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Hackworth v. Kansas City Veterans Administration Medical Center

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southern Division

February 6, 2015

JEFFERY D. HACKWORTH, Plaintiff,
v.
KANSAS CITY VETERANS ADMINISTRATION MEDICAL CENTER, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

DOUGLAS HARPOOL, District Judge.

Before the Court is the United States' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint (Doc. 72), Plaintiff's Declaration and Demand for Summary Judgment (Doc. 70), and Plaintiff's Declaration and Demand to Rule Laws Unconstitutional (Doc. 71). The United States argues pro se Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint fails to address the deficiencies of Plaintiff's Amended Complaint and therefore the Court should similarly dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. Alternatively, the government moves to stay the case pending further agency investigation into Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff's motions, conversely, ask the Court to rule "laws that allow administrative government agencies to seize any property or money without a court order" are unconstitutional and to enter summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff because "[e]xhibits in the court record... shows proof that Plaintiff's Constitutional Rights were violated." The Court, after careful consideration, GRANTS Defendants' motion (Doc. 72) and DENIES Plaintiff's motions (Docs. 70-71). Plaintiff is permitted on last opportunity to cure the deficiencies stated within this Order and file a Third Amended Complaint.

BACKGROUND

On November 1, 2013, the Court granted Plaintiff Jeffery D. Hackworth leave to proceed with the present case in forma pauperis and Plaintiff filed his Complaint. After filing numerous pre-service motions, Plaintiff submitted an Amended Complaint and obtained service upon Defendants in September of 2014. In response to the Amended Complaint, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss (Doc. 56), which the Court granted (Doc. 61). The Court held Plaintiff's Amended Complaint failed to allege how the federal government waived sovereign immunity such that Court has subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims and further failed to provide sufficient factual allegations to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. The Court allowed Plaintiff the opportunity to file a Second Amended and ordered:

In drafting his Second Amended Complaint, the Court refers Plaintiff to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8 and 10. If Plaintiff chooses to file an amended complaint, it should address the deficiencies stated in this Order, including but not limited to: the basis for the Court's jurisdiction, the specific law(s) under which the federal government waived sovereign immunity in this case, the factual circumstances surrounding the alleged unlawful seizure of funds, how the seizure violated due process, how the individual defendants were involved in the seizure, and all forms of relief requested.

(Doc. 61 at 8).

Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint. The Second Amended Complaint attempts to state a claim against Kansas City Veterans Administration Medical Center ("KCVAMC") and the United States Department of Treasury, [1] citing 28 U.S.C. § 1367 for the Court's subject matter jurisdiction.[2] The Second Amended Complaint alleges that KCVAMC and the Department of Treasury "unlawfully seized funds out of [Plaintiff's] Social Security Disability payment" on or about September 3, 2013, October 3, 2013, April 3, 2014, and October 3, 2014. Plaintiff alleges that "Defendants use[d] an unconstitutional law 31 USC § 3716 to seize funds" and that the seizures were "without due process" violating the Fourth, Fifth, and Seventh Amendments of the United States Constitution.[3] Plaintiff alleges that he disputed the seizure of funds with KCVAMC and that the funds were seized "without telling plaintiff that arguments were over, " without the opportunity to appeal, and without the opportunity to have the case heard in a judicial court. Plaintiff prays for relief in the sum of ten million dollars.[4]

Prior to Defendants' deadline for submitting a response to Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, the Court ordered Defendants to substantively respond to Plaintiff's various motions seeking preliminary relief (Doc. 65). Within Defendants' suggestions in opposition (Doc. 66), the government argued that Plaintiff's funds were legally seized under the Treasury's Offset Program ("TOP"), see 31 U.S.C. § 3716, in order to collect upon a delinquent debt owed by Plaintiff to the Department of Veterans Affairs ("VA"). Defendant attached an affidavit from a Department of Treasury employee, swearing that on June 12, 2013, the VA referred a debt owed by Jeffrey Hackworth to the Treasury; that the VA certified this debt was valid, delinquent, had no bars to collection, and the debtor had been provided requite due process; that the four offsets took place on September 3, 2013, October 3, 2013, April 3, 2014, and October 3, 2014 and totaled $278.48; and that the balance on Plaintiff's debt is currently zero and not subject to offset. The Court therefore denied Plaintiff's motions for preliminary relief (Doc. 73).

Based on the government's court-ordered response to Plaintiff's motions, Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment (Doc. 70) and a motion to declare law unconstitutional (Doc. 71). Plaintiff requests summary judgment because "[e]xhibits in the court records provided by [the government] shows proof that Plaintiff's Constitutional Rights were violated" and Defendants "present[] unconstitutional law', that violate Amendments 4, 5, and 7 of the U.S. Constitution and are not law."[5] Plaintiff concurrently filed a motion asking the Court to declare "laws that allow administrative government agencies to seize any property or money without a court order" unconstitutional. Plaintiff argues that such laws violate the Fourth, Fifth, and Seventh Amendment. Defendants did not respond to Plaintiff's motions.

However, in response to Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, Defendants filed a second motion to dismiss arguing lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. (Doc. 72). Defendants argue that (1) supplemental jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1367 does not provide the Court subject matter jurisdiction in this case, (2) the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's Bivens claim based on the doctrine of sovereign immunity, [6] (3) the Treasury's collection by offset of debts owed by Plaintiff to the VA was lawful, (4) even if Plaintiff did attempt to sue any VA or Treasury employees in this case, they are protected by qualified immunity, and (5) if the proceeding is permitted to survive dismissal, or if the Court allows Plaintiff to again amend his pleading, the action should be stayed pending further VA investigation into Plaintiff's debt referred for TOP collection. Plaintiff responded to Defendant's motion by reiterating the arguments made in his various motions (Docs. 70-71) and further arguing that jurisdiction is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1331; that sovereign immunity is inapplicable to section 1983 claims and that the doctrine itself is unconstitutional; that the offset was not proper because the underlying debt was based on a clerical error; that qualified immunity is unconstitutional; and that the unconstitutional process by which Defendants seized his funds remains an issue regardless of what the VA finds through its investigation.

ANALYSIS

Because the government argues that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the Court must address that issue first. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94-95 (1998). The Court finds that Plaintiff failed to adequately plead a waiver to the federal government's sovereign immunity such that the Court has subject matter jurisdiction. Nonetheless, liberally construing Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint and motions, the Court finds that Plaintiff's allegations may assert a claim under the APA for "relief other than money damages." Nevertheless, even assuming Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint provides a potential basis for waiver of the government's sovereign immunity, Plaintiff's claims fail to state a plausible claim for relief.

I. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

"Absent a waiver, sovereign immunity shields the Federal Government and its agencies from suit." F.D.I.C. v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 475 (1994). Sovereign immunity is jurisdictional in nature and, as a prerequisite to suing the federal government or its agencies, a plaintiff must show that the government has consented to suit. See United States v. Mitchell, 463 U.S. 206, 212 (1983). The government's waiver of sovereign immunity must be "unequivocally ...


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