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LeBlanc v. Hagan

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Bowling Green Division

June 27, 2017

AMENA LEBLANC, PLANTIFFS
v.
ALEDA HAGAN, DEFENDANTS

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Greg N. Stivers, Judge

         This 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).[1] For the reasons stated below, the Court GRANTS Defendants' motions and DENIES AS MOOT Plaintiffs' motions.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is 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”).[2]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).

         Defendants (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 decision.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A 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.

         In most 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).

         A 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).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Defendants' Motions to Dismiss

         1. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Defendants 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.

         Plaintiffs' 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 n.16.

         To 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.

         This 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.

         Plaintiffs' 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 ...


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