PHILADELPHIA – Recently, judges from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit decided a Philadelphia man’s complaint against the U.S. Social Security Administration was barred by sovereign immunity, upholding a trial court ruling in the process.

On Feb. 13, judges Thomas L. Ambro, Cheryl Ann Krause and Richard L. Nygaard issued a per curiam ruling for the defendant, Social Security Administration (SSA) and against the plaintiff, David Cassell.

On Sept. 9, 2016, Cassell wished to file a complaint in forma pauperis, alleging injuries from the denial of Social Security benefits and seeking $30 million in damages. Cassell claimed the SSA misdiagnosed him as “mentally retarded, discontinued his benefits, violated his human rights, and tortured him.” The District Court granted Cassell in forma pauperis status, but dismissed the complaint pursuant due to sovereign immunity, leading Cassell to appeal.

The appellate court panel agreed with the District Court that the United States “enjoys sovereign immunity and may not be sued without its consent” and “to the extent the complaint sought damages under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) for injuries sustained as a result of the SSA’s decision, the agency was not subject to suit under the FTCA.”

“The District Court also reasonably concluded that Cassell did not seek judicial review under 42 U.S.C. § 405(g). The District Court instead construed Cassell’s complaint as seeking damages under the FTCA for injuries sustained as a result of the SSA’s misdiagnosis…there was no language in Cassell’s complaint suggesting any recent denial of benefits. To the contrary, Cassell complained of injuries resulting from the SSA’s initial misdiagnosis of him as intellectually disabled and its subsequent discontinuation of benefits—events that we know occurred prior to 2009,” the Third Circuit said.

“Moreover, in his appellate brief, Cassell neither argues that the District Court erred in its construction of his complaint, or hints at any error in some new denial of benefits. Instead, Cassell’s appellate brief suggests only continued dissatisfaction with the outcome of his prior litigation. He may not re-litigate his prior complaint, however,” the Third Circuit concluded.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 16-3767

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:16-cv-04851

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at

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