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Doe v. Haslam

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee

October 23, 2017

JOHN DOE, Plaintiff,
WILLIAM E. HASLAM, Governor of the State of Tennessee, in his official capacity, and MARK GWYN, Director of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation, in his official capacity. Defendants.



         Defendants William E. Haslam (“Governor Haslam”) and Mark Gwyn (“Director Gwyn”) have filed a motion to dismiss the claims against them pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) [Doc 8]. Having carefully considered the motion, supporting memorandum [Doc. 9] and plaintiff's response [Doc. 11], the motion is ripe for determination.

         I. Relevant Facts [1]

         Plaintiff John Doe is a Tennessee resident who brings this action to challenge the constitutionality of a 2014 Amendment to the Tennessee Sexual Offender and Violent Sexual Offender Registration, Verification and Tracking Act of 2004, Tenn. Code Ann. §§ 40-39-201-218 (2015 Supp.), (hereinafter “the Act”). Governor Haslam is the Governor of the State of Tennessee and is sued in his official capacity [Doc. 1 at ¶ 2]. The Governor is responsible for enforcement of the laws of the State of Tennessee and the supervision of all State departments, including the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation (“TBI”) [Id. at ¶ 20]. Director Gwyn is the Director of the TBI and is sued in his official capacity [Id. at ¶ 3]. The TBI is responsible for maintaining Tennessee's Sex Offender Registry and enforcing the Act [Id. at ¶ 21]. The TBI maintains the state's database of sex offenders, maintains an internet-accessible public sex offender registry, registers offenders, develops registration forms, provides statutorily-required notices for registrants, collects registration fees, and coordinates with national law enforcement and the national sex offender registry [Id.].

         While he was a resident of the State of North Carolina, on August 15, 2006, plaintiff pled guilty to the charge of Indecent Liberties with a Child, in violation of North Carolina Statute 14-202.1 [Id. at ¶¶ 8-9]. The victim was described as eleven (11) years old [Id.]. Plaintiff asserts that, after spending almost a year in custody, he agreed to the plea “based on a sentencing range of 10-12 months, and the representation that he would be placed on the Sex Offender Registry for a period ten (10) years” [Id. at ¶ 11]. After his release from custody, plaintiff registered as a sex offender on the North Carolina Sex Offender Registry on August 31, 2006 [Id. at ¶¶ 11-12].

         In 2007, plaintiff moved to Tennessee, where he registered as a sex offender and he has reported annually as required [Id. at ¶ 13]. Upon the ten (10) year anniversary of his Case 3:17-cv-00217-TWP-HBG Document 18 Filed 10/23/17 Page 2 of 14 PageID #: 90 release from custody in North Carolina, plaintiff contacted the TBI and requested to be removed from the Tennessee Sex Offender Registry [Id. at ¶ 16]. The TBI informed plaintiff that it needed additional information to consider his request in light of a 2014 Amendment to the Act, which requires a registered sex offender to remain on the registry for life if the offense involved a victim twelve (12) years of age or younger [Id. at ¶ 17]. Plaintiff's counsel provided the requested information to the TBI and again requested that plaintiff be removed from the registry [Id. at ¶ 18]. The TBI refused plaintiff's request, citing the 2014 Amendment [Id. at ¶ 19].

         Tennessee first adopted a sex offender registration law in 1994 [Id. at ¶ 22]. The 1994 law was repealed and replaced in 2004 [Id. at ¶ 23]. Among the changes included in the 2004 revision, the Act classifies registrants as “sexual offenders” or “violent sexual offenders, ” with violent sexual offenders required to register for life [Id.]. Registrants designated as sexual offenders must report annually, within seven (7) days of their date of birth to verify their registration information, and update fingerprints, palm prints, and photographs [Id.]. Registrants who are not subject to the lifetime registration requirement must apply to the TBI for removal from the registry, rather than petition a court [Id.]. Any violation of the Act is punishable as a felony, rather than as a misdemeanor [Id.].

         The Act has been amended several times since 2004, including the 2014 Amendment of which plaintiff complains [Id.]. Specifically, Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-39-207 states as follows:

(g)(1) An offender required to register under this part shall continue to comply with the registration, verification and tracking requirements for the life of that offender, if that offender: …
(C) Has been convicted of an offense in which the victim was a child of twelve (12) years of age or less.

Tenn. Code Ann. § 40-39-207(g)(1)(C) [Doc. 1 at ¶ 24]. Thus, prior to this Amendment and at the time of his plea, plaintiff was only subject to the 10-year requirement to remain on the registry [Id. at ¶ 25]. In addition to the numerous requirements imposed on those who are registered, plaintiff claims he “lost a good, well-paying job when it was discovered that he was on the registry after the 10-year period” had expired [Id. at ¶¶ 26-27].

         Plaintiff asserts that the 2014 Amendment to the Act violates the Ex Post Facto Clause of the United States Constitution and the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution [Id. at ¶¶ 29, 31-34]. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief [Doc. 1 at p. 8].

         II. Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) sets out a liberal pleading standard, Smith v. City of Salem, 378 F.3d 566, 576 n.1 (6th Cir. 2004), requiring only “‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, ' in order to ‘give the [opposing party] fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests, '” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Detailed factual allegations are not required, but a party's “obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. “[A] ...

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