United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
N. Stivers, Judge
matter is before the Court upon Defendants' Motions to
Dismiss (DN 8, 9, 12, 15, 17, 18) and Plaintiffs' Motions
for Summary Judgment (DN 21, 27). For the reasons stated
below, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motions and DENIES AS
MOOT Plaintiffs' motions.
a pro se civil rights case filed by Amena LeBlanc
(“LeBlanc”) on behalf of herself and her minor
children, M.S. and D.L., and by LeBlanc's boyfriend, Roy
J. Majors (“Majors”).Plaintiffs assert claims
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and 18 U.S.C. §§ 241
and 242 alleging Defendants conspired to violate their
constitutional rights when an investigation into dependency,
abuse, and neglect allegations led to the removal of the
children from LeBlanc's custody. (Am. Compl., DN 11).
Plaintiffs have brought suit against various government
organizations and employees for their role in the
investigation, court proceedings, or removal of the children.
Defendants include: Kentucky Cabinet for Family and Health
Services (“CHFS”) and its employees Cindy
Branstetter (“Branstetter”) and Aleda Hagan
(“Hagan”); the Warren County Sheriff's Office
(“WCSO”); Assistant Warren County Attorney Leslie
Bucklew; Warren County Family Court Judge Catherine
Holderfield; the Montgomery County (Tennessee) Sheriff's
Office (“MCSO”); and the Tennessee Department of
Children Services (“DCS”). Plaintiffs seek $500
million dollars and “an injunction on all rulings made
by Hon. Catherine Holderfield regarding Plaintiff Amena
LeBlanc's Warren County family court case.” (Am.
Compl. ¶¶ 110-11).
(excluding MCSO, and Branstetter and Hagan in their
individual capacities) each filed a Motion to Dismiss.
Plaintiffs filed Motions for Summary Judgment against MCSO
for failure to answer. Plaintiffs also seek summary judgment
against Branstetter, Hagan, and Bucklew for failure to answer
in their individual capacities. These matters are ripe for
STANDARD OF REVIEW
defendant may, before pleading, move to dismiss a complaint
for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(1). There are two categories of motions to dismiss for
lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(1): facial attacks and factual attacks. See United
States v. Ritchie, 15 F.3d 592, 598 (6th Cir. 1994). A
facial attack challenges the court's subject matter
jurisdiction based upon the sufficiency of the pleadings. In
considering a facial attack, a court will consider the
material allegations of fact set forth in the complaint as
being true and construe them in a light most favorable to the
nonmoving party. See id. A factual attack challenges
the court's subject matter jurisdiction based upon the
facts as alleged in the pleadings; instead of presuming the
allegations of fact in the complaint to be true the court
will weigh the conflicting evidence to determine whether
proper jurisdiction exists. See id.
circumstances, a plaintiff bears the burden to survive
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of subject
matter jurisdiction. See Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678,
682 (1946). Indeed, “[i]f the court determines at any
time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court
must dismiss the action.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3). With
that being said, pro se pleadings are to be held to
a less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by
lawyers. See Jourdan v. Jabe, 951 F.2d 108, 110 (6th
Cir. 1991). The Court need not, however, abrogate the basic
pleading standards of a motion to dismiss when considering a
pro se pleading. See Wells v. Brown, 891 F.2d 591,
594 (6th Cir. 1989).
complaint must contain “a short and plain statement of
the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,
” and is subject to dismissal if it “fail[s] to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2); Fed. R. Civ. P 12(b)(6). When
considering a motion to dismiss, courts must presume all
factual allegations in the complaint to be true and make all
reasonable inferences in favor of the nonmoving party.
Total Benefits Planning Agency, Inc. v. Anthem Blue Cross
& Blue Shield, 552 F.3d 430, 434 (6th Cir. 2008)
(citing Great Lakes Steel v. Deggendorf, 716 F.2d
1101, 1105 (6th Cir. 1983)). To survive a motion to dismiss
under Rule 12(b)(6), the plaintiff must allege “enough
facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.” Traverse Bay Area Intermediate Sch. Dist. v.
Mich. Dep't of Educ., 615 F.3d 622, 627 (6th Cir.
2010) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Bell
Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A
claim becomes plausible “when the plaintiff pleads
factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).
Defendants' Motions to Dismiss
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
move to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction
pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the
domestic relations exception to federal jurisdiction, and the
Younger abstention doctrine.
request for this Court to issue “an injunction on all
rulings made by Hon. Catherine Holderfield regarding
Plaintiff Amena LeBlanc's Warren County family court
case” is barred by the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine. (Am. Comp. 36). Under this doctrine, “lower
federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction to engage in
appellate review of state court proceedings.”
Pieper v. Am. Arbitration Ass'n, 336 F.3d 458,
460 (6th Cir. 2003) (internal quotation omitted) (citation
omitted). Only the United States Supreme Court has
jurisdiction to review state court judgments. See D.C.
Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482 (1983);
Rooker v. Fid. Tr. Co., 263 U.S. 413, 416 (1923).
Thus, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine acts as a
limitation on federal courts' jurisdiction, “if the
constitutional claims presented to a United States district
court are “inextricably intertwined” with the
state court's ruling. Feldman, 460 U.S. at 482
determine whether a claim is inextricably intertwined,
“the federal court must analyze whether the relief
requested in the federal action would effectively reverse the
state court decision or void its ruling.” In re
Singleton, 230 B.R. 533, 536-37 (B.A.P. 6th Cir. 1999)
(internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Bechtold v.
City of Rosemount, 104 F.3d 1062, 1065 (8th Cir. 1997)).
In a similar case, this Court concluded that a family's
request to enjoin a family court's decision to remove two
children was barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
Evans v. Downey, No. 1:15-CV-00117-GNS, 2016 U.S.
Dist. LEXIS 82237, at *3 (W.D. Ky. June 23, 2016). Here,
Plaintiffs' request for this Court to issue injunctive
relief would be equivalent to overturning the state
court's decision. Plaintiffs' claims for injunctive
relief are therefore denied.
Court also lacks subject matter jurisdiction due to the
domestic relations exception to federal jurisdiction. See
Evans, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82237, at *4.
“Generally, federal courts have no jurisdiction over
domestic relations matters. Rather, state courts have
exclusive jurisdiction over these matters.”
Danforth v. Celebrezze, 76 F. App'x 615, 616
(6th Cir. 2003) (citing Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 54
U.S. 689, 703-04 (1992)). “Although this domestic
relations exception to federal jurisdiction does not apply to
a civil action that merely has domestic relations overtones,
federal courts lack jurisdiction where the action is a mere
pretense and the suit is actually concerned with domestic
relation issues.” Id. (internal citations
omitted). In other words, just because a plaintiff
“styles his claim as a civil rights violation [it] does
not change this calculus.” See Rigney v.
Hesen, No. 3:12-CV-541-R, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 96110,
at *14 (W.D. Ky. July 9, 2013) (citation omitted). In
determining whether the domestic relations exception applies,
“we must focus on the remedy that the plaintiff seeks:
Does the plaintiff seek an issuance or modification or
enforcement of a divorce, alimony, or child-custody
decrees?” Chevalier v. Estate of Barnhart, 803
F.3d 789, 797 (6th Cir. 2015) (citation omitted). In this
case, Plaintiffs seek a modification of a child custody
decree, which is unquestionably a domestic relations
determination. Thus, Plaintiffs' claims are barred by the
domestic relations exception.
claims must also be dismissed for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction pursuant to the Younger abstention
doctrine. “Younger abstention requires federal
courts to abstain from granting injunctive or declaratory
relief that would interfere with pending state judicial
proceedings.” O'Neill v. Coughlan, 511
F.3d 638, 643 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Younger ...