St. Louis Record

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Judge allows Washington man to pursue claim over child support garnishment without filing fees


By Sam Knef | Jan 16, 2019

ST. LOUIS – U.S. District Judge Audrey Fleissig granted a Washington state man's pro se motion to pursue his case against the Missouri Department of Social Services "in forma pauperis," which relieves him from having to pay a filing fee.

"Having reviewed the application and the financial information submitted in support, the court finds that plaintiff is financially unable to pay the filing fee," Fleissing wrote. "Therefore, plaintiff will be granted leave to proceed in format pauperis pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)."

According to the Jan. 2 ruling from the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, Keith E. Berry brought the lawsuit in federal court last year asserting jurisdiction is proper based on the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure as well as the 14th Amendment's due process and equal protection clauses.

"The truncated and conclusory nature of plaintiff’s 'Statement of Claim' makes it difficult to ascertain the exact nature of his claims," Fleissig wrote. "Nevertheless, it appears that he is complaining about garnishment of his wages in relation to a child support case."

Berry alleged that on March 28, 2008, the Department of Social Services placed a judgment on him in a Missouri court, which he alleges caused him to lose wages. He further alleges that the department failed to "go through the proper channel."

His suit claims that he has been living in the state of Washington for the past 20 years and that he had not been properly served with the suit, nor had paternity been determined through a DNA test or a "wet signature" on the child's birth certificate. He claims that the only document he has received since garnishments started was a judgment from both parties - but that requested documents from both parties has not been successful.

Berry seeks $50,000 in punitive damages for the Department of Social Services' "negligence" and for "deliberately withholding information," as well as for garnishments to stop immediately, the ruling states.

While Fleissig granted Berry's motion to proceed in forma pauperis, she denied his motion for appointment of counsel. She held that Berry has 30 days from the date of the order for him to show cause in writing why his complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim. If he fails to do so, his complaint will be dismissed without prejudice.

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