Samuel v. Hogan et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting 10 Motion to Dismiss; denying 15 Motion for Leave to File a Surreply; dismissing complaint with prejudice; directing the clerk to close this case. Signed by Judge Paul W. Grimm on 3/9/2018. (C/M 3/9/2018 aos, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
Case No.: PWG-17-1372
LARRY HOGAN, et al.,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Tibebe Samuel (who is proceeding without counsel) brings claims against a
series of Maryland State Officials sued only in their official capacities for violations of the Equal
Protection and Due Process Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Compl. 2, ECF No. 1. His claims stem from the suspension of his driver’s license for failure to
pay child support, and Mr. Samuel’s belief that he was denied due process and discriminated
against because he is a Black man. He seeks $350,000.00 and various forms of retrospective and
prospective injunctive relief. Id. at 6–7. Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss all of
Plaintiff’s claims. ECF No. 10.1 Because neither the State of Maryland nor its officials sued in
their official capacity are “persons” for purposes of § 1983, Mr. Samuel cannot bring a suit for
monetary damages against the State of Maryland or Governor Hogan and Secretaries Padilla and
The parties fully briefed the motion. ECF Nos. 10-1, 12, 13. A hearing is not necessary. See
Loc. R. 105.6. Mr. Samuel has requested leave to file a surreply, ECF No. 15; however, his
request is denied because they are not permitted as a matter of course by the Local Rules of this
Court, and there is nothing extraordinary about this case that militates in favor of allowing a
surreply in order to adequately frame the issues for the Court. See Loc. R. 105.2.
Rahn (“State Defendants”)2 for retrospective relief. Therefore, these claims will be dismissed.
Additionally, Mr. Samuel has pleaded claims that are time-barred and has failed to state a
plausible Due Process or Equal Protection Clause claim.
Because I have determined that
amending his Complaint would be futile, I will dismiss his Complaint with prejudice.
Mr. Samuel and his then-wife filed for and received a divorce in the Circuit Court for
Prince George’s County, Maryland. State Ct. Dockets CAD05-13475, CAD06-08853.4 At the
time the final order was entered, Mr. Samuel was represented by Dennis Gottesmann. State Ct.
Docket CAD06-08853. Mr. Samuel alleges that, during the proceedings, his ex-wife and her
attorney, Patricia McCarthy (neither of whom is a party to this litigation), “submitted a
fraudulent pay stub to inflate [his] income,” and that his “former wife committed perjury under
[oath] claiming that she made $30,000/year before her marriage to [him].” Compl. § III.H. On
April 2, 2007, Mr. Samuel’s ex-wife was granted custody of their minor children and he was
ordered to pay $1,211.00 per month in child support, plus $302.00 per month until he paid an
arrearage of $6,055.00. State Ct. Docket CAD06-08853, Entry 61. The state court order also
granted Gottesmann’s request to withdraw as Mr. Samuel’s counsel because “[n]either plaintiff
As discussed later in this opinion, Director Johnson is a County, not a State official, and does
qualify as a “person” under § 1983. However, as will be seen, the claims against her must be
dismissed for other reasons.
For the purposes of considering Defendants’ motion, I accept the well pleaded facts (but not
legal conclusions) that Plaintiff has alleged in his Complaint as true. See Aziz v. Alcolac, 658
F.3d 388, 390 (4th Cir. 2011). “A copy of a written instrument that is an exhibit to a pleading is
a part of the pleading for all purposes.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c).
I take judicial notice of the state court docket on the Maryland Judiciary Case Search website,
http://casesearch.courts.state.md.us/casesearch/inquiryByCaseNum.jis. See Fed. R. Evid.
201(b)(2). I also take judicial notice of the orders issued in conjunction with those proceedings
that Defendants have attached to their motion. See id.; Sposato v. First Mariner Bank, No. CCB12-1569, 2013 WL 1308582, at *2 (D. Md. Mar. 28, 2013); Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c).
[Mr. Samuel’s ex-wife] nor any counsel has had any form of contact with the defendant since
December 20, 2006, and his whereabouts are unknown.” Divorce Order & Modifications, ECF
No. 10-2. Mr. Samuel alleges that he was ordered to pay in child support “an amount he can’t
possibly pay.” Compl. III.H. However, in October, 2016, he filed a motion to modify his child
support payments (his third), which was granted in March 2017. Id. § III.G. His new monthly
payment was $346.00. Divorce Order & Modifications 9.
Plaintiff alleges that the effective date of his child support payment modification was
March 1, 2017, and that he made a payment on March 9, 2017. Compl. III.G. However, the
record shows that his payments were not modified until March 16, 2017.5 Divorce Order &
Modifications 9–10. He alleges that because of the “fraud and perjury committed during [his]
divorce proceedings,” he owes $117,000.00 in unpaid child support. Compl. § III.E. As a result,
the State of Maryland has attempted to collect the arrearage. Id.
On July 18, 2016, Mr. Samuel attempted to renew his driver’s license at the Motor
Vehicle Administration (“MVA”); however, his license had been suspended for failure to pay
child support. Id. § III.B. Mr. Samuel filed a motion to reinstate his driver’s license in the
Circuit Court for Prince George’s County, which was granted on November 22, 2016. Id.
§ III.C; see also CAD06-08853, Entry No. 315. Mr. Samuel alleges that, armed with the state
court order reinstating his license, he attempted to retrieve it from the MVA on December 5,
2016, but was turned down. Id. However, he admits that he did receive his driver’s license on
January 17, 2017. Compl. III.C.
Plaintiff’s Complaint and Opposition do not contain any additional facts regarding how many
payments, if any, Samuel has made toward the child support he was ordered to pay; only that the
state allegedly is collecting the arrearage. See Compl. § III.E. The Circuit Court for Prince
George’s County did modify his payments on March 15, 2011, July 11, 2013, and March 16,
2017. See Divorce Order & Modifications 4–10.
On May 8, 2017, Mr. Samuel received a letter from the Maryland MVA “informing [him]
that his license would be suspended effective May 30, 2017, at the request of the Maryland
Office of Child Support Enforcement Administration.” Id. § III.A. The letter, which Mr.
Samuel attached to his Opposition, advised that he could request a hearing in the case of
mistaken identity, contact Prince George’s County to avoid suspension of his license, or contest
the accuracy of the information relied on by the Support Enforcement Administration.
Suspension Ltr., ECF No. 12-1.6 Eschewing the process afforded to him to challenge the
suspension, on May 17, 2017, Mr. Samuel filed this lawsuit against Governor Larry Hogan,
Secretary Lourdes Padilla of Maryland’s Department of Human Resources, Secretary Pete Rahn
of Maryland’s Department of Transportation, and Director Jarnice Johnson of Prince George’s
County Office of Child Support Enforcement. Compl.
Mr. Samuel alleges that in seeking the money owed by him for child support and by
suspending his license on two occasions, the State of Maryland and Prince George’s County—
through the named Defendants in their official capacities—have violated the Due Process and
Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Specifically, he states that his license
was suspended without due process, that he was prejudiced in his divorce proceedings, and that
Defendants “never corrected the egregious error made.” Id. § III.H. In conjunction with his
Equal Protection Clause claim, he alleges (without any factual particularity) that the procedures
employed in Maryland to award and enforce child support favor custodial parents, and makes the
conclusory allegation that ninety percent of noncustodial parents are men “and the majority are
The Suspension Letter is integral to Plaintiff’s claims and Defendants have not disputed its
authenticity. See Sposato, 2013 WL 1308582, at *2 (D. Md. Mar. 28, 2013); see also CACI Int’l
v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 566 F.3d 150, 154 (4th Cir. 2009); see also Fed. R. Civ. P.
10(c) (“A copy of a written instrument that is an exhibit to a pleading is a part of the pleading for
black men.” Id. § III.I. Mr. Samuel seeks $350,000.00 in compensatory damages, punitive
damages, and injunctive relief in the following forms: (1) that Defendants “change the law in the
State of Maryland to assist non-custodial parents”; (2) that the Court issue an injunction
preventing the suspension of his license; (3) that the Court “waive” his child support arrearages
that allegedly were procured by fraud and perjury; and (4) that the State refrain from reporting
his missed child support payments to the credit reporting agencies. Id. at 6–7.
Defendants have moved to dismiss Mr. Samuel’s Complaint in its entirety, arguing that,
based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction;7 that this
lawsuit is barred because of Eleventh Amendment immunity; that Mr. Samuel fails to state a
claim for which relief can be granted; that his Complaint is time barred; and that Defendants
Governor Hogan and Secretary Rahn have no official responsibilities for “determination[s] with
respect to child support enforcement.” Defs.’ Mem. 1-2.
Standard of Review
Defendants move to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), which provides for “the
dismissal of a complaint if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Velencia v.
Defendants broadly assert that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear the Plaintiff’s
claims under the Rooker Feldman doctrine. Defs.’ Mem. 5–6. While it is true that past decisions
of both the Fourth Circuit and this Court have used that doctrine rather broadly to find a lack of
jurisdiction to decide claims that were or could have been brought in prior state court
proceedings, the Fourth Circuit has noted much more recently that the Supreme Court has
clarified that the Rooker Feldman doctrine is very narrow, and only applies to “cases brought by
state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the
district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those
judgments.” Thana v. Bd. of License Comm’rs for Charles Cty., 827 F. 3d 314, 320 (4th Cir.
2016) (internal quotations omitted). While the Rooker Feldman doctrine might be grounds for
deciding that this Court lacks jurisdiction to modify the state court orders imposing child support
obligations on Plaintiff (a decision I do not need to make because Samuel’s suit must be
dismissed for other reasons), it clearly does not divest this court of jurisdiction to hear his claims
that the procedures used to suspend his driving privileges for failure to pay child support violate
the due process and equal protection clauses. See id. at 320–21.
Drezhlo, No. RDB-12-237, 2012 WL 6562764, at *4 (D. Md. Dec. 13, 2012). This rule’s
purpose “is to test the sufficiency of a complaint and not to resolve contests surrounding the
facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Id. (quoting Presley v. City of
Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006)). To that end, the Court bears in mind the
requirements of Fed. R. Civ. P. 8, Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009), when considering a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule
12(b)(6). Specifically, a complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of the claim
showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2), and must state “a plausible
claim for relief,” as “[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere
conclusory statements, do not suffice,” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678–79; see Velencia, 2012 WL
6562764, at *4 (discussing standard from Iqbal and Twombly). Similarly, “unsupported legal
allegations need not be accepted.” Nam v. 2012 Inc., No. DKC-15-1931, 2016 WL 107198, at
*3 (D. Md. Jan. 11, 2016) (citing Revene v. Charles Cty. Comm’rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir.
Although the filings of self-represented parties are afforded a more generous
construction by the Court than those submitted by counsel, see Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519,
520 (1972), that deference does not absolve them from complying with the essential
requirements of pleading plausible claims, see Holsey v. Collins, 90 F.R.D. 122, 128 (D. Md.
1981) (citing Inmates v. Owens, 561 F.2d 560, 562–63 (4th Cir. 1977)).
Although at this stage of the proceedings, I must accept the well pleaded facts alleged in
Mr. Samuel’s Complaint as true, see Aziz v. Alcolac, 658 F.3d 388, 390 (4th Cir. 2011), when
reviewing a motion to dismiss, I “may consider documents attached to the complaint as well as
documents attached to the motion to dismiss, if they are integral to the complaint and their
authenticity is not disputed.” Sposato, 2013 WL 1308582, at *2 (D. Md. Mar. 28, 2013); see
also CACI Int’l v. St. Paul Fire & Marine Ins. Co., 566 F.3d 150, 154 (4th Cir. 2009); see also
Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(c) (“A copy of a written instrument that is an exhibit to a pleading is a part of
the pleading for all purposes.”). Moreover, where the allegations in the complaint conflict with
an attached written instrument, “the exhibit prevails.”
Fayetteville Inv’rs v. Commercial
Builders, Inc., 936 F.2d 1462, 1465 (4th Cir. 1991); see Azimirad v. HSBC Mortg. Corp., No.
DKC-10-2853, 2011 WL 1375970, at *2–3 (D. Md. Apr. 12, 2011).
“Person” for § 1983 Purposes, Eleventh Amendment Immunity
To state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must name a defendant who qualifies as a
“person” for purposes of § 1983.8 See Bixler v. Harris, No. WDQ-12-1650, 2013 WL 2422892,
at *5 (D. Md. June 3, 2013) (“Section 1983 provides a remedy against any person who, acting
under color of law, deprives another of constitutional rights.” (emphasis added) (citing 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983)). A state is not “a ‘person’ within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.” Kelly v. Bishop,
No. RDB-16-3668, 2017 WL 2506169, at *4 (D. Md. June 9, 2017) (citing Will v. Michigan
Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s § 1983 allegations fail to state a claim because the State and
its officials sued in their official capacity are not “persons” for purpose of § 1983. Additionally,
they assert that Plaintiff’s claims are barred by Eleventh Amendment Immunity. Defs.’ Mem. 7–
8. It is not unusual for both defenses to be raised in a single suit, but when they are, this creates
a “chicken-or-the-egg” situation for the court—which defense should be addressed first.
Because a determination that a defendant is not a “person” for § 1983 purposes ends the inquiry,
the Supreme Court has instructed that compliance with the “person” requirement of § 1983 must
be analyzed first. See, e.g., Vermont Agency of Nat. Res. v. U.S. ex rel. Stevens, 529 U.S. 765,
778–80 (2000) (holding in a qui tam suit against a state agency (which, like § 1983, requires that
the defendant be a “person”) that “[t]he ultimate issue in the statutory inquiry is whether states
can be sued under this statute; and the ultimate issue in the Eleventh Amendment inquiry is
whether unconsenting states can be sued under this statute,” and “[t]his combination of logical
priority and virtual coincidence of scope makes it possible and indeed appropriate, to decide the
statutory issue first”); see also Power v. Summers, 226 F.3d 815, 818 (7th Cir. 2000) (Applying
Vermont Agency to a § 1983 suit and addressing the statutory “person” requirement before
Eleventh Amendment Immunity). Accordingly, I will begin my analysis with the statutory
requirements of a § 1983 claim.
Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 64–65 & 70–71 (1989)). And, a § 1983 action for monetary
damages and retrospective relief against state officers in their official capacity is viewed as a
lawsuit against the State itself. See Will, 491 U.S. at 64–65, 70–71, n.10 (“Obviously, state
officials literally are persons. But a suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not
a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official’s office. As such, it is no
different from a suit against the State itself.”). Therefore, a State official sued in his official
capacity is not subject to a § 1983 action for monetary damages and retrospective relief. See id.
Pursuant to § 1983, Mr. Samuel seeks $350,000.00 and relief for the suspension of his
driver’s license in July 2016 (notwithstanding the fact that, after corresponding with numerous
state officials, the status of his license was resolved on January 17, 2017 when he presented a
court order reinstating his license to the MVA, and his license was returned to him).9 Compl.
§§ I.4, III.B–C. Governor Hogan is the Chief Executive Officer of Maryland, and Secretaries
Padilla and Rahn are the heads of Maryland State Agencies. Md. Code Ann., Hum. Servs. §§ 2202, 3-101; Md. Code Ann., Transp. § 2-102; Md. Code Ann., State Gov’t § 3-302. To the
extent that the Plaintiff claims that they were deficient in the performance of their official duties,
he is attempting to sue them in their official capacity for monetary damages and retrospective
relief, and all such claims must be dismissed because they are not “persons” for purposes of
§ 1983. See Will, 490 U.S. at 64-65, 70–71; Kelly, 2017 WL 2506169, at *4. This includes his
claim against these Defendants for the alleged violation of his Equal Protection and Due Process
In his Opposition, Mr. Samuel for the first time alleges claims against the State pursuant to 42
U.S.C. §§ 1985, 1986. I will not consider these allegations, because an opposition to a
dispositive motion is not a vehicle for amending a pleading. See Whitten v. Apria Healthcare
Grp., Inc., No. PWG-14-3193, 2015 WL 2227928, at *7 (D. Md. May 11, 2015). Further, even
if it were a vehicle for amending a pleading, merely quoting the statute is insufficient to state a
claim for relief, and his filing otherwise fails to state a plausible claim under these statutes. See
Foster v. Howard Cmty. Coll., RDB-13-1395, 2014 WL 758027, at *4 (D. Md. Feb. 24, 2014).
Rights regarding the suspension of his license from July 2016 until January 2017, because his
request for injunctive relief is moot (his driver’s license having been restored to him), leaving
only a claim for monetary damages which cannot be brought against these Defendants.
Additionally, Defendants assert that they are immune from liability under the Eleventh
Amendment, because the state has not waived its sovereign immunity. Defs.’ Mem. 7-8. As
Judge Bennett of this Court has aptly and succinctly stated, “the state of Maryland is immune
from liability under the Eleventh Amendment from suit in federal court” for monetary and
retrospective injunctive relief. Kelly, 2017 WL 2506169 at * 4. Therefore, both the statutory
defense and Eleventh Amendment Immunity require that Samuel’s claims for monetary relief
and retrospective relief against the State Defendants be dismissed.
However, Mr. Samuel also seeks prospective injunctive relief, and “a state official in his
or her official capacity, when sued for injunctive relief, would be a person under § 1983 because
‘official-capacity actions for prospective relief are not treated as actions against the State.’” Will,
491 U.S. at 71 n.10 (quoting Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 167 n. 14 (1985)); see also
Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 676–77 (1974) (holding that Eleventh Amendment Immunity
bars retrospective monetary relief only and permits prospective injunctive relief) (citing Ex parte
Young, 209 U.S. 123 (1908)). Therefore, Secretaries Padilla and Rahn, as well as Governor
Hogan potentially are subject to a § 1983 action for prospective injunctive relief, see Will, 490
U.S. at 71 n.10, if Samuel has managed to allege a plausible violation of his federally protected
rights entitling him to prospective relief only. But, as discussed below, he has not plausibly
alleged such a claim.
As for Director Johnson, a suit against a county official in her official capacity “serve[s]
as [a] suit against the County,” not the State. Huggins v. Prince George’s Cty., Md., 683 F.3d
525, 532 (4th Cir. 2012). For that reason, Prince George’s County is a local unit of government
potentially susceptible to suit if a plausible claim for violation of federally protected rights has
been alleged, and, accordingly, qualifies as a “person” for purposes of § 1983, see Peterson v.
Prince George’s Cty., No. PWG-16-1947, 2017 WL 2666109, at *2 (D. Md. June 21, 2017)
(citing Monell v. Dep’t of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690–91 (1978); DiPino v. Davis, 729 A.2d
354, 368 (Md. 1999)). By logical extension, a county official sued in her official capacity also is
a “person” for purposes of § 1983. See id.; see also Huggins, 683 F.3d at 532. Accordingly, the
fourth defendant, Johnson, is susceptible to an otherwise properly pleaded § 1983 action for
damages and retrospective and injunctive relief.
See Peterson, 2017 WL 2666109, at *2.
However, for the reasons stated below, Samuel’s claims against Director Johnson must be
dismissed on other grounds.
Statute of Limitations
Defendants also argue that Mr. Samuel’s claims are time barred, as his claims were filed
more than three years after his state court divorce proceedings, from which all his claims flow.
Defs.’ Mem. 13–14. Mr. Samuel argues that Defendants’ claim that his complaint is untimely is
“baseless,” as they are continuing to violate his rights. Pl.’s Opp’n. 12. He states that
Plaintiff’s driver [sic] license was suspended in 2016 and 2017. He is harassed by
the State actors even today demanding payment for more than $100,000.00 (One
hundred thousand dollars). This case is not just about the Prince George [sic]
Circuit court’s decision, this case is about the violation of plaintiff’s fundamental
right [sic] which is ongoing.
Id. Despite alleging in conclusory terms that his rights are continually being violated, Mr.
Samuel does not dispute that the State divorce proceedings that resulted in the award of custody
to his former wife and order requiring him to pay child support occurred over a decade ago. See
id.; see also Defs.’ Reply 7.
Section 1983 does not contain a statute of limitations. Courts therefore look to state law
for the appropriate limitations period. Jersey Heights Neighborhood Assoc. v. Glendening, 174
F.3d 180, 187 (4th Cir. 1999). Based on Maryland law, claims alleging violations of the Equal
Protection and Due Process Clauses must be brought within three years of accrual. Id.; Halle
Dev., Inc. v. Anne Arundel Cty., 121 F. App’x 504, 507 (4th Cir. 2005) (citing Md. Code Ann.,
Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 5-101). “The time of accrual of a section 1983 action is governed by federal
law, and the claim accrues when the affected party knew or should have known of the injury that
is the basis of the action.” Halle Dev., Inc., 121 Fed. App’x at 507.
The focus of Mr. Samuel’s suit is the state court divorce and custody action that resulted
in his ex-wife being awarded custody of the children and him being ordered to pay child support.
It is from these court orders that all his current grievances flow. On April 2, 2007, the Circuit
Court for Prince George’s County ordered Mr. Samuel to pay monthly child support as well as
monthly payments for a $6,055.00 arrearage.10 Mr. Samuel’s Complaint requests that this Court
“waive” this child support arrearage because “the child support payment arrarrage [sic] is
accumlated [sic] because of fruad [sic] and perjury.” Compl. 7.
Mr. Samuel’s allegations stem from the fact that he believes he was the victim of fraud
when the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County ruled against him in 2007. Mr. Samuel
knew, or reasonably should have known, of this ruling at that time and could (and should) have
brought the claims he now alleges within three years of the court order, or sought relief by
appealing the order within the Maryland courts.11 However, he did not. Regardless, he now is
State Court Docket CAD06-08853, Entry 61 (“DEFENDANT TIBEBE SAMUEL TO PAY
$1211.00 PER MONTH CHILD SUPPORT. ARREARS ASSESSED AT $6055.00;
DEFENDANT TO PAY $302.00 PER MONTH ON ARREARS BEGINS MAY 1, 2007 . . . .”).
Mr. Samuel insists it was a denial of his due process rights because he “did not participate in
his divorce proceeding which allowed his former wife and her attorney to commit fraud.” Pl.’s
time barred from bringing these allegations because he brought this suit far more than three years
after his claims accrued as measured from the time he “knew or should have known of the
injury.” See Halle Dev., Inc., 121 Fed. App’x at 507. Nor does Mr. Samuel provide any reason
why the limitations period should be equitably tolled. In fact, Mr. Samuel’s Opposition indicates
that he knew of the alleged fraud in 2009 when he “attempt[ed] to get the case reopened based on
fraud, [but] his attempt failed.” Pl.’s Opp’n 3. Further, Mr. Samuel does not allege that the
calculation of what he owes in past-due child support is mathematically incorrect, but only that it
stemmed from his conclusory allegations of fraud during the 2007 state court proceedings. See
Compl. § III.C (“The Child support arrearage in the amount of about $117,000.00 (one hundred
seventeen thousand dollar [sic]) has been allegedly incurred by the plaintiff as a result of fraud
and perjury committed during the plaintiff’s divorce proceedings.”). As such, these allegations
do not raise any claims that accrued within the three-year limitations period. Therefore, any
claims that stem from his divorce and the order directing him to pay child support—to include
the arrears that he claims accumulated because of the allegations of fraud that took place during
the original divorce proceedings in the Circuit Court for Prince George’s County—will be
dismissed as time-barred.
Opp’n 11. Mr. Samuel is wrong. He did participate in his divorce proceedings—right up until
the time that he apparently chose to abandon them. During the course of the proceedings, which
began on June 29, 2005, Mr. Samuel was represented by counsel. See State Court Docket
CAD05-13475 (consolidated with State Court Docket CAD06-08853). However the order of the
state court finalizing the divorce stated that “[n]either plaintiff nor any counsel has had any form
of contact with the defendant [Samuel] since December 20, 2006, and his whereabouts are
unknown,” showing that even though Samuel had stopped participating, he was still involved in
his case, through counsel. Divorce Order 1. Mr. Samuel, who was represented and submitted to
the jurisdiction of the state court, cannot now be sympathetically heard to argue that he did not
participate in the state court proceedings that he elected to abandon.
Equal Protection and the Collection of Child Support
The Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment “commands that no State
shall ‘deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,’ which is
essentially a direction that all persons similarly situated should be treated alike.” City of
Cleburne, Tex. v. Cleburne Living Ctr., 473 U.S. 432, 439(1985) (quoting Plyler v. Doe, 457
U.S. 202, 216, (1982)). To state a cognizable claim for denial of equal protection, a plaintiff
must allege discriminatory intent as well as disparate impact. In other words, “[t]o succeed on
an equal protection claim, a plaintiff must first demonstrate he has been treated differently from
others with whom he is similarly situated and that the unequal treatment was the result of
intentional or purposeful discrimination.” Morrison v. Garraghty, 239 F.3d 648, 654 (4th Cir.
2001). From what I can discern, Mr. Samuel alleges that the frequency with which Maryland
courts award custody of minors to mothers, instead of fathers, and the subsequent processes for
collecting, adjusting, and administering child support payments are discriminatory against men
in general, and Black men in particular. Compl. § III.I; see also Pl.’s Mem. 2, 5. He alleges that
ninety percent of non-custodial parents are men (the majority of whom are Black), and therefore,
the collection of child support and possible or eventual suspension of driver’s licenses for failure
to pay disproportionately affects men and Black men. However, this does not suffice to state a
claim for an equal protection violation.
An initial issue is that Mr. Samuel does not identify any particular statute that he is
challenging, but rather alleges in sweeping terms that the Office of Child Support Enforcement
“has no legal basis to request the suspension of [his] license.” Compl. § III.A. Defendants
identify § 10-119 of the Maryland Code on Family Law as the provision by which they maintain
authority to suspend driver’s licenses for failure to pay court ordered child support. Defs.’ Mem.
It provides that “the [Child Support] Administration may notify the Motor Vehicle
Administration of an obligor with a noncommercial license who is 60 days or more out of
compliance . . . with the most recent order of the court in making child support payments,” and
“[u]pon notification by the Administration under this subsection, the Motor Vehicle
Administration shall suspend the obligor’s license or privilege to drive in the State.” Md. Code
Ann., Fam. Law § 10-119(b)(1)–(2). In examining the statute, on its face it is clearly gender and
race neutral and applicable to all non-custodial parents who have been ordered to pay child
support and are in arrears for the required period of time. See id. Alternatively, it may be that
Mr. Samuel’s arguments are intended to target the authority of the State to award child custody.
However, the statute that governs child custody awards, Fam. Law § 5-203, also is gender and
race-neutral. It provides that “[i]f the parents live apart, a court may award custody of a minor
child to either parent or joint custody to both parents. Neither parent is presumed to have any
right to custody that is superior to the right of the other parent.” Id.
In Personnel Administrator of Massachusetts v. Feeney, the Supreme Court upheld a
statute that provided a preference in hiring veterans, despite the fact that only 1.8 percent of
veterans in Massachusetts were women. 442 U.S. 256, 270–71, 279–81 (1979) (“When the
totality of legislative actions establishing and extending the Massachusetts veterans’ preference
are considered the law remains what it purports to be: a preference for veterans of either sex
over nonveterans of either sex, not for men over women.”) (internal citations omitted). Even
though Mr. Samuel asserts that over ninety percent of noncustodial parents nationwide are male,
that conclusory allegation alone is insufficient to find that he has stated an equal protection claim
because Mr. Samuel has not plausibly alleged that the law was enacted for a discriminatory
purpose. In other words, disproportionate impact alone is insufficient to demonstrate an equal
protection violation by a facially neutral statute such as here—the plaintiff must also demonstrate
that the statute was enacted with a discriminatory intent.
Id. (pleading gender-based
discriminatory impact and discriminatory intent required for equal protection clause claim when
alleged discrimination is based on a facially neutral statute); Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229,
239–42 (1976) (same for race-based discrimination). Samuel has failed to do so. Therefore, the
statutes at hand are only subject to rational basis review and not a heighted form of scrutiny.12
The Fourth Circuit has stated the following regarding rational basis review:
Mr. Samuel’s allegations that “more than 90% [of the parents ordered to pay child support] are
men and the majority are black men” are entirely conclusory. See Compl. § III.I. If he is correct,
under an Equal Protection clause analysis, race or gender-based discrimination would be subject
to a heightened form of scrutiny. Washington, 426 U.S. at 239–42. However, because the
statutes under which child support is awarded and driver’s licenses may be revoked are race and
gender neutral, see Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law §§ 1-201 (establishing that equity courts “may
(1) direct who shall have the custody or guardianship of a child, pendente lite or permanently . . .
(3) decide who shall be charged with the support of the child, pendente lite or permanently”); 10119 (permitting the revocation and suspension of licenses for failure to pay child support); 12204 (establishing that the court calculates the child support award based on the finances of both
parents), he must plead more than that they have a discriminatory impact; he must plead that they
were enacted to achieve a discriminatory purpose. Pers. Adm’r of Mass., 442 U.S. at 272
(holding that a gender neutral statute was valid and stating that “as was made clear in
Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 96 S.Ct. 2040, 48 L.Ed.2d 597 and Arlington Heights v.
Metropolitan Housing Dev. Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 97 S.Ct. 555, 50 L.Ed.2d 450, even if a neutral
law has a disproportionately adverse effect upon a racial minority, it is unconstitutional under the
Equal Protection Clause only if that impact can be traced to a discriminatory purpose”);
Washington, 426 U.S. at 239–42 (holding that statistical data proving disproportionate impact on
one race was not sufficient and that proving discriminatory purpose was also required). If Mr.
Samuel pleaded a discriminatory purpose and discriminatory impact, the statutes in question
would be subject to strict scrutiny for his race claim while the statutes would be subject to
intermediate scrutiny for his gender-based claim. See Washington, 426 U.S. at 242 (“Standing
alone, [disproportionate impact] does not trigger the rule . . . that racial classifications are to be
subjected to the strictest scrutiny and are justifiable only by the weightiest of considerations.”)
(internal citations omitted); Adkins v. Rumsfeld, 464 F.3d 456, 468 (4th Cir. 2006) (holding that
gender-based discrimination is subject to intermediate scrutiny). However, having failed to
plead sufficiently both a discriminatory purpose and discriminatory impact, neither form of
heightened scrutiny applies and the statute is deemed valid if “it bears a rational relation to some
legitimate end.” Vacco v. Quill, 521 U.S. 793, 799 (1997) (citing Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620,
“[A] classification neither involving fundamental rights nor proceeding along
suspect lines is accorded a strong presumption of validity. Such a classification
cannot run afoul of the Equal Protection Clause if there is a rational relationship
between the disparity of treatment and some legitimate governmental purpose.”
Heller v. Doe, 509 U.S. 312, 319–20, 113 S.Ct. 2637, 125 L.Ed.2d 257 (1993)
(citations omitted). Under the rational basis test a court must determine
(1) “whether the purpose that animates [the challenged] laws and regulations is
legitimate,” Smith Setzer & Sons, Inc. v. S.C. Procurement Review Panel, 20 F.3d
1311, 1320 (4th Cir.1994), and (2) whether it was “reasonable for the lawmakers
to believe that use of the challenged classification would promote that purpose,”
id. (quoting W. & S. Life Ins. Co. v. State Bd. of Equalization, 451 U.S. 648, 668,
101 S.Ct. 2070, 68 L.Ed.2d 514 (1981)).
Adkins v. Rumsfeld, 464 F.3d 456, 469 (4th Cir. 2006).
Indeed, other courts have found that laws enacted for very similar reasons and structured
in similar ways do not violate of the Equal Protection Clause. See Agg v. Flanagan, 855 F.2d
336, 341–42 (6th Cir. 1988) (holding that an Ohio law that permitted wage assignments,
garnishments, or wage attachments to collect child support did not violate the Equal Protection
Clause); United States v. Nichols, 928 F. Supp. 302, 318 (S.D.N.Y. 1996) (holding that the
state’s Child Support Recovery Act was gender neutral and “[e]ven if [Judge Preska] found
defendant’s bare statistics and fact-finding to constitute a reliable reflection of gender-based
adverse impact, which is relevant but not determinative, there is not one scintilla of evidence that
the CSRA reflects invidious discrimination on the part of its framers”) (internal citations
omitted); Thompson v. Ellenbecker, 935 F. Supp. 1037, 1041 (D.S.D. 1995) (holding that a law
did not violate the Equal Protection clause when it restricted obligors owing more than $1,000 in
child support from renewing their licenses).
Even if I were to assume that Mr. Samuel’s conclusory allegations that over ninety
percent of non-custodial parents nationwide are men sufficed to assert a disparate impact, that
would not be sufficient to state a viable Equal Protection Claim. As in Nichols, Plaintiff’s
allegations that the statute creates a disparate impact alone are insufficient to find that the
Maryland statute violates the Equal Protection Clause. See Nichols, 928 F. Supp. at 318.
Specifically, Mr. Samuel does not allege that there was a discriminatory purpose behind the
enactment of a statute that allows collecting child support from non-custodial parents. And it is
hard to imagine how there could be one given that the very purpose of child support is to enable
the parent with custody to have sufficient resources to raise the child or children when the noncustodial parent no longer is part of the household. Maryland has a significant interest in
ensuring that parents, whether custodial or noncustodial, provide for their children, and therefore
also has a significant interest in making sure that non-custodial parents are not delinquent in their
payments. Jones v. Helms, 452 U.S. 412, 423 (1981) (“There can be no question about the
legitimacy of the purpose to cause parents to support their children.”); Johnson v. Bredesen, 624
F.3d 742, 747 (6th Cir. 2010) (finding that the compliance with court orders and payment of
child support for re-enfranchisement were legitimate state interests to uphold a Tennessee law
under the rational basis test); Enrique v. Powell, 302 F.3d 971, 974 (9th Cir. 2002) (“There can
be no doubt that the failure of parents to support their children is recognized by our society as a
serious offense against morals and welfare. It ‘is in violation of important social duties [and is]
subversive of good order.’ It is the very kind of problem that the legislature can address.”)
(quoting Braunfeld v. Brown, 366 U.S. 599, 603 (1961)). When parents do not adequately
provide for their children, the state must step in to do so. For that reason, at a minimum, the state
has a rational basis for requiring non-custodial parents to pay their fair share of supporting their
Indeed, Congress has seen fit through statutes such as 42 U.S.C. § 66613 to incentivize
states to ensure that they have adequate laws to enforce child support obligations by providing
federal funding if they establish programs such as those that suspend licenses and report those in
arrears to the credit reporting bureaus for the purpose of monitoring enforcement of child
support. Having failed to plead a plausible claim that there was a discriminatory purpose behind
the creation of the laws authorizing the suspension of driver’s licenses for non-payment of child
support, and because there is a legitimate rational state interest in enforcing these laws, Mr.
Samuel’s equal protection claims against all Defendants fail and will be dismissed. See Agg, 855
F.2d at 341–42; Thompson, 935 F. Supp. at 1041; see also Washington, 426 U.S. at 242; Jones,
452 U.S. at 423; Enrique, 302 F.3d at 974.
License Suspension and Violation of Due Process
The only remaining issue in this case is whether Mr. Samuel’s due process rights were
violated when his driver’s license was suspended in May 2017. Mr. Samuel alleges that he
received a letter from the State dated May 8, 2017 stating that his license was to be suspended on
May 30, 2017 for non-payment of child support. Compl. § III.A. Of note, Samuel filed suit in
this court on May 17, 2017, when his license was not yet suspended, but his memorandum in
Opposition to Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss states that his license “has been suspended as of
May 30, 2017.” Pl.’s Mem. 4 n.2. As near as I can determine, Mr. Samuels appears to be
Section 666 requires states to enact state laws following the procedures Congress outlined to
assist in child support enforcement. Specifically, Congress mandated that states enact
[p]rocedures under which the State has (and uses in appropriate cases) authority to
withhold or suspend, or to restrict the use of driver’s licenses, professional and
occupational licenses, and recreational and sporting licenses of individuals owing
overdue support or failing, after receiving appropriate notice, to comply with
subpoenas or warrants relating to paternity or child support proceedings.
Id. § 666(a)(16).
asserting that he was denied procedural due process.
Even accepting this assertion as a
supplement to Plaintiff’s Complaint, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 1, Plaintiff fails to state a claim for
violation of his procedural due process rights.14
Mr. Samuel alleges (again, in entirely conclusory terms) that the Maryland Office of
Child Support Enforcement had “no legal basis to request the suspension of plaintiff’s driver
[sic] license” and did so without affording him due process. Compl. § A.III. In order to allege a
violation of procedural due process rights, the plaintiff must have a property right protected by
the Due Process clause. It is clearly established that Mr. Samuel has a property right protected
by the Due Process Clause in his driver’s license. See Bell v. Burson, 402 U.S. 535, 539 (1971);
Kearney v. Maryland, No. ELH-12-2754, 2013 WL 3964995, at *10 (D. Md. Aug. 1, 2013).
“‘[T]o determine whether a constitutional violation has occurred, it is necessary to
ask what process the State provided, and whether it was constitutionally
adequate.’ Rather than a meticulous examination of the minutiae of the state’s
procedural rubric, ‘procedural due process is simply a guarantee’ that there is
notice and an opportunity to be heard.”
Mr. Samuel does not specify whether he seeks to assert a procedural or substantive due
In addition to providing procedural due process protection, the Due Process
Clause imposes certain substantive limitations on the power of state and local
government to deprive individuals of life, liberty or property. In other words,
substantive due process bars “‘certain government actions regardless of the
fairness of the procedures used to implement them.’” Substantive due process has
been employed by the Supreme Court in two different manners. It has been the
basis for implying some fundamental constitutional rights. It has also afforded
protection against especially egregious, arbitrary governmental action.
Martin A. Schwartz, Fed. Judicial Ctr., Section 1983 Litigation 39–40 (Kris Markartan, 3d ed.
2014). As best as can be determined from reading Plaintiff’s Complaint, he takes issue with the
procedures used by the State of Maryland to assess and enforce child support obligations, child
custody and related rights and obligations. Compl. § III.B. Accordingly, he does not appear to
raise any substantive due process claims. But to the extent that he has, for the reasons explained
by the Defendants (which the Court adopts), he has failed to plead a plausible claim for
substantive due process violations. See Defs.’ Mem. 11–12.
Snider Int’l Corp. v. Town of Forest Heights, Md., 739 F.3d 140, 149 (4th Cir. 2014) (quoting
Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 125 (1990); Mora v. City of Gaithersburg, Md., 519 F.3d 216,
230 (4th Cir. 2008)). Here, Mr. Samuel cannot argue that notice was insufficient. The letter he
received on May 8, 2017 informed him that his license would “be suspended on the suspension
date [May 30, 2017].” Compl. § III.A; Ltr., Pl.’s Ex. 1, ECF No. 12-1. Mr. Samuel was
provided advance notice of approximately three weeks and admitted to having received the letter
prior to the suspension. Compl. § III.A.
On a number of occasions, the Fourth Circuit has examined what is required to establish
that an individual has had the opportunity to be heard in advance of adverse action by the state
affecting a property interest. For example, in Plumer v. Maryland, the Fourth Circuit found that
having been given notice of a hearing and afforded the opportunity to examine evidence, present
rebuttal evidence, and call witnesses at the hearing, the appellant had received sufficient due
process prior to revocation of her driver’s license. 915 F.2d 927, 931–32 (4th Cir. 1990).
Notably, the court added that the plaintiff clearly was not entitled to more than the state already
provided and that the “Due Process Clause requires perhaps even less.” Id. at 932. Almost
twenty years later, the Fourth Circuit held that it is enough if a forum is available for the plaintiff
to be heard and rebut the claims against him. See Mora, 519 F.3d at 230 (holding that it is not a
violation of due process when the state provides an adequate remedy and the individual has not
availed themselves of the process); Snider Int’l Corp., 739 F.3d at 149–50; see also Montgomery
v. N.C. Dep’t. of Motor Vehicles, 455 F. Supp. 338, 341 (W.D.N.C. 1978) (holding that due
process was not violated when the state would provide a hearing only at the request of the
individual whose license was to be suspended).
Moreover, Samuels received more than just adequate notice; he was advised of his
opportunity to contest the suspension of his license and raise any defenses. The letter he
received provided that “[t]o avoid suspension or to contest the accuracy of the Child Support
case information” (for which the suspension was based), he should contact Prince George’s
County at the telephone number provided or that he could request a pre-deprivation hearing in
the case of mistaken identity.15 Suspension Ltr. On its face, the letter explained to Mr. Samuels
that he could challenge the proposed suspension by requesting a hearing or contacting Prince
George’s County to contest the information for which the suspension was based. This provided
him with a sufficient opportunity to be heard, and procedural due process has been satisfied. See
A non-custodial parent may challenge the State’s determination of a child support arrearage at
a hearing or by requesting an investigation. Title 7 of the Code of Maryland Regulations
provides that a non-custodial parent may request in writing an investigation on the following
1. The support obligation does not exist;
2. Amounts specified in the notice are incorrect and the noncustodial parent is less
than 60 days out of compliance with the most recent support order;
3. Suspension of the noncustodial parent's license or privilege to drive would be an
impediment to the obligor's current or potential employment because a driver's
license is required by the employer to perform the duties of the job;
4. Suspension of the noncustodial parent's license or privilege to drive would place
an undue hardship on the obligor because of the noncustodial parent's documented
disability resulting in a verified inability to work; or
5. Suspension of the noncustodial parent's license or privilege to drive would place
an undue hardship on the noncustodial parent because of the noncustodial parent's
subsequent inability to comply with the court order due to:
b. Insufficient income to meet the child support obligation; or
c. Incarceration, not on work release and no other resources to meet the child
Md. Code Regs. 7.7.15.05; see also Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law § 110-19. Should the
noncustodial parent request an investigation, he or she is entitled to present evidence rebutting
the claim for suspending his or her license and following a decision, he or she may appeal. Md.
Code Regs. 7.7.15.05; see also id. 7.7.15.06 (appeals); 7.7.15.07 (“Reinstatement of
Noncustodial Parent’s Driver’s License”).
Plumer, 915 F.2d at 931; Tomai–Minogue v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 770 F.2d 1228,
1235 (4th Cir. 1985).
Thus, Mr. Samuel had an opportunity to contest the suspension of his driver’s license
prior to the suspension taking effect, which afforded him adequate due process. See Mora, 519
F.3d at 230 (“Procedural due process is simply a guarantee of fair procedures . . . typically notice
and an opportunity to be heard. Mora has had, and continues to have, notice and an opportunity
to be heard in Maryland, and he cannot plausibly claim that Maryland’s procedures are unfair
when he has not tried to avail himself of them.”) (internal citations omitted); Montgomery, 455 F.
Supp. at 341; Snider Int’l Corp. v. Town of Forest Heights, 906 F. Supp. 2d 413, 431 (D. Md.
2012) (“Plaintiffs each were provided notice and an opportunity to be heard. Plaintiffs who
declined to avail themselves of their opportunity to appear have suffered no injury and therefore
fail to state a claim upon which this court may grant relief.”). Instead, Samuel chose to ignore
this opportunity and filed this lawsuit. Having failed to avail himself of the due process rights
that he had before the State, he cannot maintain a procedural due process claim in this Court.
Therefore, Mr. Samuel’s claims for a violation of his Due Process rights regarding the current
suspension of his license will be dismissed.16
In sum, Mr. Samuel is barred from bringing an action for monetary damages and
prospective injunctive relief against the three State Official Defendants. Also, his claims to
To the extent that Mr. Samuel’s Complaint purports to raise challenges to his due process
rights with regard to child custody, visitation rights, and the amount of his support obligations,
his allegations are far too conclusory to state a plausible violation of federal law, and, for the
reasons explained by the Defendants (which the Court adopts), the State of Maryland afforded
him abundant due process rights with respect to each of these areas. See Defs.’ Mem. 9–11.
reopen or challenge his divorce proceedings were brought outside the statute of limitations.
Moreover, he has failed to state a claim for a violation of either the Due Process or Equal
Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. These deficiencies require dismissal of his
claims against all the Defendants, including the County Official Defendant (Johnson).
A plaintiff’s complaint should ordinarily be dismissed without prejudice unless he has
previously been given an opportunity to amend his complaint or if doing so would be futile.
See Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962) (noting that reasons to deny leave to amend
include, inter alia, “repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed” and
“futility of amendment”). I have found that there is an absolute bar to his bringing a claim for
monetary damages against three out of four Defendants, and that he is time barred from
proceeding with his claims regarding his divorce proceeding and its award of custody to his
former wife and child support award against him. As such, amendment for those claims would
be futile. Additionally, amending his remaining claims for violations of the Due Process or
Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment would also be futile, as the State has
provided adequate procedural protections and Plaintiff cannot plead a proper cause of action for
an Equal Protection violation. Similarly, his claims against the County also must be dismissed as
the County is first government entity in the procedural process that I have found to be adequate,
see Suspension Ltr., and Plaintiff’s Equal Protection claim against the County would be identical
to one against the State. Therefore, these claims too will be dismissed with prejudice.17
Foman, 371 U.S. at 182.
Because the grounds discussed in this Memorandum are sufficient to justify dismissal with
prejudice of Mr. Samuel’s Complaint, I need not address the other grounds raised by Defendants.
Accordingly, it is, this 9th day of March, 2018 hereby ORDERED that:
1. The Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 10, IS GRANTED;
2. Plaintiff’s Motion to file a Surreply, ECF No. 15, IS DENIED;
3. The Complaint IS DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE; and
4. The Clerk is DIRECTED to CLOSE THIS CASE and MAIL a copy of the
Memorandum Opinion and Order to Plaintiff.
Paul W. Grimm
United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?