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Case Name Fowlkes v. Adamec CJ-NY-0007
Docket / Court 9:02-cv-00468-TJM-DRH ( N.D.N.Y. )
State/Territory New York
Case Type(s) Criminal Justice (Other)
Case Summary
A pro se plaintiff commenced an action on April 1, 2002, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that defendants, two employees of the Social Security Administration ("SSA"), violated his Fifth Amendment due process rights when they ... read more >
A pro se plaintiff commenced an action on April 1, 2002, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that defendants, two employees of the Social Security Administration ("SSA"), violated his Fifth Amendment due process rights when they improperly suspended his Social Security benefits upon a determination that he was a fleeing felon. The plaintiff sought injunctive relief, as well as compensatory and punitive damages. The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge David R. Homer to consider a defense motion to dismiss.

In a March 5, 2003, ruling, Magistrate Judge Homer observed that plaintiff had been receiving social security benefits for about two years in New York when the benefits were suspended and a portion of the benefits already paid were regarded by the SSA as overpayment because, according to SSA officials, plaintiff had two felony warrants pending against him in Virginia. He had requested and received a review of the suspension decision and administratively appealed the adverse result of that review, presenting documents intended to show that the Virginia warrants were not pending and that Virginia was not seeking to extradite him. The SSA decision was administratively upheld, however, prompting the filing of plaintiff's pro se court case. Since the plaintiff's complaint established that he had received all the procedural process to which he was due and that his actual dissatisfaction was with the result of that process, Magistrate Judge Homer ruled against the plaintiff's due process claim and recommended dismissal of the case against the two SSA employees. The magistrate judge noted, however, that the plaintiff's pro se pleading should be re-characterized as an appeal of an adverse social security decision, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g), in which the Commissioner of the SSA should be substituted as the defendant. Reviewing the administrative record in that context, Magistrate Judge Homer found that no substantial evidence existed to support the administrative finding that plaintiff was a "fleeing" felon prior to the time he learned of the warrants' existence. Rather, the record showed that well after plaintiff had been residing in New York, he learned of recent indictments against him in Virginia. Failing to return to Virginia to answer the charges that he previously had not known of did not equate to evidence of intentionally "fleeing" the warrants, in the magistrate judge's view. Accordingly, the court recommended, in an unpublished decision, returning the matter to the administrative process for reinstatement of benefits for the period prior to plaintiff's learning of the warrants.

Despite the somewhat favorable ruling, the plaintiff objected to the magistrate judge's recommendation. In an unpublished ruling on the plaintiff's objections on March 31, 2003, District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy adopted, in part, the magistrate judge's report and recommendation. Judge McAvoy dismissed the due process-based case against the two SSA defendants for plaintiff's failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, but declined to adopt that part of the recommendation which would have returned the dispute to the SSA. The judge said he took that action that since a redetermination by the agency was not the relief plaintiff wanted.

The plaintiff appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. On appeal, he was represented by counsel from the National Senior Citizens Law Center and supported by amicus curiae briefs filed by attorneys representing the AARP Foundation Litigation and the Greater Upstate Law Project, Inc. On December 6, 2005, Circuit Judge Chester J. Straub's written opinion announced the appellate panel's decision to reverse the district court. Oteze Fowlkes v. Adamec, 432 F.3d 90 (2d Cir. 2005). Judge Straub agreed with the district court's decision to dismiss the due process claim and to regard the case as one seeking judicial review of a decision of the SSA Commissioner. The appellate court determined, however, that the statute and regulation limiting SSA benefits payments to "fleeing" felons had been misinterpreted by the SSA in its operations manual, the latter of which allowed the agency to terminate benefits for merely "wanted" felons. Unlike the operations manual, the statute and regulation call for suspension of benefits only as of the date of a warrant or order issued by a court or other authorized tribunal on the basis of a finding that an individual had intentionally fled or was fleeing from justice. The court remanded the case to the district court with instructions (1) to treat the plaintiff's complaint as one seeking review of the SSA Commissioner's suspension of plaintiff's benefits and (2) to remand the case to the Commissioner for further proceedings consistent with the court's opinion.

On May 18, 2006, District Judge McAvoy remanded the case to the SSA Commissioner. We have no information about further action, if any, in the case.

Mike Fagan - 06/04/2008

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Issues and Causes of Action
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Constitutional Clause
Due Process
Public benefits (includes, e.g., in-state tuition, govt. jobs)
Plaintiff Type
Private Plaintiff
Causes of Action 42 U.S.C. § 1983
Defendant(s) Social Security Administration
Plaintiff Description Individual whose social security benefits were suspended when he was indicted for a felony crime
Class action status sought No
Class action status outcome Not sought
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Mixed
Public Int. Lawyer Yes
Nature of Relief Injunction / Injunctive-like Settlement
Source of Relief Litigation
Filed 04/01/2002
Case Closing Year 2006
Case Ongoing No
Additional Resources
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Court Docket(s)
CJ-NY-0007-9000.pdf | Detail
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Decision & Order [ECF# 20] (2003 WL 24241828 / 2003 U.S.Dist.LEXIS 26888)
CJ-NY-0007-0002.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
U.S. Court of Appeals
Appellate Opinion (432 F.3d 90)
CJ-NY-0007-0001.pdf | WESTLAW| LEXIS | Detail
Source: Google Scholar
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Judges Homer, David R. (N.D.N.Y.) show/hide docs
McAvoy, Thomas James (N.D.N.Y.) show/hide docs
CJ-NY-0007-0002 | CJ-NY-0007-9000
Raggi, Reena (E.D.N.Y., Second Circuit) show/hide docs
Rakoff, Jed Saul (S.D.N.Y.) show/hide docs
Straub, Chester J. (Second Circuit) show/hide docs
Plaintiff's Lawyers McIntyre, Gerald Andrew (California) show/hide docs
Mueller, Roberta L. (New York) show/hide docs
Defendant's Lawyers Canning, Dennis J. (New York) show/hide docs
De Soto, Lisa (New York) show/hide docs
Pavone, Joseph A. (New York) show/hide docs
Pease, William H. (New York) show/hide docs
CJ-NY-0007-0002 | CJ-NY-0007-9000
Spivak, Barbara L. (New York) show/hide docs
Suddaby, Glenn T. (New York) show/hide docs
Other Lawyers Bass, Greg (Connecticut) show/hide docs
Bobroff, Rochelle (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Callery, Catherine M. (New York) show/hide docs
Cohen, Stuart (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Fischman, Charlotte (New York) show/hide docs
Leinhard, William (New York) show/hide docs
Lewis, Joanne (Connecticut) show/hide docs
Samuels, Barbara (New York) show/hide docs
Schuster, Michael Robert (District of Columbia) show/hide docs
Tarantino, Louise M. (New York) show/hide docs
White, Shelley (Connecticut) show/hide docs
Zavez, Maryann (Vermont) show/hide docs

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