Cuvillier v. Taylor

Citation503 F.3d 397
Decision Date05 October 2007
Docket NumberNo. 05-61186.,05-61186.
PartiesLaurene C. CUVILLIER, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. Donald R. TAYLOR; Hugh C. Redhead; Johnnie Sullivan; Betty Polk; Elmira Williams; Sherry Jackson; Richard Harris, Defendants-Appellees.
CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (5th Circuit)

Laurene C. Cuvillier, Decatur, GA, pro se.

Royce Cole, Jackson, MS, for Defendants-Appellees.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi.

Before GARWOOD, BARKSDALE and GARZA, Circuit Judges.

GARWOOD, Circuit Judge:

Plaintiff-appellant Laurene Cuvillier (Cuvillier) brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting a deprivation of rights secured by Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 651-669b. Because we conclude that the provisions Cuvillier relies on do not give rise to individual rights, we affirm the district court's dismissal of this suit.


In 1983, Robert and Anne Harrison were granted a divorce by decree entered in Atlanta, Georgia. Anne Harrison subsequently changed her name to Laurene Cuvillier. As part of the divorce decree, Robert Harrison (Harrison) was required to pay $3,000.00 monthly in child support to Cuvillier. Harrison failed to do so. In 1990, Cuvillier terminated Harrison's parental rights for abandonment and failure to pay child support.

In December of 1993, Cuvillier attempted to collect the past due child support through the Georgia Department of Human Resources (GDHR). By that time, however, Harrison no longer lived in Georgia; he resided in Hazlehurst, Copiah County, Mississippi, where he owned a home and business. Accordingly, in February of 1994, GDHS forwarded a request for collection of the arrears of $261,000.00 to the Copiah County Child Support Enforcement Office (CCCSEO), a subdivision of the Mississippi Department of Human Services (MDHS).

Cuvillier alleges that she made "repeated inquiries" regarding the status of her claims, but that CCCSEO failed to pursue them. On or after June 12, 2002, however, CCCSEO filed a court action against Harrison to collect the child support.1 Unfortunately, Harrison died on November 21, 2002, before the case could be heard in court. His estate did not pay any of the arrears.

Cuvillier (proceeding pro se, here and below) filed this suit on Monday, June 13, 2005, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against various CCCSEO employees and MDHS officials: Donald Taylor, Executive Director of MDHS; Johnnie Sullivan, supervisor of CCCSEO Child Support Enforcement; Elmira Williams and Sherry Jackson, both CCCSEO caseworkers; Hugh Redhead, attorney for CCCSEO Child Support Enforcement; Richard Harris, Director of Child Support Enforcement at MDHS; and Betty Polk, the MDHS Regional Director of Child Support Enforcement MDHS. Cuvillier asserted a deprivation of rights secured by various provisions of Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 651-669b, and 45 C.F.R. §§ 303.3, 303.6, alleging specifically that:

"Defendants' deliberate and intentional decision to take no action on collection of the child support arrears which was due to plaintiff's children; and Defendants' failure to inform plaintiff of that decision, so that plaintiff could pursue other means of collection; resulted in plaintiff being deprived forever of her opportunity to collect support from Robert Ray Harrison."

On August 8, 2005, Defendants moved for dismissal of Cuvillier's complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, arguing that Title IV-D did not create a privately enforceable federal right, as indicated by Blessing v. Freestone, 520 U.S. 329, 117 S.Ct. 1353, 137 L.Ed.2d 569 (1997). Cuvillier filed a reply to the motion on August 25, 2005. On September 23, 2005, Defendants filed "Defendants' Second Motion To Dismiss," under Rule 12(b)(6) urging as additional grounds that—even if the relevant Title IV-D provisions secure individual rights—the applicable statute of limitations and Eleventh Amendment immunity barred Cuvillier's claim. Cuvillier filed a response to the second motion on October 5, 2005.

The district court granted Defendants' second motion to dismiss in an opinion and order filed November 15, 2005.2 The court concluded, "without considering whether plaintiff can maintain a claim under title IV", that "any such putative claim would be time barred under the applicable statute of limitations." Determining that the applicable limitations period was three years, the district court noted that, because Cuvillier filed suit on June 13, 2005, her claim "should have accrued sometime after June 13, 2002." The court found, however, that Cuvillier's claim accrued much earlier:

"Federal regulation promulgated in accordance with Title IV-D provides that state IV-D agencies must take action to enforce support obligations no later than 60 days after the agency is notified of a delinquency. 45 C.F.R. § 303.6(b)(2). Plaintiff alleges that Defendants were first apprised of Mr. Harrison's delinquency in February 1994. Therefore, Defendants allegedly violated Plaintiff's Title IV-D rights no later than May 1, 1994, when Defendants failed to act within 60 days. Further, Plaintiff alleges that she made repeated inquiries to Defendants prior to June 12, 2002, the date Defendants began legal proceedings against Mr. Harrison. Thus, the Court can reason that Plaintiff was aware of the alleged violation of her statutory right and the resulting injury prior to June 13, 2002."

The district court also addressed Cuvillier's argument that the Defendants' fraudulent concealment prevented her from discovering her claims until after June 12, 2002. Observing that it was only necessary that Cuvillier knew the facts that would support a claim, the Court concluded that because she had repeatedly made inquiries regarding what action was being taken, Cuvillier was "aware of the fact that Defendants were not pursuing her claims in a timely manner more than three years before she filed this suit."

The district court entered final judgment and dismissed the action with prejudice on November 15, 2005. Cuvillier timely filed notice of appeal on December 14, 2005.


We review de novo a district court's dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6).3 Hosein v. Gonzales, 452 F.3d 401, 403 (5th Cir.2006) (per curiam). "In doing so, we accept as true the well-pleaded factual allegations in the complaint." Causey v. Sewell Cadillac-Chevrolet, Inc., 394 F.3d 285, 288 (5th Cir.2004). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a complaint "does not need detailed factual allegations," but must provide the plaintiff's grounds for entitlement to relief—including factual allegations that when assumed to be true "raise a right to relief above the speculative level."4 Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, ___ U.S. ___, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964-65, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Conversely, "when the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief, `this basic deficiency should . . . be exposed at the point of minimum expenditure of time and money by the parties and the court.'" Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1966 (quoting 5 CHARLES ALAN WRIGHT & ARTHUR R. MILLER, FEDERAL PRACTICE AND PROCEDURE § 1216, at 234) (quoting Daves v. Hawaiian Dredging Co., 114 F.Supp. 643, 645 (D.Haw.1953) (internal quotation marks omitted)). We may affirm a district court's Rule 12(b)(6) dismissal on any grounds raised below and supported by the record. Hosein, 452 F.3d at 403; see also R2 Invs. LDC v. Phillips, 401 F.3d 638, 642 (5th Cir.2005).


Because Congress has not specified a limitations period for section 1983 suits, in such cases "federal courts borrow the forum state's general personal injury limitations period." Piotrowski v. City of Houston, 51 F.3d 512, 514 n. 5 (5th Cir. 1995). The relevant limitations period in Mississippi is three years from the day the cause of action accrues. MISS.CODE ANN. § 15-1-49 (2003)5; see also James v. Sadler, 909 F.2d 834, 836 (5th Cir.1990) (in § 1983 suit, finding "the three year residual period provided by Section 15-1-49, Miss.Code Ann. applies"). The limitations period starts to run when the plaintiff becomes aware or has sufficient information to know that he or she suffered an injury. Piotrowski, 51 F.3d at 516. Relying on 45 C.F.R. § 303.6(c)(2),6 the district court concluded that this three-year period ran from May 1, 1994. On appeal, Cuvillier asserts that the limitations period began to run much later: from June 12, 2002, when she "first learned from MDHS that no prior legal collection actions at all had commenced until that date."7

We decline to decide this case on statute of limitations grounds. First, we find it unnecessary to do so since, as we explain below, Cuvillier has not asserted a federal right enforceable under section 1983. Second, it is less than clear that the 12(b)(6) dismissal on limitations grounds was appropriate. Using the same standard as the district court, we "must look only at the pleadings and accept all allegations in them as true." St. Paul Ins. Co. v. AFIA Worldwide Ins. Co., 937 F.2d 274, 279 (5th Cir.1991) (contrasting the standard for Rule 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss with that for summary judgment motions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56). Cuvillier alleges in her complaint and on appeal that when she made inquiries regarding attempts to collect the past due child support, CCCSEO officials assured her that they were taking action and fraudulently concealed from her the claims alleged in her complaint. She claims that consequently she was unable to discover her claims before June 12, 2002.8 For purposes of the instant appeal we therefore assume arguendo that Cuvillier brought her suit before the limitations period expired. We proceed to consider whether the Title IV-D provisions relied on by Cuvillier give her federal rights.

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