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Terry of the Family Parks v. Commonwealth, Department of Social Services Child Support Enforcement

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

August 17, 2016




         This pro se Complaint is before the Court on Defendant’s motion to dismiss for failure to serve process, lack of subject matter jurisdiction, Eleventh Amendment immunity, and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. [Dkt. 6.] For the reasons described below, the Court will grant the motion to dismiss due to Defendant’s immunity under the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

         I. Background[1]

         On April 18, 2014, the Commonwealth of Virginia Department of Social Services, Division of Child Support Enforcement (“DCSE”) issued an administrative support order to Plaintiff Terry Parks (“Plaintiff” or “Parks”). (See Def.’s Ex. 1 [Dkt. 6-3].)[2] The order obligated Parks to pay approximately $500 a month to Rolanda Green to support their young daughter. (Id. at 1.)[3] Rolanda is the custodial parent and is not a party to this lawsuit. Parks paid his support dutifully for approximately nine months before falling into arrears. (See Def.’s Ex. 2 [Dkt. 6-4] at 2.)[4] He paid off the arrears and interest over the next five months, only to again fall into arrears in March 2016. (Id.) As of June 15, 2016, Parks owed $6, 330 in arrears and interest on his child support payments. (Id. at 1.)

         Parks contends that his child support payments result in Green “receiving a huge financial windfall, or profit in excess of child costs” and leave him “in poverty” and with “less income than needed for basic living needs.” (Compl. ¶¶ 31, 32.) The financial burden of the payments forces Parks to “work extra jobs.” (Compl. ¶¶ 32, 34.) Additionally, the payments allegedly are not in the best interest of the child because they exceed the costs of caring for the child. (Compl. ¶ 31.)

         Parks, proceeding pro se, filed this Complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the foregoing facts demonstrate DCSE violated his constitutional, statutory, and biblical rights, including: Article 1, Sections 1, 2, 6, and 23 of the Virginia Constitution; the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution’s Unreasonable Seizures Clause; the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause; the Fifth Amendment’s Takings Clause; the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause; Substantive Due Process under the Fourteenth Amendment; Revelation 13:16’s discussion of the “Mark of the Beast”; and 42 U.S.C. § 408(a)(8)’s criminalization of social security fraud. As a remedy, Parks seeks damages of $500, 000 from DCSE. (Compl. ¶ 38.)

         On June 15, 2016, DCSE moved to dismiss the Complaint for improper service of process, lack of subject matter jurisdiction, Eleventh Amendment immunity, and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.[5] Parks responded to the motion to dismiss on June 28, 2016. Thereafter, DCSE timely waived any oral argument on this motion. Parks has not moved for an oral argument or objected to Defendant’s waiver of oral argument. Accordingly, the Court will exercise its authority under Local Civil Rule 7(J) to rule upon this motion with an oral hearing. This motion is now ripe for disposition.

         II. Standard of Review

         Defendant moves to dismiss this case pursuant to its immunity under the Eleventh Amendment. The Fourth Circuit has not clarified “whether a dismissal on Eleventh Amendment immunity grounds is a dismissal for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) or a dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1).” See Andrews v. Daw, 201 F.3d 521, 524 n.2 (4th Cir. 2000). “Although subject matter jurisdiction and sovereign immunity do not coincide perfectly, there is a recent trend among the district courts within the Fourth Circuit to consider sovereign immunity under Rule 12(b)(1).” Trantham v. Henry Cty. Sheriff’s Office, No. 4:10-cv-00058, 2011 WL 863498, at *3 (W.D. Va. Mar. 10, 2011) (citing cases); Coleman v. Md. Ct. of Appeals, 626 F.3d 187, 190-94 (4th Cir. 2010) (affirming dismissal pursuant to 12(b)(1) due to Eleventh Amendment immunity). Therefore, the court will consider this motion on Eleventh Amendment grounds pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). A defendant asserting its state sovereign immunity from suit bears the burden of demonstrating its entitlement to that immunity. Hutto v. S.C. Ret. Sys., 773 F.3d 536, 543 (4th Cir. 2014).

         Defendant also moves to dismiss this case for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). When reviewing this motion, the Court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint, ” and draw “all reasonable inferences” in the plaintiff’s favor. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., 637 F.3d 435, 440 (4th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted). The court does not, however, assume the veracity of “labels and conclusions, ” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679-81 (2009), or legal conclusions drawn from the facts alleged, Adcock v. Freightliner LLC, 550 F.3d 369, 374 (4th Cir. 2008).

         III. Analysis

         As an initial matter, the Court notes that this § 1983 case arises under the Court’s federal question jurisdiction, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Contrary to Defendant’s argument, the “Domestic Relations Exception” does not divest this Court of jurisdiction. Courts construe that doctrine to limit a federal court’s authority in cases involving decrees of divorce, alimony, or child support. See Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 704 (1992). It is well recognized, however, that “the domestic relations exception ‘is applied only as a judicially implied limitation on the diversity jurisdiction; it has no generally recognized application as a limitation on federal question jurisdiction.’” Reale v. Wake Cty. Human Servs., 480 F. App’x 195, 197 (4th Cir. 2012) (quoting United States v. Johnson, 114 F.3d 476, 481 (4th Cir. 1997)). Thus, the Domestic Relations Exception does not affect jurisdiction over this case arising under the federal law of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See id.; Kanode v. Swope, No. 1:09-cv-1530, 2012 WL 4508138, at *7 (S.D. W.Va. Sept. 28, 2012); Briggman v. Va. Dept. of Social Servs., Div. of Child Support Enforcement, 526 F.Supp.2d 590, 598 (W.D. Va. 2007).

         For the reasons described below, the Court finds that Defendant is immune from suit due to the Eleventh Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.[6] Accordingly, the Court will dismiss this case without prejudice. Even if Defendant was not immune, the Court would dismiss this case because Defendant is not a “person” within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Pursuant to the long-applied interpretation of the Eleventh Amendment, [7] “[a] suit generally may not be maintained directly against the State itself, or against an agency or department of the State, unless the State has waived its sovereign immunity.” Fla. Dep’t of State v. Treasure Salvors, Inc.,458 U.S. 670, 684 (1982); Lee-Thomas v. Prince George’s Cty.Public Sch., 666 F.3d 244, 248 (4th Cir. 2012). As several courts have concluded, the Virginia Department of Social Services is a state department protected by the Eleventh Amendment. See Krieger v. Loudoun Cty., Dep’t. of Social Servs., No. 5:13-cv-73, 2014 WL 4923904, at *3 (W.D. Va. Sept. 30, 2014), aff’d 599 F. App’x 112 (4th Cir. 2015); Bd. of Supervisors of Warren Cty. v. Va. Dep’t of Social Servs.,731 F.Supp. 735, 738 (W.D. Va. 1990); see also Bockes v.Fields,999 F.2d 788, 791 (4th Cir. 1993) (finding county-level social services department protected by Eleventh Amendment); Shipway v. Jerlinksi, No. 5:11-cv-112, 2012 WL 1622395, at *5 (W.D. Va. Apr. 13, 2012) (same). Virginia statute creates the Department of Social Services within the executive branch and grants the supervising Commissioner authority to create divisions, such as the Division of Child Support Enforcement. See Va. Code ยงยง 63.2-200, 63.2-209. The DCSE is also akin to a state department, as it has no authority or identity other than that derived from the State and the Department of Social Services. Godwin v. State of Va. Child Support Enforcement Div., No. 3:02-cv-421, 2002 WL 32349403, at *2 (E.D. Va. Aug. 30, ...

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