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Amadi v. Barnes

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

March 29, 2018

PAUL E. AMADI, Plaintiff,
v.
DANIELLE W. BARNES, COMMISSIONER OF TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN SERVICES, Defendant.

          Honorable William L. Campbell, District Judge

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          ALISTAIR E. NEWBERN United States Magistrate Judge

         By Order entered February 23, 2017, the District Court referred this action to the Magistrate Judge under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) for report and recommendation on all dispositive motions. (Doc. No. 4.) Pending before the Court is Defendant Danielle Barnes's Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 8). For the reasons offered below, the undersigned RECOMMENDS that the Motion to Dismiss be GRANTED and this action DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE to Plaintiff Paul E. Amadi filing an amended complaint.

         I. Background

         A. Amadi's Allegations

         The following factual allegations are taken from Amadi's complaint (Doc. No. 1) and presumed to be true for purposes of this motion. Rondigo, L.L.C. v. Twp. of Richmond, 641 F.3d 673, 676 n.1 (6th Cir. 2011).

         On March 10, 2014, Plaintiff Paul E. Amadi was pulled over by a “La Vergne city police officer and cited for driving on a suspended license.” (Doc. No. 1, PageID# 3.) “[U]naware of this suspension, ” Amadi was surprised. (Id.) Although he had lost driving privileges in the past as a result of his failure to make child support payments (id. at PageID# 2), Amadi was expecting nothing of that sort the day he was cited; 10 months prior, his ex-wife signed an “affidavit”- submitted in her home state of North Carolina and forwarded to the Tennessee Department of Human Services (DHS)-swearing that she wanted to end collection of child support. (Id. at PageID# 3.) DHS had assured Amadi that it received the affidavit and “promised [him] every collection had been stopped.” (Id.) Even if DHS had stopped actively trying to collect payments from Amadi, however, it did not convey that to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security (DSHS), which led to the suspension of his driver's license. (Id.)

         Although Amadi's license was reinstated after he informed DHS and DSHS of the error, the citation for driving on a suspended license remained. (Id. at PageID# 4.) On February 4, 2015, Amadi “was arrested on a warrant over the license suspension.” He was able to make bail with his cousin's financial help. (Id.) At his next court appearance, Amadi provided a letter from “Defendant predecessor”-the prior Commissioner of DHS-in an effort to demonstrate his innocence. (Id. at PageID# 3-4.) While the letter “carefully avoid[ed] blame, ” it also instructed the “office of Child Support to release all hold[s] on [Amadi's] driving privilege.” (Id.) “The judge explained [that] the letter was vague” and stated that, “if he received a clear letter from [DHS] stating it made a mistake, he would dismiss the charge.” (Id. at PageID# 4.) DHS refused to provide Amadi with another letter and when, “[he] appeared in court again without [one], the Rutherford County Public Defend[er] advised [Amadi] that . . . the judge would not dismiss the charge and told [Amadi] to plead guilty and pay a fine of $6.” (Id.) Amadi took counsel's advice and pleaded guilty, only to be “slapped with fines exceeding $500 [] and probation.” (Id.)

         Convinced that his “punishment[] was unfair, ” Amadi “refused to honor the probation.” (Id.) “Subsequently, [he] was charged with probation violation, a felony[, ] and arrested.” (Id.) After Amadi spent six days in jail, during which he was briefly “set aside to be deported, ” Amadi's cousin again posted bail, and Amadi was released. (Id.) “[D]etermined to prove his innocence, ” Amadi “made frequent calls to [DSHS] to clear [him] with a letter, since [DHS] was reluctant to do so [a]nd claimed it was [DSHS's] fault. Both state offices were blaming each other.” (Id. at PageID# 5.) “[Fe]d up, ” Amadi reached out to the offices of his congressmen and the governor. (Id.) Soon after, DHS agreed to “accompany [Amadi]” to court for his next appearance. (Id.) On February 16, 2016, “Defendant attorney was in court to plead with the judge that Defendant made the mistake of not properly updating its records and that was why [Amadi had been] cited and arrested.” (Id.) “The judge took her plea and dismissed all charges.” (Id.)

         Yet that dismissal could not undo the damage that had been done. The “felony charge” on Amadi's record had “affected every aspect of [his] life.” (Id. at PageID# 4.) Amadi was unable to obtain automobile insurance and “[n]o companies would offer [him] any kind of employment.” (Id. at PageID# 5.) The charge and related court appearances also prevented Amadi from traveling to Africa, “where he had spent many months running for [office] and had planned to return . . . to help his party campaign after he lost in the primaries.” (Id.) Amadi “suffered [a] severe loss of income” and experienced “humiliation as a result of derogatory information posted on the internet [relating to] his arrests.” (Id. at PageID# 6.) He is “still saddled with debts to [his] cousin and other family members who bailed him out twice and supported [him] as [he] struggled during this ordeal.” (Id.) He also started “taking depression drugs” to cope. (Id.)

         Amadi filed this action on February 16, 2017, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, [1] alleging that “Defendant caused his Constitutional right to freedom to be violated willfully or due to negligence[, ] because if Defendant had forwarded information to [DSHS] ¶ 2013, after closure of all collections, [Amadi] would not have been cited.” (Id.) Amadi “believes Defendant was only after money and [was] willing to cheat, lie[, ] and deceive.” (Id.) Further, Amadi alleges that he was “long denied [the] letter” the judge had requested only because DHS was “concerned about the liability of acknowledging fault.” (Id.) Amadi seeks “monetary compensation in the amount of $100, 000” and an order “restrain[ing] the Defendant from engaging directly or indirectly in any actions to harass [or] intimidate” him. (Id.)

         B. Barnes's Motion to Dismiss

         Barnes filed her motion to dismiss on March 15, 2017 (Doc. No. 8), under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), 12(b)(5), and 12(b)(6). Barnes argues that she “enjoys Eleventh Amendment immunity for the claims against her in her official capacity, qualified immunity for the claims against her in her individual capacity, and statutory immunity insofar as [Amadi's] complaint sounds in state tort law.” (Id. at PageID# 24.) Further, she argues that service of process on her was insufficient for any official capacity claim because Amadi failed to serve the Tennessee Attorney General's Office. (Id.) Finally, Barnes argues that “the allegations in [Amadi's] Complaint do not state an actionable 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim” against her because she was not the Commissioner of DHS until February of 2017, which was “several years after the alleged events giving rise to [Amadi's] claims occurred” and because Amadi's claim is barred by the relevant one-year statute of limitations. (Doc. No. 9, PageID# 37, n.3.)

         C. Amadi's Response

         On March 27, 2017, in a filing entitled “Response to Motion to Dismiss, ” Amadi requested a “30 day[] extension to obtain the service of an attorney, ” explaining that “back and shoulder injuries” and the medications he was taking had “slowed his activities down [c]onsiderably.” (Doc. No. 10, PageID# 51.) Amadi attached 19 exhibits to his request for an extension, which all relate to the allegations he makes in his complaint. (Id. at PageID# 54-75.) The Court GRANTS this motion and considers Amadi's response as timely filed.[2]

         Still proceeding pro se, Amadi filed his response to the motion to dismiss on April 24, 2017. (Doc. No. 12.) Amadi argues that DHS has waived its sovereign immunity, that Barnes experienced no prejudice from any failure to effect proper service, and that Barnes should be “liable for the actions of her predecessor” because her recent appointment does not “cancel out any wrongdoing[] or unlawful acts emanating from [her] office[] or administration.” (Id. at PageID# 78-80.) He also argues that his civil rights were being violated until the court dismissed all charges against him on February 16, 2016, and that he filed his complaint exactly one year later. (Id.) Amadi alleges “violation of his federal civil rights-the right to move freely, wrongful arrest[, ] wrongful imprisonment[, ] and emotional distress” and states that he was deprived of “the rights and privileges of equal protection of the law.” (Id. at PageID# 77.) He also asserts his claim to monetary damages.[3] (Id. at PageID# 81.)

         II. ...


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