv. Group, Inc., ___ Fed.Appx. ___, 2018 WL
501393, at *3 (6th Cir. Jan. 22, 2018). The plaintiff
"must allege that the conspiracy was motivated by
racial, or other class-based, invidiously discriminatory
animus." Moniz v. Cox, 512 Fed.Appx. 495, 499
(6th Cir. 2013) (quoting Bass v. Robinson, 167 F.3d
1041, 1050 (6th Cir. 1999)) (internal quotation marks
Martin has failed to allege a conspiracy involving two or
more persons. Second, he has neither alleged any race- or
class-based animus nor so much as identified any race or
class to which he might belong. Accordingly, even considering
the leeway to which pro se litigants are to be
afforded, Plaintiff has fallen short of stating a claim under
§ 1985 that is plausible on its face. See Bynum v.
Berryhill, No. 5:16-cv-00014-RLV-DSC, 2017 WL 3669555,
at *8 (W.D. N.C. Aug. 24, 2017) (pro se complaint
could not survive Rule 12(b)(6) motion as to § 1985
claim where plaintiff sued only the Commissioner and,
therefore, failed to allege a conspiracy, and made no
allegations of race- or class-based discrimination). The
Plaintiff's § 1985 claim is DISMISSED.
§ 1986 claim must also fail. The statute imposes
liability upon a person "having knowledge that any of
the wrongs conspired to be done [in § 1985]" and
"having power to prevent or aid in preventing the
commission of the same, neglects or refuses so to do."
42 U.S.C. § 1986. "Dismissal of a § 1986 claim
is proper if a plaintiff fails to state a cause of action