United States District Court, W.D. Texas, El Paso Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS'
MOTIONS TO DISMISS
R. MARTINEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
day, the Court considered the following submissions in the
• Defendant Arizona Department of Economic
Security's [hereinafter “Arizona DES”]
“Motion to Dismiss First Amended Complaint” (ECF
No. 20) [hereinafter “Arizona DES Motion”], filed
on December 19, 2018;
• Plaintiff Larry Neal Sullivan's [hereinafter
“Plaintiff”] “Answer to ADES Motion to
Dismiss First Amended Complaint” (ECF No. 23)
[hereinafter “Response to Arizona DES”], filed on
January 7, 2019;
• Arizona DES's “Reply in Support of its
Motion to Dismiss” (ECF No. 24) [hereinafter
“Arizona DES Reply”], filed on January 14, 2019;
• Plaintiff Larry Neal Sullivan's [hereinafter
“Plaintiff”] “Supplemental Answer to ADES
Motion to Dismiss” (ECF No. 28) [hereinafter
“Surreply to Arizona DES”], filed on January 31,
• Defendant Office of the Attorney General of
Texas's [hereinafter “Texas OAG”]
“Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6)” (ECF No. 25)
[hereinafter “Texas OAG Motion”], filed on
January 18, 2019;
• Plaintiff's “Answer to Texas OAG Motion to
Dismiss First Amended Complaint” (ECF No. 29)
[hereinafter “Response to Texas OAG”], filed on
February 6, 2019;
• Texas OAG's “Reply in Support of Motion to
Dismiss” (ECF No. 30) [hereinafter “Texas OAG
Reply”], filed on February 12, 2019; and
• Plaintiff's “Sur-reply to OAG Reply in
Support of Motion” (ECF No. 42) [hereinafter
“Surreply to Texas OAG”], filed on March 20,
due consideration, the Court is of the opinion that Arizona
DES's and Texas OAG's Motions should be granted and
the above-captioned cause should be dismissed, for the
reasons that follow.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
case arises out of a dispute challenging state actions
related to child support payments. Plaintiff and his former
spouse married in 2009. Sullivan v. Lepage-Sullivan,
No. 07-15-00081-CV, 2017 WL 393981, at *1 (Tex. App. Jan. 25,
2017). They have one marital child, who was
adopted during the marriage. Id. “In the Fall
of 2012, the marital relationship deteriorated, ” and
in February 2013, Plaintiff's wife moved from Texas to
Arizona. Id. at *2. Both spouses filed for divorce
in Lubbock, Texas, in February 2013. Id. A final
divorce hearing was held in September 2013, and “[m]ore
than fourteen months after the final hearing was held,
” a final divorce decree was entered in December 2014.
Id. According to Plaintiff, at the time of the
divorce hearing, Plaintiff held regular employment; however,
Plaintiff's regular employment ended in June 2014. Am.
Compl. 7. Plaintiff alleges that the final divorce decree and
child support order “completely disregard[ed] the
downturn in [his] financial circumstances.”
the Texas trial court refused to hear a request to modify
Plaintiff's child support on jurisdictional grounds.
Id. at 15. Because the child had moved to Arizona
with Plaintiff's former spouse for a sufficient amount of
time, the Texas court determined that Arizona had become the
child's “home state” and that any
modifications must occur in Arizona. Id. Then, in
March 2015, Plaintiff filed a petition to modify the child
support order in Pinal County, Arizona. Id.
Plaintiff alleges that the Arizona court dismissed the motion
ex parte and that Plaintiff did not receive notice or a
hearing. Id. at 16-17.
to Plaintiff, “[i]n May 2015 Arizona DES used
administrative process without a pre-enforcement adversarial
hearing to garnish the Petitioner's SSA monthly old age
benefit without prior notice or opportunity to be
heard.” Id. at 23. At some point, Plaintiff
declared bankruptcy; however, because “child support
arrears are not dischargeable in bankruptcy, ”
Plaintiff remains responsible for thousands of dollars in
unpaid child support obligations. Id. at 24.
Additionally, Petitioner alleges that “BOTH
[Texas's and Arizona's] state-sponsored collection
agencies are claiming the right to enforce”
Plaintiff's outstanding child support obligations.
Id. at 25.
appealed his divorce decree to a Texas Court of Appeals, and
his appeal was decided in January 2017. Sullivan, 2017 WL
393981, at *1. In his appeal, Plaintiff raised several
alleged “points of error” challenging the trial
court's factual determinations. Id. at *4-8.
Additionally, Plaintiff raised “fundamental errors,
” including alleged constitutional violations.
Id. at *8-11. Specifically, Plaintiff
“claim[ed] denial of substantive and procedural due
process as well as violation of equal protection
rights.” Am. Compl. 8.
to the Texas Court of Appeals, Plaintiff alleged that the
Texas Family Code § 143.133 was unconstitutional as
applied to him and offended notions of substantive due
process. Sullivan, 2017 WL 393981, at *9. Additionally,
Plaintiff asserted that the statutory presumptions in the
Texas Family Code § 154.122 were unjust and
inappropriate. Id. Further, Plaintiff asserted that
the trial court abused its discretion because of its delay in
entering the final divorce decree. Id. at *11. The
Texas Court of Appeals overruled each of Plaintiff's
constitutional claims. Id. at *9-11. Plaintiff
expresses frustration with the Texas Court of Appeals'
decision. In particular, Plaintiff asserts that the Court of
Appeals “completely ignored [his] equal protection
claims.” Am. Compl. 10. He also criticizes the Court of
Appeals' reasoning regarding his due process claims and
characterizes its analysis as
Id. at 11.
an attorney who represents himself in this action, filed his
initial “Complaint for Violations of Constitutional
Rights” (ECF No. 7) on October 24, 2018, and his
“First Amended Complaint for Violations of
Constitutional Rights” (ECF No. 11) [hereinafter
“Amended Complaint”] on November 6, 2018. Now, in
federal court, Plaintiff again challenges his child support
proceedings as well as state statutes underlying the child
support systems. According to Plaintiff, “[t]his
dispute is about whether and how federal equal protection and
due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution protect a child
support obligor in an interstate setting.” Am. Compl.
Plaintiff challenges the right of Texas OAG “to seize
an IRA and any of ‘all other [unspecified]
accounts' to satisfy alleged child support arrears, or to
garnish wages or SSA benefits.” Id. at 2.
Additionally, Plaintiff challenges the Arizona DES's
rights to enforce the child support order at issue.
Id. Plaintiff argues that “errors of
accounting” underlie his child support calculations and
“cannot be resolved by litigating separately with
either Texas OAG or Arizona DES.” Id. at 3.
Plaintiff also requests that the Court assert supplemental
jurisdiction over his motion to modify child support, which
is pending in Arizona state court. Id. at 4.
DES and Texas OAG filed motions to dismiss. Arizona DES
asserts that the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction
because the suit is barred by the Eleventh Amendment, the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, and the Younger abstention doctrine.
Arizona DES Mot. 4-9. Additionally, Arizona DES avers that
the Court lacks personal jurisdiction over it because (1) the
Texas long-arm statute does not reach Arizona DES, (2)
asserting jurisdiction over the agency would violate due
process, and (3) Arizona is a non-jural entity incapable of
being sued. Id. at 9-16. Finally, Arizona DES avers
that Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can
be granted pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Id. at 16-19.
Motion, Texas OAG avers that the claims against it are barred
by Eleventh Amendment immunity and the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine. Texas OAG Mot. 4-7. Moreover, Texas OAG contends
that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the domestic
relations exception to diversity jurisdiction. Id.
at 7. Finally, Texas OAG alleges that, “[t]o the extent
that [Plaintiff] alleges claims other than those based on
constitutional challenges under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the
legal bases for these claims are unclear and they must
therefore be dismissed for failure to state claims for which
relief may be granted.” Id. at 8.
12(b)(1): Lack of Subject-Matter Jurisdiction
court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over a claim for
relief, then it must dismiss the claim. Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(1). Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction,
and therefore have power to adjudicate claims only when
jurisdiction is conferred by statute or the Constitution.
Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375,
377 (1994); Stockman v. Fed. Election Comm'n,
138 F.3d 144, 151 (5th Cir. 1998). A case is properly
dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction when the
court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to
adjudicate the case. Home Builders Ass'n of Miss.,
Inc. v. City of Madison, 143 F.3d 1006, 1010 (5th Cir.
1998). Once a defendant files a motion under Rule 12(b)(1),
the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the court
possesses subject-matter jurisdiction over the dispute.
Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th
Cir. 2001) (citing Menchaca v. Chrysler Credit
Corp., 613 F.2d 507, 511 (5th Cir. 1980)).
12(b)(2): Lack of Personal Jurisdiction
Texas long-arm statute “has been interpreted to extend
to the limits of due process.” Stuart v.
Spademan,772 F.2d 1185, 1189 (5th Cir. 1985) (citations
omitted). “For due process to be satisfied, (1) the
non-resident defendant must have ‘minimum contacts'
with the forum state resulting from an affirmative act on the
defendant's part, and (2) the contacts must be such that
the exercise of jurisdiction over the person of the defendant
does not offend ‘traditional notions of fair play and