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Austin v. Hamilton

United States District Court, D. Maine

September 13, 2018

CHRISTOPHER AUSTIN, Plaintiff
v.
RICKER HAMILTON, et al., Defendants

          RECOMMENDED DECISION AFTER REVIEW PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)

          John C. Nivison U.S. Magistrate Judge

         In this action, Plaintiff Christopher Austin alleges Defendants, [1] evidently in connection with child support-related proceedings in state court, have unlawfully garnished his wages and “frozen” his driver's license and bank account, without due process. (Complaint, ECF No. 1.) He also asserts the governing law is biased against non-custodial parents. (Id.)

         Plaintiff filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 5), which application the Court granted (ECF No. 6). In accordance with the in forma pauperis statute, a preliminary review of Plaintiff's complaint is appropriate. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

         Following a review of the complaint and the attachments to the complaint, I recommend the Court dismiss Plaintiff's complaint.

         Standard of Review

         The federal in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, is designed to ensure meaningful access to the federal courts for those persons unable to pay the costs of bringing an action. When a party is proceeding in forma pauperis, however, “the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines, ” inter alia, that the action is “frivolous or malicious” or “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). “Dismissals [under § 1915] are often made sua sponte prior to the issuance of process, so as to spare prospective defendants the inconvenience and expense of answering such complaints.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989).

         When considering whether a complaint states a claim for which relief may be granted, courts must assume the truth of all well-plead facts and give the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom. Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuno-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011). A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

         Although a pro se plaintiff's complaint is subject to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, ” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), this is “not to say that pro se plaintiffs are not required to plead basic facts sufficient to state a claim, Ferranti v. Moran, 618 F.2d 888, 890 (1st Cir. 1980). To allege a civil action in federal court, it is not enough for a plaintiff merely to allege that a defendant acted unlawfully; a plaintiff must affirmatively allege facts that identify the manner by which the defendant subjected the plaintiff to a harm for which the law affords a remedy. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         Factual Background [2]

         Plaintiff challenges income withholding, license suspension, credit bureau reporting and other child support enforcement actions undertaken by the Maine Division of Support Enforcement and Recovery, a subdivision of the Department of Health and Human Services. (See ECF No. 2-9, p.6.) Plaintiff asserts, in conclusory fashion, that Defendants have violated his rights to due process and equal protection. Plaintiff attached to his complaint numerous documents, many of which are copies of statutes, regulations, and court decisions.[3] In one of the attachments, Plaintiff includes a “statement of claim, ” in which he challenges the process by which he was assessed a child support debt, and appears to assert the administrative agency is racially biased. (ECF No. 3-7.) In another statement, Plaintiff details some of his interaction with certain representatives of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services who were involved in the efforts to collect child support from Plaintiff. (ECF No. 3-10.)

         Discussion

         A. Plaintiff's claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         Plaintiff cites 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as a basis for this Court's jurisdiction. Pursuant to the federal civil rights statute:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage ... subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law ....

42 U.S.C. § 1983.

         Section 1983 “‘is not itself a source of substantive rights,' but merely provides ‘a method for vindicating federal rights elsewhere conferred.'” Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994) (quoting Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 144 n.3 (1979)). To maintain a claim under section 1983, a plaintiff must establish: “1) that the conduct complained of has been committed under color of state law, and 2) that this conduct worked a denial of rights secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States.” Barreto-Rivera v. Medina-Vargas, 168 F.3d 42, 45 (1st Cir. 1999).

         As alleged, Defendants' conduct was under color of state law. The issue is whether Plaintiff has alleged sufficient facts to assert an actionable claim based on the denial of ...


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