United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville
Charles R. Simpson III, Senior Judge
case is before the Court following an order to show cause. DN
17. The Court entered the order because it had “grave
concerns about the propriety of ruling on issues surrounding
ongoing state proceedings or final state proceedings which
have not been appealed to the courts of the Commonwealth of
Kentucky.” Id. at 5. Defendants Laura Taylor,
Lauren Ingram, and Tareka Morgan, along with Plaintiff George
Alexander, responded. DNs 21, 23, 24. Defendant Shante Franklin
has not. These issues are ripe for review. Finding that the
exercise of federal jurisdiction in this case offends the
abstention doctrines of Younger, Colorado
River, and Burford, this Court will sua
sponte dismiss the claims and deny all other pending
motions as moot.
Factual Background and Procedural History
Morgan gave birth to a child, K.M. DN 1 at 3. George
Alexander was present at the hospital during the birth.
Id. Alexander refused to provide information for an
acknowledgment of paternity form and alleges he later entered
into an oral agreement with Morgan to provide medical
insurance and $300 per month placed on a prepaid debit card
in lieu of child support. Id. This arrangement
continued for about three months until Morgan and Alexander
began to disagree on how the money was being spent.
Id. Alexander alleges that Morgan then threatened to
pursue child support, an endeavor he believes was fraudulent.
Id. at 3-4. Eventually, the matter came to the
Jefferson Circuit Court Family Division.
two proceedings occurred. The first, 13-J-503960, established
Alexander's paternity. DN 21 at 1. The second,
14-CI-502980, was initiated by Alexander and sought custody,
visitation, and support. Id. at 2. As a result of
the second proceeding, Alexander was ordered to pay $450 per
month in child support, which was eventually increased to
$747 per month. Id. During this process, Alexander
was represented by counsel and present at the hearings.
point, Alexander made his initial foray into this Court. On
February 17, 2017, Alexander filed a complaint against the
Commonwealth of Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family
Services and several employees of the Jefferson County
Attorney's Office, including Laura Taylor (a Defendant in
the current action), in their official capacities. There, he
claimed the defendants “fraudulently obtained his
signature on an acknowledgement-of-paternity form and forced
him to pay money for child support.” Alexander v.
Ky. Cabinet for Health & Family Servs.,
3:17-CV-101-DJH-DW, 2017 WL 4570309 at *1 (W.D. Ky. July 28,
2017). Following motions to dismiss, the case was dismissed
with prejudice on the grounds of immunity and failure to
state a claim. Id. This order was affirmed by the
Sixth Circuit on appeal. Alexander v. Ky. Cabinet for
Health & Family Servs., 17-5879, 2018 U.S. App.
LEXIS 4077 (6th Cir. Feb. 20, 2018).
Alexander, proceeding pro se, has returned to this
Court to allege that Defendants participated in
“racketeering, commingling, and conspiracy against
rights” through the state child custody and support
program. DN 1, p. 6. Concerned with interfering in the state
court proceedings, this Court issued the order to show cause
which is now under consideration. DN 17.
courts have a “virtually unflagging obligation . . . to
exercise the jurisdiction given them.” Colorado
River, 424 U.S. at 817. However, the Supreme Court has
recognized various types of abstention, placing
constitutional or prudential limits on the federal
courts' exercise of jurisdiction over cases or
controversies that could have been, were, or are being
brought in state courts. For example, federal courts will not
rule on a federal constitutional issue which might be mooted
or presented in a different posture by a state court
determination of pertinent state law. See Railroad
Comm'n of Texas v. Pullman Co., 312 U.S. 496 (1941).
Federal courts will also abstain where there are difficult
questions of state law, issues of great public importance to
the state, or where the state has special expertise. See
Louisiana Power & Light Co. v. Thibodaux, 360 U.S.
25 (1959); Burford v. Sun Oil Co., 319 U.S. 315
(1943). Abstention is also appropriate where, absent bad
faith, harassment, or a patently invalid state statute,
federal jurisdiction has been invoked to restrain ongoing
state proceedings. See Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S.
37 (1971); Middlesex Cty. Ethics Comm. v. Garden State
Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982) (extending
Younger abstention to include civil and
administrative cases, as well as criminal). Where there is
contemporaneous exercise of concurrent jurisdiction between
courts, it is also proper to abstain. See Colorado River
Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800,
813 (1976). A related doctrine, though not properly an
abstention doctrine, is the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine, which holds that federal courts lack 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.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus.
Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). See also Rooker v.
Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923); District of
Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 461
case, the Court was particularly concerned about
Younger, Colorado River, and
abstention is designed to prevent federal courts from
interfering with the functions of state courts while
preserving equity and comity. Doe v. University of
Kentucky, 860 F.3d 365, 368 (6th Cir. 2017).
Younger permits abstention when there is (1) an
ongoing state criminal prosecution, (2) certain civil
enforcement proceedings that are akin to criminal
prosecutions, and (3) civil proceedings involving certain
orders that are uniquely in furtherance of the state
courts' ability to perform their judicial functions e.g.
contempt proceedings or requiring the posting of a bond.
Id. at 369. After fitting into one of those
categories, the court considers whether: (1) state
proceedings are currently pending; (2) the proceedings
involve an important state interest; and (3) the state
proceedings will provide the federal plaintiff with an
adequate opportunity to raise his constitutional claims.
Id. (citing Middlesex County Ethics
Committee v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S.
The Initial Inquiry: This Case is a Civil Enforcement
Proceeding Akin to a Criminal
proceeding at issue here is not a criminal prosecution nor
does it appear to fit within the category reserved for unique
orders in furtherance of state courts' ability to perform
their judicial function. Therefore, we turn to the second
category: civil enforcement proceedings akin to a criminal
prosecution. Indicia of these proceedings can include an
investigation and formal complaint, the seriousness of
consequences, the availability of a hearing, the introduction
of witnesses or evidence, the initiation or involvement of
state agencies, and the purpose of the hearing in
disciplining, punishing, or adjudicating. Sprint Comms.,
Inc. v. Jacobs, 571 U.S. 69, 81 (2013); Doe,