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Iverson v. Putnam

Court of Appeals of Texas, Fourteenth District

May 2, 2017

MARY F. IVERSON, Appellant
v.
LEIF PUTNAM, Appellee

         On Appeal from the County Court No. 3 Galveston County, Texas Trial Court Cause No. 12-FD-3216-A

          Panel consists of Justices Busby, Donovan, and Jewell.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          J. BRETT BUSBY JUSTICE.

         Appellant Mary Iverson brings an interlocutory appeal from the trial court's partial denial of her traditional motion for summary judgment asserting the affirmative defense of qualified immunity. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 51.014(a)(5) (West 2015). Because Iverson did not meet her burden of proving qualified immunity, we affirm. We do not reach Iverson's other arguments, which relate to claims not before us on appeal.

         Background

         Appellee Leif Putnam and Christine Hays divorced in 2008. The divorce decree designated Putnam as the non-custodial parent of their daughter, and he was ordered to pay $500 per month in child support. Putnam's daughter has resided with him continuously since May 2010. Hays voluntarily relinquished care, custody, and control of the child to Putnam.

         Putnam filed a petition to modify the parent-child relationship in January 2012. In February 2012, Putnam and Hays signed an agreed final order in which Putnam became the custodial parent. Putnam did not make child support payments in January or February 2012. The final order did not address or resolve the amount, if any, of child support that may have accrued under the previous divorce decree.

         In August 2012, the Special Collections Unit of the Office of the Attorney General (SCU) sent a notice of lien to Putnam's bank stating that he owed $4, 037.50 in unpaid child support. Iverson was the manager of the SCU, and the notice of lien bears her signature. The SCU also mailed Putnam a notice of lien and administrative writ of withholding.

         After receiving the notice, Putnam went to the local unit of the Office of the Attorney General's Child Support Division and provided the February 2012 agreed final order to demonstrate that he now had legal custody of his daughter. The SCU determined that Putnam still might owe $1, 000 for payments that accrued in January and February 2012. The SCU authorized the bank to release all but $1, 000 of the $4, 037.50 that had been frozen. The local unit tried to contact Hays to ask if she wanted to seek the $1, 000 in unpaid child support. In October 2012, Hays confirmed that she would not seek unpaid child support, and the lien was released in full.

         Putnam was also given notice that the Office of the Attorney General would provide monthly information to credit bureaus concerning his child support account. The September 2012 report to the credit bureaus showed that Putnam owed a balance of unpaid child support before he became the custodial parent.

         Putnam sued then-Attorney General Greg Abbott and Iverson in their official capacities and Iverson in her individual capacity. Defendants filed a plea to the jurisdiction, and the trial court dismissed all claims. In a previous appeal, we held that most of Putnam's claims were either moot or precluded by sovereign immunity, but we reversed and remanded Putnam's claim against Iverson in her individual capacity. Putnam v. Iverson, No. 14-13-00369-CV, 2014 WL 3955110 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] Aug. 14, 2014, pet. denied) (mem. op.).

         Putnam brought his claim against Iverson individually under section 1983, alleging that she deprived him of his Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, and statutory rights to procedural due process. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2014). He alleged in his petition that he had a right to a hearing before his bank account was subjected to a lien and before he was reported to the credit bureaus as owing unpaid child support. Putnam sought actual damages, including $2, 500 in interest paid on borrowed funds as well as compensation for mental anguish, damage to his credit reputation, and time lost from work.

         Iverson filed a traditional motion for summary judgment arguing that she was entitled to qualified immunity and that she had conclusively shown Putnam could not prevail on his procedural due process claim. The trial court granted her motion in part, but it denied the motion as to Putnam's section 1983 claim against Iverson in her individual capacity because "material fact issues exist regarding whether any grounds existed for [Iverson] to have signed ...


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