United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Lexington
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
M. Hood Senior U.S. District Judge.
Dixon and Kiara Coker have filed a pro se civil rights
complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. [R. 1] This
matter is before the Court to conduct the initial screening
required by 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). Hill v.
Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010).
plaintiffs' complaint is somewhat disjointed, but it
appears that on May 18, 2018, a social worker at the high
school attended by Tantre Dixon became concerned by her
behavior. Tantre is the 16-year old daughter of plaintiff
Andre Dixon. That concern bloomed into interviews that day
involving Dixon, Tantre, Coker, the school social worker, and
a police officer.
at 2 a.m. earlier that day, Dixon had argued heatedly with
his daughter Tantre when she tried to leave the house early
in the morning. Social workers employed by the Department of
Community Based Services (DCBS) within Kentucky's Cabinet
for Health and Family Services (CHFS) reported that they had
received a call from Tantra or another unnamed family member
stating that during the argument Dixon had choked Tantre, and
perhaps that other minor children in the home were in danger
from Dixon. Dixon indicates that when Coker placed herself
between himself and Tantre during the argument, Tantre fled
report issued by CHFS indicated that: (1) Dixon had been
drinking that night; (2) Dixon head-butted Coker when she
interceded during the argument; and (3) Dixon had hit Tantre
in the past with an extension cord and a thorn-stick. In
addition, during a phone call with the school social worker,
Dixon allegedly stated that “[s]he doesn't need to
butt into [my] business. I am not going to kill her but she
needs an ass whooping.” Based upon this information,
Dixon was taken into custody at the school and was charged
with fourth degree assault. Those criminal charges against
Dixon remain pending as of this writing in Commonwealth
v. Dixon, No. 18-M-3383 (Fayette Cir. Ct. 2018). CHFS
then took temporary custody of the minor children. Tantre was
evaluated by medical staff at the University of Kentucky,
where she repeated that Dixon had choked her. [R. 1-1 at 1;
1-2 at 1-2; 1-3; 1-4]
their complaint, plaintiffs vaguely assert that the
defendants - three social workers employed by CHFS - violated
their right to Due Process under the Fourteenth Amendment, as
well as the Fourth Amendment by making statements in a
warrant with reckless disregard for their truth. The
defendants are sued solely in their official capacities.
Plaintiffs seek a Court Order compelling CHFS to return the
minor children to Coker's custody and to purchase the
family a new home. [R. 1 at 2-3, 4-5]
thoroughly reviewed the complaint and the materials the
plaintiffs have filed in support of it, the Court concludes
that it must be dismissed, without prejudice, at this time.
threshold matter, the official capacity claims against three
employees of CHFS is, in actuality, a claim against CHFS
itself. Lambert v. Hartman, 517 F.3d 433, 439-40
(6th Cir. 2008); Alkire v. Irving, 330 F.3d 802, 810
(6th Cir. 2003) (“While personal-capacity suits seek to
impose personal liability upon a government official for
actions he takes under color of state law, individuals sued
in their official capacities stand in the shoes of the entity
they represent.”) (internal quotation marks omitted).
But CHFS is not subject to suit under § 1983 in federal
court, both because a state agency is not a
“person” subject to liability under Section 1983,
and because the Eleventh Amendment deprives federal district
courts of subject matter jurisdiction over a claim for money
damages against a state and its agencies. Puerto Rico
Aqueduct & Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc.,
506 U.S. 139, 687-88 (1993) (“Absent waiver, neither a
State nor agencies acting under its control may be subject to
suit in federal court.”) (internal quotation marks and
citation omitted)). The claim for compensatory relief in the
form of a new home therefore cannot stand. However, to the
extent plaintiffs seek injunctive relief against CHFS, that
relief is available pursuant to Ex parte Young, 209
U.S. 123 (1908).
regard, Plaintiffs first allege that defendant Natasha Gray
committed “judicial deception ... by deliberately and
recklessly [making] false statements and omissions that were
material to finding of probable Cause.” [R. 1 at 4] But
a complaint must set forth the grounds of the plaintiff's
“entitle[ment] to relief.” This requires more
than a conclusory statement: to state a viable claim for
relief, a complaint must sufficient factual matter, accepted
as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible
on its face.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009); Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470 (6th
Cir. 2010). Here, Dixon's narrative explanation of the
basis for his claim [R. 1-1 at 1-2] does not set forth any
allegedly false or incomplete statements by social workers
Gray or Barrett which would give rise to a due process
claim. In sum, this conclusory claim is not
supported by any specific facts to support it, and hence
fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.
this Court will abstain from considering the plaintiffs'
claims because it appears that both the criminal and child
custody proceedings are still pending before the state courts
and in administrative proceedings. In Younger v.
Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), the Supreme Court held that
a federal court must not interfere with pending state civil
or criminal judicial proceedings where important state
interests are involved. Id. at 44 45; see also
New Orleans Pub. Serv., Inc. v. Council of New
Orleans, 491 U.S. 350, 36768 (1989). Younger
abstention may apply regardless of whether the federal
plaintiff seeks monetary, injunctive, or declaratory relief.
Carroll v. City of Mount Clemens, 139 F.3d 1072,
1074 (6th Cir. 1998). Where applicable, the federal court
must abstain from hearing the case on the merits. Exec.
Arts Studio v. City of Grand Rapids, 391 F.3d 783, 791
(6th Cir. 2004).
abstention should be applied if: (1) there are ongoing state
judicial proceedings; (2) those proceedings implicate
important state interests; and (3) the plaintiff has an
adequate opportunity to assert his constitutional claims in
those proceedings. Middlesex County Ethics Comm'n v.
Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 432, 435
(1982); Gilbert v. Ferry, 401 F.3d 411, 419 (6th
Cir. 2005); Loch v. Watkins, 337 F.3d 574, 578 (6th
Cir. 2003). The criminal charges against Dixon remain pending
in the Fayette Circuit Court at this time, and that Court has
a substantial interest in hearing his present challenge to
the sufficiency and accuracy of information used as a basis
to establish probable cause to arrest him. Because
Dixon's claim regarding probable cause should be raised
and decided in the first instance by the Fayette Circuit
Court, the Court concludes that Younger abstention
addition, a state-initiated proceeding to gain custody of
children allegedly abused by their parents constitutes a
proceeding “akin to” a criminal proceedings where
Younger abstention may apply. Moore v.
Sims, 442 U.S. 415, 419-420 (1979); Tony Alamo
Christian Ministries v. Selig, 664 F.3d 1245, 1248-50
(8th Cir. 2012). Because of the important state interests
involved in child custody matters (particularly in the
context of alleged abuse) and because the plaintiffs may
assert their due process claims during those proceedings,
abstention is warranted. Hughes v. Hamann, 23
Fed.Appx. 337, 338 (6th Cir. 2001) (“An exception to
federal court jurisdiction is generally recognized for cases
in which the parties are seeking a declaration of their
rights in the domestic relations context.”) (citing
McLaughlin v. Cotner, 193 F.3d 410, 413-14 (6th Cir.
1999)); Torres v. Gaines, 130 F.Supp.2d 630, 635-36
(D. Conn. 2015).
it is ORDERED as follows:
Dixon and Coker's complaint [R. 1] is