Jones v. Buckner et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge L Scott Coogler on 8/9/2013. (AVC)
Jones v. Buckner et al
2013 Aug-09 PM 04:58
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
AHMAD R. JONES,
NANCY T. BUCKNER, et. al.,
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
This is a case based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983, 28 U.S.C. § 2201, Alabama Code § 6-
6-22, and Alabama common law. Ahmad R. Jones (“Plaintiff”) claims that the actions
of Nancy T. Buckner (“Buckner”), Alicia J. Fields (“Fields”), and Tyisha Thompson
(“Thompson”) (collectively, “Defendants”) resulted in various constitutional,
statutory, and state common law injuries when a ministerial error caused a complaint
for paternity to be filed against him. Plaintiff alleges that his lack of notice resulted in
a default adjudication of paternity, and the Defendants’ inaction after learning of their
error continued to cause injury. Before the Court is Buckner’s Motion to Dismiss
(Doc. 12), and Fields and Thompson’s Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 30.) Both motions
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have been fully briefed and are ripe for decision.
The Alabama Department of Human Resources (“DHR”), among other things,
helps families establish paternity, obtains orders for payment of child support, and
secures compliance with child support court orders. Buckner serves as Commissioner
of the DHR. On February 24, 2011, Nina Miles (“Miles”) told Thompson, a case
worker for the DHR, and C. Johnson (“Johnson”), legal counsel for the DHR, that the
father of her child was Armad Jones. Thompson failed to verify the correct spelling of
Armad Jones’ name, and affixed Plaintiff’s social security number and date of birth to
their files after searching for Armad Jones’ information on either the National Crime
Information Center (“NCIC”) database, a state database, or through credit records.
One month later, the DHR filed a complaint for paternity in the Family Court of
Jefferson County, Alabama, on behalf of Miles, alleging that Plaintiff was the father of
A default judgment was entered against Plaintiff adjudicating him as the father
of Miles’ child, resulting in a court order establishing paternity (“Paternity Order”).
Plaintiff became aware of the Paternity Order when the DHR attempted to collect
child support by garnishing his tax refund. Plaintiff contacted a DHR case worker, and
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informed the worker that he was not the father. Despite this, the DHR continued to
enforce the Paternity Order against Plaintiff, causing his name to be reported in state
and federal “dead beat dad” databases.
On or about March 9, 2012, Plaintiff again contacted the DHR, notifying them
in writing that they had failed to take any corrective action. Less than one month later,
Fields, a DHR caseworker, confirmed that Plaintiff was not the father and that the
DHR had incorrectly spelled Armad Jones’ name and associated Plaintiff’s identifying
information with their files. Despite this, Fields and Thompson took no corrective
action. In fact, Fields caused an income withholding order (“IWO”) to be issued on
June 11, 2012, garnishing Plaintiff’s wages, and a delinquency to be reported to
national credit bureaus on July 20, 2012. At some point, Plaintiff filed a grievance
regarding the paternity determination. On August 1, 2012, the Family Court of
Jefferson County reversed the Paternity Order, terminated the IWO, suspended
current child support, reduced Plaintiff’s child support arrears balance to zero, and
ordered the DHR to return any money being held—including money held for a 2011
tax refund offset. (Doc. 4-2 at 10.)1 Following this disestablishment of paternity,
In the complaint, Plaintiff quotes the order disestablishing paternity (Doc. 7, ¶ 11.) Since
the document is central to his claims, “the Court may consider the document part of the pleadings
for purposes of Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal.” Brooks v. Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Fla., Inc., 116 F.3d
1364, 1369 (11th Cir. 1997).
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Plaintiff’s passport was denied and his credit reports continue to list the erroneous
Plaintiff filed the present action on August 21, 2012 (Doc. 1), and amended his
complaint on September 14, 2012 (Doc. 7), alleging several claims against the
Defendants based on § 1983, state law, and federal as well as state declaratory
judgment statutes. Initially, this action was brought against the State of Alabama,
Buckner, Fields, Thompson, and Johnson. However, Plaintiff has since moved to
dismiss the State of Alabama, Buckner in her individual capacity, and Johnson. (Docs.
17, 33.) Further, he has given notice of withdrawal of his claims based on intentional
conduct. (Doc. 17.) The only remaining defendants are Buckner in her official
capacity, and Fields and Thompson in their official and individual capacities.
A defendant may move to dismiss a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6) if the plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted. “When considering a motion to dismiss, all facts set forth in the plaintiff’s
complaint ‘are to be accepted as true and the court limits its consideration to the
pleadings and exhibits attached thereto.’” Grossman v. Nationsbank, N.A., 225 F.3d
1228, 1231 (11th Cir. 2000) (quoting GSW, Inc. v. Long County, 999 F.2d 1508, 1510
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(11th Cir. 1993)). Further, all “reasonable inferences” are drawn in favor of the
plaintiff. St. George v. Pinellas County, 285 F.3d 1334, 1337 (11th Cir. 2002).
While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not
need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff 's obligation to provide the
“grounds” of his “entitle[ment] to relief” requires more than labels and
conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of
action will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the
allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citations omitted).2 The
plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim that is plausible on its face.” Id. at
570. Unless a plaintiff has “nudged [his] claims across the line from conceivable to
plausible, [the] complaint must be dismissed.” Id.
“[U]nsupported conclusions of law or of mixed fact and law have long been
recognized not to prevent a Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal.” Dalrymple v. Reno, 334 F.3d 991,
996 (11th Cir. 2003) (quoting Marsh v. Butler County, Ala., 268 F.3d 1014, 1036 n.16
(11th Cir. 2001)). And, “where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer
more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged—but it has
In Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, the U.S. Supreme Court abrogated the oft-cited standard
that “a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt
that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief”
set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957). Bell Atl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 560-63. The Supreme
Court stated that the “no set of facts” standard “is best forgotten as an incomplete, negative gloss on
an accepted pleading standard: once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by
showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint.” Id. at 563.
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not ‘show[n]’—‘that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)). Therefore, the Supreme
Court suggested that courts adopt a “two-pronged approach” when considering
motions to dismiss: “1) eliminate any allegations in the complaint that are merely legal
conclusions; and 2) where there are well-pleaded factual allegations, ‘assume their
veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to
relief.’” American Dental Ass’n v. Cigna Corp., 605 F.3d 1283, 1290 (11th Cir. 2010)
(quoting Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. at 1950).
Importantly, “courts may infer from the factual allegations in the complaint
‘obvious alternative explanation[s],’ which suggest lawful conduct rather than the
unlawful conduct the plaintiff would ask the court to infer.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 129 S.
Ct. at 1951-52). However, “[a] complaint may not be dismissed because the plaintiff’s
claims do not support the legal theory he relies upon since the court must determine
if the allegations provide for relief on any possible theory.” Brooks, 116 F.3d at 1369.
Plaintiff brings all Counts against the Defendants in their official capacities, and
against Fields and Thompson in their individual capacity. The Court will address the
individual capacity claims first.
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Claims against Fields and Thompson in their Individual Capacities
§ 1983 Claims
Fields and Thompson argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity as to
Plaintiff’s § 1983 claims asserted against them in their individual capacity. Qualified
immunity shields governmental officers from “liability for civil damages if their
actions did not violate ‘clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which
a reasonable person would have known.’” Hope v. Pelzer, 536 U.S. 730, 739 (2002)
(quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)).
To support their qualified immunity defense, Fields and Thompson “must first
prove that [they were] acting within the scope of [their] discretionary authority when
the allegedly wrongful acts occurred.” Mathews v. Crosby, 480 F.3d 1265, 1269 (11th
Cir. 2007). A defendant acts within his discretionary authority when the acts in
question “are of a type that fell within the employee’s job responsibilities.” Holloman
ex rel. Holloman v. Harland, 370 F.3d 1252, 1265 (11th Cir. 2004). To determine this,
the Court must ask whether Fields and Thompson were “(a) performing a legitimate
job-related function (that is, pursuing a job-related goal), (b) through means that were
within [their] power to utilize.” Id. “To that end, ‘a court must ask whether the act
complained of, if done for a proper purpose, would be within, or reasonably related to,
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the outer perimeter of an official’s discretionary duties.’” Gray ex rel. Alexander v.
Bostic, 458 F.3d 1295, 1303 (11th Cir. 2006) (quoting Harbert Int’l v. James, 157 F.3d
1271, 1282 (11th Cir. 1998)).
Fields and Thompson argue that they were acting within the scope of their
discretionary authority based on Alabama Code § 38-10-3, which provides that the
DHR “shall operate child support programs as may be required under the provisions
of Title IV-D [of the Social Security Act], including, but not limited to, locating absent
parents, establishing paternity, establishing or modifying support orders, enforcing
support obligations and related matters, as described or defined by the Social Security
Act and amendments thereto.” Ala. Code § 38-10-3(a). Plaintiff argues that Fields and
Thompson were not acting within their discretionary authority because they had no
discretion to: (1) report Plaintiff’s child support delinquency to major credit reporting
agencies without first notifying him pursuant to the Alabama Administrative Code, (2)
inquire into Plaintiff’s credit without first notifying him pursuant to the FCRA, (3)
issue an IWO after the DHR had notice that Plaintiff was not the father of Miles’ child
and begin a new paternity proceeding against another person, and (4) withhold this
knowledge from the State court for six months.
First, regardless of whether Fields and Thompson were required to provide
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adequate notice pursuant to the Alabama Administrative Code and the FCRA,3 such
ministerial acts are still categorized as discretionary functions. See McCoy v. Webster,
47 F.3d 404, 407 (11th Cir. 1995) (the term “discretionary authority” includes actions
that do not necessarily involve an element of choice); Jordan v. Doe, 38 F.3d 1559,
1565–66 (11th Cir. 1994) (believing that an act must be discretionary to receive the
protection of qualified immunity is an overly narrow interpretation of the term
Second, Plaintiff’s paternity was not disestablished by a court until August 1,
2013. Prior to this time, Fields and Thompson could seek an IWO through the DHR’s
authority to enforce support obligations and related matters under Alabama Code §
38-10-3(a). See Ala. Code § 38-10-3(b) (“As a part of the operation of the support
programs established under subsection (a) hereof the [DHR] shall administer income
withholding in accordance with procedures which it shall establish for keeping
adequate records to document, track, and monitor support payments collected
pursuant to Title IV-D of the Social Security Act.”). By seeking an IWO, Fields and
Thompson were performing a legitimate job-related function through means that were
Nowhere in the complaint does Plaintiff allege facts demonstrating that Fields or Thompson
failed to notify him before reporting his child support delinquency to major credit reporting agencies
or inquiring into his credit.
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within their power to utilize.
Finally, Alabama law makes it clear that establishing parentage is a function of
the DHR. Ala. Code § 38-10-3(a). Fields and Thompson were performing a legitimate
job-related function through means that were within their power to utilize when they
withheld their knowledge that Plaintiff was not the father of Miles’ child for six
Plaintiff further argues that Fields and Thompson acted in bad faith,
fraudulently, maliciously, and under a mistaken interpretation of the law in performing
their job-related functions, and cannot be immune from civil liability in their personal
capacities. In support of this theory, Plaintiff offers Grider v. City of Auburn, Ala., 618
F.3d 1240 (11th Cir. 2010). Grider, however, dealt with state-agent immunity under
Alabama law. Id at 1254–55.4 Thus, it is inapplicable to a qualified immunity analysis.
Since Fields and Thompson have established that they were acting within their
discretionary authority, “the burden shifts to the plaintiff to show that [they are] not
Alabama law holds that “[s]tate agents are immune from civil liability in their personal
capacities for negligence and wantonness, when the challenged conduct involves the exercise of
judgment (1) in the administration of a government agency or department, including allocating
resources, and hiring, firing, transferring, assigning, or supervising personnel; or (2) in the discharge
of duties imposed by statute, rule, or regulation in . . . counseling or releasing persons of unsound
mind . . . .” Gowens v. Tys. S. ex rel. Davis, 948 So. 2d 513, 522 (Ala. 2006) (internal emphasis and
quotation marks omitted) (quoting Howard v. City of Atmore, 887 So. 2d 201, 201–05 (Ala. 2004)).
This form of immunity was first announced in Ex parte Cranman, 792 So. 2d 392 (Ala. 2000).
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entitled to qualified immunity.” Cottone v. Jenne, 326 F.3d 1352, 1358 (11th Cir. 2003).
This involves a two prong analysis: “First, a court must decide whether the facts that
a plaintiff has alleged or shown make out a violation of a constitutional right. Second,
if the plaintiff has satisfied this first step, the court must decide whether the right at
issue was ‘clearly established’ at the time of the defendant’s alleged misconduct.
Qualified immunity is applicable unless the official’s conduct violated a clearly
established constitutional right.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 236 (2009)
(internal citations omitted). The Supreme Court has provided that “judges of the
district courts . . . should be permitted to exercise their sound discretion in deciding
which of the two prongs of the qualified immunity analysis should be addressed first
in light of the circumstances in the particular case at hand.” Pearson v. Callahan, 555
U.S. 223, 236 (2009).
“The relevant, dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right is clearly
established is whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer that his conduct was
unlawful in the situation he confronted.” Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 202 (2001). “A
government–officer defendant is entitled to qualified immunity unless, at the time of
the incident, the ‘preexisting law dictates, that is, truly compel[s],’ the conclusion for
all reasonable, similarly situated public officials that what Defendant was doing
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violated Plaintiffs’ federal rights in the circumstances.” Marsh, 268 F.3d at 1030–31
(citing Lassiter v. Alabama A&M Univ., 28 F.3d 1146, 1150 (11th Cir. 1994)).
While a case with identical facts is not necessary for the law to be clearly
established, “the preexisting law must make it obvious that the defendant’s acts
violated the plaintiff’s rights in the specific set of circumstances at issue.” Youmans
v. Gagnon, 626 F.3d 557, 563 (11th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted). Indeed, ‘[a]
government official can be put on notice that his actions will violate a constitutional
or statutory right by . . . a legal principle announced by a decision from a court with
jurisdiction over the place where the violation of rights was committed.’” Harper v.
Lawrence County, Ala., 592 F.3d 1227, 1237 (11th Cir. 2010) (prior case law establishing
the illegality of delayed or inadequate treatment for alcohol withdrawal should have
put supervisors on notice that policies of delayed investigation into the treatment of
alcohol withdrawal would be unlawful as well). However, the Eleventh Circuit has
“held time and again that clearly established general principles of law will seldom if
ever suffice to strip a defendant of qualified immunity.” Harbert Intern., Inc. v. James,
157 F.3d 1271, 1284 (11th Cir. 1998). In such cases, qualified immunity can only be
defeated “where a clearly established legal principle applies with such ‘obvious clarity’
that a reasonable government official in the defendants’ position would have known
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that their actions were unlawful.” Id. at 1285.
Count I asserts § 1983 claims against Fields and Thompson for violations of
Plaintiff’s procedural due process rights based on the Defendants’ failure to provide
adequate notice of the paternity adjudication and an opportunity to be heard. Plaintiff
argues that the Eleventh Circuit has deemed a paternity determination and levy of
taxes and income without probable cause, meaningful notice, or a hearing to be clearly
established constitutional violations.
Plaintiff offers several cases for the proposition that a paternity determination
with no notice or an opportunity to be heard is unlawful. See Hunter v. State, 301 So.
2d 541, 544–45 (Ala. 1974) (Supreme Court of Alabama noted that paternity
proceedings were quasi-criminal when defendant was challenging the trial court’s jury
charge that he had the burden of proof as to the statute of limitations, and whether the
trial court properly sustained an objection to his question to the children’s mother
regarding whether she had hired a special prosecutor); Burns v. Copeland, 2011 WL
1217930 (M.D. Ala. March 31, 2011) (court determined that the plaintiff’s procedural
due-process rights were not violated because he made no claim that he received
insufficient notice or that he did not have an opportunity to present his objections
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when DHR employees initiated legal proceedings to collect the plaintiff’s Social
Security Income benefits, but such benefits were not subject to garnishment for
payment of child support arrears under federal law); Little v. Streater, 452 U.S. 1 (1981)
(Supreme Court held that a defendant was denied due process when a statute
effectively denied him access to blood grouping tests because of his indigent status);
Smith ex rel. Smith v. Siegelman, 322 F.3d 1290, 1297 (11th Cir. 2003) (quoting United
States v. Sigma Int’l, Inc., 300 F.3d 1278, 1280 (11th Cir. 2002)) (in dismissing a
minor’s § 1983 claim, Eleventh Circuit reasoned that the minor had only suffered
stigmatization when placed on the state’s child abuse registry by the DHR, but had
“not alleged that he has suffered any loss of employment, any diminution of salary, or
anything else that ‘would . . . qualify as some more tangible interest.’”).
However, none of the cases Plaintiff has offered in support of Count I clearly
establish a procedural due process violation based on Thompson’s ministerial error.
Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to meet his burden of proof. Further, the Court cannot
find any law clearly establishing this constitutional violation regarding Fields and
Thompson’s conduct. Thus, Count I is barred by the doctrine of qualified immunity
and due to be dismissed as to Fields and Thompson in their individual capacities.
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Count VII asserts a § 1983 claim against Fields and Thompson for violations of
Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights based on a search of the NCIC database, a state
database, and Plaintiff’s credit records without probable cause or a warrant. The Court
is not satisfied that the facts as alleged make out a violation of this constitutional right.
“The touchstone of Fourth Amendment analysis is whether a person has a
‘constitutionally protected reasonable expectation of privacy.’” California v. Ciraolo,
476 U.S. 207, 211 (1986) (citation omitted). A person does not have a reasonable
expectation of privacy in public records such as those accessed through the NCIC
database, and searching Plaintiff’s records through any such database does not violate
the federal constitution. See United States v. Ellison, 462 F.3d 557, 562 (6th Cir. 2006)
(finding individual did not have expectation of privacy in information regarding
outstanding warrant retrieved from computer database); Eagle v. Morgan, 88 F.3d 620,
628 (8th Cir. 1996) (finding NCIC search did not violate Plaintiff's federal
constitutional rights because Plaintiff had “no legitimate expectation of privacy in the
contents of his criminal history file”). Further, Plaintiff does not have a reasonable
expectation of privacy in his credit records, as they are held and constantly viewed by
third parties. See United States v. Miller, 425 U.S. 435, 442 (1976) (finding no
reasonable expectation of privacy in personal financial documents held by banks
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because “the documents obtained, including financial statements and deposit slips,
contain only information voluntarily conveyed to the banks and exposed to their
employees in the ordinary course of business.”). Thus, the facts as alleged do not make
out a Fourth Amendment violation based on an unlawful search, and Count VII is due
to be dismissed.
Count VIII asserts a § 1983 claim against Fields and Thompson for violations
of Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights based on the Defendants’ harassment of
Plaintiff and their seizure of his tax refund without probable cause or a warrant.
However, Plaintiff does not provide any law clearly establishing this constitutional
violation when there is a judgment for child support in existence. Accordingly, he has
failed to meet his burden of proof. Further, the Court cannot find any law clearly
establishing this constitutional violation regarding Fields and Thompson’s conduct.
Thus, Count VIII is barred by the doctrine of qualified immunity and due to be
dismissed as to Fields and Thompson in their individual capacities.
Count IX asserts a § 1983 claim against Fields and Thompson for violations of
Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment rights based on malicious prosecution for failure to
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conduct a reasonable investigation, continued harassment and prosecution, and failure
to take corrective action. Plaintiff argues that the Eleventh Circuit has deemed a
defendant’s continued prosecution of a paternity adjudication even after receiving
notice that the paternity order was erroneous to be a clearly established constitutional
violation. (Doc. 36 at 19.)
In support, Plaintiff offers Taylor By and Through Walker v. Ledbetter, 818 F.2d
791 (11th Cir. 1987) (reversing district court dismissal for failure to state a claim where
foster child sued Georgia state and county officials, alleging violations of both
substantive and procedural due process for their failure to prevent the abuse a child
suffered at the hands of her foster mother), Sarver v. Jackson, 334 Fed. Appx. 526 (11th
Cir. 2009) (employees of state college entitled to qualified immunity because student
failed to allege facts establishing a violation of her due process rights where she was
notified of charges against her and given an opportunity to be heard and present a
defense, failed to appear at any scheduled meetings to address the violations with
which she was charged, sent a letter notifying her of the charges against her, and gave
her an opportunity to appeal), and Ross v. State of Alabama, 15 F. Supp. 2d 1173 (M.D.
Ala. 1998) (court dismissed § 1983 claim against employees of the DHR arising from
an investigation of a report of child neglect).
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None of these cases are factually similar to the current case. Plaintiff appears to
be offering these cases to establish that a constitutional violation may exists based on
Fields and Thompson’s failure to act; however, these cases do not truly compel the
conclusion that Fields and Thompson’s conduct was a violation of Plaintiff’s
constitutional rights when there is a judgment for child support in existence.
Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to meet his burden of proof. Further, the Court cannot
find any law clearly establishing this constitutional violation regarding Fields and
Thompson’s conduct. Thus, Count IX is barred by the doctrine of qualified immunity
and due to be dismissed as to Fields and Thompson in their individual capacities.
Count X asserts a § 1983 claim against Fields and Thompson for violations of
Plaintiff’s Sixth Amendment rights based on the Defendant’s failure to afford Plaintiff
an opportunity to confront the evidence and witnesses against him at the paternity
adjudication. The Court is not satisfied that the facts as alleged make out a violation
of this constitutional right.
The Confrontation Clause states: “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused
shall enjoy the right . . . to be confronted with the witnesses against him.” U.S. Const.
amend. VI. Here, Plaintiff has not been subject to a criminal prosecution, so the
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Confrontation Clause has not been implicated.
Although Plaintiff's complaint alleges violations of the Sixth Amendment's
Confrontation Clause, his brief clearly alleges violations of the Assistance of Counsel
Clause as well based on his statement that "[f ]ailure to afford the plaintiff counsel . .
. violated his Sixth and Eighth Amendment rights." (Doc. 36 at 18.) Plaintiff offers
Turner v. Rogers, 131 S. Ct. 2507 (2011), arguing that the case implicates the Sixth
Amendment because state involvement in child support proceedings requires
In Turner, a non-custodial parent was unrepresented by counsel at a brief civil
contempt hearing and sentenced to twelve months in prison for failing to meet child
support obligations. Turner, 131 S. Ct. at 2513. The Supreme Court held that “where
as here the custodial parent (entitled to receive the support) is unrepresented by
counsel, the State need not provide counsel to the non[-]custodial parent (required to
provide the support).” Id. at 2512. However, the Court noted “that the State must
nonetheless have in place alternative procedures that assure a fundamentally fair
determination of the critical incarceration-related question, whether the supporting
parent is able to comply with the support order.”
While Turner may demonstrate that a child support proceeding could implicate
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Plaintiff’s Sixth Amendment rights, it does not compel the conclusion that Fields and
Thompson’s conduct violated those rights. Turner dealt with a civil contempt hearing,
whereas this case deals with a paternity adjudication. The defendant in Turner was also
indigent, while the facts as alleged in the Complaint do not demonstrate that Plaintiff
is indigent. Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to meet his burden of proof. Further, the
Court cannot find any law clearly establishing that Fields and Thompson’s conduct
violated Plaintiff’s Sixth Amendment rights. Thus, Count X is barred by the doctrine
of qualified immunity and due to be dismissed as to Fields and Thompson in their
Count XI asserts a § 1983 claim against Fields and Thompson for violating
Plaintiff’s First Amendment right to freedom of expression. He bases this claim on
Fields and Thompson’s retaliation against him for filing a grievance against them.
However, Plaintiff does not provide any law clearly establishing this constitutional
violation when there is a judgment for child support in existence, and he has failed to
meet his burden of proof. Further, the Court cannot find any law clearly establishing
that Fields and Thompson’s conduct in failing to take corrective action, reporting
Plaintiff to national credit databases, and continuing to prosecute the Paternity Order
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violated his First Amendment rights. Thus, Count XI is barred by the doctrine of
qualified immunity and due to be dismissed as to Fields and Thompson in their
Count XII asserts a § 1983 claim against Fields and Thompson for violations of
Plaintiff’s First Amendment rights in the exercise of his religion. Plaintiff argues that
the paternity adjudication and continued prosecution of the Paternity Order abridged
his freedom to process his faith and religion as a conservative Christian. The Court is
not satisfied that the facts as alleged make out a violation of this constitutional right.
The Eleventh Circuit has held:
[T]he threshold questions in analyzing a law challenged under the Free
Exercise Clause are (1) is the law neutral, and (2) is the law of general
applicability? The neutrality inquiry asks whether the object of a law is to
infringe upon or restrict practices because of their religious motivation.
The general applicability prong asks whether the government has in a
selective manner impose[d] burdens only on conduct motivated by
religious belief. [A] law that is neutral and of general applicability need
not be justified by a compelling governmental interest even if the law has
the incidental effect of burdening a particular religious practice. Rather,
it needs only to survive rational basis review, under which it is presumed
constitutional and the burden is on the plaintiff to prove that it is not
rationally related to a legitimate government interest.
Keeton v. Anderson-Wiley, 664 F.3d 856, 879–80 (11th Cir. 2011).
Section 38-10-3(a) of the Alabama Code requires the DHR to operate child
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support programs, including establishing paternity. This is a neutral law of general
applicability. The object of the law is to establish paternity for purposes of child
support, not restrict religious practices. Nowhere in the complaint does Plaintiff allege
facts showing that the DHR has attempted to establish paternity only on those who
profess to be conservative Christians. Thus, the facts as alleged do not make out a
constitutional violation, and Count XII is due to be dismissed.
viii. Count XIII
Count XIII asserts a § 1983 claim against Fields and Thompson for a violation
of Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment rights because the paternity adjudication, reports,
and seizures constitute cruel and unusual punishment. Plaintiff offers Turner v. Rogers,
131 S. Ct. 2507 (2011), arguing that the case implicates the Eighth Amendment because
state involvement in child support proceedings requires heightened scrutiny.
Nowhere in Turner is the Eighth Amendment ever mentioned, much less
implicated. Further, “the evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a
maturing society” have not yet come to recognize cruel and unusual punishment as
a paternity adjudication, damage to reputation, and seizures of income. See Trop v.
Dulles, 356 U.S. 86, 101 (1958). Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to meet his burden of
proof. Further, the Court cannot find any law clearly establishing that Fields and
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Thompson’s conduct violated Plaintiff’s Eighth Amendment rights. Thus, Count XIII
is barred by the doctrine of qualified immunity and due to be dismissed as to Fields and
Thompson in their individual capacities.
Count XIV asserts a § 1983 claim against Fields and Thompson for a violation
of Plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment right of equal protection because Miles, a
female, was afforded an opportunity to present testimony and evidence that formed
the basis of the paternity adjudication, whereas Plaintiff, a male, was not afforded such
an opportunity. Plaintiff contends that the Eleventh Circuit has deemed a “State’s
coddling of [a] mother to accomplish its end while recklessly trampling on [a]
plaintiff’s rights” to be a clearly established constitutional violation. (Doc. 36 at 20.)
However, he offers no law whatsoever to support this claim. Accordingly, he has failed
to meet his burden of proof. Further, the Court cannot find any law clearly establishing
this constitutional violation with respect to Fields and Thompson’s conduct. Thus,
Count XIV is barred by the doctrine of qualified immunity and due to be dismissed as
to Fields and Thompson in their individual capacities.
State Law Claims
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Counts II, III, IV, and V allege state law claims against the Defendants.5 As will
be demonstrated, all claims based on federal law are due to be dismissed. Although
Plaintiff contends that diversity jurisdiction exists over his state law claims, it is clear
to the Court that the amount-in-controversy requirement cannot be met after
Plaintiff’s federal claims are dismissed. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s state law claims against
Fields and Thompson in their individual capacity are due to be dismissed. If Plaintiff
wishes to pursue these claims, he may do so in state court.
Declaratory and Injunctive Claims
Count VI alleges claims for declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 2201 and Ala. Code § 6-6-22. Specifically, Plaintiff seeks: (1) to clarify the
parties rights relating to Rule 32 of the Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration,
Alabama code §§ 26-17-636(f ), 8-8-10, & 12-15-106, and Rule 2.1 of the Alabama Rules
of Juvenile Procedure; (2) a declaration that the paternity adjudication was illegal and
resulted in continuing damage because the Defendants have refused to correct their
Specifically, Count II alleges state law claims of negligence or wantonness for failure to
accurately record information, conduct a minimal due diligence investigation, and take corrective
action after notice of an error; Count III alleges a state law claim of fraudulent misrepresentation and
concealment for telling various governmental entities that Plaintiff was the father of Miles' child and
he was delinquent on his child support; Count IV alleges state law claims of libel and slander per se
for false oral and written statements and reports to various agencies concerning the Plaintiff's failure
to pay child support; and Count V alleges a state law claim of malicious prosecution due to the lack
of probable cause for the paternity proceedings and continued enforcement of the Paternity Order
after notice that there was no initial probable cause to proceed.
Page 24 of 41
error and notify appropriate agencies; (3) to enjoin the Defendant’s conduct; and (4)
a declaration that it is the Defendant’s legal duty to correct their error and cease and
desist from enforcing the order establishing paternity and otherwise violating
Plaintiff’s constitutional rights. Further, Plaintiff’s § 1983 claims seek equitable relief.
Equitable Relief Pursuant to § 1983
Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief under § 1983 to end continuing
violations of his federal rights and prevent future violations of his federal rights.
However, state officers may only be sued in their individual capacity for money
damages under the statute. See Brown v. Montoya, 662 F.3d 1152, 1161 n. 5 (10th Cir.
2011) (“Section 1983 plaintiffs may sue individual-capacity defendants only for money
damages and official-capacity defendants only for injunctive relief.”) (citing Hafer v.
Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 30 (1991)); Greenwalt v. Indiana Dep't of Corrections, 397 F.3d 587,
589 (7th Cir. 2005) (noting that § 1983 does not permit injunctive relief against state
officials sued in their individual capacity). Accordingly, Plaintiff’s § 1983 claims for
equitable relief against Fields and Thompson in their individual capacity are due to be
Count VI Declaratory Relief
As will be demonstrated, all claims based on federal law are due to be dismissed.
Page 25 of 41
Plaintiff brings his claims in Count IV under Ala. Code § 6-6-22 and 28 U.S.C. § 2201.
However, § 2201 is procedural only, and does not confer subject-matter jurisdiction
on the Court. Skelly Oil v. Phillips Petroleum, 339 U.S. 667, 671 (1950). It is clear to the
Court that neither supplemental jurisdiction nor diversity jurisdiction will exist over
these claims once Plaintiff’s federal claims are dismissed. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s
claims for declaratory relief in Count VI against Fields and Thompson in their
individual capacity are due to be dismissed.
Claims against the Defendants in their Official Capacity
The Defendants argue that they are entitled to immunity under the State’s
sovereign immunity as to all claims brought against them in their official capacity.
Sovereign immunity prohibits federal courts from hearing claims brought by
individuals against unconsenting States. See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman,
465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984). Because suits against state officials or agents in their official
capacity are actually suits against a State, they are absolutely barred by sovereign
immunity. See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp., 465 U.S. at 101, 103; Kentucky v. Graham,
473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985). Further, sovereign immunity applies to federal and state
claims. See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp., 465 U.S. at 103–04. As the Eleventh
Amendment has clarified, Article III’s grant of jurisdiction to suits between citizens
Page 26 of 41
of one state and another state does not abrogate this inherent immunity such that
sovereign immunity still applies in federal court. See Hans v. Louisiana, 134 U.S. 1, 10
Despite its seemingly broad reach, there are exceptions to sovereign immunity.
Indeed, “[a] sovereign’s immunity may be waived, and the Court consistently has held
that a State may consent to suit against it in federal court.” Pennhurst State Sch. &
Hosp., 465 U.S. at 99. Additionally, in Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908), the
Supreme Court held that sovereign immunity does not extend to suits against state
officers seeking prospective equitable relief to end continuing violations of federal law.
See Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 664–71 (1974); Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232,
237–38 (1974); Florida Ass’n of Rehabilitation Facilities, Inc. v. State of Fla. Dept. of
Health and Rehabilitative Services, 225 F.3d 1208, 1219 (11th Cir. 2000).7
State Law Claims
In this case, Counts II, III, IV, and V are all state law claims asserted against
state officers. In an effort to avoid sovereign immunity, Plaintiff purports to withdraw
This is sometimes referred to as “Eleventh Amendment immunity.” See Kentucky v.
Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167 n.14 (1985).
Congress may also abrogate the immunity of the states under the Eleventh Amendment.
Ross v. Jefferson County Dept. Of Health, 701 F.3d 655, 659 (11th Cir. 2012). However, § 1983 was not
intended to abrogate a State’s sovereign immunity through the Eleventh Amendment. See Graham,
473 U.S. 159, 169 n.17.
Page 27 of 41
all claims for monetary damages against the Defendants in their official capacities,
leaving only Plaintiff’s claims for declaratory and injunctive relief. (Doc. 18 at 15 n.4);
(Doc. 36 at 7 n.1.) However, suits for prospective relief brought under Young are
inapplicable in a suit against a state official on the basis of state law. Pennhurst State
Sch. & Hosp., 465 U.S. at 106. Accordingly, Counts II–V are due to be dismissed
against the Defendants in their official capacities.
Federal Law Claims and Count VI
As previously mentioned, Plaintiff has withdrawn all claims for monetary
damages against the Defendants in their official capacities. See supra Part IV.B.1.
Plaintiff’s claims for equitable relief can be broken down into the following requests:
(1) for declaratory relief to declare that the Defendants have violated Plaintiff’s rights;8
(2) for injunctive relief to prevent future violations of Plaintiff’s rights;9 (3) for
In his complaint’s request for relief, Plaintiff seeks “a declaratory judgment finding that the
defendants wrongfully adjudicated plaintiff the father, reported said information and levied his wages
and tax refund in violation of the Due Process, Takings and Equal Protection Clauses of the
[Fourteenth] and [Fifth] Amendments, the [First], [Fourth], [Sixth] and [Eighth] Amendments, 42
U.S.C. [§] 1983 and state common law.” (Doc. 7 at 33.) In Count VI, Plaintiff seeks a declaration
that the paternity adjudication was illegal and resulted in continuing damage because the Defendants
have refused to correct their error and notify appropriate agencies. (Id. at 20–21.) In his responsive
briefs, Plaintiff argues that he is seeking a declaratory judgment that the Defendants' policy and
practices are beyond their authority and have violated Alabama Administrative Code §
660-1-6.09(9)(b), the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA"), and Plaintiff's constitutional rights.
(Doc. 18 at 9–10, 12–13); (Doc. 36 at 4, 6.)
In his complaint’s request for relief, Plaintiff seeks to "enjoin the [D]efendants from
collecting or otherwise enforcing the unlawful collection and adjudication." (Doc. 7 at 34.) In Count
Page 28 of 41
injunctive relief to end continuing violations of Plaintiff’s rights;10 and (4) for
declaratory relief to clarify Plaintiff’s rights and declare the scope of the Defendants’
Declaration that the Defendants have Violated
This declaratory relief is barred by sovereign immunity. Plaintiff makes several
arguments for why sovereign immunity does not apply to these requests. First, he
VI, Plaintiff seeks to enjoin the Defendant's conduct. (Id. at 21.) In his responsive briefs, Plaintiff
argues that he is seeking an order enjoining the Defendants from enforcing the DHR's policies and
practices of (a) reporting paternity and support delinquencies of non-custodial parents to major
credit reporting agencies without first sending them notice and an opportunity to object to the
reporting, (b) inquiring into non-custodial parents credit reports without said notice, and (c) post
disestablishment credit reporting and income withholding. (Doc. 18 at 9–10, 12–13); (Doc. 36 at 4,
In his responsive briefs, Plaintiff argues that he is seeking (1) an order compelling the
Defendants to immediately (a) send written notification to major credit reporting agencies that their
reports were made in error, (b) request that the erroneously reported information be removed, (c)
send written notification to major credit reporting agencies and employers that the reports and
withholding determinations were made in error, and (d) request that the erroneously reported
information be removed and any withheld funds be refunded; (2) an order compelling the Defendants
to immediately send written notification to any non-custodial parents notifying them of any
erroneous report and withholding; and (3) an order compelling the Defendants to immediately (a)
send written notification to major credit reporting agencies that Plaintiff's reports were inaccurate,
and (b) request that the inaccurately reported information be removed from Plaintiff's credit report.
(Doc. 18 at 9–10, 12–13); (Doc. 36 at 4, 6.)
In Count VI, Plaintiff seeks the following based on federal law: (1) to clarify the parties
rights relating to Rule 32 of the Alabama Rules of Judicial Administration, Alabama code §§
26-17-636(f ), 8-8-10, & 12-15-106, and Rule 2.1 of the Alabama Rules of Juvenile Procedure; and (2)
a declaration that it is the Defendant's legal duty to correct their error and cease and desist from
enforcing the order establishing paternity and otherwise violating Plaintiff's constitutional rights.
(Doc. 7 at 20–23.)
Page 29 of 41
argues that Alabama has waived its sovereign immunity. (Doc. 18 at 9.) The Alabama
Supreme Court has found that absolute sovereign immunity does not apply to actions
brought “(1) to compel [an official] to perform his duties, (2) to compel [an official]
to perform ministerial acts, (3) to enjoin [an official] from enforcing unconstitutional
laws, (4) to enjoin [an official] from acting in bad faith, fraudulently, beyond his
authority, or under mistaken interpretation of the law, or (5) to seek construction of
a statute under the Declaratory Judgment Act if [the official] is a necessary party for
the construction of the statute.” Parker v. Amerson, 519 So. 2d 442, 443 (Ala. 1987).
However, the first four exceptions listed deal with injunctions against the state official,
not declaratory relief. The fifth exception, on the other hand, deals with a declaratory
judgment; however, Plaintiff is not seeking the construction of State statutes to which
the Defendants are necessary parties. Thus, the declaratory relief does not fall under
any of the exceptions in Parker.
Plaintiff also contends that the Alabama Supreme Court has held that state
agents are not immune when they fail to discharge duties pursuant to detailed rules or
regulations. (Doc. 18 at 9.) In support of this theory, he offers Gowens v. Tys. S. ex rel.
Davis, 948 So. 2d 513 (Ala. 2006). However, Gowens dealt with state-agent immunity
under Alabama law, which is only applicable against the Defendants in their individual
Page 30 of 41
capacity, not their official capacity. As such, sovereign immunity still applies to the
Defendants in their official capacities.
Next, Plaintiff argues that sovereign immunity does not extend to his requests
for declaratory relief because they are against state officers and seek prospective
equitable relief to end continuing violations of federal law. Although Ex parte Young
allows declaratory relief, it does not apply when the declaratory relief pertains only to
past violations of federal law. See Green v. Mansour, 474 U.S. 64, 73 (1985) (holding
that sovereign immunity barred a claim for declaratory relief because issuance of such
a judgment would have had “much the same effect as a full-fledged award of damages
or restitution by the federal court”); see also Summit Medical Assoc., P.C. v. Pryor, 180
F.3d 1326, 1337 (11th Cir. 1999) (“a plaintiff may not use the [Ex parte Young] doctrine
to adjudicate the legality of past conduct”). The issuance of a declaratory judgment
against the Defendants in their official capacity declaring that, by their past actions,
they have exceeded their authority and violated federal law would serve no purpose
other than to validate or authorize an award of monetary damages. Accordingly the
Defendants’ motions to dismiss are due to be granted as to Plaintiff’s request to
declare that his constitutional rights have been violated.12
Additionally, the Ex Parte Young doctrine would not apply to Plaintiff’s request to declare
that the Defendants violated Alabama Administrative Code § 660-1-6.09(9)(b) because the doctrine
Page 31 of 41
Injunctive Relief to Prevent Future Violations
As part of his requests for injunctive relief, Plaintiff seeks to enjoin the
Defendants from violating his rights in the future and violating the rights of other
alleged non-custodial parents who may prospectively be injured. First, “[i]t is well
settled that a ‘plaintiff generally must assert his own legal rights and interests, and
cannot rest his claim to relief on the legal rights or interests of third parties.’” AT&T
Mobility, LLC v. National Ass’n for Stock Car Auto Racing, Inc., 494 F.3d 1356, 1361–62
(11th Cir. 2007) (quoting Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 499 (1975)). Thus, Plaintiff
has no standing to claim a prospective injury against any non-custodial parents who
may be injured by the DHR’s policies and practices.
Second, Plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts demonstrating a threat of future
injury to himself by the policies and practices of the DHR. “Because injunctions
regulate future conduct, [Plaintiff ] has standing to seek injunctive relief only if [he]
alleges, and ultimately proves, a real and immediate—as opposed to a merely
conjectural or hypothetical—threat of future injury.” Wooden v. Bd. of Regents of the
Univ. Sys. of Ga., 247 F.3d 1262, 1284 (11th Cir. 2001) (citation omitted). Plaintiff has
not alleged sufficient facts showing that the Defendants attempted to enforce the
does not apply to State law claims.
Page 32 of 41
Paternity Order or the IWO after the Family Court reversed the paternity
adjudication. Further, Plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts demonstrating that the
DHR failed to follow this order. Thus, he does not have standing to seek this
injunction relief on behalf of himself.
Injunctive Relief to End Continuing Violations
As part of his requests for injunctive relief, Plaintiff seeks to compel the
Defendants to act in order to end continuing violations of federal law. Plaintiff makes
these requests on behalf of himself and other alleged non-custodial parents who may
have been injured. Plaintiff has no standing to seek an injunction against the
Defendants on behalf of other alleged non-custodial parents who may have been
injured. See supra Part IV.B.2.ii. Thus, the Court need only determine whether
Plaintiff may bring these requests on behalf of himself.
To state a valid claim for injunctive relief, Plaintiff must show: “(1) that he has
prevailed in establishing the violation of the right asserted in his complaint; (2) there
is no adequate remedy at law for the violation of this right; (3) irreparable harm will
result if the court does not order injunctive relief; and (4) if issued, the injunction
would not be adverse to the public interest.” Thomas v. Bryant, 614 F.3d 1288, 1317
(11th Cir. 2010). In support of his requests, Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants’
Page 33 of 41
failure to update and notify credit reporting and income withholding databases of his
disestablishment of paternity determination resulted in erroneous postdisestablishment income withholding and credit reporting in violation of the Fourth
Amendment’s prohibition against harassment13 and unlawful searches and seizures, the
Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s
requirement of substantive and procedural due process. (Doc. 18 at 12; Doc. 36 at 5–6.)
However, Plaintiff has not sufficiently alleged any conduct by the Defendants that has
led to continuing violations of Plaintiff’s constitutional rights. First, the Fourth
Amendment’s prohibition against unlawful searches does not apply in this case. See
supra Part IV.A.1.ii.
Second, the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unlawful seizures does
not apply. Plaintiff bases this violation on the Defendants’ “seizure of [his] tax refund
and wages.” (Doc. 7, ¶ 57.) However, a State court entered an order reversing the
paternity adjudication, terminating the IWO, suspending any current child support,
reducing Plaintiff’s child support arrears balance to zero, and ordering the DHR to
return to Plaintiff any money being held, including money held for a 2011 tax refund
offset. (Doc. 4-2 at 10.) Plaintiff has not alleged sufficient facts demonstrating that the
There is no Fourth Amendment prohibition against harassment.
Page 34 of 41
DHR failed to follow this order, or that any funds are still being withheld. Thus, there
is no continuing damage from any violation of Plaintiff’s Fourth Amendment right
against unlawful seizures, and the Court will not issue injunctive relief unless
“irreparable harm will result” otherwise. Thomas, 614 F.3d at 1317.
Third, there is no violation of the Sixth Amendment’s Confrontation Clause.
See supra Part IV.A.1.v.
Fourth, nowhere in his complaint does Plaintiff implicate the Fourteenth
Amendment’s requirement of substantive due process. The Due Process Clause
“provides heightened protection against government interference with certain
fundamental rights and liberty interests.” Washington v. Glucksberg, 521 U.S. 702, 720
(1997). Plaintiff only refers to substantive due process in passing in his briefs, never
identifies any fundamental right that may apply, and only mentions his “liberty
interest in not being classified as a ‘dead beat dad.’” (Doc. 7, ¶ 8.) This liberty interest
is not of the type that warrants heightened protection. See Glucksberg, 521 U.S. at 720
(“[T]he ‘liberty’ specially protected by the Due Process Clause includes the rights to
marry, to have children, to direct the education and upbringing of one’s children, to
marital privacy, to use contraception, to bodily integrity, and to abortion.”).
“When a challenged law does not infringe upon a fundamental right, [the Court]
Page 35 of 41
review[s] substantive due process challenges under the rational basis standard.”
Fresenius Medical Care Holdings, Inc. v. Tucker, 704 F.3d 935, 945 (11th Cir. 2013).
Under the rational basis standard, the government’s interference “need only be
rationally related to a legitimate government purpose. . . . and the burden is on the one
attacking the [government’s interference] to negate every conceivable basis that might
support it, even if that basis has no foundation in the record.” Leib v. Hillsborough
County Public Transp. Com’n, 558 F.3d 1301, 1306 (11th Cir. 2009). Here, the
Defendants’ classification of Plaintiff as a “dead beat dad” is rationally related to its
interest in improving the effectiveness of child support enforcement. Thus, the
Defendant’s actions do not violate Plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment substantive due
Finally, the Fourteenth Amendment’s requirement of procedural due process
has not been implicated by the Defendants’ conduct. The Due Process Clause protects
against deprivations of “life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” U.S.
Const. amend. XIV. Plaintiff contends that he has been denied various privileges as a
result of the damage to his reputation. Specifically, he alleges that “he was rejected for
several jobs as a result of [his] classification, denied a passport, placed on a ‘dead beat
dad’ watch list and his credit score was negatively affected relegating him to a lower
Page 36 of 41
credit class. Additionally, his marriage and current job have been strained.” (Doc 7,
¶ 8.) He asks for an injunction requiring the Defendants to contact major credit
reporting agencies and employers, notify them of the error, and request that they
remove any erroneous material.
Request to Contact Employers
Plaintiff claims that he was deprived of a protected “liberty” interest in his
reputation. (Doc. 7, ¶ 8.) However, injury to reputation itself is not a deprivation of
liberty. Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 711–12 (1976). Damages to Plaintiff’s reputation
“are only recoverable in a section 1983 action if those damages were incurred as a
result of government action significantly altering [P]laintiff’s constitutionally
recognized legal rights.” Cypress Ins. Co. v. Clark, 144 F.3d 1435, 1438 (11th Cir. 1998).
“This doctrine is known as the ‘stigma-plus’ test, and requires [P]laintiff to show both
a valid defamation claim (the stigma) and ‘the violation of some more tangible
interest’ (the plus).” Rehberg v. Paulk, 611 F.3d 828, 852 (11th Cir. 2010) (citations
omitted) (quoting Behrens v. Regier, 422 F.3d 1255, 1260 (11th Cir. 2005)).
Loss of employment is a tangible interest that satisfies the “plus” element of the
“stigma-plus” test. Cotton v. Jackson, 216 F.3d 1328, 1330 (11th Cir. 2000) (“[W]hen
reputational damage is sustained in connection with a termination of employment, it
Page 37 of 41
may give rise to a procedural due process claim for deprivation of liberty which is
actionable under section 1983.”). Here, Plaintiff alleges that he “was rejected for
several jobs as a result of [his] classification” as a “dead beat dad.” (Doc. 7, ¶ 8.)
Rejection from a job opportunity is not enough to establish the “plus” element of the
stigma plus test. See Cannon v. City of West Palm Beach, 250 F.3d 1299, 1303 (11th Cir.
2001) (denial of a promotion in connection with a stigmatizing injury is not enough to
satisfy the “stigma-plus” test); Oladeinde v. City of Birmingham, 963 F.2d 1481, 1486
(11th Cir. 1992) (“stigma-plus” test not met because “no loss of income or rank
occurred, and absent a discharge or more, injury to reputation itself is not a protected
liberty interest.”) (emphasis added) (overruled on other grounds).
Regarding the injunction Plaintiff seeks, his request that the Defendants send
written notification to employers is related solely to his loss of employment
opportunities. Thus, injunctive relief cannot be granted because Plaintiff cannot
establish a violation of his procedural due process rights related to this request. See
Thomas, 614 F.3d at 1317. Further, this request is not a “[r]emed[y] designed to end
a continuing violation of federal law,” and the Ex parte Young doctrine does not apply.
Florida Ass’n of Rehabilitation Facilities, Inc., 225 F.3d at 1219.
Request to Contact Credit Reporting Agencies
Page 38 of 41
Plaintiff is also seeking to compel the Defendants to contact credit reporting
agencies in order to cure his erroneous credit reports. However, Congress has
provided an alternative remedy for curing erroneous credit reports through the FCRA.
15 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq. A consumer has the right to request the removal of incorrect
information on his credit report himself by contacting the credit reporting agency or
bureau that issued the credit report. See 15 U.S.C. § 1681i. Should the credit reporting
agency or bureau fail to correct Plaintiff’s credit report, the FCRA provides a private
cause of action. See id. §§ 1681n, 1681o. Further, Plaintiff may bring such an action “in
any appropriate United States district court, without regard to the amount in
controversy, or in any other court of competent jurisdiction.” Id. § 1681p. Thus, an
adequate remedy exists at law for Plaintiff to correct his credit report, and injunctive
relief is inappropriate. Thomas, 614 F.3d at 1317. Further, because an adequate remedy
exists, due process has been afforded to Plaintiff. See Cotton, 216 F.3d at 1330–31.14
The Eleventh Circuit held:
Assuming a plaintiff has shown a deprivation of some right protected by the due process
clause, we—when determining if a plaintiff has stated a valid procedural due process
claim—look to whether the available state procedures were adequate to correct the alleged
procedural deficiencies. If adequate state remedies were available but the plaintiff failed to
take advantage of them, the plaintiff cannot rely on that failure to claim that the state
deprived him of procedural due process. And, to be adequate, the state procedure need not
provide all the relief available under section 1983. Instead, the state procedure must be able
to correct whatever deficiencies exist and to provide plaintiff with whatever process is due.
. . . [O]nly when the state refuses to provide a process sufficient to remedy the procedural
deprivation does a constitutional violation actionable under section 1983 arise. It is the state’s
Page 39 of 41
Accordingly, Counts I, and VII–XIV are due to be dismissed against the Defendants
in their official capacities, and Count VI is due to be dismissed against the Defendants
in their official capacities as it relates to injunctive relief.
Declaratory Relief to Clarify Plaintiff’s Rights and the
scope of the Defendants’ Legal Duties
As previously mentioned, it is clear to the Court that subject-matter jurisdiction
will not exist over these claims. See supra Part IV.A.3.ii. Accordingly, Count VI is due
to be dismissed against the Defendants in their official capacities as it relates to
For the foregoing reasons, Buckner, Fields, and Thompson’s Motions to
Dismiss are due to be GRANTED. A separate order consistent with this opinion will
Done this 9th day of August 2013.
failure to provide adequate procedures to remedy the otherwise procedurally flawed
deprivation of a protected interest that gives rise to a federal procedural due process claim.
This rule (that a section 1983 claim is not stated unless inadequate state procedures exist to
remedy an alleged procedural deprivation) recognizes that the state must have the
opportunity to remedy the procedural failings of its subdivisions and agencies in the
appropriate fora—agencies, review boards, and state courts before being subjected to a claim
alleging a procedural due process violation.
Cotton, 216 F.3d at 1330–31 (citations, internal quotations, and footnote omitted).
Page 40 of 41
L. SCOTT COOGLER
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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