497 F.3d 557 (6th Cir. 2006), 05-3299, Hughlett v. Romer-Sensky

Docket Nº:05-3299.
Citation:497 F.3d 557
Party Name:Wendy HUGHLETT, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Jacqueline ROMER-SENSKY, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
Case Date:July 06, 2006
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

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497 F.3d 557 (6th Cir. 2006)

Wendy HUGHLETT, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,


Jacqueline ROMER-SENSKY, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 05-3299.

United States Court of Appeals, Sixth Circuit.

July 6, 2006

Argued: March 14, 2006.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio at Columbus. 01-00476—James L. Graham, District Judge.

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Judith B. Goldstein, EQUAL JUSTICE FOUNDATION, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellants.

Henry G. Appel, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF OHIO, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellees.


Judith B. Goldstein, EQUAL JUSTICE FOUNDATION, Columbus, Ohio, Connie F. Zemmelman, LAW OFFICE OF CONNIE F. ZEMMELMAN, Toledo, Ohio, for Appellants.

Henry G. Appel, OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF OHIO, Columbus, Ohio, for Appellees.

Before: DAUGHTREY and McKEAGUE, Circuit Judges, McCALLA, District Judge.[*]


McKEAGUE, Circuit Judge.

Plaintiffs-appellants Wendy Hughlett et al, are custodial parents who are, or were, entitled to receive child support services

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pursuant to Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, as administered by the State of Ohio. Plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Ohio government officials, and others, violated their federal statutory rights by implementing a computer system that did not disburse support payments free of administrative costs to the custodial parents within two days of receipt by the state. Further, plaintiffs claim that Ohio officials violated their constitutional procedural due process rights when they implemented the system without notice and a hearing.

The district court granted defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings. For the following reasons, the ruling of the district court is affirmed.


Plaintiffs filed suit on May 23, 2001, alleging that defendants Jacqueline Romer-Sensky, Arnold Tompkins, Wayne Sholes, Jo Ann Davidson, American Management Systems, and BankOne N.A., violated plaintiffs' rights to receive child support payments in a timely fashion and without cost as required by Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, as amended by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity and Reconciliation Act of 1996 ("P.R.W.O.R.A.").1 Plaintiffs allege that defendants knowingly:

spent millions of tax dollars to create and implement a statewide child support collection and payment system which does not, and to this day cannot, operate in compliance with federal and state standards intended to benefit Ohio families by protecting their right to receive the money that belongs to them timely, fully, reliably, and without cost or charge.

First Amend. Compl. 3, 6, JA 70. Plaintiffs claim that the officials violated provisions of Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §657(a)(3) and its implementing regulations, resulting in the regular appropriation of child support payments belonging to the plaintiffs through illegal administrative fees, and the retention of monies collected for the benefit of the recipients beyond the two-day limit dictated by statute.

In response, the defendants filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings, claiming inter alia, that defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. On January 22,2002, the district court rendered the defendants' motion moot, ruling that their claim of qualified immunity entitled the plaintiffs to come forward with additional facts to overcome the affirmative defense. Plaintiffs filed their first amended complaint on March 8, 2002. The district court then granted defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings on July 1, 2002, finding that plaintiffs did not plead their claims with the specificity required under Veney v. Hogan, 70 F.3d 917, 921 (6th Cir. 1995). Plaintiffs appealed this decision. On March 4, 2004, this court held that plaintiffs had failed to state a claim against defendants for the misappropriation of child support arrearages;2 however, remand was necessary to determine whether the defendants had stated a cognizable due process or § 1983 claim, because the heightened Veney standard employed

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by the district court was abrogated by Goad v. Mitchell, 297 F.3d 497, 505 (6th Cir. 2002). See Hughlett v. Romer-Sensky, 98 Fed.App'x 360, 366 (6th Cir. 2004). This court offered no opinion as to the validity of these claims, stating "we decline to consider in the first instance whether consistent with Blessing and Gonzaga, these provisions confer federal rights enforceable under § 1983." Id. at 365-66.

On remand, the district court granted defendants motion on the pleadings on January 31, 2005, finding that: 1) the federal statutes in question did not confer a private right; 2) there was no procedural due process violation; and 3) defendants were entitled to qualified immunity. This timely appeal followed.


The district court exercised jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C.§ 1331, because the § 1983 claims are civil actions alleging violations of Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, 42 U. S.C. § 651, et seq., and the Constitution. This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291, because the district court entered a final judgment in this action on January 31, 2005.

This court reviews de novo a district court's grant of judgment on the pleadings. See E.E.O.C. v. J. H. Routh Packing Co., 246 F.3d 850, 851 (6th Cir. 2001). "The standard of review for a judgment on the pleadings is the same as that for a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)." Id. Upon review, we must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiffs, accepting all of the complaint's factual allegations as true, and decide whether the plaintiffs can prove no set of facts in support of their claim that would entitle them to the requested relief. See Penny/Ohlmann/Nieman, Inc., v. Miami Valley Pension Corp., 399 F.3d 692, 697 (6th Cir. 2005).

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure set the general rules for pleading. A pleading 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). To withstand summary disposition, the complaint must contain "either direct or inferential allegations with respect to all material elements necessary to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory." Weiner v. Klais & Co., Inc., 108 F.3d 86, 88 (6th Cir. 1997). Review is limited to the determination of whether the plaintiffs have sufficiently pleaded a complaint, thereby entitling them to offer evidence in support of the claim. Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 94 S.Ct. 1683, 40 L.Ed.2d 90 (1974).


To establish liability under § 1983, a citizen must prove that an individual, acting under color of state law, caused the deprivation "of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws." Id. In Maine v. Thiboutot, the Court found that §1983 safeguards certain rights conferred by federal statutes, as well as federal constitutional rights. 448 U.S. 1, 4, 100 S.Ct. 2502, 65 L.Ed.2d 555 (1980). However, the plaintiff must assert the deprivation of a federal right, not just the violation of a federal law. See Blessing v. Freestone, 520 U.S. 329, 340, 117 S.Ct. 1353, 137 L.Ed.2d 569 (1997). Here, plaintiffs allege a violation of both a statutory right and a constitutional right as grounds for liability under § 1983. Defendants raise qualified immunity as an affirmative defense.

A. Violation of a Statutory Right

Plaintiffs claim that 42 U.S.C. §§ 657(a) and 654(b), when read together, create individual

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rights enforceable through § 1983. In particular, plaintiffs urge that the statutory language creates a binding obligation on the States to provide full distribution of received payments within two days of receipt to the custodial parents, the intended beneficiaries of the statutes.

The district court found that Congress did not create an enforceable individual right when it enacted these provisions. Instead, the court found that the provisions were intended to be instructive to the state agencies, and that the Title IV-D enforcement scheme militates against the finding of enforceable individual rights. Hughlett v. Romer-Sensky, No. 01-CV-476 at 12-13 (S.D.Ohio Jan. 31, 2005) (hereinafter "slip op."). In so finding, the court agreed with the Eighth Circuit's ruling in Walters v. Weiss. In Weiss, the court found that § 657(a) did not require strict compliance for the distribution of collected support, and that it was not intended to confer an...

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