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United States v. Vermont Office of Child Support

United States District Court, D. Vermont

June 22, 2016

BAHJI ADAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
VERMONT OFFICE OF CHILD SUPPORT, GEORGIA DIVISION OF CHILD SUPPORT SERVICES, DIRECTOR KEITH HORTON, individually and officially as Commissioner for the DFCC State of Georgia, COMMISSIONER FOR THE STATE OF VERMONT FOR THE OFFICE OF CHILD SUPPORT ET AL., JANE DOE, and JOHN DOE, Defendants.

          ORDER (Docs. 9, 21, 22, 23, 24, 34)

          J. Garvan Murtha Honorable J. Garvan Murtha United States District Judge

         I. Introduction

         Plaintiff Bahji Adams, proceeding pro se, brings this action against the Vermont Office of Child Support, Georgia Division of Child Support Services, Director Keith Horton, individually and as Commissioner for the DFCC State of Georgia, Commissioner for the State of Vermont for the Office of Child Support, Jane Doe and John Doe (collectively, "Defendants"). (Doc. 3 ("Compl.").) The Georgia Division of Child Support Services ("Georgia DCS"), a division of the Georgia Department of Human Services ("Georgia DHS"), and Keith Horton, former Commissioner of the Georgia DHS (collectively, "Georgia Defendants") filed a special appearance and motion to dismiss. (Doc. 9.) Adams opposes the motion (Doc. 31)[1] and the Georgia Defendants replied (Doc. 37). Horton also filed a Notice of Separation from Office. (Doc. 8.) As he is no longer the Commissioner or an employee of the Georgia DHS, he requests the current Commissioner, Robyn A. Crittenden, be substituted as the official capacity defendant. Adams acknowledged the notice and raised no objection. See Doc. 31 at 2. The Clerk's office is directed to amend the case caption accordingly.

         The Commissioner for the State of Vermont for the Office of Child Support ("Commissioner") and the Vermont Office of Child Support ("Vermont OCS") (collectively, "Vermont Defendants") move to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. (Doc. 34.) Adams did not respond.

         Adams has filed a motion to seal (Doc. 21) an affidavit she filed in support of her complaint, a motion for joinder (Doc. 22), and a motion for judicial notice (Doc. 23). The motion to seal is unopposed. Adams filed a memorandum of law in support of her motion for joinder (Doc. 25) and the Georgia Defendants filed an opposition (Doc. 30). The Georgia Defendants also oppose Adams' motion for judicial notice. (Doc. 35.)

         II. Background

         In August 2005, Adams filed for divorce from her husband, Adam George, in Georgia Superior Court. In October 2007, after extensive discovery and motion practice, Adams informed the court she would no longer attend any proceedings. In November 2007, the Georgia state court issued a final divorce order, awarding George sole legal and physical custody of the parties' son and ordering Adams to pay child support in the amount of $601 per month. Adams, now a resident of Vermont, asserts claims arising from this child support order and subsequent enforcement activities.

         Adams alleges she suffers from "limited cognitive impairments, " a "traumatic brain injury, " and physical impairments of "chronic lower back pain, cervical spine pain, narrowing of her spinal column, disc herniation . . . and migraine headaches, " resulting from a 2003 car accident. Compl. at 42-43. She claims the Georgia state court did not consider her requests for various accommodations for these impairments during the divorce proceeding. Id. at 43-45. She also claims the Georgia state court "had knowledge that any alleged $601.00 a month in child support was in extreme excess of [her] ability to support herself, " and so was unlawful. Id. at 31-32. She asserts the final judgment was entered without accommodation to her disabilities, which influence her earning ability. Id. at 28, 42-43, 46.

         In July 2008, the State of Georgia began wage withholding from Adams' employer to satisfy her child support obligation. Compl. at 15, 23. She claims she was not provided proper notice of the withholding and enforcement of the final judgment--including collection of the child support--was unlawful because it left her destitute. Id. at 23, 31-32. In 2009, she was furloughed from her job. Id. at 24. She claims she was then eligible for assistance from the Georgia DHS and Georgia DCS to modify her child support obligations but no assistance was provided. Id. at 24-26.

         Adams moved to Vermont in 2010. In January 2013, Adams filed an action in this Court arguing her passport was improperly restricted because of the allegedly unlawful child support order and subsequent enforcement of her child support obligations. See Adams v. Georgia Div. of Child Support Servs., No. 2:13-CV-10 (D. Vt. Jan. 16, 2013). The case was eventually dismissed as to the Georgia defendants based on lack of personal jurisdiction. Id. (Docs. 47, 52 (2015 WL 4755721, 2016 WL 1015339)).

         In May 2013, the Vermont Superior Court registered the Georgia child support order in Vermont after a filing by Vermont OCS. Compl. at 55-56; see also Doc. 34-4. In late March 2014, Adams, through counsel, sought relief from the judgment and reimbursement of "excess garnishment" in the amount of $277.56. (Docs. 34-6, 34-7.) A magistrate judge denied her motions, and the Vermont Superior Court affirmed (Doc. 34-1), as did the Vermont Supreme Court, George v. Adams, No. 2014-424, 2015 WL 2383816 (Vt. May 14, 2015). Adams claims the state of Vermont has attempted, and is currently attempting, unlawfully to collect the child support payments and arrears. Compl. at 10-11, 27, 55, 56. She asserts alleged violations of the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution, Title II of the American's Disabilities Act ("ADA"), Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. She seeks to enjoin enforcement of the final judgment, a refund of all money collected, and damages. Id. at 78-79.

         The Vermont Defendants argue the complaint should be dismissed in its entirety for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. (Doc. 34.) The Georgia Defendants argue the Court lacks personal and subject matter jurisdiction, Eleventh Amendment and sovereign immunity bar damages and injunctive claims, failure to state a claim, and the statute of limitations is expired.

         While pro se litigants are afforded a liberal pleading standard, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007), nonetheless, a pro se litigant is not exempt from compliance with relevant rules of procedural and substantive law, Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 1983).

         III. Discussion

         A. Georgia ...


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