United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
W. Grimm United States District Judge.
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. 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 Rahn (“State Defendants”) 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.
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. 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 [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 &
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. 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
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.
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. 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.
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
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.
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; 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.
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. 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. 1989)). 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
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).
for § 1983 Purposes, Eleventh Amendment Immunity
state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must name a
defendant who qualifies as a “person” for
purposes of § 1983. 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 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
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). 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. §§ 2-202,
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 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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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. Mr. Samuel's Complaint requests that
this Court “waive” this child support ...