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Drinkard v. State of Tennessee Dep't of Children's Services

June 26, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leon Jordan United States District Judge


This civil action is before the court on the motion to dismiss filed by defendant Donna L. Myers individually [doc. 3] and the motion to dismiss filed by defendants State of Tennessee Department of Children's Services ("DCS") and Donna L. Myers in her official capacity [doc. 5]. Myers's individual motion is brought under Rule 12(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, whereas the remaining defendants' motion is brought under Rule 12(b)(6). Plaintiffs have responded to each motion [docs. 13-16]. For the reasons that follow, both motions will be granted and this civil action will be dismissed in its entirety.


Applicable Legal Standards The Federal Rules authorize dismissal for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). "A Rule 12(b)(6) motion tests whether a cognizable claim has been pleaded in the complaint. Rule 8(a) sets forth the basic federal pleading requirement that a pleading 'shall contain . . . a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.'" Scheid v. Fanny Farmer Candy Shops, Inc., 859 F.2d 434, 436 (6th Cir. 1988) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)).

Motions for judgment on the pleadings are authorized by Rule 12(c). Courts apply the same standard to Rule 12(b)(6) and Rule 12(c) motions. See Penny/Ohlmann/Nieman, Inc. v. Miami Valley Pension Corp., 399 F.3d 692, 697 (6th Cir. 2005) (citing Ziegler v. IBP Hog Market, Inc., 249 F.3d 509, 511-12 (6th Cir. 2001)).*fn1

"When evaluating a motion to dismiss brought pursuant to rule 12(b)(6), the factual allegations in the complaint must be regarded as true. The claim should not be dismissed unless it appears beyond doubt that plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Windsor v. Tennessean, 719 F.2d 155, 158 (6th Cir. 1983) (internal citations omitted). "Although this standard for Rule 12(b)(6) dismissals is quite liberal, more than bare assertions of legal conclusions is ordinarily required to satisfy federal notice pleading requirements. In practice, a . . . complaint must contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory." Scheid, 859 F.2d at 436 (internal citations and quotations omitted) (emphasis in original).

II. State Defendants

The complaint alleges that this "is a federal question, civil rights action under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983, for violation of Plaintiff's [sic] due process rights as protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution[.]" [Doc. 1, ¶ 4]. Plaintiffs elsewhere purport to be suing "in tort for official misconduct, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and the negligent infliction of emotional distress[.]" [Doc. 1, p. 1].

Section 1983 imposes liability on a "person who, under color of any [law] . . . of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws[.]" 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (emphasis added). "[N]either a State nor its officials acting in their official capacities are 'persons' under § 1983." Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989). DCS, as an agency of the State of Tennessee, is also not a "person" under § 1983. See Gean v. Hattaway, 330 F.3d 758, 766 (6th Cir. 2003). Plaintiffs' federal claim against DCS must therefore be dismissed.

The complaint identifies Myers as an investigator with the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Retardation ["DHMHR"]. Suit against Myers in her official capacity is in fact a suit against her employing agency. See Will, 491 U.S. at 71.

DMHMR is an agency of the State of Tennessee and thus is not a "person" under § 1983. See Tenn. DMHMR v. Hughes, 531 S.W.2d 299 (Tenn. 1975); Cashion v. Robertson, 955 S.W.2d 60 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1997). Plaintiffs' federal claim against Ms. Myers in her official capacity must therefore be dismissed.

Dismissal of all of plaintiffs' claims against DCS and against Myers in her official capacity is also mandated by the Eleventh Amendment, which has been construed as a guarantee that non-consenting states cannot be sued for money damages by private individuals in federal court. See Bd. of Trs. of the Univ. of Ala. v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 363 (2001). A state enjoys sovereign immunity unless it has consented to suit "by the most express language or by such overwhelming implications from the text [of a waiver] as (will) leave no room for any other reasonable construction," Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 673 (1974) (citation and quotation omitted), or where Congress has validly, "explicitly[,] and by clear language" abrogated the immunity. Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 345 (1979).

Plaintiffs' complaint seeks only money damages. DCS and DMHMR are entitled to the State of Tennessee's Eleventh Amendment immunity unless that immunity has been waived or abrogated. See Gean, 330 F.3d at 766; Hughes, 531 S.W.2d 299; Cashion, 955 S.W.2d 60. The court finds no suggestion that the State of Tennessee has waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity with respect to the causes of action contained in plaintiffs' complaint. See Tenn. Code Ann. ยง 20-13-102; see also Johnson v. S. Cent. Human Res. Agency, 926 S.W.2d 951, 952-53 (Tenn. Ct. App. 1996) (State agencies are immune from suit for ...

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