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Adams v. Horton

United States District Court, D. Vermont

March 6, 2015

KEITH HORTON, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Services, GEORGIA DIVISION OF CHILD SUPPORT SERVICES, DAVE YACAVONE, Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Children and Families, VERMONT OFFICE OF CHILD SUPPORT, Defendants.



Plaintiff Bahji Amelia Adams brings this action claiming Defendants have denied her due process and violated her rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and Rehabilitation Act. Now before the Court are motions to dismiss filed by Defendants Keith Horton, Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Human Services ("Georgia DHS"), Dave Yacavone, Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Children and Families ("DCF"), and the Vermont Office of Child Support ("OCS"). The motions raise several arguments for dismissal, including lack of personal jurisdiction over Commissioner Horton, lack of subject matter jurisdiction, Eleventh Amendment immunity, and mootness. For the reasons set forth below, the motions to dismiss are granted and those Defendants are dismissed without prejudice.

Factual Background

The Amended Complaint alleges that Ms. Adams is disabled, and that the failure of courts and government officials to accommodate her disabilities has caused her financial harm. Her disabilities are the result of a 2003 automobile accident in which she suffered a traumatic brain injury. A psychological evaluation conducted in 2005 concluded that Ms. Adams is impaired in her ability to follow directions, perform multiple tasks, work at a reasonable pace, and function interpersonally.[1] She also allegedly suffers from chronic lower back pain, cervical spine pain, and migraines.

In August 2005, Ms. Adams filed a complaint in Georgia Superior Court seeking a divorce from her husband, Adam George. In the course of that proceeding, Ms. Adams, at times proceeding pro se, made requests for accommodations because of her inability to process the information required for litigation. She alleges that the state court failed to address her requests and never properly considered her need for accommodations. In November 2007, the state court awarded sole legal and physical custody of the couple's son to Mr. George and ordered Ms. Adams to pay child support in the amount of $601 per month.

Ms. Adams subsequently filed suit against various parties, including her ex-husband and state officials, in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. See Adams v. Georgia, 2007 WL 4979007, at *1 (N.D.Ga. Nov. 27, 2007); Adams v. Georgia, 2008 WL 649179, at *1 n.1 (N.D.Ga. Mar. 5, 2008); Adams v. State of Georgia, No. 1:08-cv-280 (N.D.Ga. June 30, 2008). Her claims included challenges to the state court proceedings on the basis of due process and ADA violations. Each of those claims was dismissed.

Despite her physical and mental impairments, Ms. Adams has been able to work as a flight attendant. She began work for Comair in November 2007, and continued until her furlough in December 2008. She joined Comair again in July 2010, where she worked until a second furlough in January 2012.

In August 2010, Ms. Adams discovered that she was missing her passport. When she tried to obtain a replacement, she learned that in June 2009 the State of Georgia had certified her to the U.S. State Department's Passport Denial Program due to her child support arrearage. The Passport Denial Program is a joint venture by the state and federal governments, and can be applied to persons owing child support in an amount exceeding $2, 500. In Georgia, the program is implemented by the state Division of Child Support Services ("Georgia DCSS").

Ms. Adams claims that she did not receive timely notice from the State of Georgia with respect to her certification to the Passport Denial Program, and that Georgia's procedures for implementing passport denial do not take into consideration a person's disabilities or need for accommodations. She ultimately found her passport, but continued to pursue the matter of certification because her passport was set to expire in 2012.

In September 2010, Ms. Adams forwarded a letter from her employer to the Georgia DCSS explaining that her employment required possession of a valid passport. Georgia's procedures for implementing the Passport Denial Program allegedly provided an exemption where a passport is necessary in order to generate income. The Amended Complaint alleges that Georgia state officials initially failed to act upon Ms. Adams's inquiry. The Amended Complaint further alleges that because of the status of her passport, she was unable to obtain work as a flight attendant after September 2012.

In January 2013, the Georgia DCSS informed Ms. Adams that if she disagreed with the stated debt amount she could request an administrative hearing. Because of the narrow grounds for seeking review, Ms. Adams did not request a hearing.

Ms. Adams moved to Vermont in 2010. In March 2013, the Vermont OCS filed a Registration of Foreign Support Order to enforce the Georgia Superior Court's child support order. The OCS also notified Ms. Adams of her child support arrearage and its own intent to certify her to the Passport Denial Program. The Georgia DCSS ceased its enforcement activities in December 2013, and the Vermont OCS is currently the only agency enforcing Ms. Adams's child support obligations.

Ms. Adams filed suit in this Court on January 16, 2013. On May 14, 2013, a Vermont Superior Court registered the Georgia child support order and ruled that if Ms. Adams made a $500 payment toward her arrearage, her passport restrictions would be released. Ms. Adams obtained a new passport in October 2013.

The Amended Complaint sets forth claims under the ADA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the Due Process Clause. In Count I, Ms. Adams alleges that the Georgia DCSS and its Director Keith Horton failed to take her disabilities into account when they certified her to the Passport Denial Program. By failing to modify their procedures or provide other accommodation, those defendants allegedly deprived Ms. Adams of the opportunity to gain meaningful employment. In Count II, she claims that the Vermont OCS and Commissioner Yacavone similarly failed to take her disabilities into account. Count III claims that the Georgia DCSS and Commissioner Horton failed to provide due process before certifying Ms. Adams to the Passport Denial Program. For relief, the Amended Complaint seeks an injunction on any further denials, revocations, or restrictions on Ms. Adams's ...

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