N. M. v. Buckner, 2:22-cv-442-RAH [WO]

CourtUnited States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Middle District of Alabama
PartiesN.M. and H.M., Plaintiffs, v. NANCY BUCKNER, et al., Defendants.
Docket Number2:22-cv-442-RAH [WO]
Decision Date10 April 2023


N.M. and H.M., Plaintiffs,

NANCY BUCKNER, et al., Defendants.

No. 2:22-cv-442-RAH [WO]

United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division

April 10, 2023



This is yet another lawsuit concerning the Alabama Department of Human Resources' (ADHR) Central Registry. Like others before them, Plaintiffs N.M. and H.M.[1] claim that the Defendants Nancy Buckner and Kim Mashego have violated their procedural due process rights by designating them as “indicated” for child abuse and neglect on the ADHR's central registry without affording them an opportunity for a hearing or the ability to contest the designation. The Complaint, as amended, is nearly identical to many others that previously have appeared before this Court. And like with other cases involving almost identical allegations, the Defendants have moved to dismiss. This motion is due to be granted in part and denied in part.



Subject matter jurisdiction is exercised pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 28 U.S.C. § 1343, and 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Personal jurisdiction and venue are not contested.


A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss tests the sufficiency of the complaint against the legal standard set forth in Rule 8: “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)).

“Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief [is] . . . a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679 (citation omitted). The plausibility standard requires “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. at 678. Conclusory allegations that are merely “conceivable” and fail to rise “above the speculative level” are insufficient to meet the plausibility standard. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 570. This pleading standard “does not require ‘detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me


accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citation omitted). Indeed, “[a] pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.'” Id. (citation omitted).


A. ADHR and the Central Registry

The ADHR is the state agency in Alabama responsible for investigation of most reports of suspected child abuse and neglect. Ala. Code § 26-14-6.1(3) (1975). Pursuant to its statutory authority, the ADHR has issued regulations and procedures for investigation and disposition of child abuse reports and for review, recording, and disclosure of the outcomes of child abuse investigations. Id. § 26-14-12 (1975); Ala. Admin. Code r. 660-5-34-.01, et seq.

“Once a report of suspected child abuse/neglect has been received, it must be investigated.” Ala. Admin. Code r. 660-5-34-.04(4). Upon receipt of a report of child abuse or neglect, the state or county department of human resources promptly begins an investigation, which includes home visits and interviews with the child and custodial parents. Ala. Code § 26-14-7 (1975); Ala. Admin. Code r. 660-5-34-.05. After completing the investigation, the investigating social worker reaches a disposition as to whether the child experienced abuse or neglect and also identifies the person responsible for the abuse or neglect. Ala. Admin. Code r. 660-5-34-.07.

The worker assigns one of three dispositions: (1) “Indicated,” which means


that “a preponderance of the credible evidence and the professional judgment of the worker indicate that abuse/neglect has occurred;” (2) “Unable to Complete;” or (3) “Not Indicated,” which means that “a preponderance of the credible evidence and professional judgment does not substantiate that abuse/neglect has occurred.” Id.; see also Ala. Code (1975) § 26-14-8(a) (defining “indicated” and “not indicated”). The county department of human resources submits a complete written report of its investigation and disposition to the ADHR's statewide “Central Registry.” Ala. Code § 26-14-7(d), 26-14-8 (1975); Ala. Admin. Code r. 660-5-34-.09.

All persons who have been assigned an “indicated” disposition are given an opportunity to disagree with the ADHR's findings “through either a CA/N hearing or an administrative record review.” Ala. Admin. Code r. 660-5-34-.08(1)-(4). A CA/N hearing is “an internal investigatory hearing that is fact finding in nature and designed to elicit the facts in an atmosphere that allows the person accused of the abuse/neglect to contest the evidence presented against him [or her].” Ala. Admin. Code r. 660-5-34-.08(6); see also Ala. Code § 26-14-7.1 (1975) (providing due process rights for certain persons such as educators who have come under ADHR investigation for child abuse or neglect). The ADHR bears the burden of persuasion at the CA/N hearing. Ala. Admin. Code r. 660-5-34-.08(6)(c).

Unlike a CA/N hearing, an administrative record review is limited to consideration of whether the ADHR's own administrative record “contains


sufficient documentation based on a preponderance of credible evidence to support the ‘indicated' disposition of child abuse/neglect.” Id. r. 660-5-34-.08(3). “Administrative record reviews are conducted by [ADHR] staff who are not involved with the case.” Id. r. 660-5-34-.08(7). An administrative record review does not allow the accused to be presented with the evidence against him or her, or to contest the “indicated” listing by presenting his or her own rebuttal evidence or argument. See id. r. 660-5-34-.08(3), (7). “The [administrative record] reviewers have the authority to overturn the dispositional finding of the worker and supervisor, and their decision is final.Id. r. 660-5-34-.08(7) (emphasis added).

Because of the nature of their employment, certain individuals, such as educators, can obtain a CA/N hearing. Id. r. 660-5-34-.08(2). All other individuals can only dispute an indicated disposition through an administrative record review. Id. r. 660-5-34-.08(3).

The accused individual is afforded ten working days from receipt of the notice of an indicated disposition to submit a written request for either a CA/N hearing or an administrative record review, whichever of the two is available to that individual. Ala. Admin. Code r. 660-5-34-.08(4). If the ADHR receives no written request for review by the end of the ten-day period, the accused individual is considered to have waived review, and the “indicated” disposition is entered on the Central Registry. Id. Similarly, if the indicated disposition is affirmed by the CA/N or administrative


review panel, it is entered on the Central Registry. See generally id. r. 660-5-34.08-.09.

Once an “indicated” disposition is entered on the Central Registry, it is confidential, but it may be released under certain circumstances to employers, prospective employers, and licensing and certifying agencies, among others as designated by law. Ala. Code § 26-14-8; Ala. Admin. Code r. 660-5-34-.08(4), 660-5-34-.09.

Limited procedures are available for expungement from the Central Registry of “not indicated” and (in narrower circumstances) “indicated” listings. Ala. Code § 26-14-8(e) (1975) (providing for expungement of “not indicated” listings upon request if, after five years after placing the listing on the Central Registry, the ADHR has received no further reports of child abuse or neglect); Ala. Admin. Code r. 660-5-34-.09(5)(i)-(j) (procedures for expungement of “indicated” and “not indicated” listings); see also Ala. Code § 26-14-3(e) (1975) (“[I]f any agency or authority investigates any report pursuant to this section [pertaining to reports by mandatory reporters] and the report does not result in a conviction, the agency or authority shall expunge any record of the information or report and any data developed from the record.”).


B. The Plaintiffs

Sometime before September 29, 2020, N.M. was arrested and charged with domestic violence after allegedly slapping his minor child in the face and causing bruising to the child's mouth and ear. (Doc. 15 at 6.) The Shelby County Department of Human Resources (SCDHR) investigated the incident and concluded that there was credible evidence that physical abuse had occurred. (Id.) The SCDHR then closed its investigation with an indicated designation for child abuse. (Id.) An administrative record review was conducted, after which the indicated designation was affirmed. (Id. at 8.) N.M. additionally asked for a hearing, but the hearing request was ignored. (Id.) As it stands, N.M.'s name has been reported to ADHR's Central Registry with an indicated status for child abuse or neglect. (Id.)

Simultaneously, H.M., N.M.'s wife, was also investigated by the SCDHR. It concluded that H.M. had allowed N.M. to stay in the family home despite previously agreeing not to allow him to reside there. (Id. at 7.) Accordingly, the SCDHR concluded that H.M. had acted in an abusive and neglectful manner in failing to act in a protective manner when she allowed N.M. back into the home. (Id.) Thereafter, SCDHR closed its investigation with an indicated designation. (Id.) An administrative record review was conducted, after which the indicated designation was affirmed. (Id. at 8.) H.M. additionally asked for a hearing, but like N.M.'s


request, the hearing request was ignored. (Id.) As it stands, H.M.'s name has been reported to the Central Registry with an indicated status. (Id.)

The Plaintiffs state that, because of their indicated designation on...

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