Montgomery v. Alabama Department of Motor Vehicles et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge R David Proctor on 12/18/2017. (KAM)
2017 Dec-18 PM 02:52
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR
VEHICLES, et al.,
Case No.: 2:17-cv-01938-RDP
This case is before the court on Plaintiff’s Response to the Magistrate Judge’s Order
(Doc. # 5) and the Order reassigning this case to the undersigned (Doc. # 6). Before reassigning
the case, the Magistrate Judge directed Plaintiff to show cause why the case should not be
dismissed for lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction. (Doc. # 4 at 3). Plaintiff has explained
his grounds for asserting federal question jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and this
case is ripe for a preliminary review.
In actions where a plaintiff has been granted in forma pauperis status, the court must
dismiss the action if it determines that the action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim
for relief, or seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)-(iii). Moreover, the court may sua sponte consider whether it has subject
matter jurisdiction over a plaintiff’s claims. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3); Walker v. Sun Trust Bank
of Thomasville, Ga., 363 F. App’x 11, 15 (11th Cir. 2010). In private civil actions, where the
federal law(s) cited in support of a plaintiff’s action provide no private cause of action, it follows
that the court lacks federal question jurisdiction to hear the action. See Mazyck v. Wells Fargo
Bank, N.A., 2013 WL 12101059, at *2 (N.D. Ga. Jan. 29, 2013) (explaining that the court lacked
federal question jurisdiction under the Protecting Tenants at Foreclosure Act of 2009 because
that statute contains no private cause of action). Plaintiff’s Complaint relies on federal question
jurisdiction and cites 49 U.S.C. § 30503, 49 U.S.C. § 30504, and 31 C.F.R. § 0.208 as the
grounds for his claims. (Doc. # 1 at 3).
In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that a thief stole his vehicle and sold it to a salvage
yard, where it was illegally scrapped. (Doc. # 1 at 4). He claims that Defendant Alabama
Department of Motor Vehicles violated a federal statute -- 49 U.S.C. § 30503 -- by failing to
perform a verification check on the vehicle before allowing Defendant Ellison Recycling Center
to scrap the vehicle. (Id.). He also claims that Defendant Ellison Recycling Center failed to
comply with reporting requirements in 49 U.S.C. § 30504 and used a false vehicle identification
number to apply for a title to scrap the vehicle. (Id.). In his response to the show cause order,
Plaintiff argues that he can obtain compensation for his “direct personal loss” caused by
Defendants’ failures to comply with federal law. (Doc. # 5 at 3-4).
The threshold question in this action is whether the provisions in the Anti-Theft Car Act
that implemented the National Motor Vehicle Title Information System (“NMVTIS”), 49 U.S.C.
§§ 30501 et seq., provide a private cause of action. In the Anti-Theft Car Act, Congress directed
the Attorney General to establish the NMVTIS to “provide individuals and entities referred to in
[49 U.S.C. § 30502(e)] with instant and reliable access to information maintained by the States
related to automobile titling.” 49 U.S.C. § 30502(a). States are obligated to provide vehicle title
information to the NMVTIS. Id. § 30503(a). And, junk yards and salvage yards must file
monthly reports to the NMVTIS with information about their inventories. Id. § 30504(a). In
turn, the NMVTIS must make title information about automobiles available to the states, law
enforcement officials, prospective purchasers of a particular automobile, and prospective or
current insurers of a particular automobile. Id. § 30502(e). The statute contains a penalty and
enforcement section, 49 U.S.C. § 30505, that grants the following authority to the Attorney
(a) Penalty.-- An individual or entity violating this chapter is liable to the United
States Government for a civil penalty of not more than $1,000 for each violation.
(b) Collection and Compromise.-- (1) The Attorney General shall impose a civil
penalty under this section. The Attorney General shall bring a civil action to
collect the penalty. The Attorney General may compromise the amount of the
penalty. In determining the amount of the penalty or compromise, the Attorney
General shall consider the appropriateness of the penalty to the size of the
business or entity charged and the gravity of the violation.
(2) The Government may deduct the amount of a civil penalty imposed or
compromised under this section from amounts it owes the individual or entity
liable for the penalty.
Reporting persons and entities are granted civil immunity from money damages and equitable
relief if they act in good faith and with a reasonable belief that their conduct complies with
federal law. Id. § 30502(f).
Unquestionably, the law at issue does not expressly provide a private cause of action.
See generally 49 U.S.C. §§ 30501-30505. Therefore, the court must determine whether the
statute creates an implied private right of action, a question of statutory construction that appears
to be an issue of first impression. The Supreme Court’s opinion in Alexander v. Sandoval, 532
U.S. 275 (2001), directs the court to discern whether Congress intended to create a private right
of action and a private remedy. 532 U.S. at 286. In determining Congress’s intent, “[f]irst and
foremost, we look to the statutory text for rights-creating language.” Love v. Delta Air Lines,
310 F.3d 1347, 1352 (11th Cir. 2002) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Sandoval, 532
U.S. at 288). To be characterized as rights-creating language, the provisions of a statute should
explicitly confer rights directly on a class of persons or identify the class of people who are
intended to receive special benefit from the statute. Id. Next, the court must “examine the
statutory structure within which the provision in question is embedded. If that statutory structure
provides a discernible enforcement mechanism, Sandoval teaches that we ought not imply a
private right of action because ‘the express provision of one method of enforcing a substantive
rule suggests that Congress intended to preclude others.’” Id. at 1353 (internal modifications
omitted) (quoting Sandoval, 532 U.S. at 290). The court only considers legislative history and
context if the text and structure of the statute fail to conclusively show whether a private right of
action has been granted. Id. If a statute does not create a private cause of action, such a cause of
action cannot be created by regulations promulgated to interpret and enforce the statute. Id.
Here, the statutes implementing the NMVTIS create no private right of action. The
statutory provisions Plaintiff cites -- 49 U.S.C. §§ 30503 and 30504 -- contain no rights-creating
language. Indeed, §§ 30503 and 30504 mainly place duties on states and regulated entities to
furnish information to the NMVTIS, not to individuals. The lack of rights-creating language
demonstrates Congress’s intent to not create a private cause of action for individuals affected by
failures or deficiencies in reports or provisions of information to the NMVTIS. 1 See Love, 310
F.3d at 1352. In addition, the statute provides the Attorney General an enforcement mechanism
through civil penalties. 49 U.S.C. § 30505. The express provision of civil penalties enforced by
the Attorney General suggests that Congress intended to preclude private enforcement through
lawsuits. Love, 310 F.3d at 1353 (quoting Sandoval, 532 U.S. at 290). Because the statutory text
and structure conclusively show that 49 U.S.C. §§ 30503 and 30504 were not intended to create
Moreover, even assuming that to some extent Congress intended to create individual access to the
NMVTIS, see 49 U.S.C. § 30502(e)(3), the class of persons with access to the NMVTIS is limited to automobile
purchasers and does not include all automobile owners. Thus, Plaintiff has not shown that he had a
Congressionally-protected interest in access to NMVTIS data as an automobile owner.
private causes of action, the court need not consider any legislative history or context. Id. For
the reasons explained above, the court concludes that Plaintiff’s claims are not based on a federal
statute that provides a private cause of action, and, thus, the court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction to hear this suit. 2 Mazyck, 2013 WL 12101059, at *2.
The court acknowledges that “[w]hen it appears that a pro se plaintiff’s complaint, if
more carefully drafted, might state a claim, the district court should give the pro se plaintiff an
opportunity to amend his complaint instead of dismissing it.” Watkins v. Hudson, 560 F. App’x
908, 911 (11th Cir. 2014). Here, however, Plaintiff would be unable to state a claim for relief
under 49 U.S.C. §§ 30501 et seq. because those statutes have not enacted any private right of
action. And, Plaintiff’s Complaint indicates that he cannot bring state-law causes of action
against Defendants Ellison Recycling Center or Alabama Department of Motor Vehicles in this
court under diversity jurisdiction because all parties to this action appear to be citizens of
Alabama. (See Doc. # 1 at 1-2). Indeed, Plaintiff has filed a parallel action in Chilton County
Circuit Court based on the conduct underlying this case. (Doc. # 5 at 1-2). For these reasons,
the court finds that Plaintiff cannot state a plausible claim for relief in this court, and he is not
due to be granted an opportunity to amend his complaint.
Because this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, Plaintiff’s Complaint is due to be
dismissed without prejudice, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(h)(3). 3 An Order consistent with this Memorandum Opinion will be entered.
Plaintiff’s Complaint also asserts a federal-law claim based on 31 C.F.R. § 0.208. (Doc. # 1 at 3). This
Treasury Regulation is part of the rules of conduct for employees of the Treasury Department, and nothing in that
Treasury Regulation references the NVMTIS or the reporting duties of states or other entities that furnish
information to the NVMTIS.
Alternatively, even if Plaintiff’s Complaint had stated a claim for relief under a federal-law cause of
action (and, to be clear, he has not), this case would be due to be transferred to the Middle District of Alabama
because Defendants Ellison Recycling Center and Alabama Department of Human Resources both reside in the
Middle District (see Doc. # 1 at 2), and the conduct underlying this suit appears to have occurred in the Middle
DONE and ORDERED this December 18, 2017.
R. DAVID PROCTOR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
District. (See id.) (alleging that Plaintiff resides in Chilton County, Alabama and that Ellison Recycling Center is
located in Chilton County).
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