United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green
DONNIE R. STEPHENS PETITIONER
AARON SMITH, WARDEN RESPONDENT
N. STIVERS, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
Donnie R. Stephens filed a pro se petition for writ
of habeas corpus pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2241 (DN 1)
which is before the Court.
is presently incarcerated at Kentucky State Reformatory. On
January 11, 2011, the Russell County Attorney filed an action
for Juvenile Dependency, Neglect and Abuse regarding his
three minor children. See D.R.S. v. Commonwealth of
Kentucky, No. 2014-CA-001018-ME, 2015 WL 2445069 (Ky.
Ct. App. May 22, 2015). The action was based on evidence that
Stephens had “raped and fondled” one of his
children and “fondled” another of his children.
Id. On November 16, 2011, he received a final
sentence after having pled guilty in Russell Circuit Court to
Rape, Second Degree and Unlawful Transaction with a Minor,
First Degree. Id. Stephens received a twelve-year
January 19, 2012, the maternal great aunt and her husband
were granted permanent custody of Stephens' three
children. Id. On April 10, 2014, the Russell Family
Court vacated an order of June 26, 2013, regarding a report
about the possibility of contact between Stephens and his
children and overruled his request for visitation and
telephone contact. Id. Stephens appealed the denial
of his motion for telephone and letter contact with his minor
children to the Kentucky Court of Appeals. Id. The
Kentucky Court of Appeals affirmed the decision of the trial
court. Id. Discretionary review of the matter was
denied by the Kentucky Supreme Court on June 8, 2016.
present § 2241 petition, Stephens challenges the state
court denial of non-physical contact with his minor children.
He raises two grounds for relief. First, he asserts that
denying him letter and telephone contact with his minor
children violates the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments.
Second, he asserts that the trial court “abused its
discretion in denying non-physical contact with-out a proper
hearing when parent retain parental rights.” He
requests this Court to “[r]emand back for a properly
held hearing to determine in an evidentiary style proceed
whether [Stephens] is entitled to non-physical contact where
[Stephens] has followed all recommendations of trial court
order of conviction including (SOTP) treatment.”
12(h)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides,
“If the court determines at any time that it lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the
action.” “Jurisdiction defines the contours of
the authority of courts to hear and decide cases, and, in so
doing, it dictates the scope of the judiciary's
influence.” Douglas v. E.G. Baldwin & Assocs.
Inc., 150 F.3d 604, 606 (6th Cir. 1998), overruled
on other grounds by Cobb v. Contract Transp., Inc., 452
F.3d 543, 548-49 (6th Cir. 2006). “[F]ederal courts
have a duty to consider their subject matter jurisdiction in
regard to every case and may raise the issue sua
sponte.” Answers in Genesis of Ky., Inc. v.
Creation Ministries Int'l., 556 F.3d 459, 465 (6th
Cir. 2009). The party that seeks to invoke a federal district
court's jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing the
court's jurisdiction. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins.
Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994).
28 United States Code § 2241(c) states, in relevant
part, as follows:
The writ of habeas corpus shall not extend to a prisoner
unless- (1) He is in custody under or by color of the
authority of the United States . . .; (2) He is in custody
for an act done or omitted in pursuance of an Act of
Congress, or an order, process, judgment or decree of a court
or judge of the United States; or (3) He is in custody in
violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the
United States . . . .
28 U.S.C. § 2241(c). In the present case, Stephens is
not in custody under the authority of the United States nor
is he in custody for an act done or omitted in pursuance of
an Act of Congress, or an order, process, judgment or decree
of a court or judge of the United States. Further, he does
not contend that he is in custody in violation of the
Constitution or laws or treaties of the United States.
“[T]he essence of habeas corpus is an attack by a
person in custody upon the legality of that custody, and . .
. the traditional function of the writ is to secure release
from illegal custody.” Preiser v. Rodriguez,
411 U.S. 475, 484 (1973); see also Peyton v. Rowe,
391 U.S. 54, 58 (1968) (“The writ of habeas corpus is a
procedural device for subjecting executive, judicial, or
private restraints on liberty to judicial scrutiny. . . . It
assures . . . that a prisoner may require his jailer to
justify the detention under the law.”); Pierre v.
United States, 525 F.2d 933, 935 (5th Cir. 1976)
(stating that the “sole function” for a habeas
action “is to grant relief from unlawful imprisonment
or custody and it cannot be used properly for any other
purpose”). Habeas relief “is not available to
review questions unrelated to the cause of detention.”
Pierre v. United States, 525 F.2d at 935. Stephens
is not challenging the legality of his custody nor does he
seek release from custody. Therefore, a writ of habeas corpus
is not available to him, and his petition for such will be
denied on this basis.
this action must also be dismissed because it seeks to
involve the federal court in a domestic relations matter best
left to the states. “Domestic relations is ‘a
traditional area of state concern.'” Kelm v.
Hyatt, 44 F.3d 415, 420 (6th Cir. 1995) (citation
omitted). The Supreme Court has long held that federal courts
have no jurisdiction to hear domestic relations matters.
See Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 703
(1992) (holding that the domestic relations exception
“divests the federal courts of power to issue divorce,
alimony, and child custody decrees”); Lehman v.
Lycoming Cty. Children's Servs., 458 U.S. 502,
510-11 (1982) (holding that federal habeas corpus
jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 2254 could not be invoked
where a state had obtained custody of children and terminated
the parental rights); Ex parte Burrus, 136 U.S. 586,
593-94 (1890) (“The whole subject of the domestic
relations of a husband and wife, parent and child, belongs to
the laws of the states, and not to the laws of the United
States”). “Even when brought under the guise of a
federal question action, a suit whose subject is domestic
relations generally will not be entertained in a federal
court.” Firestone v. Cleveland Trust Co., 654
F.2d 1212, 1215 (6th Cir. 1981).
Sixth Circuit discussed the domestic-relations exception in
two recent cases, Alexander v. Rosen, 804 F.3d 1203
(6th Cir. 2015) and Chevalier v. Estate of Barnhart,
803 F.3d 789 (6th Cir. 2015). The Sixth Circuit clarified
that the domestic-relations exception applies only to a
“narrow range” of cases, Chevalier v. Estate
of Barnhart, 803 F.3d at 795, and it does not apply
“unless ‘a plaintiff positively sues in federal
court for divorce, alimony, or child custody, ' or seeks
to modify or interpret an existing divorce, alimony, or
child-custody decree.” Chevalier v. Estate of
Barnhart, 803 F.3d at 796 (quoting Catz v.
Chalker, 142 F.3d 279, 292 (6th Cir. 1998)). “When
analyzing the applicability of the ...