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Joseph Aruanno v. Michael J. Astrue

December 5, 2011

JOSEPH ARUANNO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL J. ASTRUE, COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini, U.S.D.J.

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Commissioner of Social Security Michael J. Astrue's ("Commissioner") motion to dismiss Plaintiff Joseph Aruanno's ("Mr. Aruanno") Social Security benefits Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. For the reasons stated below, this Court willgrant the motion and dismiss the Complaint.

I.Factual and Procedural Background

Mr. Aruanno is a twice-convicted sex offender: in 1994, he exposed himself to two girls in Florida, and in 1996, he sexually molested an eight-year-old girl playing in front of her house in New Jersey. Aruanno v. Hayman, 384 Fed. App'x 144, 145 (3d Cir. 2010), cert. denied, 131 S. Ct. 835 (U.S. 2010). In New Jersey, Mr. Aruanno was convicted of second-degree sexual assault and sentenced to ten years in prison. Id. at 145. In 2004, before Mr. Aruanno's prison term ended, the State of New Jersey involuntarily committed him pursuant to the New Jersey Sexually Violent Predator Act ("SVPA"), N.J.S.A. § 30:4-27.24 et seq., 384 Fed. App'x at 145, and placed him in civil detention at a "Special Treatment Unit," where he currently resides. (Compl. 3, Apr. 28, 2011, ECF No. 1.)

Prior to his second conviction, on July 19, 1995, an administrative law judge ("ALJ") awarded Mr. Aruanno Social Security disability insurance ("SSDI") benefits with an entitlement date of November 1993. (Infiesta Decl. ¶ 1, Sept. 6, 2011, ECF No. 12-3.) The Social Security Administration ("SSA") received notice that Mr. Aruanno was incarcerated as of December 23, 1996 from the Department of Law Enforcement in Tallahassee, Florida. (Decl. ¶ 2., ECF No. 12-3.) The SSA subsequently received reports that Mr. Aruanno was incarcerated in various New Jersey facilities beginning April 7, 1997. (Decl. ¶ 2., ECF No. 12-3.) As a result of the incarceration report, the SSA suspended Mr. Aruanno's SSDI benefits with an effective date of December 1996. (Decl. ¶ 3., ECF No. 12-3.)

Throughout 2004, Mr. Aruanno contacted SSA seeking to restore the SSDI benefits he had received prior to his incarceration in 1996. (Compl. 5, ECF No. 1.) In at least five letters responding to Mr. Aruanno's requests, SSA stated that SSDI and Supplemental Security Income ("SSI") benefits are not payable to individuals who are incarcerated or who are confined "in an institution at public expense" immediately upon completion of a prison sentence for a sexual criminal offense on the basis of a court finding that the individual is a "sexually dangerous person or sexual predator." The SSA also informed Mr. Aruanno that SSI benefits are generally not available for any month to someone who resides in a public institution for the entire month. See (Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Exs. A-E, ECF No. 13.)

Several years later, on Nov. 16, 2007, Mr. Aruanno wrote to the Commissioner demanding restoration of his benefits. (Compl. 5, ECF No. 1.); (Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Ex. F, ECF No. 13.) Mr. Aruanno also retained Legal Services of New Jersey in 2008 to help facilitate his claim, but to no avail. (Compl. 5, ECF No. 1); (Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss Exs. G-H, ECF No. 13) (letters from Legal Services complaining of a lack of response from SSA in obtaining Mr. Aruanno's file). Waiting several more years and receiving no response from the Commissioner, Mr. Aruanno filed the present action pro se. (Compl. 5, ECF No. 1.)

Mr. Aruanno seeks restoration of the SSDI benefits he received prior to his incarceration in 1996. (Compl. 6, ECF No. 1.) Mr. Aruanno claims that he is entitled to benefits in part, due to alleged misconduct on the part of the Special Treatment Unit in which he is held:

And though the rules insinuate that hospitalized persons are not eligible to collect my situation varies because I am in a situation where the facility refuses to provide and care, such as soap and other personal hygienic items; clothes; food if I am going to eat adequate amounts of healthy nutritional food; legal expenses; certain medical expenses; etc . . . . (Compl. 5, ECF No. 1.)

Alternatively, Mr. Aruanno alleges he is owed approximately $50 per month that "comes from S.S." (Compl. 5, ECF No. 1.) Mr. Aruanno fails to cite a particular SSA program for the "personal needs allowance" he seeks, but he almost certainly means SSI. (Pl.'s Resp. in Opp'n to Def.'s Mot. to Dismiss 4, ECF No. 13.); see 42 U.S.C. § 1383(a)(2)(F)(ii)(II)(bb) (referring to "personal needs assistance" under Title XVI of the Social Security Act, Supplemental Security Income). Mr. Aruanno also states in the "Relief" section of his Complaint that he is seeking benefits under "SSI or SSD." (Compl. 6, ECF No. 1.)

Mr. Aruanno seeks an order forcing the Commissioner to resume payment of SSDI benefits retroactive to 2004, or alternatively, forcing the Commissioner to pay Mr. Aruanno a personal needs allowance of approximately $50 per month. (Compl. 6, ECF No. 1) ("[I] ask that S.S. be ordered to comply which would be Declaratory and Injunctive [sic] relief"). The Commissioner seeks dismissal of Mr. Aruanno's Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. (Def.'s Br. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss 1, ECF No. 12-1.)

II.Legal Analysis

A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

Federal courts have an independent responsibility to consider whether they have subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte. Meritcare Inc. v. St. Paul Mercury Ins. Co., 166 F.3d 214, 217 (3d Cir. 1999); see Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). If a federal court finds it lacks subject ...


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