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Carter v. Curfman

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

April 23, 2014

SANDRA D. CARTER, Plaintiff,
v.
WALTER R. CURFMAN, JR., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JAMES R. SPENCER, Senior District Judge.

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss (ECF No. 2) by Sabrina Fowler ("Fowler" or "Movant"). Fowler argues that this Court lacks jurisdiction over this matter due to the defense of sovereign immunity. For the reasons stated below, the Court will GRANT Fowler's Motion.

I. BACKGROUND[1]

A. Legal Background

Under 5 U.S.C. § 5520a(b), "pay from an agency to an employee is subject to legal process in the same manner and to the same extent as if the agency were a private person." Under 42 U.S.C. § 659,

moneys... due from, or payable by, the United States or the District of Columbia... to any individual... shall be subject, in like manner and to the same extent as if the United States or the District of Columbia were a private person, to withholding in accordance with State law enacted pursuant to subsections (a)(1) and (b) of section 666 of this title and regulations of the Secretary under such subsections, and to any other legal process brought, by a State agency administering a program under a State plan approved under this part or by an individual obligee, to enforce the legal obligation of the individual to provide child support or alimony.

Pursuant to 5 C.F.R. § 581.305(e)

(1) Neither the United States, any disbursing officer, nor any governmental entity shall be liable for any payment made from moneys due from, or payable by, the United States to any individual pursuant to legal process regular on its face, if such payment is made in accordance with this part.
(2) Neither the United States, any disbursing officer, nor any governmental entity shall be liable under this part to pay money damages for failure to comply with legal process.

B. Factual and Procedural Background

Defendant Walter R. Curfman, Jr. ("Curfman") is the debtor in this matter. Plaintiff Sandra D. Carter ("Plaintiff" or "Carter") first filed a Garnishment Summons to the Social Security Administration ("SSA") on April 17, 2012. The return date for the summons was June 1, 2012, and Fowler, District Manager for the SSA in Richmond, Virginia did not respond. A Circuit Court for Henrico County, Virginia ("Henrico Circuit Court") then issued a show cause order with a return date of July 20, 2012. On June 12, 2012, Fowler sent a letter to the Henrico Circuit Court stating that the judgment debtor, Curfman, was not an employee of the SSA and that no funds were available. On July 20, 2012, the Henrico Circuit Court issued a second show cause order requiring Fowler to provide a more substantive answer.

Plaintiff again filed a Garnishment Summons with the SSA on October 21, 2013. On November 26, 2013, Fowler sent an answer to the Court stating that she could not comply with the request because the Summons didn't state whether it was for alimony or child support. Subsequently, the Henrico Circuit Court directed Plaintiff to send evidence to Fowler showing that the Garnishment Summons was for alimony including: (1) an Order of Contempt prepared by Carter's former attorney; (2) a copy of the Final Order; (3) a First Modification to Final Order; and (4) a show cause order. Also included in the packet of evidence was a cover letter that indicated that the matter had been continued until January 3, 2014. Fowler did not respond. On January 3, no appearance was made by SSA and the Henrico Circuit Court entered the show cause order ("Show Cause Order"), directing that a certified copy be served on Fowler. The Show Cause Order at issue was served on January 14, 2014. The Show Cause Order commanded Fowler to appear before the Henrico Circuit Court on March 7, 2014 and "show cause if [as to] why she should not be held in contempt of Court or fined or imprisoned, or both, for failure to comply with the Garnishment Summons issued [to the Social Security Administration, Sabrina Fowler, District Manager] on October 21, 2013." (Notice of Removal Ex. 2, at 1). To date, Fowler has not communicated with Plaintiff directly or through a third party.

This matter was removed to this Court on February 11, 2014. Fowler filed a Motion to Dismiss on February 18, 2014. Plaintiff filed an opposition styled as a "Motion to Affirm Show Cause Order" on March 6, 2014. Fowler replied on March 12, ...


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