Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Ingram v. Tennessee Department of Health

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

September 27, 2019

ALTON EARL INGRAM, JR., M.D., Plaintiff,
v.
TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER AND MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ELI RICHARDSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending before the Court are a Report and Recommendation of the Magistrate Judge (Docket No. 31) and 16 Objections filed by Plaintiff (Docket No. 35).[1] The Magistrate Judge recommends that Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 17) be granted.

         When a 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. Id.

         Pursuant 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.

         BACKGROUND[2]

         This 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.

         The Magistrate Judge identified the following remaining claims[3] 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).[4]

         The Magistrate Judge opined that Plaintiff’s claims for declaratory relief implicate Younger[5] 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.[6] 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. No. 31).

         TENNESSEE UNIFORM ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURES ACT

         Plaintiff’s 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).

         The 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).

         SPECIFIC OBJECTIONS[7]

         OBJECTION 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.[8] (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.

         In any 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.

         Plaintiff 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.

         A party 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)).

         Plaintiff 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.

         For 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.

         OBJECTION 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[9] 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.[10] At the time this action was filed (December 14, 2017), Plaintiff’s state court proceeding was “pending.”

         Plaintiff’s Objection 2 is overruled.

         OBJECTION 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.

         OBJECTION 4 – Plaintiff’s Objection 4 is the same as his Objection 1 and, for the same reasons, Objection 4 is also overruled.

         OBJECTION 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).

         The 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.

         Although exceptions 2 and 3 do not apply, [11] 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.[12] 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 at 628.

         Plaintiff’s Objection 5 is overruled.

         OBJECTION 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 ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.