United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
ORDER AND MEMORANDUM OPINION
RICHARDSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court are a Report and Recommendation of the
Magistrate Judge (Docket No. 31) and 16 Objections filed by
Plaintiff (Docket No. 35). The Magistrate Judge recommends that
Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 17) be granted.
magistrate judge issues a report and recommendation regarding
a dispositive pretrial matter, the district court must review
de novo any portion of the report and recommendation
to which a proper objection is made. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).
The district judge may accept, reject, or modify the
recommended disposition, review further evidence, or return
the matter to the magistrate judge with instructions.
to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C) and Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3),
the Court has reviewed de novo the portions of the
Report and Recommendation to which Plaintiff objects, the
Objections, and the file. For the reasons stated herein, the
Objections of the Plaintiff (except Objection 16) are
overruled, and the Report and Recommendation is adopted and
approved in part, modified in part, and taken under
advisement in part, as set forth below.
years-long dispute began when Plaintiff Ingram, who is a
citizen of California, was suspended from the practice of
medicine by the State of Florida in 2003. In October 2006,
the Tennessee Board of Medical Examiners (“the
Board”), after finding out about the Florida
suspension, suspended Plaintiff’s Tennessee medical
license for three years. This lawsuit is a result of
Plaintiff’s attempts to lift the suspension of his
Tennessee medical license and the Board’s alleged
actions, inactions and decisions concerning that license. In
May of 2018, after Board hearings and state court appeals,
the Board lifted the suspension of Plaintiff’s license,
and Plaintiff has held an unrestricted Tennessee medical
license since then.
Magistrate Judge identified the following remaining
claims of Plaintiff’s Complaint as: (1) a
constitutional claim for damages for violation of due process
against Defendants Huddleston, Zanolli, Arnold, Ali, and
Saunders in their individual capacities; (2) a constitutional
claim for damages against Defendants Huddleston, Zanolli,
Arnold, Ali, and Saunders in their individual capacities for
depriving Plaintiff of his property interest in his medical
license without due process; (3) state law fraud claims for
damages against Defendants Arnold, Saunders and Huddleston;
(4) a state law libel claim for damages against Defendants
Huddleston and Zanolli; (5) a state law civil conspiracy
claim against Defendants Huddleston and Zanolli; and (6) a
request for declaratory relief against Defendants Huddleston,
Arnold, and Saunders. (Doc. No. 31 at 10).
Magistrate Judge opined that Plaintiff’s claims for
declaratory relief implicate Younger abstention
concerns such that this Court’s abstention is
appropriate and recommended dismissal of the claims for
declaratory relief without prejudice for lack of
jurisdiction. She also opined that Tennessee law
provided Plaintiff with an adequate, post-deprivation remedy
(procedures under the Tennessee Uniform Administrative
Procedures Act and appeals through the state court system)
for the alleged denial of procedural due process and,
therefore, Plaintiff failed to state a claim for denial of
procedural due process in his First Cause of Action. The
Magistrate Judge interpreted Plaintiff’s due process
claim in his Second Cause of Action as a substantive due
process claim and opined that that claim is time-barred.
Accordingly, she recommended that both the substantive due
process and the procedural due process claims be dismissed
for failure to state claims. Finally, the Magistrate Judge
recommended that the Court decline to exercise supplemental
jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s state law claims. (Doc.
UNIFORM ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURES ACT
Board proceedings and appeals to the Chancery Court were
governed by the Tennessee Uniform Administrative Procedures
Act (“TUAPA”). TUAPA provides that a person
aggrieved by a final decision in an administrative contested
case is entitled to judicial review, which shall be the only
available method of judicial review. Tenn. Code Ann. §
4-5-322(a)(1). Proceedings for judicial review of an
administrative decision are instituted by filing a petition
for review in chancery court. Tenn. Code Ann. §
4-5-322(b)(1)(A)(i). The review shall be conducted by the
court without a jury and shall be confined to the record,
except in cases of alleged irregularities in procedure before
the agency not shown in the record, proof thereon may be
taken. Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-5-322(g).
reviewing court may reverse or modify the administrative
decision if the rights of the petitioner have been prejudiced
because the administrative findings, inferences, conclusions,
or decisions are in violation of constitutional or statutory
provisions, in excess of the statutory authority of the
agency, made upon unlawful procedure, arbitrary or
capricious, characterized by an abuse of discretion or
clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion, or unsupported by
evidence that is both substantial and material in light of
the entire record. Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-5-322(h). In
addition, TUAPA provides that an aggrieved party may obtain a
review of any final judgment of the chancery court by appeal
to the court of appeals of Tennessee. Tenn. Code Ann. §
4-5-323(a). The administrative record certified to the
chancery court and the record in the chancery court shall
constitute the record in an appeal. Any evidence taken in
court pursuant to § 4-5-322(g) shall also become a part
of the record. Tenn. Code Ann. 4-5-323(b).
1 – Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge’s
stating that the state proceedings in the Davidson County
Chancery Court (“Chancery Court”) offered
Plaintiff an adequate opportunity to raise his constitutional
claims. (Doc. No. 31 at 18). Plaintiff asserts
that the authority upon which the Magistrate Judge relied,
Watts v. Burkhart, 854 F.2d 839 (6th Cir. 1988), was
overturned by a later case (the appeal after remand of the
same case), Watts v. Burkhart, 978 F.2d 269 (6th
Cir. 1992). But the 1992 Watts case did not
overturn the 1988 Watts case. The portion of the
1992 case that Plaintiff cites is in a dissenting opinion,
not the majority opinion.
event, the proposition for which the Magistrate Judge cited
the 1988 Watts opinion has been reiterated in cases
involving administrative appeals since then. For example, in
Xcaliber Int’l, Ltd., LLC v. Gerregano, 290
F.Supp.3d 747 (M.D. Tenn. 2018), the court, citing
Watts, held that the plaintiff had an adequate
opportunity to raise its constitutional claims under TUAPA
because TUAPA expressly contemplates that a petitioner will
be afforded an opportunity to raise constitutional issues
“concerning the manner in which the initial hearing
before the Board was conducted.” Id. at 754.
Moreover, in Patterson v. Gibbons, No. 1:16-cv-170,
2017 WL 563986, at * 4 (E.D. Tenn. Feb. 10, 2017), the court
noted that the chancery court, in reviewing an agency
decision, may “reverse or modify” the
administrative decision if it is in violation of
constitutional or statutory provisions. Id. (citing
Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-5-322(h)). Thus, said the court, the
statute of review expressly contemplates that a petitioner
will be afforded an opportunity to raise constitutional
issues or statutory arguments. Id.
argues that because his final petition to the Chancery Court
concerning the Board’s decision was held to be moot, he
was never given an opportunity to litigate the claims he has
asserted in this Court. Plaintiff specifically alleged abuse
of discretion, statutory violations, and constitutional
claims in appealing the Board’s 2013 Order to the
Chancery Court (see Docket No. 23-1 at 1). Plaintiff
could and should (if he truly wished to pursue those claims)
have appealed the Chancery Court Order declaring his Petition
moot, because those claims went unaddressed by the Chancery
Court and (unlike other aspects of his Petition) were not
moot; however, Plaintiff did not file an appeal of that
Order. Moreover, following the Board’s lifting of
Plaintiff’s suspension, Plaintiff moved to amend his
February 2017 Petition for Review (in the Chancery Court) to,
among other things, complain about erroneous rulings and
procedures at the Board’s December 2016 hearing (at
which he alleges these three defendants lied) (see
Doc. No. 30-1 at 7). The Chancery Court denied that motion to
amend, and Plaintiff could have appealed that Order to
address his outstanding complaints, but he did not.
may not procure federal intervention by terminating the state
judicial process prematurely-forgoing the state appeal to
attack a trial court’s judgment in federal court.
Alexander v. Morgan, 353 F.Supp.3d 622, 628 (W.D.
Ky. 2018). Put simply, a “necessary concomitant of
Younger is that a party [wishing to contest in
federal court the judgment of a state judicial tribunal] must
exhaust his state appellate remedies before seeking relief in
the District Court.” Id. (citing New
Orleans Public Serv., Inc. v. Council of the City of New
Orleans, 491 U.S. 350, 369 (1989)).
contends that the deference afforded agency decisions
prevented the Chancery Court’s consideration of his
constitutional claims. To the contrary, as noted in
Patterson, TUAPA provides that the reviewing court
may reverse or modify an agency decision “if the rights
of the petitioner have been prejudiced because the
administrative findings, inferences, conclusions or decisions
are: (1) in violation of constitutional or statutory
provisions.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-5-322(h)
(emphasis added). Moreover, Tennessee courts subject an
agency’s determination of constitutional questions to
de novo review. Wilson v. Bredesen, 113
Fed.App’x 70, 74 (6th Cir. 2004), cited in 729,
Inc. v. Kenton Cty. Fiscal Court, 515 F.3d 485, 501 (6th
Cir. 2008). In addition, even though the judicial review
provisions of TUAPA confine review to the record, they allow
the court to take proof in circumstances in which alleged
procedural irregularities (such as perjury) are not
shown on the record. Richardson v. Tenn. Bd. of
Dentistry, 913 S.W.2d 446, 456 (Tenn. 1995) (citing
Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-5-322(g)). That review could have
come in the Chancery Court and been appealed through the
state court system.
these reasons, the state proceedings did provide an adequate
opportunity for Plaintiff to raise his claims of procedural
irregularities and constitutional violations, and
Plaintiff’s Objection 1 is overruled.
2 – Plaintiff maintains that because the Chancery Court
action is no longer pending, the Younger abstention
doctrine relied upon by the Magistrate Judge does not apply
because its first requirement has not been satisfied. In
determining whether state court proceedings involving
Plaintiff are pending, for purposes of deciding whether
Younger abstention applies, the Court must look to
see if the Chancery Court proceeding was pending at the time
this action was filed on December 14, 2017. (Doc. No. 1).
Loch v. Watkins, 337 F.3d 574, 578 (6th Cir. 2003),
cited in Hill v. Snyder, 878 F.3d 193, 207 (6th Cir.
2017). The final Chancery Court Order dismissing
Plaintiff’s petition was entered on September 17, 2018
(Doc. No. 30-1), nine months after Plaintiff filed
this action. At the time this action was filed
(December 14, 2017), Plaintiff’s state court proceeding
Objection 2 is overruled.
3 – Plaintiff asserts that he could not have appealed
the final Chancery Court Order because (according to
Plaintiff) the claims (and apparently he means all
claims) had been rendered moot. This argument is not
persuasive for the reasons stated in the Court’s
response to Objection 1. Under the TUAPA, Plaintiff could
have appealed the final Chancery Court Order, as it related
to his constitutional claims, on the grounds that (contrary
to the final Chancery Court order) they had not been rendered
moot. Accordingly, Objection 3 is overruled.
4 – Plaintiff’s Objection 4 is the same as his
Objection 1 and, for the same reasons, Objection 4 is also
5 – Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge’s
statement that Plaintiff “does not argue any such
exception here.” (Doc. No. 31 at 19). In context, the
Magistrate Judge stated that once the factors supporting
Younger abstention have been met, abstention is
appropriate unless an exception such as bad faith,
harassment, or flagrant unconstitutionality applies. (Doc.
No. 31 at 18). Then she stated: “Ingram does not argue
any such exception here.” (Id. at 19).
Plaintiff contends that his Complaint is “rife with
specific references to the various Defendants’ bad
faith, harassment, or flagrant unconstitutionality.”
(Doc. No. 35 at 9).
Jones opinion identifies the three exceptions to the
Younger doctrine as: (1) the state proceeding is
motivated by a desire to harass or is conducted in bad faith;
(2) the challenged statute is flagrantly and patently
violative of express constitutional prohibition; or (3) there
is an extraordinary pressing need for immediate federal
equitable relief. Jones, 2018 WL 3389730, at * 3.
These three exceptions have been interpreted narrowly.
Id. The burden on the plaintiff is high, and to
overcome the bar of Younger abstention, a party must
set forth more than mere conclusory, non-specific allegations
of bad faith or harassment. The allegations must be supported
with sufficient evidence, not simply unsupported contentions,
to establish that an exception to Younger abstention
is warranted. Id.
exceptions 2 and 3 do not apply,  Plaintiff’s
Complaint does set forth facts that, when construed in the
light most favorable to Plaintiff, allege bad faith (such as
lying) by Defendants. Those alleged bad faith procedural
irregularities could have been and were raised at the
Chancery Court level, however, and additional proof could
have been taken with regard to those allegations, pursuant to
Tenn. Code Ann. § 4-5-323(b). Any decision regarding
those allegations could have been appealed through the state
appellate system. Even if the state administrative proceeding
had been motivated by a desire to harass or had been
conducted in bad faith, Plaintiff had the opportunity to
raise those allegations in the state court system and did not
do so. As noted above, a party may not procure
federal intervention by forgoing the state appeal to contest
the issue in federal court. Alexander, 353 F.Supp.3d
Objection 5 is overruled.
6 – Plaintiff objects to the Magistrate Judge’s
statement that none of the federal issues in this action is
“collateral” to those in the state proceeding
(Doc. No. 31 at 19). The Sixth Circuit has held that
Younger abstention is inappropriate where the issues
raised in the federal lawsuit are “collateral” to
the state proceedings; that is, where the plaintiff’s
claims would not be resolved by the case-in-chief or as an
affirmative defense to the state court proceedings. Am.
Family Prepaid, 498 F.3d at 336 (citing Habich v.
City of Dearborn, 331 F.3d 524, 531-32 (6th Cir. 2003)).
In Habich, the court stated that, framed ...