United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
WILLIE R. PETTENGILL, CHRISTOPHER L. PETTENGILL BRIDGET R. PETTENGILL and WILLIE R. PETTENGILL, as next friend of ENP, a minor, Plaintiffs,
HON. BRODERICK CAMERON, HON. STEVEN R. CRAY, GAIL PROCK, KERI HOEL, DEBORAH ASHER, RITA RAIHLE, LAUREN OTTO, PAMELA VEITH, ROBERT THORSON, NATASHA HENNING, ESTATE OF NANSTAD, Deceased, TERESA NANSTAD and DOES 1-20, Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
BARBARA B. CRABB, District Judge
action arises out of a state domestic relations case
involving the custody and placement of plaintiff Willie R.
Pettengill's and defendant Natasha Henning's minor
child. Willie R. Pettengill, his father Christopher L.
Pettengill, and his mother Bridget R. Pettengill, have filed
a 43-page complaint against 12 individual defendants and 20
John Doe defendants, including two Wisconsin circuit court
judges (defendants Broderick Cameron and Steven Cray), two
Wisconsin court-appointed guardians ad litem (Gail Prock and
Kari Hoel), five Wisconsin lawyers (Deborah Asher, Rita
Raihle, Lauren Otto, Pamela Veith, and Robert Thorson), the
mother of Willie Pettengill's minor child (Natasha
Henning), Henning's mother (Teresa Nanstad) and the
estate of the Henning's father (David Nanstad).
Plaintiffs invoke the jurisdiction of this court under 28
U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332, 1343 and 1367, and seek
declaratory and injunctive relief and compensatory and
contend that defendants deprived them of their constitutional
rights to due process, including a constitutionally-protected
relationship with the minor child. Plaintiffs also allege
that defendants Prock and Hoel (the state-court appointed
guardians ad litem) failed to take any action to protect the
minor child from repeated exposure to sexual predators who
cohabited with defendant Henning or to a “chronically
drug-addicted and chronically-relapsing” mother.
Finally, plaintiffs bring a claim against the estate of David
Nanstad for sexual assault and battery against a minor child;
a legal malpractice claim against defendant Otto and her law
firm; a malpractice claim against defendant Thorson and his
law firm; a malpractice claim against defendant Veith and her
law firm; and a breach of contract claim against Veith.
defendants except Natasha Henning have filed motions to
dismiss the claims against them. Defendants Cameron, Cray,
Prock and Hoel (the state defendants) have moved to dismiss
this action against them on the grounds of judicial immunity,
quasi-judicial immunity, Eleventh Amendment immunity, the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, issue preclusion and the
domestic relations exception (dkt. #11). Defendants Deborah
Asher (dkt. #9), Robert Thorson (dkt. #15), Rita Raihle (dkt.
#16), Lauren Otto (dkt. #17), Estate of David Nanstad (dkt.
#21), Teresa Nanstad (dkt. #23) and Pamela Veith (dkt. #28)
have moved to dismiss the action against them for failure to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Additionally,
defendants Veith (dkt. #32), Otto (dkt. #36) and Asher (dkt.
#41) have moved for sanctions against plaintiffs. Plaintiffs
have not responded in any way to any of defendants'
motions. For the reasons below, I am granting all of
defendants' motions. Additionally, I am dismissing the
claims against defendant Natasha Henning because plaintiffs
failed to file proof of service as to Henning despite
multiple requests from the court to do so. (Dkt. #31).
Motions to Dismiss
threshold matter, plaintiffs have waived all of their claims
by failing to respond to any of the arguments defendants
raised in their motions to dismiss. Bonte v. U.S. Bank,
N.A., 624 F.3d 461, 466 (7th Cir. 2010) (“Failure
to respond to an argument . . . results in waiver.”);
United States v. Farris, 532 F.3d 615, 619 (7th Cir.
2008) (“Farris failed to respond to the
Government's argument in a Reply Brief, and accordingly,
we find that Farris waived his sufficiency of the evidence
challenge[.]”). On this basis alone, I could dismiss
all of plaintiffs' claims. Citizens for Appropriate
Rural Roads v. Foxx, 815 F.3d 1068, 1078 (7th Cir. 2016)
(“[B]y failing to respond in any way to any of the
arguments advanced by Defendants regarding counts 9, 14, 15,
and 16, Plaintiffs have waived their claims.”);
Goodpaster v. City of Indianapolis, 736 F.3d 1060,
1075 (7th Cir. 2013) (“Because [plaintiffs] did not
provide the district court with any basis to decide their
claims, and did not respond to the [defendant's]
arguments, these claims are waived.”).
defendants' arguments are meritorious. After reviewing
plaintiffs' complaint, it is clear that all of
plaintiffs' claims must be dismissed. Plaintiffs'
claims against defendants Cameron and Cray are barred by the
concept of judicial immunity, which applies to the actions of
judges taken in their judicial capacity, Stump v.
Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 355-56 (1978), and their claims
against Prock and Hoel are barred by quasi-judicial immunity.
Cooney v. Rossiter, 583 F.3d 967, 970 (7th Cir.
2009). With respect to the other defendants, plaintiffs'
allegations are insufficient to state any plausible claim for
relief against any of them. Plaintiffs assert constitutional
claims against the various defendants who are lawyers, but
these defendants are clearly non-governmental actors who
cannot be sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Rendell-Baker
v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830, 835 (1982). Additionally,
plaintiffs' state law claims for malpractice, breach of
contract and tort are supported only with vague and
most of plaintiffs' claims are barred by the doctrines of
issue preclusion, Rooker-Feldman and the domestic
relations exception because plaintiffs are attempting to
challenge issues raised in state court, as well as state
court decisions regarding child custody and placement. The
doctrine of issue preclusion bars relitigation of issues that
have been litigated and decided in a previous action.
Aldrich v. Labor & Industry Review Commission,
2012 WI 53, ¶ 89, 341 Wis.2d 36, 68, 814 N.W.2d 433,
Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents a party
“complaining of an injury caused by [a] state-court
judgment” from seeking redress in a lower federal
court. Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries
Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 291-92 (2005). See also D.C.
Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482 (1983);
Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 416
(1923). Generally, litigants who believe that a state court
proceeding has violated their federal rights must assert
those rights in state court and then appeal that decision
through the state court system and, as appropriate, to the
United States Supreme Court. Golden v. Helen Sigman &
Assoc., Ltd., 611 F.3d 356, 361-62 (7th Cir. 2010)
(holding that Rooker-Feldman barred review of claims
related to state court divorce and child custody
proceedings); T.W. by Enk v. Brophy, 124 F.3d 893,
898 (7th Cir. 1997) (applying Rocker-Feldman to
Wisconsin child-custody decision).
respect to child custody decisions in particular, those fall
within the area of family or domestic relations, which is
governed by state law. Rose v. Rose, 481 U.S. 619,
625 (1987) (quoting In re Burrus, 136 U.S. 586,
593-94 (1890) (“[T]he whole subject of the domestic
relations of husband and wife, parent and child, belongs to
the laws of the States and not to the laws of the United
States.”)); Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S. 415, 435
(1979) (“Family relations are a traditional area of
state concern.”); De Sylva v. Ballentine, 351
U.S. 570, 580 (1956) (“[T]here is no federal law of
domestic relations, which is primarily a matter of state
concern.”). Federal courts must refrain from exercising
jurisdiction over claims that would interfere with
domestic-relations issues, which belong in state court.
Struck v. Cook County Public Guardian, 508 F.3d 858,
859 (7th Cir. 2007).
plaintiffs' complaint contains no viable claim against
any defendant. Accordingly, I will grant defendants'
motions to dismiss and close this case.
Motions for Sanctions
Pamela Veith, Lauren Otto and Deborah Asher have moved for
sanctions against plaintiffs under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 11 for ...