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Abrahams v. State of Connecticut Department of Social Services

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

February 21, 2018

DAVID ABRAHAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF CONNECTICUT DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES and STATE OF CONNECTICUT SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT SERVICES, Defendants.

          OMNIBUS RULING

          CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. Senior United States District Judge

         Plaintiff David Abrahams ("Plaintiff" or "Abrahams"), [1] proceeding pro se, in forma pauperis, and currently incarcerated in a Connecticut correctional institution, brought this suit for money damages under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Department of Social Services and Support Enforcement Services (collectively, "Defendants" or "the State Agencies"). Defendants are agencies of, respectively, the executive and judicial branches of the government of the State of Connecticut. Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss [Doc 24], putting forth a variety of grounds on which they propose the Court should dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint [Doc. 15]. This Ruling resolves that Motion, as well as Plaintiff's pending Motions for Leave to File a Second Amended Complaint [Docs. 32, 34, 35] and Motion for Injunction [Doc. 38].

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts herein are taken from Plaintiff's Amended Complaint [Doc. 15], and accepted as true only for the purposes of this Ruling. Paragraph references are to the Amended Complaint.

         On July 9, 1993, Plaintiff's late son, David Anderson, was born to Cheryl Anderson ("Anderson"). ¶ 2. Plaintiff and Anderson cohabited at the time of their son's birth, and continued to do so until April 1995. Id.

         In July, 1995, Plaintiff was notified by mail that he owed the Department of Social Services $6, 800.00, as a result of Anderson's receipt of state assistance for their child's support. Id. Plaintiff learned, from subsequent communications with Investigation Supervisor Colleen Michelson ("Michelson"), that Anderson had been claiming state support for their child, while failing to identify her son's paternity. Id. At some point Anderson called Michelson, "out of the blue, " and identified Plaintiff as the father. Id. Consequently, the state agency was endeavoring to recover from Plaintiff the state funds paid to Anderson prior to her identification of Plaintiff as the father. Plaintiff protested to Michelson that he had been living with the child and contributing to the child's support. Id. Michelson instructed him to collect evidence of those facts. ¶ 3. Plaintiff provided such evidence to Michelson in August, 1995. Id. At that time Michelson informed Plaintiff that an investigation would be conducted to determine whether Anderson defrauded the state, and that Plaintiff would remain liable for the balance of the support fees, pending resolution of that investigation. Id.

         In 1997, Plaintiff made approximately twelve temporary payments, of $30.00 each, towards the child support debt. ¶ 4. At a court date in February, 1998, Plaintiff was ordered to pay $550.00 towards the child support debt or face incarceration. Id. Plaintiff paid this lump sum. Id. Subsequently, $10.00 per week was garnished from Plaintiff's paychecks. Id. Additionally, his federal and state income returns were attached. Id. Money was taken from Plaintiff towards this debt up until his November, 2000 incarceration, which incarceration continues throughout this date. ¶ 5.

         On or about April 1998, Anderson was arrested for welfare fraud. ¶ 5. Plaintiff called the Department of Support Services and inquired about his debt. Id. He was told by a female employee (possibly Michelson) that he would not be reimbursed until Anderson herself reimbursed "almost all of the balance" to the state. Id.

         Anderson was convicted of welfare fraud in or about the summer of 1998 and ordered to repay a $7, 781.00 balance. ¶ 6. Anderson repaid the entire balance on or about January 2003. ¶ 8.

         In April, 2006, Plaintiff began receiving billing notices of $10.00 per week from the Support Enforcement Department. ¶ 10. Plaintiff corresponded with Supervisor Paula Piccirillo ("Piccirillo"), who provided him with a payment history showing $3, 662.80 in payment towards the child support debt. Id. This figure omits the $550.00 lump sum payment Plaintiff made in February, 1998. Piccirillo informed Plaintiff that he still owed $3, 481.00 on the child support debt, and referred him to Sardis Khazarian ("Khazarian") of the Social Services Department. Id. When contacted, Khazarian did not provide any assistance. ¶ 11.

         Plaintiff filed a civil suit in state court to recoup the $4, 212.80 collected from him towards payment of a debt Anderson had satisfied in full. ¶¶ 12-13. This suit was dismissed in June 2009, without prejudice, and with instructions to file a claim with the Claims Commissioner. ¶ 14.

         Plaintiff filed a notice of claim with the Claims Commissioner on November 12, 2009. ¶ 15. That claim was dismissed on April 21, 2010, for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. ¶ 17.

         On May 4, 2010, Plaintiff requested in writing that the Connecticut General Assembly review the Claims Commissioner's decision. ¶ 18. This request for review was submitted to the next regular Assembly session in January, 2011, and the Claims Commissioner's decision was upheld. ¶ 19.

         In December, 2012, Plaintiff filed a second civil lawsuit in state court, this time against Michelson, Piccirillo, and Khazarian, in their official capacities. ¶ 20. This complaint was dismissed on the grounds of sovereign immunity in October, 2013. Id. An appeal of this decision was dismissed by the state appellate court in April, 2014. Id.

         The Plaintiff received, as recently as November, 2015, a billing statement indicating that Plaintiff still owed $3, 481.49 on the child support debt. ¶ 28.

         Plaintiff initiated this action by the Complaint [Doc. 1] filed on April 7, 2016. That initial Complaint named as Defendants Michelson, Khazarian, and Piccirillo, all of whom have since been terminated and are no longer parties to this action. On December 9, 2016, the Court granted Plaintiff leave to amend his Complaint, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a)(1), which allows for a single amendment, as of right, within 21 days of service or responsive pleading.[2] See Doc. 14.

         Plaintiff's Amended Complaint [Doc. 15] was filed with this Court on December 22, 2016, naming the two State Agencies as Defendants, and terminating the three individual Defendants. Receipts for service of process, including Certified Mail receipts dated January 3, 2017, were filed by Plaintiff on February 17, 2017 [Doc. 16]. Those receipts indicate that Defendants did not waive service of process. Doc. 16 at 1, 3. Defendants' default was entered on May 1, 2017 [Doc. 18], pursuant to Plaintiff's Motion for Default Entry [Doc. 17] and Fed.R.Civ.P. 55(a). On May 24, 2017, Defendants filed a Motion to Vacate [Doc. 21] the entry of their default. Familiarity with the Court's Ruling [Doc. 27] granting Defendants' Motion and vacating the entry of default is assumed.

         Since the filing of the instant Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 24], Plaintiff has filed a number of additional motions, namely, three Motions for Leave to Amend the Amended Complaint [Docs. 32, 34, 35] and a Motion for Injunction [Doc. 38]. In the interest of judicial economy, the Court stayed consideration of the Motions for Leave to Amend, pending resolution of the instant Motion to Dismiss. See Doc. 36.

         II. DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

         Defendants move to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1)), lack of personal jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(2), insufficient service of process under Rule 12(b)(5), and failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6).[3] See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b).

Where, as here, the defendant moves for dismissal under Rule 12(b)(1), as well as on other grounds, the court should consider the Rule 12(b)(1) challenge first since if it must dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, the accompanying defenses and objections become moot and do not need to be determined.

U.S. ex rel. Kreindler & Kreindler v. United Techs. Corp., 985 F.2d 1148, 1155-56 (2d Cir. 1993) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Rhulen v. Alabama Ins. Guar. Ass'n, 896 F.2d 674, 678 (2d Cir. 1990)).

         Defendants contend that both the Eleventh Amendment and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine deprive the Court of subject matter jurisdiction. Def. Br. 12. The Court will now consider those two theories.

         A. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

         The Rooker-Feldman doctrine divests federal courts of jurisdiction "over cases that essentially amount to appeals of state court judgments." Vossbrinck v. Accredited Home Lenders, Inc., 773 F.3d 423, 426 (2d Cir. 2014) (per curiam). "The doctrine is rooted in the principle that 'appellate jurisdiction to reverse or modify a state-court judgment is lodged . . . exclusively in [the Supreme] Court.'" Id. (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 283-84 (2005)). To apply the doctrine, four circumstances must exist: (1) the federal-court plaintiff must have lost litigation before a state court, (2) the federal-court plaintiff must now complain of an injury from the adverse state court judgment, (3) the federal-court plaintiff invites the federal court to review and reject that adverse judgment of the state court, and (4) the state court judgment was rendered before the federal court action. Id.

         Plaintiff prosecuted two separate state court actions in relation to this matter. Defendants, citing to the Complaint, summarize the state court actions thus:

[Plaintiff] lost in state court when he filed a civil suit in the Connecticut superior court for reimbursement in November 2007. That suit was dismissed without prejudice in June 2009.[4] . . . He then filed a notice of claim with the Claims Commissioner on November 12, 2009 . . . . The Claims Commissioner dismissed plaintiff's claim citing lack of subject matter jurisdiction. . . . His request for review of the decision of the Claims Commissioner was submitted to the next regular session of the General Assembly in January 2011 and the Claims Commissioner's decision was upheld. In December 2012, plaintiff then filed suit against the three state investigators and supervisors in their official capacity in Connecticut [superior court]. The State filed a Motion to Dismiss ...

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