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Glass v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

United States District Court, District of Columbia

November 14, 2017

THOMAS GLASS, Plaintiff,
v.
U.S. DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JOHN D. BATES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff filed a civil complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia on December 9, 2016 and an Amended Complaint, ECF No. 1-1, on December 12, 2016. He named as defendants the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (“DHHS”) and the Florida Department of Revenue and the Office of the State Attorney, Eleventh Judicial Circuit (collectively “State Defendants”).[1] DHHS removed the case on March 3, 2017.[2] This matter has come before the Court on the State Defendants' Renewed Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 5, plaintiff's Motion to Amend Complaint, ECF No. 8, and Defendant U.S. Department of Health & Human Services' Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 12. For the reasons discussed below, the Court denies plaintiff's motion to amend and grants defendants' motions to dismiss.[3]

         I. BACKGROUND

         In January 2000, child support proceedings against plaintiff commenced in the Circuit Court of the Eleventh Circuit in and for Dade County, Florida (“Florida Court”). See generally State Defs.' Renewed Mot. to Dismiss (“State Mot.”), Ex. A. On May 1, 2000, the Florida Court ordered plaintiff to pay $202.97 by-weekly. See generally id., Exs. B-D.[4] Although the Florida Court reduced the payment on April 23, 2010, see generally id., Ex. E, it entered an order on June 20, 2015, increasing plaintiff's child support obligation to $ 675.00 monthly, see id., Ex. F.[5]

         Plaintiff apparently had a second child. “Around or about April 26, 2016, the plaintiff had learn[ed] of a new child that had been added to [his] case within the State[.]” Am. Compl. ¶ 4. Plaintiff sought review by a state agency of his child support obligation on or about May 5, 2016 because of these changed circumstances. See id. ¶ 6. The agency had plaintiff submit “additional pay stubs for extensive review to consider the modified support order.” Id. ¶ 14; see id. ¶ 8. Plaintiff complied, see id. ¶¶ 9-11, 15, and the agency appears to have found that plaintiff's child support payment should be reduced to $ 380.40 monthly, see id. ¶ 12. It advised:

Your support order was entered by the Circuit Court. We will ask our attorney to file a petition and Proposed Modified Support Order with the Circuit Court based on our review. If filed, you and the other party will receive a copy of our petition and the proposed order . . . . If you requested the review, you will receive the petition and proposed order by regular mail. You will have 30 calendar days from . . . the date the petition and proposed order [were] mailed to you[] to request a court hearing. Otherwise the court may modify the support order in accordance with the terms of the Proposed Modified Support Order without a hearing.

Id., Ex. A (Results of Support Order Review). Nevertheless, the agency declined to submit a proposed modified support order, id. ¶ 15, yet issued no “written response or reason for the rejection of the proposed support order, ” id. ¶ 16. Thus, plaintiff remained obligated not only to pay $ 675.00 monthly for the first child, but also to pay an additional $ 370.00 monthly for the second child. Id., Exs. B-C (respectively, Statement of Obligor's Rights, Remedies and Duties For Immediate Income Deduction, CSE Case Numbers 1120436559 and 2000806267).[6]

         Plaintiff styles his first cause of action “Tort.” Am. Compl. at 3. He claims that the State Defendants violated 45 C.F.R. § 303.8(b), see Am. Compl. ¶¶ 17-18, which requires a State to have procedures for the review of a child support order on a parent's request “if the amount of the child support award under the order differs from the amount that would be awarded in accordance with the guidelines[, ]” 45 C.F.R. § 303.8(b)(1), and to make a “downward change in the amount of child support, ” id. § 303.8(b)(3)(ii)(A), if the circumstances warrant. The Court presumes that plaintiff refers to regulations implementing Part D of Title IV of the Social Security Act (Title IV-D) pertaining to child support and establishment of paternity. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 651-669b. His second cause of action, styled “Dignitary Tort, Abuse of Process, ” Am. Compl. at 5, arises from the State Defendants' collection and disbursement of child support payments, id. ¶ 20.

         Plaintiff was to make payments by direct deduction from his pay check to the State Disbursement Unit until his child reached emancipation on July 18, 2017. See, e.g., State Mem., Ex. B (Income Deduction Notice to Payor). In November 2016, plaintiff contacted the Florida Department of Revenue “regarding a request to terminate income deduction orders, and to request an Employer to be added as the primary [payor] to satisfy future income deduction orders.” Id. ¶ 21. He intended to terminate a former employer, YRC Freight, and “add[] Lacaster Foods as an employer to satisfy child support payments with CSE case number 1120436559, ” id. ¶ 23, and to “add[] Ruan Transport Service as an employer to satisfy child support payments with CSE case number 2000806267, ” id. ¶ 22. According to plaintiff, the state agency “failed to apply or process” his request, id. ¶ 25, and instead “order[ed] both employers to submit full payments” in November 2016, id. ¶ 24. As a result, plaintiff paid a “double support payment” in a single month, and he was left “without the option to seek reimbursement.” Id. ¶ 26 (emphasis removed). These failures allegedly have violated 45 C.F.R. § 305.60(b), see Am. Compl. ¶ 20, pursuant to which the State Defendants are obligated to “conduct audits to determine the financial management of the State IV-D program, including assessments of . . . [w]hether collections and disbursements of support payments are carried out correctly and are fully accounted for, ” 45 C.F.R. § 305.60(b)(2).

         Plaintiff demands “reimbursement of all monthly overpaid support . . . payments and failed adjustments, ” and correction of the “income deduction orders selecting employers specifically to satisfy a specific CSE case as [he] directed . . . to satisfy one obligation.” Am. Compl. at 6.

         II. DISCUSSION[7]

         A. Plaintiff's Motion to Amend the Complaint

         Plaintiff moves to amend his complaint by adding a new defendant, Hearing Officer Valerie Tomkins, who allegedly committed official misconduct when she denied plaintiff's motion to modify a child support order in March 2016. See generally Mot. to Am. Compl., Ex. (“Proposed Second Am. Compl.”), ECF No. 8-1 ¶¶ 29-35. Plaintiff alleges that he sought a downward modification of a support order in August 2015, and his motion did not comply with the Florida court rules. Proposed Second Am. Compl. ¶¶ 39-30; see id., Ex. O. He faults the court clerk for failing to correct his error, see id. ¶¶ 31, 34, and Hearing Officer Tomkins for dismissing the matter or, alternatively, for failing to continue the matter so that plaintiff could file the proper papers, see id. ¶ 33, 35. Plaintiff demands monetary damages and correction of income deduction orders. Id. at 7 (page number designated by the Court). In all other respects, the proposed amended pleading is substantially similar to the Amended Complaint.

         The State Defendants oppose plaintiff's motion on multiple grounds, see State Defs.' Mem. of P. & A. in Opp'n to Glass's Mot. for Leave to File Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 11 at 2, two of which are dispositive. First, a state court judge enjoys absolute immunity from liability for damages for acts taken in her judicial capacity. See Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 364 (1978) (concluding that state judge was “immune from damages liability even if his [decision] was in error”). Without question, Tomkins' dismissal of plaintiff's case is an action taken in her judicial capacity. See Burger v. Gerber, No. 01-5238, 2001 WL 1606283, at *1 (D.C. Cir. Nov. 20, 2001) (per curiam) (affirming dismissal on judicial immunity grounds of appellant's claim against United States Tax Court Judge where “[t]he action about which appellant complains - ruling on a motion to dismiss a tax court petition - was well within the judge's judicial capacity”); Thomas v. Wilkins, 61 F.Supp.3d 13, 19 (D.D.C. 2014) (finding that “judge's decision to file or deny a party's motions or requests is an action routinely performed by a judge in the course of litigation, and thus would constitute a judicial act immune from suit”), aff'd, No. 14-5197, 2015 WL 1606933 (D.C. Cir. Feb. 23, 2015). Absent any showing by plaintiff that Tomkins' “actions [were] taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction, ” Sindram v. Suda, ...


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