United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
MICHELLE L. MCNEIL, M.G.F., and S.E.W.F., Plaintiffs,
MONROE COUNTY, DIRECTOR PAM PIPKIN, ADMINISTRATOR CATHERINE SCHMIT, CORPORATION COUNSEL ANDREW KAFTAN, and JUDGE J. DAVID RICE, Defendants.
OPINION & ORDER
D. PETERSON District Judge
plaintiff Michelle L. McNeil has filed a complaint on behalf
of herself and her minor children against defendants Monroe
County, Pam Pipkin, Catherine Schmit, Andrew Kaftan, and
Judge J. David Rice. Plaintiff alleges that defendants have
violated plaintiff’s constitutional rights in the
course of setting and overseeing her divorce and child
support arrangement in the Circuit Court for Monroe County,
Wisconsin. The court granted plaintiff leave to proceed
in forma pauperis. Dkt. 3.
next step is for the court to screen the complaint and
dismiss any portion that is legally frivolous, malicious,
fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or
asks for money damages from a defendant who by law cannot be
sued for money damages. 28 U.S.C. § 1915. When screening
a pro se litigant’s complaint, the court construes the
allegations liberally and in the plaintiff’s favor.
McGowan v. Hulick, 612 F.3d 636, 640 (7th Cir.
plaintiff’s claims are barred by the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, I must dismiss
the following facts from plaintiff’s complaint. Dkt. 1.
and her ex-husband divorced several years ago. Since then, it
appears that they have been in and out of state court,
disputing child support and placement orders. Plaintiff and
her ex-husband appear to have four children; the two minor
children-M.G.F. and S.E.W.F.-live with plaintiff.
Plaintiff’s stated objective here is to ensure
“adequate care and safety for her children.”
Id. at 7.
complaint is long and confusing at times, but plaintiff
clearly takes issue with how Monroe County has handled her
and her ex-husband’s requests to modify their child
support arrangement. Plaintiff alleges that Monroe County
officials have repeatedly granted her ex-husband’s
requests for review while denying hers, that they have
favored her ex-husband by consistently reducing his support
obligations, and that they have discriminated against her.
Plaintiff alleges, among other things, that county officials:
(1) deviated from their “standards” when they
calculated her ex-husband’s support obligations; (2)
forced plaintiff to shoulder more than her fair share of the
children’s expenses; (3) miscalculated her income and,
as a result, the child support obligations; (4) issued a
bench warrant for her arrest when she failed to appear for a
proceeding, even though a medical condition prevented her
from appearing; (5) failed to respond to her emails; and (6)
prevented her from making her case and submitting the
evidence she had. Plaintiff alleges that the county has
handled her case with “indifference, hostility, and
unethical treatment, ” id. at 10, and that
defendants have discriminated against her, applied a
“double standard, ” bullied her, retaliated
against her for being poor and disabled, and deprived her of
equal protection under the law. Plaintiff specifically
alleges that defendants Pam Pipkin, Monroe County Child
Support director, and Andrew Kaftan, Monroe County
corporation counsel, have been working for her ex-husband,
creating a conflict of interest. Plaintiff also implicates
defendants Catherine Schmit, Monroe County administrator, and
Judge J. David Rice, the Monroe County Circuit Court judge
who presided over plaintiff’s case.
plaintiff takes issue with how Monroe County handled a
criminal case involving a suspected burglary. Plaintiff
alleges that Juwan Wilderness (not named as a defendant
here), plaintiff’s neighbor, broke into her home and
stole her property. (The Monroe County Circuit Court found
Mr. Wilderness guilty of receiving stolen property. Monroe
County Circuit Court No. 2012CM370.) Judge Rice presided over
this case, too. Plaintiff complains that Judge Rice did not
inform her that Mr. Wilderness had a prior sex offense, and
that Judge Rice “defamed” plaintiff while being
respectful toward Mr. Wilderness and appeared to value Mr.
Wilderness’s statements more than plaintiff’s.
Plaintiff alleges that Judge Rice has not
“enforced” his order and has allowed Mr.
Wilderness to continue to commit crimes.
threshold issue before I address plaintiff’s claims:
plaintiff may not bring claims on behalf of her minor
children. See Bullock v. Dioguardi, 847 F.Supp. 553,
560 (N.D. Ill. 1993) (“A parent may sue on behalf of
his or her minor child as a next friend if the parent is
represented by counsel and has no interests that conflict
with those of the child.”). Unless plaintiff obtains
counsel, she may not bring claims on behalf of M.G.F. and
S.E.W.F. But this point is insignificant, because plaintiff
does not appear to bring any claims on behalf of her minor
children that she does not bring herself.
to plaintiff’s claims, plaintiff is obviously
unsatisfied with how Monroe County has handled her child
support arrangement, and she clearly believes that Monroe
County officials have discriminated against her. But this
court does not have jurisdiction to evaluate the merits of
the underlying state court proceedings. See Lewis v.
Anderson, 308 F.3d 768, 772 (7th Cir. 2002) (The
Rooker-Feldman doctrine established “the fact
that lower federal courts do not have jurisdiction to conduct
direct review of state court decisions.”). “[T]he
Rooker-Feldman doctrine ‘precludes lower
federal court jurisdiction over claims seeking review of
state court judgments because no matter how erroneous or
unconstitutional the state court judgment may be, the Supreme
Court of the United States is the only federal court that
could have jurisdiction to review a state court
judgment.’” Taylor v. Fed. Nat’l Mortg.
Ass’n, 374 F.3d 529, 532 (7th Cir. 2004) (citation
and internal alterations omitted). If plaintiff is requesting
that this court review state court orders or child
support/placement determinations, I do not have jurisdiction
to do so, and I will dismiss those claims.
doctrine also prohibits federal district courts from
exercising subject matter jurisdiction over claims that are
“inextricably intertwined” with state court
decisions. “The determination of whether a federal
claim is ‘inextricably intertwined’ hinges on
whether it alleges that the supposed injury was caused by the
state court judgment, or, alternatively, whether the federal
claim alleges an independent prior injury that the state
court failed to remedy.” Brown v. Bowman, 668
F.3d 437, 442 (7th Cir. 2012). Here, plaintiff attempts to
allege separate, independent federal claims; plaintiff cites
a variety of statutes and causes of action, but
plaintiff’s allegations most readily lend themselves to
claims for equal protection and procedural due process
violations. But even assuming that plaintiff has stated
viable Fourteenth Amendment equal protection and due process
claims, these claims are inextricably intertwined with state
alleges that the individual defendants’ bias,
discrimination, misconduct, and unethical behavior tainted
the Monroe County Circuit Court child support determinations,
and these determinations injured plaintiff. If
plaintiff did not receive due process or equal protection
under the law, those injuries are inextricably intertwined
with the state court’s authorization and oversight of
plaintiff’s child support arrangement. Plaintiff seeks
a judgment from this court declaring that defendants’
actions-and, as a result, the state court decisions-were
unconstitutional. It is not possible for this court to
adjudicate plaintiff’s claims without revisiting the
propriety of the state court’s actions. The state court
system provides a means for plaintiff ...