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Refugee Disability Benefits Oregon v. Azar

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

February 1, 2019

REFUGEE DISABILITY BENEFITS OREGON and JOHN DOE I, on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated; Plaintiffs,
v.
ALEX AZAR, in his official capacity as United States Secretary of Health and Human Services; NANCY BERRYHILL, in her official capacity as Acting Commissioner of the United States Social Security Administration; and KEN TOTA, in his official capacity as Deputy Director of the United States Office of Refugee Resettlement; Defendants.

          James S. Coon Thomas, Coon, Newton & Frost Attorneys for Plaintiff

          Daniel Blessing Attorneys for Defendants

          OPINION & ORDER

          MARCO A. HERNÁNDEZ UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction [16] in which Defendants contend this Court should dismiss Plaintiffs' putative class action on the basis that the claims of Plaintiffs and the putative class-members are moot and because they failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. After extensive settlement negotiations between the parties, Defendants' Motion is now fully briefed and the Court heard oral argument on November 27, 2018. For the reasons that follow, the Court denies Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.

         BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Refugee Disability Benefits Oregon and John Doe I bring this putative class action on behalf of a class of Iraqi and Afghan immigrants who are eligible to apply to receive supplemental security income (“SSI”) benefits on account of their service to the United States in Iraq or Afghanistan. Beginning in 2008, Iraqi and Afghan nationals with “special immigrant visaholder” (“SIV”) status were eligible to receive SSI for up to eight months. In October 2009 Congress extended that period to provide SIV status-holders up to seven years of SSI eligibility.

         It is undisputed that Defendants erroneously continued to apply the shorter period of eligibility to SSI applications filed by at least some SIV status-holders after Congress extended the period of eligibility. After Plaintiffs filed this action in February 2017, Defendants acknowledged the errors and began to undertake efforts to identify the applications of SIV status-holders that had been improperly processed on the basis that the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) erroneously applied the shorter period of eligibility.

         DISCUSSION

         As noted, Defendants move to dismiss this action on two bases. First, Defendants contend Plaintiffs and the putative class-members failed to exhaust their administrative remedies because the John Doe Plaintiff and at least some putative class-members failed to pursue their applications through to a final administrative determination. Second, Defendants argue this case should be dismissed because the claims of the John Doe Plaintiff and the putative class-members have become moot as a result of Defendants' efforts to identify and to correct erroneously-processed applications after Plaintiffs instituted this action.

         I. Exhaustion of Administrative Remedies

         As noted, Defendants contend Plaintiffs' Complaint should be dismissed on the basis that the John Doe Plainitff and at least some class-members failed to exhaust their administrative remedies. Plaintiffs, on the other hand, contend the John Doe Plaintiff and putative class-members adequately presented their claims to the SSA, and that, although the factual circumstances of the putative class-members differ in some respects, the exhaustion requirement should be waived for their claims.

         In the Complaint, Plaintiffs allege the “claims for SSI benefits were denied or limited here by defendants' local offices in this district.” Compl. [1] ¶ 3. Plaintiffs contend the procedural posture of putative class-members' SSI applications fall into three broad categories. First, Plaintiffs contend the SSA granted the SSI applications of some putative class-members but limited the award of benefits to eight months of eligibility. Second, Plaintiffs assert the SSA denied the applications of some putative class-members because those SIV status-holders had been admitted to the United States more than eight months before filing their claim. Third, Plaintiffs assert some SSA field offices may have declined to accept SSI applications from some SIV status-holders because their eight-month period of eligibility had expired at the time that they attempted to file their applications.[1]

         42 U.S.G. § 405(g), the basis for this Court's subject-matter jurisdiction under the Social Security Act, “requires an SSI claimant to obtain a final judgment from the [SSA] before seeking judicial review.” Johnson v. Shalala, 2 F.3d 918, 921 (9th Cir. 1993). “A final decision has two elements: (1) presentment of the claim to the Commissioner, and (2) complete exhaustion of administrative remedies.” Kildare v. Saenz, 325 F.3d 1078, 1082 (9th Cir. 2003).

         A. ...


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