Brown v. BERRYHILL
ORDER ACCEPTEDING AND ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDTION [#10] DISMISSING PLAINTIFF'SCOMPLAINT FOR LACK OF STANDING. Signed by District Judge Gershwin A. Drain. (TBan)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
DONALD BROWN, OBO DOUGLAS N.
Case No. 17-cv-11577
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
GERSHWIN A. DRAIN
NANCY A. BERRYHILL,
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
ELIZABETH A. STAFFORD
ORDER ACCEPTEDING AND ADOPTING REPORT AND
RECOMMENDTION [#10] DISMISSING PLAINTIFF’S COMPLAINT FOR
LACK OF STANDING
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff’s complaint challenging
Defendant’s denial of Social Security Disability benefits (DIB) to Plaintiff’s
deceased son, Mr. Douglas Brown. Mr. Douglas Brown applied for DIB on March
28, 2014. Dkt. No. 1, pg. 2 (Pg. ID 2). The Social Security Commissioner denied
the benefits on November 24, 2014. Id. On May 4, 2016, Plaintiff had an
administrative hearing before an Administrative Law Judge (ALJ). Id. The ALJ
denied Plaintiff’s request for DIB on June 29, 2016. Id. On April 5, 2017, the
Appeals Council denied Plaintiff’s request for review of the ALJ decision. Id. On
May 17, 2017, Plaintiff filed a complaint on behalf of his son, Douglas Brown, for
judicial review of the Commissioner’s decision to deny DIB. Dkt. No. 1. On June
23, 2017, Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford ordered Plaintiff to Show Cause
why this action should not be dismissed for lack of standing. Dkt. No. 8. Plaintiff
responded on July 13, 2017. Dkt. No. 9. Magistrate Judge Stafford issued a Report
and Recommendation on September 13, 2017, recommending that this Court
dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint for lack of standing. Dkt. No. 10. Plaintiff filed an
objection on September 26, 2017. Dkt. No. 11. For the reasons discussed below,
the Court accepts and adopts the Magistrate Judge’s recommendation and
concludes that Plaintiff lacks standing to bring this claim.
This Court employs “a de novo determination of those portions of the report
or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.”
28 U.S.C. § 636 (b)(1)(C). This Court “may accept, reject or modify, in whole or in
part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” Id.
Plaintiff first objects to Magistrate Judge Stafford’s conclusion that he failed
to bring evidence sufficient to support a finding that the deceased has no living
children. Dkt. No. 11, pg. 2 (Pg. ID 47). Plaintiff argues that affirmatively proving
someone does not have children is “impossible.” Id. Plaintiff contends that he
brought sufficient evidence because the record is devoid of any references to
children of the deceased. Id.
The party invoking federal jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing the
elements of standing. Cob Clearinghouse Corp. v. Aetna U.S. Healthcare, Inc., 362
F.3d 877, 881 (6th Cir. 2004). “Standing cannot be inferred from averments in the
pleadings; rather, it must affirmatively appear in the record from sufficient factual
matter in the complaint so as to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face. Glenn v. Holder, 690 F.3d 417, 420 (6th Cir. 2012) (quoting White v. U.S.,
601 F.3d 545, 551–52 (2010) (internal quotation marks omitted)).
A deceased claimant’s benefits may be paid as follows:
1) To the spouse of the claimant if (a) living in the same household at
the time of death, or (b) entitled to a monthly benefit on the same
earnings record as the claimant for the month of death.
2) To the children of the claimant entitled to monthly benefits on the
same earnings record as the claimant for the month of death. (If
there is more than one entitled child, payment is made in equal parts
to each child.)
3) To the parent or parents of the claimant entitled to monthly benefits
on the same earnings record as the claimant for the month of death.
(If there is more than one entitled parent, payment is made in equal
parts to each parent.)
4) To a spouse who does not meet the requirements of paragraph 1.
5) To children who do not meet the requirements of paragraph 2.
6) To parents who do not meet the requirements of paragraph 3.
7) To the legal representative of the claimant’s estate.
42 U.S.C. § 404(d) (2015), 20 C.F.R. § 404.503(b) (2008). However, an
eligible individual is only entitled to a deceased’s benefits if there are no other
preceding individuals in the line of priority. Blanton ex rel. Blanton v. Astrue, No.
1:10-cv-2463, 2011 WL 2637224, at *2 (N.D. Ohio June 20, 2011); see 42 U.S.C.
§ 404(d); 20 C.F.R. § 404.503(c). Plaintiff contends that he has standing as the
deceased’s father, which is priority level number three under the statute. Therefore,
in order for Plaintiff to have standing, he must demonstrate that the deceased died
without a spouse and has no living children. Plaintiff must also demonstrate that he
is the deceased’s father.
The Plaintiff has demonstrated that he is the deceased’s father. Plaintiff is
named on the deceased’s death certificate as his father. Dkt. No. 9-1, pg. 1 (Pg. ID
31). Additionally, Plaintiff has demonstrated that the deceased did not have a
spouse at the time of his death. The deceased’s death certificate lists his marital
status as divorced, and the section reserved to name a surviving spouse is blank. Id.
However, Plaintiff has not affirmatively demonstrated that the deceased has
no surviving children. The deceased’s death certificate does not contain any
section devoted to listing children. Nothing else in the record affirmatively proves
or disproves the existence of children. As noted above, standing cannot be inferred,
but it must affirmatively appear in the record. Glenn v. Holder, 690 F.3d at 420.
Plaintiff argues that it is impossible to affirmatively prove that someone does not
have children. Dkt. No. 11, pg. 2 (Pg. ID 47). However, Plaintiff can provide an
obituary or death announcement in which surviving children are not listed among
the deceased’s surviving family. See Blanton ex rel. Blanton v. Astrue, No. 1:10cv-2463, 2011 WL 2637224, at *2 (N.D. Ohio June 20, 2011) (holding that the
deceased was survived by children and a spouse based on the deceased’s obituary).
Plaintiff’s chosen manner of proving that the deceased does not have surviving
children is not crucial. What is crucial, however, is that the Plaintiff bring forth
some evidence showing that there are no surviving children. Because the record is
devoid of any such evidence, Plaintiff has failed to sustain his burden. Therefore,
the Court holds that Plaintiff does not have standing to bring this claim.
Next, Plaintiff maintains that he has standing to seek review of the
Commissioner’s decision because he is a named party to this action. Dkt. No. 11,
pg. 2 (Pg. ID 47). However, the Sixth Circuit makes clear that being a named party
to an action is not enough to have standing. To have standing to pursue a benefits
claim on behalf of another person, one must fit into one of the seven classes of
persons specified by the Social Security Act. See Youghiogheny & Ohio Coal Co.
v. Webb, 49 F.3d 244, 247 (6th Cir. 1995); see also 42 U.S.C. § 404(d), 20 C.F.R.
The fact that Plaintiff is a named party to this action is not enough to give
him standing. He must also prove that he is a parent to the deceased and that the
deceased has no spouse or living children. As stated above, the Plaintiff has
successfully proven that the deceased has no spouse and that he is the deceased’s
parent. However, Plaintiff must still affirmatively show that the deceased has no
Accordingly, Plaintiff’s objection [#11] is OVERRULED. The Court hereby
ACCEPTS AND ADOPTS Magistrate Judge Elizabeth A. Stafford’s September
13, 2017 Report and Recommendation and DISMISSES Plaintiff’s complaint
November 30, 2017
s/Gershwin A. Drain
HON. GERSHWIN A. DRAIN
United States District Court Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?