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Rodgers v. Texas Department of Family Services

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

August 26, 2019

JUDITH RODGERS, et al, Plaintiffs,
v.
TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF FAMILY SERVICES; cp TEXAS DEPARTMENT OF FAMILY SERVICES, et al, Defendants.

          ORDER

          THE HONORABLE ALFRED H. BENNETT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are Defendants' Motion 1o Dismiss (Doc. #12) and Plaintiffs' Response (Doc. #16). Having considered the parties' arguments and the applicable legal authority, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' Motions to Dismiss.

         I. Background

         This case arises from an investigation conducted by the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services ("TDFPS") of Plaintiffs and Their home based upon anonymous allegations of child neglect. Based upon the investigation, Plaintiffs brought claims against the TDFPS and Hank Whitman ("Whitman") (the Commissioner of TDFPS) in his official capacity. Plaintiffs seek monetary and injunctive relief for alleged violations of their Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to the United States Constitution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs seek a permanent injunction against TDFPS and any of its agents from acting on anonymous complaints without proper investigation of such complaints. Doc. #1 at 7. Additionally, Plaintiffs request TDFPS and Whitman change the process and protocols concerning third-party complaints. Id. at 5.

         Defendant now moves to dismiss this case for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction based on Eleventh Amendment immunity, and Plaintiffs' failure to state a claim under Fed. R. Civ P. 12(b)(1), and 12(b)(6). The question before the Court is whether the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction over the claims against TDFPS and Whitman.

         II. Legal Standards

         A. Motion to Dismiss 12(b)(1)

         A district court must dismiss a case when the plaintiff fails to establish subject-matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b) (1). "When a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is filed in conjunction with other Rule 12 motions, the court should consider the Rule 12(b)(1) jurisdictional attack before addressing any attack on the merits." Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001). A dismissal based on lack of subject-matter jurisdiction does not constitute a determination of the claim on its merits, however, and does not prevent a plaintiff from pursuing the claim in a court that has proper jurisdiction. Id.

         B. Eleventh Amendment

         The Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution has been interpreted to preclude suit against a state government by citizens of that state unless the state has waived its immunity or Congress has abrogated the state's immunity. Kimel v. Florida Bd. of Regents, 528 U.S. 62, 73 (2000); Aguilar v. Tex. Dept. of Criminal Justice, 160 F.3d 1052, 1054 (5th Cir. 1998). This protection extends to state agencies and departments and applies regardless of the type of relief sought. Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100 (1984); see also Florida Dept. of Health & Rehabilitative Services v. Florida Nursing Home Assn., 450 U.S. 147 (1981); Ford Motor Co. v. Department of Treasury, 323 U.S. 459 (1945). However, state officials may be sued in their official capacity for injunctive or declaratory relief, but not monetary. Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 159-160 (1908).

         III. Analysis

         A. Eleventh Amendment bars suits against state agencies

         The Plaintiffs' have sued the TDFPS, a Texas state agency. "Absent waiver, neither a State nor agencies acting under its control may be subject to suit in federal court.'" Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 144 (1993) (quoting Welch v. Texas Dept. of Highways and Public Transportation, 483 U.S. 468, 480 (1987). Additionally, Congress has not waived Eleventh Amendment immunity under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 342 (1979); see also Raj v. Louisiana. Univ., 714 F.3d 322, 328 (5th Cir. 2013). Here, TDFPS has not waived its immunity from this lawsuit. See Thomas v. Tex. Dep't of Family & Protective Servs., 427 Fed.Appx. 309, 312-13 (5th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (finding that TDFPS is a state agency that has not waived its immunity from suit and affirming dismissal due to sovereign immunity of a Section 1983 action against TDFPS). Accordingly, TDFPS is immune from suit in this Court under the Eleventh Amendment. Therefore, as to Plaintiffs' 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims against TDFPS, the Court finds it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) because claims against TDFPS are barred by Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity.

         B. Claims against Whitman in ...


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