WHITEHEAD v. DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CHILD SUPPORT SERVICES DIVISION
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION re: Defendant's 3 MOTION to Dismiss. Signed by Judge Robert L. Wilkins on 9/26/2012. (tcb)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Civil Action No. 01-11-cv-641 (RLW)
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
CHILD SUPPORT SERVICES DIVISION
MEMORANDUM OPINION 1
In the present action, pro se Plaintiff James Whitehead brings claims against Defendant
District of Columbia Child Support Services Division (“CSSD”) for the garnishment of his
wages pursuant to a child support order. Defendant seeks dismissal of the complaint pursuant to
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8(a), 12(b)(1), and 12(b)(6). (Def.’s Mot. Dismiss at p.1.)
For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant Defendant’s motion and dismiss Plaintiff’s
This unpublished memorandum opinion is intended solely to inform the parties and any
reviewing court of the basis for the instant ruling, or alternatively, to assist in any potential future
analysis of the res judicata, law of the case, or preclusive effect of the ruling. The Court has
designated this opinion as "not intended for publication," but this Court cannot prevent or
prohibit the publication of this opinion in the various and sundry electronic and legal databases
(as it is a public document), and this Court cannot prevent or prohibit the citation of this opinion
by counsel. Cf. Fed. R. App. P. 32.1. Nonetheless, as stated in the operational handbook
adopted by our Court of Appeals, “counsel are reminded that the Court's decision to issue an
unpublished disposition means that the Court sees no precedential value in that disposition.”
D.C. Circuit Handbook of Practice and Internal Procedures 43 (2011).
In his March 29, 2011 complaint, Plaintiff alleges that the CSSD unlawfully seized his
property through garnishment of his wages. (Compl. at pp. 48-49.) Plaintiff’s obligations arise
out of a Consent Order signed by Plaintiff on December 5, 2000, in which he agreed to pay $475
per month for child support to the mother of his seven-year-old daughter and $1,325.00 in
arrearages. (Id. at pp. 3-4; Ex. 1 at p. 1) On April 26, 2006, Superior Court Judge Cheryl M.
Long entered an order which retroactively reduced Plaintiff’s child support obligations to $304
per month, including $25 per month in arrearages, starting September 19, 2005. (Id. at pp. 9, 57;
Ex. 8 at p. 4) Plaintiff appealed this order to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. (Id. at
p. 10; Ex. 10 at p. 3.). The Court of Appeals vacated Judge Long’s order for further consideration
on the appropriate starting date for the retroactive reduction of the child support. (Id., Ex. 10 at p.
Plaintiff thereafter filed a “Motion to Comply with the Ruling of the District of Columbia
Court of Appeals” in the Superior Court, claiming that the Superior Court delayed in complying
with the ruling of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals. (Id., Ex. 11 at p. 1). Judge Long
granted the motion on August 8, 2008, modifying her earlier ruling to reduce Plaintiff’s child
support obligations starting on June 7, 2004. (Id., Ex. 12 at pp. 1, 3.) In her order, Judge Long
determined that Plaintiff was correct in his assertion that he was entitled to a correction of the
arrears amount; however, this reduction was not corrected in a timely manner. (Id. at p. 10; Ex.
12 at p. 3; Ex. 14 at p. 1.) At a status hearing on the matter, Superior Court Judge Carol Dalton
was advised that an audit of the Jacket had been conducted by the Paternity and Child Support
Branch, which discovered that three months of arrearages had not been vacated as ordered by
Judge Long, but that adjustment had been made thereafter, on January 6, 2009. (Id., Ex. 14 at p.
2; Ex. 15 at p. 1.) Judge Dalton determined that the appropriate credits had been given to
Plaintiff for the correction of the arrearages pursuant to Judge Long’s Order. Plaintiff again
appealed to the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, seeking to have the arrears recalculated
and the garnishment order canceled “because of alleged errors in the payment history maintained
by [Defendant] and because such garnishment of his wages is, in any event, illegal,” essentially
the same arguments that he raises before this Court. (Id., Ex. 16 at p. 1; Ex. 17 at p. 1).
The Court of Appeals affirmed Judge Dalton’s ruling, citing provisions of the D.C. Code
and federal law that authorized Defendant’s wage withholding and stating that Plaintiff had not
asserted that he qualified for any of the legal exceptions to withholding. (Id., Ex. 17 at p. 2.)
The court also noted that Judge Dalton had advised Plaintiff that he could request another audit
report if he still believed his payment history was inaccurate and then bring a motion to address
any errors he identified, but Plaintiff had not done so. (Id.) Plaintiff maintains that Defendant
garnished his wages without notice or court order, that it failed to comply with court orders
granting him relief from the arrearages during certain periods of time, and that it “produced
deceptive and fraudulent records” of his payments in conduct akin to identity theft. (Id. at p. 47
passim; Pl.’s Resp. at p. 6.) Plaintiff requests the following relief: (1) that this Court “[o]rder
Judge Cheryl Long’s [Order of March 9, 2007] to show the calculation of the arrears between
June 7, 2004 and March 31, 2006” as well as Plaintiff’s payment history for that period; (2)
$500,000 for pain and suffering from being deprived of his constitutional rights; and (3) “a
reasonable attorney fee.” (Id. at p. 59.)
Defendant has moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction
pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). Federal courts are courts of limited
jurisdiction, with the ability to hear only the cases entrusted to them by a grant of power
contained in either the Constitution or in an act of Congress. See, e.g., Beethoven.com LLC
v. Librarian of Congress, 394 F.3d 939, 945 (D.C. Cir. 2005); Hunter v. District of Columbia,
384 F. Supp. 2d 257, 259 (D.D.C. 2005). On a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction, Plaintiff bears the burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction. See Khadr v.
United States, 529 F.3d 1112, 1115 (D.C. Cir. 2008). Under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure, the Court may dispose of the motion on the basis of the complaint alone, or it may
consider materials beyond the pleadings “as it deems appropriate to resolve the question whether it
has jurisdiction to hear the case.” Scolaro v. D.C. Board of Elections & Ethics, 104 F. Supp. 2d 18,
22 (D.D.C. 2000); see Lopez v. Council on American–Islamic Relations Action Network, Inc., 741
F. Supp. 2d 222, 231 (D.D.C. 2010).
Plaintiff contends that this Court has jurisdiction because the case presents a federal
question, a violation of his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment and under “395 U.S. 337” 2.
(Pl.’s Resp. at pp. 2, 7; see Compl. at pp. 1-2.). Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that his rights
under the Fourteenth Amendment were violated when Defendant seized his property without due
process of law. (Compl at p. 1).
Defendant correctly point out that it is the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment,
rather than the Fourteenth Amendment, that applies to the District of Columbia as a federal
enclave. See Propert v. District of Columbia, 948 F.2d 1327, 1330 n. 5 (D.C. Cir.1991) (citing
Bolling v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497, 499 (1954)). Therefore, as the complaint fails to present a
Presumably, Plaintiff is referring to Sniadach v. Family Finance Corp., 395 U.S. 337, 338
(1969), a case in which the Supreme Court struck down Wisconsin’s prejudgment garnishment
statute on Fourteenth Amendment grounds.
federal question or any basis for diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, the complaint
may be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on these bases alone.
However, the Court is mindful that Plaintiff is proceeding pro se and has thus construed
his claims liberally, as it must do with pro se litigants. See Kim v. United States, 618 F. Supp. 2d
31, 37 (D.D.C. 2009), rev’d on other grounds, 632 F.3d 713, 717 (D.C. Cir. 2011). Even if the
Court were to construe Plaintiff’s claims as being brought under the Fifth Amendment, the Court
still lacks jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claims.
In Younger v. Harris, the Supreme Court ruled that absent extraordinary circumstances,
“a federal court should not enjoin a pending state proceeding (including an administrative
proceeding) that is judicial in nature and involves state interests.” 401 U.S. 37, 41 (1971); Dist.
Properties Associates v. Dist. of Columbia, 743 F.2d 21, 28 (D.C. Cir. 1984). The District of
Columbia is regarded as a state for purposes of the Younger abstention doctrine. JMM Corp. v.
Dist. of Columbia, 378 F.3d 1117, 1125 (D.C. Cir. 2004). Younger precludes federal jurisdiction
where there are ongoing state proceedings that are judicial in nature, implicate important state
interests, and “afford an adequate opportunity in which to raise the federal claims.” Bridges v.
Kelly, 84 F.3d 470, 476 (D.C. Cir. 1996); Delaney v. Dist. of Columbia, 659 F. Supp. 2d 185,
194 (D.D.C. 2009). Extraordinary circumstances that may warrant equitable relief nonetheless
include cases where the state action was brought in bad faith or to harass the plaintiff or where a
state statute is flagrantly unconstitutional. JMM Corp., 378 F.3d at 1127 (citing Trainor v.
Hernandez, 431 U.S. 434, 446-47 (1977)).
This suit meets the three criteria for Younger abstention. First, Plaintiff is subject to an
ongoing child support order, the monitoring of which is left to the courts of the District of
Columbia. He is therefore party to “an open case that does not terminate until the child support
order is finally discharged.” Delaney, 659 F. Supp. 2d at 194 (citing Dixon v. Kuhn, 257 Fed.
Appx. 553, 555 (3d Cir.2007)); accord Anthony v. Council, 316 F.3d 412, 420-21 & n.9 (3d Cir.
2003) (holding that the “ongoing” or “pending” requirement was met where the plaintiffs were
not currently appearing or scheduled to appear in any specific hearing due to the particular nature
of child support orders, “which endure for many years and require continual state court
involvement.”) According to the judgment of the Court of Appeals on June 23, 2010, Plaintiff’s
obligation continues “until the child reaches majority, in the year 2013.” (Compl., Ex. 17 at p. 2.)
Second, the District has an overriding interest in the enforcement of child support obligations.
Delaney, 659 F. Supp. 2d at 194; Dixon, 257 Fed. Appx. at 555; accord Agustin v. County of
Alameda, 234 Fed. Appx. 521, 522 (9th Cir. 2007); Tindall v. Wayne County Friend of Court,
269 F.3d 533, 538-40 (6th Cir. 2001). Finally, Plaintiff can bring his due process challenge
before the Superior Court as a defense in any proceeding to enforce his child support obligations.
Delaney, 659 F. Supp. 2d at 194; see JMM Corp., 378 F.3d at 1127 (a defendant in a District of
Columbia proceeding has an opportunity to raise constitutional claims as defenses). No
extraordinary circumstances exist to warrant the equitable relief sought by Plaintiff, especially
since child support orders in the District of Columbia are “routinely and properly enforced by
wage withholding.” (Compl., Ex.17 at p. 2.). Thus, to the extent the complaint seeks to have
this Court intervene in matters before the District of Columbia Superior Court or District of
Columbia Court of Appeals, the complaint will be dismissed for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction. Farmer-Celey v. Appeals Court of D.C. Judges, No. 09-0429, 2009 WL 581476, at
*1 (D.D.C. Mar. 5, 2009) (declining to intervene in matters proceeding before the District of
Columbia Court of Appeals).
Alternatively, to the extent the complaint alleged constitutional violations against the
CSSD, the suit must also be dismissed because the CSSD is non sui juris and therefore not a
proper party. Plaintiff argues that the District of Columbia Child Support Services is a proper
party because it “is capable of answering lawfully for its own action.” (Pl.’s Resp. at p. 3.)
However, it is well-settled that a department or agency of the District of Columbia cannot sue or
be sued in its own name in the absence of a statutory provision to that effect. See, e.g., Kundrat
v. District of Columbia, 106 F. Supp. 2d 1, 5 (D.D.C. 2000).
Finally, insofar as Plaintiff’s complaint also indicates dissatisfaction with the rulings of
the Superior Court or Court of Appeals, any lawsuit against the judges in their judicial capacity
would also be barred by the judicial immunity doctrine. See Clark v. Taylor, 627 F.2d 284, 286
(D.C. Cir. 1980). The proper avenue for Plaintiff to appeal the decisions of Defendant
governmental agency is before the courts of the District of Columbia, as provided in the D.C.
Code, which he has indeed done on multiple occasions. As Judge Dalton advised and the Court
of Appeals reiterated, Plaintiff can bring another motion before Judge Dalton if errors in his
payment history or arrearages are discovered in another audit inquiry, or he can assert exceptions
to wage withholding under D.C. law in the D.C. courts. (Compl., Ex. 17 at pp. 2-3.).
For the reasons set forth above, Plaintiff’s complaint will be dismissed in its entirety. A
separate order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.
Digitally signed by Judge Robert L.
DN: cn=Judge Robert L. Wilkins,
o=U.S. District Court, ou=Chambers
of Honorable Robert L. Wilkins,
Date: 2012.09.26 10:54:03 -04'00'
September 26, 2012
Robert L. Wilkins
United States District Judge
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