Wooten v. Walley

Filing 27

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER that: (1) defendant's 17 Motion for Summary Judgment is granted; and (2) defendant's 16 Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative for Summary Judgment is denied as moot. Signed by Honorable William Keith Watkins on 9/12/08. (sl, )

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT F O R THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA N O R T H E R N DIVISION T R A C Y WOOTEN, ) ) P l a in tif f , ) ) v. ) P A G E WALLEY, Commissioner, ) A la b a m a Department of Human Resources, ) in his individual and official capacities, ) ) D e f e n d a n t. ) C A S E NO. 2:07-CV-701-WKW [WO] M E M O R A N D U M OPINION AND ORDER T h is case is before the court on a Second Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, fo r Summary Judgment (Doc. # 16) and a Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 17), b o th filed by Defendant Page Walley ("Dr. Walley"). For the reasons set forth below, the s u m m a r y judgment motion (Doc. # 17) is due to be GRANTED and the motion to dismiss is due to be DENIED as moot. I . JURISDICTION AND VENUE T h e court may exercise subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1331 f o r all claims arising under federal law. The court also has original jurisdiction over c la im s based upon violations of civil rights. See 28 U.S.C. 1343. The parties do not c o n te st personal jurisdiction or venue, and the court finds that there are allegations s u f f ic ie n t to support both. I I . FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY O n August 2, 2007, Plaintiff Tracy Wooten ("Ms. Wooten") filed this lawsuit a g a in s t Dr. Walley in both his individual and official capacities as Commissioner of the A la b a m a Department of Human Resources ("ADHR"), alleging he violated her co n stitutio n al rights by intercepting her federal and tax refunds to satisfy her husband's u n p a id child support. (Doc. # 1.) In her amended complaint, Ms. Wooten alleged two 42 U .S .C . 1983 claims against Dr. Walley, for violating (1) the Takings Clause of the Fifth A m e n d m e n t to the United States Constitution (Doc. #9 19-23); and (2) the Due P r o c e ss Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Doc. #9 24-29). She requested present an d prospective injunctive relief from Dr. Walley in his official capacity, a declaratory ju d g m e n t that her rights have been violated, modification or elimination of u n c o n stitu ti o n a l practices, compensatory and punitive damages from Dr. Walley in his in d iv id u a l capacity, and reasonable attorney's fees. (Doc. # 9.) Dr. Walley filed an a n sw e r (Doc. # 10) and later, a Second Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for S u m m a ry Judgment (Doc. # 16). Before Ms. Wooten filed any response, Dr. Walley filed a Motion for Summary Judgment as well (Doc. # 17). Ms. Wooten filed a response in o p p o s itio n to the summary judgment motion (Doc. # 20), and Dr. Walley replied (Doc. # 21). T h e claims arise out of the following alleged facts. ADHR intercepted Ms. W o o ten's 2005 and 2006 federal and state income tax refunds to satisfy her husband's 2 c h ild support obligations from a prior marriage.1 (Doc. # 9 10-13; Doc. # 20-2 1.) A cc o rdin g to Ms. Wooten, she never received prior notice of the interception from Dr. W a lle y, the Alabama Department of Revenue, or the IRS. (Doc. # 9 14.) She also c la im s that she tried to contact Dr. Walley's office to obtain her refunds or to request an a d m in is tra tiv e hearing, but that his office instructed her to contact the Alabama D e p a rtm e n t of Revenue and the IRS to object to the interception; yet those entities a lle g e d l y instructed her to contact Dr. Walley's office instead.2 (Doc. # 9 15-17.) In a l a te r pleading, Ms. Wooten accused Dr. Walley of "willfully and intentionally fail[ing] a n d / o r refus[ing] to implement policies and procedures to prevent" the violations. (Doc. # 20-2 8.) In his affidavit submitted with his motion to dismiss, Dr. Walley stated that he has n o knowledge of or involvement in Ms. Wooten's intercepted refunds. (See Doc. # 16, W a ll e y Aff.) The motion also invoked the Eleventh Amendment to the United States C o n stitu tio n as a bar to suing Dr. Walley in his official capacity. (Doc. # 16 at 6.) In his M o tio n for Summary Judgment, Dr. Walley raised numerous additional arguments: that th e tax offset used against persons behind in child support and the procedures to contest th e offset are constitutional and that Ms. Wooten failed to take advantage of them; that Interception describes the process whereby ADHR redirects tax refunds to satisfy child support p a ym e n ts . The process is described in note 8. It is also Ms. Wooten's contention that she has exhausted all avenues for obtaining a refund, i n c l u d i n g through Dr. Walley's office, the ADHR, the Alabama Department of Revenue, and the IRS. (Doc. # 9 18.) 2 1 3 T itle IV-D of the Social Security Act does not create a federally enforceable right; that th e statute of limitations bars claims for the 2005 offset; and that the Fifth Amendment d o e s not apply to state government. (Doc. # 17-2 at 2.)3 M s . Wooten filed only one response to Dr. Walley's two motions. (See D o c . # 20.) She plead additional facts, as described above, but added no supporting e v id e n c e. In particular, she submitted no evidence of Dr. Walley's involvement in her c a se or of her right to a refund on her portion of the income on a jointly filed tax return. I I I . STANDARD OF REVIEW "Summary judgment is appropriate `if the pleadings, depositions, answers to in ter ro g a to rie s, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show there is n o genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment a s a matter of law.'" Greenberg v. BellSouth Telecomm., Inc., 498 F.3d 1258, 1263 (11th C ir. 2007) (per curiam) (citation to former rule omitted); Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 56(c), as a m e n d e d December 1, 2007 (Summary judgment "should be rendered if the pleadings, th e discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no g e n u i n e issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a m a tte r of law.").5 The party moving for summary judgment "always bears the initial 4 3 The court notes that Dr. Walley has not raised the defense of qualified immunity. As described in note 8, for a joint return filer to receive her portion of the refund for income she e a rn e d , she must file tax returns evidencing that she earned income for which the refund was due. 4 Effective December 1, 2007, "[t]he language of Rule 56[was] amended . . . to make the rule[ ] m o re easily understood and to make style and terminology consistent throughout the rules. These changes . . . are stylistic only." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 Advisory Committee Notes. Thus, although Rule 56 underwent 5 4 re sp o n s ib ility of informing the district court of the basis for its motion, and identifying tho se portions of the [record, including pleadings, discovery materials and affidavits], w h ic h it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact." Celotex C o rp . v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The movant may meet this burden by p re se n tin g evidence indicating there is no dispute of material fact or by showing that the n o n m o v in g party has failed to present evidence in support of some element of its case on w h ic h it bears the ultimate burden of proof. Id. at 322-24. If the movant meets its evidentiary burden, the burden shifts to the nonmoving p a rty to establish, with evidence beyond the pleadings, that a genuine issue material to e a c h of its claims for relief exists. Clark v. Coats & Clark, Inc., 929 F.2d 604, 608 (11th C ir. 1991); Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; Fed. R. Civ. P 56(e)(2) ("When a motion for su m m a ry judgment is properly made and supported, an opposing party may not rely m e re ly on allegations or denials in its own pleading; rather, its response must . . . set out s p e c if ic facts showing a genuine issue for trial."). What is material is determined by the su b stan tiv e law applicable to the case. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 248; Lofton v. Sec'y of the D e p ' t of Children & Family Servs., 358 F.3d 804, 809 (11th Cir. 2004) ("Only factual d ispu tes that are material under the substantive law governing the case will preclude entry o f summary judgment."). Furthermore, "[t]he mere existence of some factual dispute will n o t defeat summary judgment unless that factual dispute is material to an issue affecting stylistic changes, its substance remains the same and therefore, all cases citing the prior rule remain e q u a lly applicable to the current rule. 5 th e outcome of the case." McCormick v. City of Fort Lauderdale, 333 F.3d 1234, 1243 (1 1 th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). A genuine issue of material fact exists when the nonmoving party produces ev iden ce that would allow a reasonable fact-finder to return a verdict in its favor. G r e e n b e r g , 498 F.3d at 1263; Waddell v. Valley Forge Dental Assocs., 276 F.3d 1275, 1 2 7 9 (to establish a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmoving party must produce e v id e n c e such that a reasonable trier of fact could return a verdict in his favor). If the e v id e n c e on which the nonmoving party relies, however, "is merely colorable . . . or is not s ig n if ic a n tly probative . . . summary judgment may be granted." Anderson v. Liberty L o b b y , Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249-50 (1986). "A mere `scintilla' of evidence supporting the [ n o n m o v a n t's ] position will not suffice; there must be enough of a showing that the [trier o f fact] could reasonably find for that party," Walker v. Darby, 911 F.2d 1573, 1576-77 (1 1 th Cir. 1990) (citation omitted), and the nonmoving party "must do more than simply s h o w that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts," Matsushita Elec. In d u s . Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986). Conclusory allegations b a se d on subjective beliefs are likewise insufficient to create a genuine issue of material f a c t and do not suffice to oppose a motion for summary judgment. Holifield v. Reno, 115 F .3 d 1555, 1564 n.6 (11th Cir. 1997) (per curiam) (Plaintiff's "conclusory assertions . . . i n the absence of [admissible] supporting evidence, are insufficient to withstand summary ju d g m e n t."); Harris v. Ostrout, 65 F.3d 912, 916 (11th Cir. 1995) (grant of summary jud g m en t appropriate where inmate produces nothing beyond "his own conclusory 6 a ll e g a tio n s" challenging actions of the defendants); Fullman v. Graddick, 739 F.2d 553, 5 5 7 (11th Cir. 1984) ("[M]ere verification of party's own conclusory allegations is not su f f icie n t to oppose summary judgment . . . ."). Hence, when a plaintiff fails to set forth s p e c if ic facts supported by appropriate evidence sufficient to establish the existence of an e le m e n t essential to his case and on which the plaintiff will bear the burden of proof at t r i a l , summary judgment is due to be granted in favor of the moving party. Celotex, 477 U .S . at 322 ("[F]ailure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's c a se necessarily renders all other facts immaterial."); Barnes v. Sw. Forest Indus., Inc., 8 1 4 F.2d 607, 609 (11th Cir. 1987) (if on any part of the prima facie case the plaintiff p re se n ts insufficient evidence to require submission of the case to the trier of fact, g ra n tin g of summary judgment is appropriate). Thus, in cases where the evidence before the court is admissible on its face or can b e reduced to admissible form and indicates there is no genuine issue of material fact and w h e r e the party moving for summary judgment is entitled to it as a matter of law, s u m m a ry judgment is proper. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323-24 (summary judgment a p p ro p ria te where pleadings, evidentiary materials and affidavits before the court show there is no genuine issue as to a requisite material fact). I V . DISCUSSION T h e court first addresses the 1983 claims for money damages against Dr. Walley in his individual capacity. Liability could be predicated on two theories: personal in v o lv e m e n t and supervisory liability. See Dean v. Barber, 951 F.2d 1210, 1215 (11th 7 C ir. 1992). Ms. Wooten has failed in meeting her burden to oppose summary judgment o n both theories. Ms. Wooten has not submitted any evidence that Dr. Walley had any personal in v o lv e m e n t in intercepting her taxes. Dr. Walley submitted his own affidavit denying in v o lv e m e n t in the interception or that he violated any rules. (Doc. # 16, Walley Aff. 12 .) His affidavit was confirmed by the affidavit of Ms. Ke'Asha Howard, a Financial S u p p o r t Worker in ADHR assigned to Mr. Wooten's case, who attested to her knowledge a n d exclusive handling of his case. (Doc. # 17, Howard Aff.) Those submissions satisfy D r. Walley's initial burden of pointing to affidavits that demonstrate a lack of genuine d is p u te over Dr. Walley's involvement. Ms. Wooten's only response was in pleading that D r. Walley intentionally failed to implement policies (Doc. # 20-2 8). Ms. Wooten g a v e no evidence of which people she contacted at Dr. Walley's office "several times in a n attempt to either obtain her income tax refunds or to be given an administrative h e a rin g " (Doc. # 1 14), despite the submission of Ms. Howard's affidavit stating that M s . Howard only heard from Ms. Wooten through letters, which were submitted with the a f f i d a v it, one for each year refunds were taken. (Doc. # 17, Howard Aff. 1-2.) Ms. W o o te n also gave no evidence of Dr. Walley's intentional refusal to implement policies. B e c au s e Ms. Wooten has failed to meet her burden of submitting evidence of Dr. W a lle y's involvement, her allegation of Dr. Walley's direct involvement does not survive su m m a ry judgment. 8 M s. Wooten's claims could be construed, however, as implicating Dr. Walley's s u p e rv is o ry role at the ADHR. "`The standard by which a supervisor is held liable in her in d iv id u a l capacity for the actions of a subordinate is extremely rigorous,'" Danley v. A lle n , -- F.3d --, 2008 WL 3874672, at *12 (11th Cir. Aug. 22, 2008) (quoting Gonzalez v . Reno, 325 F.3d 1228, 1234 (11th Cir. 2003)). "`Supervisory liability occurs either w h e n the supervisor personally participates in the alleged constitutional violation or when th e re is a causal connection between actions of the supervising official and the alleged c o n stitu tio n a l deprivation.'" Id. (quoting Brown v. Crawford, 906 F.2d 667, 671 (11th C ir. 1990)). Liability on the theory of respondeat superior or vicarious liability is not a v a ila b le . Id. Ms. Wooten has failed to meet her burden of showing that Dr. Walley p e rs o n a lly participated in the constitutional violation, as discussed above, or to provide a n y evidence of knowledge or causation in his supervisory role. Nor has Ms. Wooten su b m itte d evidence detailing "a history of widespread abuse [that] puts the responsible s u p e rv is o r on notice of the need to correct the alleged deprivation," Brown, 906 F.2d at 6 7 1 (describing the standard for causal connection). Summary judgment, therefore, is d u e to be entered in favor of Dr. Walley on Ms. Wooten's 1983 claims against him in h is individual capacity for money damages. Ms. Wooten also requests prospective injunctive relief against Dr. Walley in his o f f ic ia l capacity. Under the doctrine established in Ex Parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), " o f f ic ia l capacity suits for prospective relief to enjoin state officials from enforcing u n c o n stitu tio n a l acts are not deemed to be suits against the state and thus are not barred 9 b y the Eleventh Amendment." Scott v. Taylor, 405 F.3d 1251, 1255 (11th Cir. 2005). N ev erthe le ss, an injunction requires a showing of "irreparable injury," and the standard f o r irreparable injury, even assuming arguendo that Ms. Wooten has proven a past v io la tio n , "cannot be met where there is no showing of any real or immediate threat that th e plaintiff will be wronged again." City of Los Angeles v. Lyons, 461 U.S. 95, 111 ( 1 9 8 3 ) ; see also Church v. City of Huntsville, 30 F.3d 1332, 1337 (11th Cir. 1994) (" B e c au s e injunctions regulate future conduct, a party has standing to seek injunctive re lie f only if the party alleges, and ultimately proves, a real and immediate as opposed to a merely conjectural or hypothetical threat of future injury."). To obtain injunctive relief, Ms. Wooten must provide evidence of a "sufficient lik e lih o o d " that she will be harmed again in a similar way to a past injury, and that s h o w in g must amount to more than a claim that could be filed by any citizen challenging th e practices of state government employees as generally unconstitutional. Lyons, 461 U . S . at 111; see also id. at 105 ("That [the plaintiff] may have been illegally choked by th e police [five months before], while presumably affording Lyons standing to claim d a m a g e s . . . does nothing to establish a real and immediate threat."); Church, 30 F.3d at 1 3 3 7 ("Logically, `a prospective remedy will provide no relief for an injury that is, and lik e ly will remain, entirely in the past,'" and is only "evidence bearing on whether there is a real and immediate threat" that must be supplemented by "`continuing, present adverse e f fe c t'" (citations omitted)). Dr. Walley presented evidence at the summary judgment stag e that a court judgment had found Mr. Wooten no longer behind in child support 10 p a ym e n ts , and that subsequently, the entire 2006 refund had been reinstated.6 (Doc. # 17, H o w a r d Aff. 2-3; see also Doc. # 17, Howard Aff. Attachs. A & D.) No other tax refund in te rc e p tio n s have been alleged since that time. Such evidence, left unchallenged, u n d e r m in e s any claim that the alleged past property loss or due process violations to Ms. W o o te n still pose a threat.7 Ms. Wooten provided no counter-evidence that, for example, th e alleged mistaken incident with the 2005 refund was a systematic problem that could b e repeated, or that Ms. Wooten could possibly find herself in the position again of losing h e r refund because she would continue to earn income and Mr. Wooten would struggle to m a k e his child support payments. In d e e d , Ms. Wooten failed to present evidence to prove any underlying past or c o n tin u in g injury whatsoever. Dr. Walley's summary judgment submission, on the other h a n d , includes evidence supporting the claims that: (1) the letter from Ms. Wooten re q u e stin g her portion of the 2005 refund was too late 8 (Doc. # 17, Howard Aff. 2 & It is not clear whether the entire refund was reinstated because Ms. Wooten requested her p o r t io n of the refund or because it was otherwise refunded. (See Doc. #17, Howard Aff. 3.) A showing o f the former would have strengthened an argument that an uncorrected mistake could occur again. As in Lyons, the exception to the mootness doctrine that where a claim is "capable of re p e titio n , yet evading review," Lyons, 461 U.S. at 109 does not save Ms. Wooten's claim. Ms. Wooten h a s obtained review by filing a damages claim. Compare id. Additionally, this doctrine is only available " in exceptional situations, and generally only where the named plaintiff can make a reasonable showing th a t he will again be subjected to the alleged illegality." Id. The communication was tardy because it came after the deadlines for responding to the in te rc e p tio n . ADHR's case management computer system generates the pre-offset notice, which is sent b y the State Child Support Enforcement Division to the non-custodial parent who owes child support, a fte r which he or she has thirty days to contact the agency for a review; the notice also contains in s tru c tio n s for any future joint filer to obtain her allotted portion of any refund. (Doc. # 17, Janice G ru b b s Aff. 2-3.) After the offset has occurred, the applicable taxing agency sends another notice. (Doc. # 17, Grubbs Aff. 3-4.) The non-custodial parent can again contest ADHR's interception. (Doc. # 17, G ru b b s Aff. Attach. A 47, 52.) To obtain the state refund after the offset, the non-obligor taxpayer who j o in tly filed with the non-custodial parent must submit documentation and forms required for state tax 8 7 6 11 A t ta c h . B); (2) the proper pre- and post-notices had been sent to Mr. Wooten and to the c o u p le, respectively (Doc. # 17, Howard Aff. 2-3; see supra note 8 for discussion on n o tic e requirements); and (3) Ms. Howard sent Ms. Wooten a letter redirecting her to the p ro p e r agencies for information on obtaining the refund post interception even though M s . Wooten had filed a tardy request for her refund (Doc. # 17, Howard Aff. Attach. C) 9. T h e evidence, at this stage, leaves no doubt that ADHR complied with the statute and that M s . Wooten's refund was not illegally withheld. Ms. Wooten presented absolutely no e v id e n c e of failed notices or timely and thwarted attempts to challenge the refund interce p tio n or that the 2005 interception was illegal. She has put forth only conclusory a lle g a tio n s . On this record, there is no relief available to her. V. CONCLUSION For the foregoing reasons, it is ORDERED that: (1 ) D e f en d a n t's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. # 17) is GRANTED; and filings to ADHR within thirty days from the date of the post-offset notification. (Doc. # 17, Grubbs Aff. 4 , 5-6.) For federal tax offsets, the non-obligor taxpayer must send forms to the IRS. (Doc. # 17, Grubbs A ff. 6 & Attach. A 48.) Ms. Wooten's letter to ADHR for the 2005 tax return was dated December 16, 2 0 0 6 (Doc. # 17, Howard Aff. Attach. B), nearly a year after the pre-offset notification and six months a f t e r the post-offset notification (Doc. # 17, Howard Aff. 2). The letter directed Ms. Wooten to contact the IRS and the Alabama Department of Revenue for in fo rm a tio n on obtaining her refund post interception. (Doc. # 17, Howard Aff. Attach. C.) Considering th a t those agencies, and not ADHR, send the post-interception notification, they should handle inquiries re g a rd in g the process for obtaining refunds, though ADHR does process the state portion of any posti n t e r c e p t io n income due to a non-obligor taxpayer who properly notifies ADHR, see supra note 8, and the A la b a m a Department of Revenue in its notification letter directs all questions and concerns about the o f f s e t itself to ADHR (Doc. # 17, Howard Aff. Attach. C). The notification and challenge procedures are c o n f u s in g , to say the least, and one cannot help but empathize with Ms. Wooten's position, but that does n o t change her late response or the fact that her claims are unsupported by evidence in this case. 9 12 (2) D ef en d an t's Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Summary J u d g m e n t (Doc. # 16) is DENIED as moot. DONE this 12th day of September, 2008. /s/ W. Keith Watkins UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 13

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