The opinion of the court was delivered by: WILLIAM ALSUP, District Judge
ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS
In this action challenging the administration of child-support
payment cases in California under the Temporary Assistance to
Needy Families ("TANF") program, defendants move under Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) to dismiss the complaint. The
Court GRANTS defendants' motion to dismiss.
Plaintiff Nick Arellano is Ryan Arellano's non-custodial parent
and guardian ad litem. He has been obliged to pay child support
for Ryan through the Monterey County Department of Child Support Services since November 3, 1993. His case has been
administered pursuant to Title IV-D, 42 U.S.C. 651-669, a
cooperative federal-state program designed to ensure the
availability of child-support enforcement and
paternity-establishment services to states that participate in
the TANF program. As a participant, California receives federal
funds and uses them to make monetary payments, including
child-support, to financially-needy families. The state later
recovers its contributions from the parents responsible for such
obligations. Under the Act, it cannot claim an amount exceeding
the benefits it actually disbursed to the family, however, and
any excess payments must be applied to outstanding obligations.
California must also comply with basic federal goals and
regulations governing its administration of child-support cases.
Beyond meeting these minimum standards, the state has
considerable autonomy in designing its own public-assistance
Plaintiff Arellano made regular reimbursement and child-support
payments to the department pursuant to a court order until
September 1997. Around that time, Ryan's mother requested that
his child-support case be closed; she also waived all outstanding
obligations he owed. Beginning in 1998, disputes emerged between
plaintiff Arellano and the Monterey County Child Support
Division, the local agency that was directly responsible for
administering his case. Specifically, plaintiff Arellano took
issue with the division's notices that he owed substantial sums
of money and practices of intercepting his tax refunds and
levying his bank accounts in order to collect those sums. He was
also aggrieved by the division's failure to provide him with
notice or information as to how he could resolve his disputes or
a statement regarding his reimbursement account.
On February 19, 2005, plaintiff Arellano commenced this action
challenging these alleged administrative errors. He represents a
putative class of other parents allegedly subjected to similar
errors, his son Ryan and similarly-situated children. Consumer
Advocates Rights Enforcement Society, Inc., the other named
plaintiff, is a California non-profit public-benefit organization
that aids in the enforcement of rights of families whose support
is processed through the county/state child-support system.
Defendants are or were previously involved in managing various aspects of child-support services that allegedly
affected or continue to impact the administration of plaintiff
Arellano's and the putative class members' child-support cases.
This action accuses defendants of violating both federal and
state laws by mismanaging child-support cases in California.
Specifically, the complaint alleges: (1) defendants have deprived
plaintiffs of property without due process of law, in violation
of 42 U.S.C. 1983; (2) defendants have deprived plaintiffs of
property without due process of law and infringed on their Fifth
and Fourteenth Amendment rights, in violation of 42 U.S.C. 657,
by collecting and retaining excess child-support payments; (3)
defendants have failed to provide plaintiffs with the requisite
notice and due process protections in handling their accounts;
(4) defendants Hansen and Ortiz, child-support attorneys for the
Monterey County Local Child Support Agency and/or Department of
Child Support Services, fraudulently obtained plaintiff
Arellano's earnings from his employer; (5) defendants have
unlawfully charged interest on undistributed child-support
payments; (6) defendants have breached their fiduciary duty to
plaintiffs; and (7) defendants' fiduciary duty requires them to
provide plaintiffs with an accounting. Plaintiffs request that
the Court direct defendants to redress their alleged
Defendants now move to dismiss the complaint on the following
five grounds: (1) plaintiffs have no private right of action
under Title IV-D; (2) the Eleventh Amendment shields them from
all claims; (3) many of plaintiffs' claims are barred by the
statute of limitations; (4) defendant Child, former director of
California's Department of Child Support Services, is entitled to
qualified immunity as to any damages claims; and (5) the Court
lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over the state claims.
Defendants also assert that plaintiff Arellano lacks standing to bring the action on behalf of Ryan and
that the putative class members lack standing as well.*fn2
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), dismissal
for failure to state a claim is proper if it appears beyond doubt
that plaintiff can prove no set of facts to support a claim
entitling him to relief. Dismissal may be based on the lack of a
cognizable legal theory or the absence of sufficient facts
alleged under a cognizable legal theory. Balistreri v. Pacifica
Police Dept., 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990). Furthermore,
all material allegations of the complaint are taken as true and
are construed in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party.
Cahill v. Liberty Mut. Ins. Co., 80 F.3d 336, 337-38 (9th
Cir. 1996). If dismissal is granted, plaintiffs are only provided
leave to amend if they can cure the complaint's defects. Noll v.
Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448 (9th Cir. 1987).
1. PRIVATE RIGHT OF ACTION.
Defendants contend that plaintiffs have no private right of
action against them because the federal laws they allegedly
violated do not unambiguously confer upon plaintiffs any
individual rights. Plaintiffs claim to possess a private right of
action because the relevant laws benefit them, provide them with
clear and enforceable rights and impose binding obligations on
defendants that work to their advantage.
The Supreme Court held in Blessing v. Freestone, 520 U.S. 329
(1997), that custodial mothers of children eligible to receive
child support under Title IV-D lacked a private right of action
against a state under Section 1983 to obtain "substantial
compliance" with the title. It based this decision on the
recognition that Congress did not intend for the law in question
to benefit individual children and custodial parents. The ruling
further identified the following factors as critical to this
determination: (1) whether the right asserted under the statute
is so "vague and amorphous" that enforcement would strain ...