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Daugherty v. Wireless

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

July 30, 2018

SAFELINK WIRELESS, et al., Defendants.



         Before the Court is defendants TracFone and Clarke-Milton's Motion to Dismiss. (Doc. 13). After full and careful consideration, the Court hereby DENIES Defendants' motion.


         As described in Defendants' motion, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against Defendants under the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, seeking damages for alleged violations of his rights to due process of law under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Plaintiffs Amended Complaint brings claims against Safelink Wireless, Tracfone Wireless, Suzanne Clarke-Milton, and Carlos Slim. Plaintiff has stated that he is bringing suit against the “Government Authorized Administrators of a Government Funded Eligibility Program (i.e.) The Lifeline Assistance Program which is regulated by the FCC and others.” (Doc. 10). Defendant Clarke-Milton is a TracFone employee, and is a SafeLink Specialist in the Consumer Affairs department. SafeLink Wireless is a TracFone brand, and not an independent corporate entity.[1]

         Plaintiff contends that the Defendants were acting under the color of “federal law, ” and were authorized by “the FCC and local State Regulatory Agencies, ” and as a result have a “duty to administer, according to applicable laws, applications and services and recertifications, to enable poor persons that financially qualify for the Lifeline Assistance Program that provides Cell Phones and Cell Service.” Plaintiff argues Defendants are required to provide cell phone services to qualified persons in compliance with the laws that authorize the eligibility program. Plaintiff contends that the administration of “said government benefits” must be in compliance with the regulating laws and entitle Plaintiff to due process protections of the 5th and 14th Amendments of the United States Constitution. (Doc. 10).

         Plaintiff further argues that due process protection extends to all government proceedings that “can result in an individual's deprivation, whether civil or criminal in nature, from parole violation hearings to administrative hearings regarding government benefits and entitlements to full-blown criminal trials. In this case, it pertains to a government benefits and entitlements, specifically of the Government's Lifeline Assistance Program entitlement for poor persons.” In essence, Plaintiff argues his right to the cell phone assistance program is entitled to protection under § 1983. Plaintiff has been enrolled in the program to receive free cell phone service for a period of two years. He argues 1) his service has been discontinued without proper notice in violation of his due process rights; and 2) that he has been denied an appeal process in violation of his due process rights.

         Defendants have moved to dismiss arguing, among other things, that the services described by Plaintiff are not entitled to § 1983 protections. Defendants state that:

the Lifeline program (Lifeline) is a component of the Federal Universal Service Fund that subsidizes telephone service for certain individuals pursuant to specific federal and state rules and regulations administered by the Universal Service Administrative Company. To qualify for Lifeline, applicants must provide proof that they meet the income qualification thresholds or that they participate in at least one of the following public assistance programs: Medicaid, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Food Stamps, Supplemental Security Income, Federal Public Housing Assistance (Section 8), or Veterans and Survivors Pension Benefit. Plaintiff obtained his Lifeline benefits through TracFone's SafeLink Wireless brand (SafeLink). Pursuant to regulations promulgated by the Missouri Public Service Commission, Lifeline beneficiaries in the state are required to recertify and submit proof of their eligibility for the Lifeline program every two years. See Mo. Code Regs. tit. 4 § 240-31.120(2)(C).

         Defendants further state in order to reactivate Plaintiff's service under the applicable rules and regulations, they need a complete application, including Plaintiff's proof of eligibility. TracFone states it cannot legally certify Plaintiff's eligibility to reenroll without Plaintiff providing the proof required. Plaintiff acknowledges that TracFone sent him an application to reactivate his service. Further, Defendants state that if Plaintiff is in fact still eligible for this program, he can resolve this lawsuit by filling out and submitting the application to have his cell phone service reinstated.


         “To survive a motion to dismiss [under 12(b)(6)], a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A complaint is facially plausible where its factual content “allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. The plaintiff must plead facts that show more than a mere speculation or possibility that the defendant acted unlawfully. Id.; Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). While the Court accepts the complaint's factual allegations as true, it is not required to accept the plaintiff's legal conclusions. Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 678. “Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.” Id.

         The court's assessment of whether the complaint states a plausible claim for relief is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 679. The reviewing court must read the complaint as a whole rather than analyzing each allegation in isolation. Braden v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 588 F.3d 585, 594 (8th Cir. 2009).


         The elements of a § 1983 claim are “(1) that the defendant(s) acted under color of state law, and (2) that the alleged wrongful conduct deprived the plaintiff of a constitutionally protected federal right.” Schmid ...

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