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Christian v. Reynolds-Christian

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

June 21, 2019


          Richardson, Judge




         Tonya Christian, proceeding pro se, brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that various individuals violated her civil rights, specifically, “[t]he right to direct the upbringing of my son or to care for him, ” and “my freedom of speech.” Docket No. 1, p. 3. She further alleges that “[e]ach of the defendants used their state appointed titles to violate several of my civil rights: 1st, 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, [and] 14th.” Id. at 8. The events leading to this action allegedly relate to the removal of Ms. Christian's son from her home and custody following an altercation at his school involving the school principal. Id. at 14-17. Ms. Christian asserts that in March 2016, a DCS worker came to her home and searched it based on “allegations, ” and in April 2016, DCS workers came to her home and removed her son. Id. at 8. Ms. Christian named a total of fifteen individual Defendants, including a juvenile court judge and various workers with the Tennessee Department of Children's Services (“DCS”). Id. at 2-7. Arlene Middaugh and Kassie Davis, workers with Court Appointed Special Advocates of Rutherford County (“CASA”), are two of the Defendants named in the suit. Id. at 10. Ms. Christian alleges that they appeared in court in April 2016 and “keep adding on to [the] perm plan every time what their [sic] asking for is completed against my will.” Id. This matter is now before the Court upon a Motion to Dismiss filed by Ms. Middaugh, Ms. Davis, and CASA (“Defendants”).[1] Docket No. 10. They have also filed a Supporting Memorandum of Law. Docket No. 11. Ms. Christian has filed a Response in Opposition. Docket No. 13. For the reasons set forth below, the Court recommends that Defendants' Motion be GRANTED.


         A. Motions to Dismiss Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6)

         To withstand a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must allege “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 547 (2007). The Supreme Court has clarified the Twombly standard, stating that “[a] claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Plausibility requires “more than a sheer possibility that a defendant has acted unlawfully.” Id. A complaint that pleads facts “‘merely consistent with' defendant's liability . . . ‘stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility' of ‘entitlement to relief.'” Id., quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557 (internal brackets omitted).

         When ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, the court must “construe the complaint liberally in the plaintiff's favor and accept as true all factual allegations and permissible inferences therein.” Gazette v. City of Pontiac, 41 F.3d 1061, 1064 (6th Cir. 1994). The court should allow “a well-pleaded complaint [to] proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. However, a “plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions.” Id. at 555. “‘[A] legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation' need not be accepted as true on a motion to dismiss, ” Fritz v. Charter Twp. of Comstock, 592 F.3d 718, 722 (6th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted), and mere recitation of the elements of a cause of action “or an “unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation” will not do, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678; Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. While the court must accept “as true all non-conclusory allegations in the complaint, ” Delay v. Rosenthal Collins Grp., LLC, 585 F.3d 1003, 1005 (6th Cir. 2009), it does not have to accept unsupported legal conclusions, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         “Pro se complaints are to be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, and should therefore be liberally construed.” Williams v. Curtin, 631 F.3d 380, 383 (6th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Pro se litigants, however, are not exempt from the requirements of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591, 594 (6th Cir. 1989). The Court is not required to create a claim for a plaintiff. Clark v. Nat'l Travelers Life. Ins. Co., 518 F.2d 1167, 1169 (6th Cir. 1975); see also Brown v. Matauszak, 415 Fed.Appx. 608, 613 (6th Cir. 2011) (“a court cannot create a claim which [a plaintiff] has not spelled out in his pleading”) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); Payne v. Sec'y of Treas., 73 Fed.Appx. 836, 837 (6th Cir. 2003) (affirming sua sponte dismissal of complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) and stating, “[n]either this court nor the district court is required to create Payne's claim for her”). To demand otherwise would require the “courts to explore exhaustively all potential claims of a pro se plaintiff, [and] would also transform the district court from its legitimate advisory role to the improper role of an advocate seeking out the strongest arguments and most successful strategies for a party.” Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985).

         B. Ms. Christian's Claims Against These Defendants Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

         Mr. Christian alleges violations of her First, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983. Docket No. 1. Section 1983 provides, in part, that:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, 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, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress . . . .

         Thus, in order to state a claim under § 1983, a plaintiff must: 1) allege the violation of a right secured by the Constitution and laws of the United States, and 2) show that the alleged deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48, 108 S.Ct. 2250, 2254-55 (1988), citing Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 535, 101 S.Ct. 1908, 1913 (1981) (overruled in part on other grounds, Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 330-31, 106 S.Ct. 662 (1986)); Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 155, 98 S.Ct. 1729, 1733 (1978). The traditional definition of acting under color of state law requires that the defendant in a § 1983 action have exercised power “possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law.” Id. at 49, quoting United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 326, 61 S.Ct. 1031, 1043 (1941).

         Here, the entirety of Ms. Christian's allegations against these Defendants is that they appeared in court in April 2016 and “keep adding onto [the] perm plan every time what their [sic] asking for is completed against my will.” Docket No. 1, p. 10. Ms. Christian does not explain in what way either of these actions (appearing in court or “adding to the perm plan”), which the Court accepts as true for the purposes of this Motion, violates her rights. The mere fact that these Defendants appeared in court, without further information, cannot support a claim for relief. Indeed, any claim against Ms. Middaugh or Ms. Davis based upon their testifying in court cannot proceed, as it is covered by the absolute immunity granted to testifying witnesses. See Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325, 326 (1983); Moldowan v. City of Warren, 578 F.3d 351, 390 (6th Cir. 2009), citing Spurlock v. Satterfield, 16 ...

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