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Morris v. Ingram

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Southern Division

May 9, 2019

LORI COLLIER INGRAM, et al., Defendants.



         Pending before the Court are the Motion to Dismiss by Defendant Lori Collier Ingram (Doc. 19), Motion to Dismiss by LaDonna B. Spivey (Doc. 21), and Motion to Dismiss by Defendant Nancy A. Berryhill (Doc. 25). The District Judge has referred this matter to the undersigned United States Magistrate Judge for consideration and disposition or recommendation on all pretrial matters as may be appropriate. Doc. 4. Defendants' motions are fully briefed and are ripe for recommendation to the United States District Judge. For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned recommends that the Defendants' motions (Docs. 19, 21, and 25) be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This lawsuit arises out of a judgment entered in a state court child support case filed against Plaintiff in Houston County, Alabama. Doc. 1 at 5. Plaintiff alleges that a hearing was held in that case on February 17, 2010. Id. at 3, Doc 1-1 at 3, and Doc. 1-2. Exhibit A to Plaintiff's Complaint, entitled “Findings/Recommendation/Order Establishing Paternity and Setting Amount of Child Support, ” indicates that Plaintiff was present at that hearing and signed “acknowledge[ing] receipt of a copy of these findings on 2-17-2010.” See Doc. 1-2. On March 23, 2010, Defendant Lori Collier Ingram, the district judge presiding over the case, signed the portion of Exhibit A adopting the findings regarding paternity and child support and entering a final order. Doc. 1-2.

         On January 27, 2012, Defendant Spivey, as Attorney for Houston County Department of Human Resources, filed a Motion for Continuing Garnishment advising the court that Plaintiff was awaiting a lump sum payment of social security benefits and asking the court to enter an order for continuing garnishment with respect to that payment. Doc. 1-1 at 3 and Doc. 1-4. Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Spivey mailed a copy of that motion to him at an address that was incorrect. Doc. 1 at 5. On February 8, 2012, Defendant Ingram issued the requested order. Doc. 1-2.

         On February 13, 2012, Defendant Spivey had a process of garnishment issued to the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) by the District Court of Houston County. Doc. 1-4. Plaintiff states the process of garnishment “was ordered at a hearing that I was not present for nor notified of” until he was served with a “default judgment.” Doc. 1-1 at 3. He also states that he “was mailed this notice after the hearing at been [held].” Doc. 1-1 at 13. Plaintiff was confined at the Houston County Jail beginning August 22, 2011, and “[d]uring the process of garnishment.” Doc. 1-1 and 1-5. The “default judgment” and “notice” to which he refers, attached as Exhibit D to his Complaint, is the process of garnishment issued on February 8, 2012, and a copy of what appears to be a mailing label addressed to Plaintiff at the Houston County Jail. Doc. 1-1 at 3 and Doc. 1-5. Plaintiff does not dispute receiving this notice; his complaint is that it was mailed to him after a hearing that he did not attend. Doc. 1-1 at 3, 13. Based on a review of the documents submitted to the court by the parties, there is no indication that a hearing was ever held.

         Plaintiff has not provided the court with the date on which his initial lump sum payment from the SSA was garnished. Plaintiff submitted a copy of his child support payment summary for April 2010 through December 2012, which shows a lump sum payment on February 1, 2012, but Plaintiff failed to explain what each payment represents or the source of each payment. See Doc. 31-1. Plaintiff submitted two statements showing that his 2011 and 2012 benefits were offset for a garnishment or tax levy, but there is no date listed for the offset. Docs. 1-6 and 1-7. Nevertheless, it appears that Plaintiff had already begun to receive regular monthly benefits at least by October 30, 2012, because on that date the SSA sent him two letters explaining that there had been a change in the amount deducted from his monthly benefits to pay child support as a result of the garnishment order. Doc. 31-1 at 18-19, 26. One month later, the SSA mailed a letter to Plaintiff advising that his monthly benefits would cease because they learned that he had been imprisoned for conviction of a crime. Doc. 31-1 at 27.

         Plaintiff now brings this federal action against Defendant LaDonna Spivey, the attorney who represented the State of Alabama Department of Human Resources in Houston County; Defendant Lori Collier Ingram, the Houston County district judge who presided over the case; and Defendant Nancy Berryhill, Acting Commissioner of the Social Security Administration. He asserts claims against these Defendants for violations of their oaths of office; fraud; civil conspiracy; and violations of his Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Thirteenth, and Fourteenth Amendments pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See generally Docs. 1 and 1-1.


         When ruling on a motion pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), “the Court accepts the factual allegations in the complaint as true and construes them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.” Speaker v. U.S. Dep't of Health & Human Servs. Ctrs. for Disease Control & Prevention, 623 F.3d 1371, 1379 (11th Cir. 2010). In order to state a claim upon which relief could be granted, a complaint must satisfy the pleading standard of Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which requires that a plaintiff submit a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “[T]he pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)).

         In general, then, a pleading is insufficient if it offers only mere “labels and conclusions” or “a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action[.]” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555; see also Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557) (a complaint does not suffice under Rule 8(a) “if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'”). Thus, in order to survive Defendants' motions to dismiss, Plaintiff's complaint “must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim for relief which is plausible on its face.'” Urquilla-Diaz v. Kaplan Univ., 780 F.3d 1039, 1051 (11th Cir. 2015) (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678). “A claim is factually plausible where the facts alleged permit the court to reasonably infer that the defendant's alleged misconduct was unlawful. Factual allegations that are ‘merely consistent with' a defendant's liability, however, are not facially plausible.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678).

         “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. If there are “enough fact[s] to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence” that supports the claims alleged in the complaint, then the claim is “plausible” and the motion to dismiss should be denied and discovery in support of the claims should commence. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. Nevertheless, Rule 8 “does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79. Ultimately, in assessing the plausibility of a plaintiff's claims, the court is to avoid conflating the sufficiency analysis with a premature assessment of a plaintiff's likelihood of success because a well-pleaded claim shall proceed “even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable, and ‘that a recovery is very remote and unlikely.'” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (quoting Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)).


         A. Plaintiff's Claims Based on Violation ...

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