United States District Court, S.D. Georgia, Savannah Division
REGINALD V. JOHNSON, II, Plaintiff,
JUDY FITZGERALD, COMMISSIONER, GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF BEHAVIORAL HEALTH AND DEVELOPMENTAL DISABILITIES, Defendant.
ORDER AND REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
Christopher L. Ray United States Magistrate Judge.
Johnson, acting through his mother, Ella Johnson, has filed a
Complaint challenging a determination that his preferred
service provider, who is also Ella's sister, is not an
eligible provider. See doc. 1 at 2; doc. 10 at 3. In
order to clarify plaintiff's claim, the Court stayed this
case and directed the parties to brief the question of
whether the Complaint sufficiently invoked any
constitutionally protected right to confer standing to sue on
the plaintiff. See doc. 57 at 18. The parties have
complied. Docs. 61 & 65.
Court's previous Order and Report and Recommendation
[Q]uestions have arisen concerning the viability of
[plaintiff's] claim. In a recent filing, Johnson contends
that “due process is the core of this complaint.”
Doc. 37 at 2. The cited cases, however, make clear that not
every withdrawal or refusal of public benefits
violates a recipient's due process rights. See K.W.
ex rel. D.W. v. Armstrong, 789 F.3d 962, 972 (9th Cir.
2015). None of the cases that plaintiff has cited, and none
that the Court is aware of, establish that a benefit
recipient has a sufficient interest in a particular method of
service-delivery to support a due process challenge. Although
defendant's brief opposing the preliminary injunction
touches tangentially on the nature of Johnson's claim, in
arguing that he has not established the likelihood of success
necessary, defendant has not moved to dismiss or challenged
his standing. See doc. 41 at 9-12.
The nature of Plaintiff's claim matters because it calls
into question his standing, whether litigated through a
guardian ad litem or otherwise, to prosecute this
case. See, e.g., Gonzalez ex rel. Gonzalez v. Reno,
86 F.Supp.2d 1167, 1181 (S.D. Fla. 2000) (noting, despite
terminological similarity, a “[p]laintiff's
standing is a distinct inquiry from that of [his
guardian's] capacity to act as Plaintiff's next
friend [or guardian ad litem].”). Standing is
a component of the Constitution's limitation of federal
judicial power to “cases” and
“controversies.” See Allen v. Wright,
468 U.S. 737, 750 (1984). As an aspect of this constitutional
limitation, standing determines this Court's
jurisdiction. It cannot be waived by any party and the Court
has an obligation to raise the issue on its own motion, if
necessary. See Bischoff v. Osceola Cty., Fla., 222
F.3d 874, 877-78 (11th Cir. 2000) (as the Supreme Court made
clear in United States v. Hays, 515 U.S. 737[, 742]
. . . (1995), “[t]he question of standing is not
subject to waiver . . . . ‘The federal courts are under
an independent obligation to examine their own jurisdiction,
and standing is perhaps the most important of [the
To establish standing, “for purposes of . . .
procedural due process[. . .] claims, plaintiffs must show
that they had an identifiable personal stake in the property
[or liberty] rights at issue.” Santiago-Ramos v.
Autoridad de Energia Electrica de Puerto Rico, AEE, 834
F.3d 103, 106 (1st Cir. 2016) (footnote added); see also
Doe v. Florida Bar, 630 F.3d 1336, 1342 (11th Cir. 2011)
(plaintiff alleging due-process violation must allege
“a deprivation of a constitutionally-protected liberty
or property interest; state action; and constitutionally
inadequate process.”); Royal Oak Entertainment,
L.L.C. v. City of Royal Oak, 316 Fed.Appx. 482, 486 (6th
Cir. 2009) (“This Court has consistently held that a
plaintiff who brings a . . . procedural due process claim
must identify a protected liberty or property
interest.” (cite omitted)). Further, the assertion that
a due-process violation has occurred is not a factual
allegation the Court is required to credit. See Lord
Abbett Mun. Income Fund v. Tyson, 671 F.3d 1203, 1207
(11th Cir. 2012) (citing Edwards v. Prime, Inc., 602
F.3d 1276, 1291 (11th Cir. 2010) (“We are not required
to accept as true the [plaintiff's] legal conclusion that
a Fourteenth Amendment violation occurred.”)).
The Supreme Court has held that no constitutionally-protected
liberty or property interest supported nursing home
residents' suit seeking a hearing before their home's
Medicaid funds were terminated. See O'Bannon v. Town
Court Nursing Center, 447 U.S. 773, 784 (1980).
O'Bannon rejected the both the argument that the
residents had “a property right to remain in the home
of their choice absent good cause for transfer, ” and
that the emotional and physical consequences of their
transfer were “tantamount to a deprivation of
liberty.” Id. The Court noted that
“since decertification [of a particular home] does not
reduce or terminate a patient's financial assistance,
but merely requires him to use it for care at a
different facility, regulations granting recipients the
right to a hearing prior to a reduction in financial benefits
are irrelevant.” Id. at 786 (emphasis added).
Although more qualified, it also found that an administrative
determination, directed against a third party, does not
implicate due process. The Court analogized the effect of the
government's decision to withhold public funds from a
particular provider to the revocation of a provider's
license. Id. at 787. Similarly, whether the
Department will continue to compensate Ella's sister for
the care she provides to plaintiff arguably “does not
turn the [refusal] into a governmental decision to impose
[the] harm” that such cessation would cause. See
Id. at 789.
Doc. 57 at 8-13. Having considered the parties'
arguments, the Court can now determine whether Johnson has
standing to pursue his claim.
Commissioner's argument focuses on the Supreme
Court's analysis in O'Bannon to refute
Reginald's standing. See doc. 61 at 4. The
Commissioner argues that in this case, “[a]s in
O'Bannon, DBHDD has not terminated or reduced
the Medicaid benefits Plaintiff receives; rather, DBHDD
simply maintains that Ms. Johnson's sister cannot be the
particular provider to whom those benefits are
directed.” Id. The Commissioner further argues
that the Department had no obligation to provide a hearing to
the provider before revoking her eligibility. See id.
at 61. Finally, she argues that, even assuming Johnson had
some due-process right, his mother “received a warning
letter in 2016 detailing the policy violations that needed to
be rectified[, and] . . . [she' signed a memorandum of
understanding regarding the terms and conditions of the . . .
program that specified that the participant/representative
may be terminated from the [provider] option
involuntarily when the responsibilities of the . . .
program are not met.” Id. at 6.
responds by reiterating that his “complaint is based on
his due process right to self-directed services which
plaintiff had entitlement to a year prior to defendant
approving family hire services based on defendant's
finding that approval for such services were
warranted.” Doc. 65 at 1. He also disputes the
Commissioner's construction of the correspondence that
was exchanged, identifying discrepancies he contends
“show even more deficiencies in the handling of its
responsibility further supporting WHY due process in this
matter is warranted.” Id. at 2. Despite these
arguments, the Commissioner has the law right.
Court wishes to emphasize that nothing in its determination
of Johnson's ability to sue the Commissioner in this
matter amounts to a determination concerning the validity of
his or his mother's feelings about these circumstances.
Nevertheless, this Court is bound to follow the law, and the
law is that he cannot sue. The determinations most applicable
to the facts of this case are simply not the general due
process principles articulated in Goldberg v.
Kelley, 397 U.S. 254 (1970) which Plaintiff has
consistently relied upon; they are the determinations reached
in O'Bannon. Specifically, the Court's
recognition that: “[t]he simple distinction between
government action that directly affects a citizen's legal
rights . . . and action that is directed against a third
party and affects the citizen only indirectly or
incidentally, ” precludes the relief plaintiff seeks.
O'Bannon, 447 U.S. at 788. As in
O'Bannon, “the fact that the
decertification of a [particular provider] may lead to severe
hardship for [Johnson] does not turn the decertification into
a governmental decision to impose that harm.”
Id. at 789. Determinations of a particular
provider's eligibility to receive public funds does
“not directly affect [their] patients' legal rights
or deprive them of any constitutionally protected interest in
life, liberty, or property.” Id. at 790. That
principle applies despite the real risk that those patients,
in general, and Reginald, in particular, may suffer serious
hardship because of their disqualification.
absence of any apparent constitutionally protected interest,
and given Johnson's emphatic assertion that his claim
arises from his rights to due process under the Fifth and
Fourteenth Amendments, the Court should find that he lacks
standing. Accordingly, his Complaint should be
DISMISSED for lack of subject-matter
jurisdiction. Since he lacks standing, Johnson's
“Motion for Summary Judgment, ” doc. 51, should
be DENIED. The Commissioner's Motion to
Compel discovery, doc. 49, and Motion for Extension of Time
to Respond to the summary judgment motion, doc. 54, are
DENIED as moot.
Report and Recommendation (R&R) is submitted to the
district judge assigned to this action, pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 636(b)(1)(B) and this Court's Local Rule 72.3.
Within 14 days of service, any party may file written
objections to this R&R with the Court and serve a copy on
all parties. The document should be captioned
“Objections to Magistrate Judge's Report and
Recommendations.” Any request for additional time to
file objections should be filed with the Clerk for
consideration by the assigned district judge.
the objections period has ended, the Clerk shall submit this
R&R together with any objections to the assigned district
judge. The district judge will review the magistrate
judge's findings and recommendations pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The parties are advised that
failure to timely file objections will result in the waiver
of rights on appeal. 11th Cir. R. 3-1; see Symonett v.
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