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Allis v. Sanford Usd Medical Center

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Southern Division

April 10, 2018




         Plaintiff, Gregory Allis, filed a pro se lawsuit alleging that defendant, Sanford USD Medical Center, failed to timely submit claims to the Veterans Administration for emergency medical treatment Sanford provided Allis. Docket 1. Allis also moves for leave to proceed in forma pauperis. Docket 3.

         A federal court may authorize the commencement of suit without prepayment of fees when an applicant files an affidavit stating he is unable to pay the costs of the lawsuit. 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Determining whether an applicant is sufficiently impoverished to qualify to proceed in forma pauperis under § 1915 is committed to the court's discretion. Cross v. Gen. Motors Corp., 721 F.2d 1152, 1157 (8th Cir. 1983). "In forma pauperis status does not require a litigant to demonstrate absolute destitution." Lee v. McDonald's Corp., 231 F.3d 456, 459 (8th Cir. 2000). The Court finds that Allis satisfies § 1915, and grants his motion for leave to proceed in forma pauperis.

         Proceeding in forma pauperis is governed by 28 U.S.C.§ 1915. That statute provides:

Notwithstanding any filing fee, ... the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that
(B) the action or appeal
(i) is frivolous or malicious;
(ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or
(iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.

28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Subsection (e)(2) allows the court sua sponte to review a complaint filed with an in forma pauperis application to determine if the action is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim, or seeks monetary relief against a defendant or defendants who are immune from such relief. Thus, the court is required to screen a pro se complaint as soon as practicable and to dismiss those which are frivolous or fail to state a claim for relief. "[A] complaint, containing as it does both factual allegations and legal conclusions, is frivolous where it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. . . . [the] term 'frivolous, ' when applied to a complaint, embraces not only the inarguable legal conclusion, but also the fanciful factual allegation." Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989).

         Because Allis is proceeding pro se, his pleadings must be liberally construed and his complaint, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). However, a plaintiff seeking to bring a lawsuit in federal court must establish that the court has subject matter jurisdiction.

         "[F]ederal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction . . . ." United States v. Afremov, 611 F.3d 970, 975 (8th Cir. 2010). A District Court "has a special obligation to consider whether it has subject matter jurisdiction in every case." Hart v. United States, 630 F.3d 1085, 1089 (8th Cir. 2011) "This obligation includes the concomitant responsibility 'to consider sua sponte [the court's subject matter] jurisdiction . . . where . . . [the court] believe[s] that jurisdiction may be lacking.' " Id. (quoting Clark v. Baku, 593 F.3d 712, 714 (8th Cir. 2010)).

         Allis's does not allege grounds for jurisdiction. Allis's complaint only alleges that Sanford failed to timely submit a claim to the VA as permitted under 38 U.S.C. § 1725. Federal courts have subject matter jurisdiction through federal question jurisdiction or diversity jurisdiction. Under 28 U.S.C.A. § 1331, federal district courts "have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." Under 28 U.S.C.A. § 1332, federal district courts "have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75, 000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between ... citizens of different States [.]"

         Allis does not raise a federal question. "[A] suit 'arises under' federal law 'only when the plaintiffs statement of his own cause of action shows that it is based upon [federal law].' " Vaden v. Discover Bank,556 U.S. 49, 60 (2009) (quoting Louisville & Nashville R. Co. v. Mottley,211 U.S. 149, 152 (1908)). Although Allis may be attempting to base his claim on 38 U.S.C. § 1725, Allis fails to demonstrate how his claim arises under this federal law when he named Sanford as the defendant. This statute does not create a cause of action under which a veteran may sue a health care provider for failure to seek reimbursement from the VA. Rather, "[s]ection 1725 .... bestows upon the Secretary [of Veterans Affairs] the power to reimburse an 'eligible, ' non-service-connected veteran 'the reasonable value of emergency treatment furnished ... in a non-Department facility.' 38 U.S.C. § 1725(a)." Fritz v. Nicholson, 20 Vet.App. 507, 510 (2006). In cases involving veterans' claims for benefits, Congress has created an exclusive channel of judicial review. A veteran's request for benefits is first processed and decided by VA officials in regional offices, under the ultimate authority of the Secretary of Veterans Affairs. Henderson ex rel. Henderson v. Shinseki, 562 U.S. 428, 431 (2011) (explaining the VA's process for adjudicating benefits claims). If the veteran is unhappy with the initial benefits decision, he or she may appeal to the Board of Veterans' Appeals, within one year of the VA's decisions..38 U.S.C. ยงยง 7104-7105. Under the Veterans' Judicial Review Act of 1988 (VJRA), the veteran may then appeal to the United States Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, an Article I tribunal created by the VJRA, which has exclusive jurisdiction over decisions made by the Appeals Board. 38 U.S.C. ...

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