United States District Court, D. Maryland
THEODORE D. CHUANG United States District Judge
12, 2016, Plaintiff Earl of the Family Cox ("Cox")
filed the above-captioned Complaint along with a Motion to
Proceed In Forma Pauperis. ECF Nos. 1 & 3.
Because he appears to be indigent, Cox's Motion shall be
granted. For the reasons set forth below, the Complaint is
not specifically alleged, it appears from the Complaint that
Cox is the noncustodial parent of at least one child for whom
he pays child support. The Complaint asserts that Defendants
St. Mary's County Department of Social Services, St.
Mary's Department of Human Resources ("DHR"),
Magistrate Harris, and "contractors thereof are liable
to Cox under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, apparently for compelling
Cox to pay child support. Compl. ¶ 2. Cox claims that
Defendants withheld from him material information regarding
the child support program that, if disclosed, would have led
him "to not do business with DHR under the federally
funded iv-d child support contractual transaction."
Id. ¶ 10. He does not, however, identify what
information Defendants withheld. Cox asserts that Defendants
lack authority to force him to pay child support because the
child support program was not created by "positive law,
" the Child Support Enforcement Agency is not part of
the judiciary, the DHR is a private business, and the child
support program was not intended to benefit children.
Id. ¶¶ 16, 18-25, 30, 32. He also alleges
that payment of child support violates his First Amendment
right of freedom of association and his Fifth Amendment right
further asserts that his child support obligation violates
"equal protection." Id. ¶ 42. He
claims that the amount he must pay is more than he can afford
and exceeds the child care costs of "JOYLINE, "
whom the Court presumes to be the custodial parent of
Cox's child or children. Id. ¶¶ 42-45.
Finally, Cox contends that various provisions of federal law,
which require state authorities to collect Social Security
numbers in certain circumstances to facilitate the
administration of federally funded child support programs,
violate his religious beliefs by forcing him to make use of
his Social Security number.
to 28 U.S.C. § 1915, a district court must dismiss a
complaint filed in forma pauperis if it is
"frivolous or malicious" or "fails to state a
claim on which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2) (2012). Although courts construe the pleadings of
self-represented litigants liberally, Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), a complaint must
contain factual allegations sufficient "to raise a right
to relief above the speculative level" and that
"state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face." Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007).
review of the Complaint reveals that it fails to state a
plausible claim for relief. Cox's assertion that the
State of Maryland cannot require him to pay child support is
incorrect. Under Maryland law, parents have a statutory and
common law duty to support their minor children. Md. Code
Ann., Fam. Law § 5-203 (2012); Middleton v.
Middleton, 620 A.2d 1363, 1365-66 (Md. 1993);
see also United States v. Johnson, 114 F.3d 476, 480
(4th Cir. 1997) (upholding a federal law criminalizing the
non-payment of child support as a constitutional exercise of
Congress's authority under the commerce clause).
"The obligation is not perfunctory, to be performed only
at the voluntary pleasure or whimsical desire of the
parent." Middleton, 620 A.2d at 1366. Cox's
assertions that Maryland's child support program is in
fact a private business, that it is not enacted in
"positive law, " that it is not part of the
judiciary, and that it is not intended to benefit children do
not articulate any constitutional defect in Cox's legal
duty to support his minor child or children. Cox's
argument that his mandatory child support payments violate
the First and Fifth Amendment rights is also unavailing. He
provides no plausible basis to conclude that the requirement
that he fulfill his legal obligation to his child or children
amounts to unconstitutionally coerced association with others
or compelled self-incrimination.
allegations that his child support obligations are too
burdensome and unfair compared to those of the custodial
parent do not state a claim for a violation of the Equal
Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Cox does not
specify how the law unconstitutionally distinguishes between
custodial and noncustodial parents, other than to argue that
he pays too much child support to the custodial parent.
Maryland law does treat noncustodial parents differently from
custodial parents in that, while they share the same
obligation to support minor children, Md. Code Ann., Fam. Law
§ 5-203, noncustodial parents must send child support
payments to custodial parents, while custodial parents are
presumed to spend the amount of their financial obligation
directly on their children's living expenses,
id. § 12-204(1). Cox, however, does not attack
this presumption. Instead, Cox generally asserts that his
child support obligation is not appropriately tailored to his
means, the income of the custodial parent, or the needs of
his child or children. He does not challenge, or even
mention, the procedures used to set this amount. He does not
indicate whether he has tried to have the amount modified.
See Id. § 12-104(a). Because Cox has not
identified any arguable constitutionally impermissible
classifications imposed by the laws creating his child
support obligations, his equal protection claim fails.
See Romer v. Evans, 517 U.S. 620, 631
(1996) ("The Fourteenth Amendment's promise that no
person shall be denied the equal protection of the laws must
coexist with the practical necessity that most legislation
classifies for one purpose or another, with resulting
disadvantage to various groups or persons.").
Cox's claim of a violation of his religious beliefs based
on his objection to the mandated use of his Social Security
number fails to articulate a cognizable First Amendment
violation. "[W]hen a plaintiff challenges an apparently
neutral law of general applicability as violative of the
First Amendment, it must demonstrate that the statute targets
its religious beliefs or practices." Bethel World
Outreach Ministries v. Montgomery Cty. Council,
706 F.3d 548, 556 (4th Cir. 2013) (emphasis omitted).
"The statutory requirement that applicants provide a
Social Security number is wholly neutral in religious terms
and uniformly applicable." Bowen v.
Roy, 476 U.S. 693, 703 (1986) (plurality opinion).
The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in
the context of a challenge to a statute criminalizing the
false representation of an individual's own Social
Security number, has stated that the use or nonuse of a
Social Security number "does not garner protection under
the First Amendment." United States v.
Bales, 813 F.2d 1289, 297 (4th Cir. 1987). Two
district courts within the Fourth Circuit have rejected
arguments, similar to that made by Cox, that the compelled
use of a Social Security number violates the Free Exercise
Clause of the First Amendment. N. Car. ex rel. Kasler
v. Howard, 323 F.Supp.2d 675, 680 (W.D. N.C.
2003), aff'd sub nom. Kasler v. Howard,
78 F.App'x 231 (4th Cir. 2003); see also Carmichael
v. Sebelius, No. 3:13CV129, 2013 WL 5755618, at
*4-5 (E.D. Va. Oct. 23, 2013), aff'd in part,
modified in part, 568 F.App'x 232 (4th Cir. 2014).
Thus, Cox has not stated a plausible claim under § 1983
for a violation of his First Amendment right to freedom of
foregoing reasons, it is hereby ORDERED that Cox's
Complaint is DISMISSED. The Clerk is directed to close this