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Alexander v. Morgan

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville

November 5, 2018



          Charles R. Simpson III, Senior Judge

         I. Introduction

         This 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.[1] 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.

         II. Factual Background and Procedural History

          Tareka 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.

         There, 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. Id.

         At that 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).

         Now 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.

         III. Discussion

         Federal 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 (1983).

         In this case, the Court was particularly concerned about Younger, Colorado River, and Burford.

         A. Younger Abstention

         Younger 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. 423 (1982)).

         i. The Initial Inquiry: This Case is a Civil Enforcement Proceeding Akin to a Criminal Prosecution.

         The 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, ...

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