United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division
JOSEPH H. CECIL PLAINTIFF
HUGH HAYNIE DEFENDANT
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
H. McKinley, Jr., Chief Judge.
matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to
Dismiss [DN 7]. Fully briefed, this matter is ripe for
decision. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion
Jefferson County Family Court Judge Haynie presided over
Plaintiff Joseph Cecil's divorce proceedings, which were
lengthy and bifurcated into two trials in 2012 and 2013.
(Mem. [DN 7-1] at 1.) A final decree of divorce was entered
on July 11, 2013 and was affirmed by the Kentucky Court of
appeals in Cecil v. Cecil, No. 2013-CA-001608-MR,
2015 WL 4153637, at *1 (Ky. Ct. App. July 10, 2015),
reh'g denied (Aug. 27, 2015), review
denied (Mar. 9, 2016), cert. denied, 137 S.Ct.
104 (2016). Cecil filed his complaint in this Court on
February 21, 2017, alleging that Judge Haynie, did not apply
the rules of ERISA appropriately as they pertained to
Plaintiff's state court divorce proceedings. (Compl. [DN
1] at 5.) He requests that the Court “instruct and
clarify the application of ERISA to the before case and to
instruct the Family Court to proceed accordingly.”
(Id. at 6.) In response, Judge Haynie filed the
instant Motion to Dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).
Standard of Review
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a court “must construe the
complaint in the light most favorable to plaintiffs, ”
League of United Latin Am. Citizens v.
Bredesen, 500 F.3d 523, 527 (6th Cir. 2007) (citation
omitted), “accept all well-pled factual allegations as
true, ” id., and determine whether the
“complaint . . . states a plausible claim for relief,
” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009).
Under this standard, the plaintiff must provide the grounds
for its entitlement to relief, which “requires more
than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of
the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atl. Corp.
v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). A plaintiff
satisfies this standard only when it “pleads factual
content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. A complaint
falls short if it pleads facts “merely consistent with
a defendant's liability” or if the alleged facts do
not “permit the court to infer more than the mere
possibility of misconduct.” Id. at 679.
Instead, “a complaint must contain a ‘short and
plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief.'” Id. at 663 (quoting
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2)). “But where the well-pleaded
facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere
possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it
has not ‘show[n]'-‘that the pleader is
entitled to relief.'” Id. at 679 (quoting
argues that Plaintiff's complaint should be dismissed for
a lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine and the Eleventh Amendment, and for
failure to state a claim as barred by absolute judicial
the background of this litigation as discussed above, it is
clear that the divorce proceedings and the application of
ERISA thereto has been exhaustively litigated and resolved in
Jefferson County Circuit Court and subsequently in the
Kentucky Court of Appeals. Because Plaintiff seeks to reopen
those divorce proceedings and instruct the Jefferson County
Circuit Court to rule differently, the Court lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine. Givens v. Homecomings Fin., 278 Fed.Appx.
607, 608 (6th Cir. 2008).
Rooker-Feldman doctrine divests federal courts of
jurisdiction over ‘cases brought by state-court losers
complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments
rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and
inviting district court review and rejection of those
judgments.'” Bell v. Jp Morgan Chase Bank
N.A., No. 5:16-CV-00021-TBR, 2016 WL 4180005, at *2
(W.D. Ky. Aug. 5, 2016) (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v.
Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005)).
Here, Plaintiff does exactly that. By asking this Court to
determine that the state court applied ERISA incorrectly and
to instruct the state court to proceed in the decidedly
correct fashion, the foundation of Plaintiff's complaint
is inextricably intertwined with the correctness of the
Jefferson Circuit Court's judgment. See Kafele v.
Lerner, Sampson & Rothfuss, L.P.A., 161 Fed.
App'x 487, 489-90 (6th Cir. 2005). Effectively, then,
Plaintiff asks the Court to review and invalidate the state
court's resolution of the divorce proceedings. Because
Plaintiff's claim is “predicated on their
conviction that the state courts were wrong, ” it
“satisfy[ies] ‘the very definition' of a case
requiring Rooker-Feldman abstention.” Kafele,
161 F. App'x at 490 (6th Cir. 2005) (quoting Tropf v.
Fidelity Nat'l Title Ins. Co., 289 F.3d 929, 937-38
(6th Cir.2002). Accordingly, under this doctrine, the Court
lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to hear Plaintiff's
it is well settled that any suit filed against a judge in his
official capacity is barred by the Eleventh Amendment.
Bennett v. Thorburn, 843 F.2d 1390, 1988 WL 27524,
at *1 (6th Cir. 1988) (unpublished table decision) (finding
state court judge immune from suit under the Eleventh
Amendment for presiding in the state court litigation);
see Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 169 (1985);
Ward v. City of Norwalk, 640 F. App'x 462, 464
(6th Cir. 2016); Geary v. Brantley, No.
4:12CV-P33-M, 2012 WL 3598286, at *3 (W.D. Ky. Aug. 17,
2012). Consequently, to the extent Plaintiff's complaint
encompasses claims involving acts committed by Judge Haynie
in his official capacity, they are barred by the Eleventh
Plaintiff argues that the Eleventh Amendment “does not
stop federal courts from issuing an injunction against a
state official who is violating a federal law” under
Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, 158-59 (1908).
(Response [DN 8] at 1.) Plaintiff asserts that Judge Haynie
violated federal law, specifically in the manner that he
applied ERISA to Plaintiff's divorce proceedings, and
this Court has the ability to “order [Judge Haynie] to
stop.” (Id. at 2.) However, Ex Parte
Young does not apply here. “In Ex parte Young, the
Court mandated that, at least in some cases, a claim solely
for prospective injunctive relief restraining a state
official from continuing an ongoing violation of federal law
may not be barred from federal court by the Eleventh
Amendment.” Mumford v. Basinski, 105 F.3d 264,
270 (6th Cir. 1997) (citing Seminole Tribe of Florida v.
Florida, 517 U.S. 44, 73 (1996); Green v.
Mansour, 474 U.S. 64, 68 (1985)). Actions against a
state officer including a claim for retrospective relief for
past violations of federal law “are not exempted from
the Eleventh Amendment's jurisdictional bar.”
Id. (citing Green, 474 U.S. at 68). Because
Plaintiff has brought this action seeking retrospective
relief, his claims do not fall under the application of
Ex Parte Young, and the Eleventh Amendment still
immunizes Judge Haynie from suit.
a judge is immune from liability in his individual capacity
for judicial acts if at the time he acted, regardless of
whether he acted in error, maliciously, or in excess of his
authority, he had jurisdiction over the subject matter before
him. See Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11, 12 (1991);
Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554-55 (1967);
Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-58 (1978);
Ireland v. Tunis, 113 F.3d 1435, 1441 (6th Cir.
1997); Geary, 2012 WL 3598286, at *2; Vaughn v.
Webb, 911 S.W.2d 273, 275 (Ky. Ct. App. 1995). Plaintiff
has not asserted that Judge Haynie has committed any
nonjudicial actions or actions outside of his jurisdiction.
Simply presiding over Plaintiffs divorce proceedings and
rendering proper determinations in the course of the
litigation are, in fact, “functions normally performed
by a judge.” Geary, 2012 WL 3598286, at *2.
Therefore, any allegedly erroneous acts executed by Judge
Haynie were judicial in nature and subject to judicial
immunity. To the extent that Plaintiffs complaint includes
claims against Judge Haynie in his individual capacity, they
are barred by judicial immunity.
for multiple reasons, Plaintiffs claims fail under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Because Plaintiff has stated no other
plausible grounds for relief, the ...