United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JOSEPH M. HOOD, District Judge.
Plaintiff James Richard Turley ("Turley") is an inmate confined in the Northpoint Training Center located in Burgin, Kentucky. Proceeding without an attorney, Turley has filed a civil rights complaint asserting constitutional claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and pendent state law claims. [R. 1]. Turley has paid the $400.00 filing fee. [R. 3].
Pursuant to Apple v. Glenn, 183 F.3d 477, 479 (6th Cir. 1999) (per curiam), district courts are permitted to conduct a limited screening procedure and to dismiss, sua sponte, a fee-paid complaint when the allegations are "totally implausible, attenuated, unsubstantial, frivolous, devoid of merit, or no longer open to discussion." Apple, 183 F.3d at 479 (citing Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 536-37 (1974)). Dismissal on a sua sponte basis is also authorized where the asserted claims lack "legal plausibility necessary to invoke federal subject matter jurisdiction." Id. at 480; see also Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989); Sistrunk v. City of Strongsville, 99 F.3d 194, 197 (6th Cir. 1996). Finally, if a court determines, at any time, that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over an action, the Court must dismiss the action. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3).
As explained below, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Turley's claims, and will therefore dismiss his complaint.
Turley was previously married to Defendant Leann Marie Brown-Turley-Walker ("Brown-Turley-Walker"), and together they had a daughter, J.R.T. In 2004, Turley and Brown-Turley-Walker began divorce proceedings in the Fayette Circuit Family Court, Case No. 2004-CI-04138 ("the Divorce Action"). Turley alleges that protracted litigation concerning both his child support obligations and his visitation rights with J.R.T. ensued in the Divorce Action for the next ten years. [R. 1, pp. 7-12]. Brown-Turley-Walker is now married to Defendant Charles Thomas Walker, Sr. ("Walker").
Turley alleges that in 2013 he filed a series of motions in the Divorce Action seeking to enforce his visitation rights with J.R.T., on the grounds that Brown-Turley-Walker and Walker had continually violated a prior order in that proceeding which purportedly required them to physically bring J.R.T. to any Kentucky Department of Corrections facility where Turley is confined so that he could effectuate visitation with J.R.T. Turley alleges that on October 31, 2013, Fayette Family Court Judge Lucinda M. Masterton conducted a hearing on his motions; entered an order terminating his visitation privileges with J.R.T.; that he requested, but was denied, reconsideration of that order; and that, in February 2014, he filed a "Gabbard Appeal" in the Fayette Circuit Court.
ALLEGATIONS OF THE COMPLAINT
Turley alleges that on over three thousand occasions between October 5, 2004 and April 30, 2014, Brown-Turley-Walker prevented any form of contact between him and J.R.T.; failed and refused to have J.R.T. evaluated by a mental health specialist; and prevented him from exercising his visitation rights with J.R.T. [ Id. at pp. 1-4, ¶¶ 1-8]. Turley alleged that Brown-Turley-Walker's actions over this 10-year period violated various orders entered in the Divorce Action; violated his federal rights guaranteed by the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, and violated his state rights guaranteed under numerous provisions of the Kentucky Constitution.
Turley asserts practically identical claims against Walker, claiming that on over a thousand occasions between March 26, 2006 and April 30, 2014, Walker prevented him from communicating with J.R.T. and from carrying out his visitation rights with J.R.T., and that in so doing, Walker violated his federal and state constitutional rights. [ Id. at pp. 4-6, ¶¶ 9-16]. Turley demands a jury trial and both money and punitive damages of up to $4 million from both defendants as compensation for the alleged violation of his federal and state rights.
Turley's complaint suffers from several defects which warrant dismissal. First, Turley asserts his claims alleging violation of his federal constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, but to proceed under that statute, a plaintiff must allege and establish that the defendant was a state actor. Flagg Bros., Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 156 (1978); Broomfield v. Garnes, 36 F.Appx. 545, 545 (6th Cir. 2002); Wolotsky v. Huhn, 960 F.2d 1331, 1335 (6th Cir. 1992). A private party generally is not subject to suit under § 1983, Brotherton v. Cleveland, 173 F.3d 552, 567 (6th Cir. 1999), and can be deemed a "state actor" only if he or she was acting under color of state law. Chapman v. Higbee Co., 319 F.3d 825, 833 (6th Cir. 2003).
Turley alleges no facts indicating that either Brown-Turley-Walker or Walker were acting under color of state law rendering them "state actors" for purposes of § 1983. Turley alleges that Brown-Turley-Walker is his ex-wife and an employee of Central Kentucky Management Services, Inc., but neither of these allegations render her a "state actor" under § 1983. Further, Brown-Turley-Walker's status as an adverse party in the Divorce Action does not elevate her to the level of a "state actor" under § 1983. See Courtney v. Reed, No. 2:12-CV-10886, 2012 WL 1555207, at *2 (E.D. Mich. Apr. 30, 2012) (concluding that plaintiff's ex-wife was a private citizen and not a state actor under § 1983); Milgrom v. Burstein, 374 F.Supp.2d 523, 527 (E.D. Ky. 2005) (same). Brown-Turley-Walker is merely a private party who is not subject to suit under § 1983. Next, Turley alleges that Walker is an employee of the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government, but he alleges no facts suggesting that Walker's alleged actions were taken in his official capacity as a municipal employee. Thus, Walker is likewise only a private party who has no liability to Turley under § 1983.
A recent case from Michigan bears a striking similarity to this proceeding. In 2012, a Michigan prisoner unsuccessfully filed a federal civil rights action alleging essentially the same federal and state claims that Turley asserts in this action. In Kucera v. Black, No. 4:12-CV-15218, 2012 WL 6200332 (E.D. Mich. Dec. 12, 2012), Michigan prisoner John Kucera sued his ex-wife in federal court for her refusal to abide by the terms of divorce judgment which provide for visitations with his son. Kucera alleged that their Divorce Judgment provided that, if he were imprisoned in a facility within 100 miles of Detroit, his ex-wife would provide visitations with his son every-other-weekend at the facility, and that by failing to abide with that judgment, his ex-wife had interfered with his family relationship, intentionally inflicted emotional distress, and violated his civil rights. Id. at *1. On initial screening, the court rejected all of Kucera's claims and dismissed his complaint, finding that among other things, his ...