United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
KELLEY J. BRAND, Plaintiff,
JEAN ZATE, et al., Defendants.
SCREENING ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO PROCEED IN FORMA
PAUPERIS AND DISMISSING COMPLAINT
William C. Griesbach, Chief Judge
has filed a complaint and seeks to proceed in forma
pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915. ECF No. 2. The
Court has reviewed the affidavit submitted in support of the
motion and, although it appears to be somewhat incomplete,
concludes based on what was provided that plaintiff lacks
sufficient income and/or assets to pay the filing fee.
Accordingly, her petition to proceed in forma
pauperis is GRANTED.
courts are permitted to screen every complaint, regardless of
a plaintiff's fee status. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B);
Hoskins v. Poelstra, 320 F.3d 761, 763 (7th Cir.
2003). Prompt screening of a complaint prior to service,
especially when the plaintiff is pro se, or without
the assistance of counsel, serves the important function of
protecting putative defendants from unnecessary fear and
anxiety and the expense of hiring an attorney in order to
respond to patently frivolous claims. In screening a
complaint, I must determine whether it complies with the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and states at least
plausible claims for which relief may be granted.
state a cognizable claim under the federal notice pleading
system, the plaintiff is required to provide a “short
and plain statement of the claim showing that [she] is
entitled to relief.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). It is not
necessary for the plaintiff to plead specific facts and her
statement need only “give the defendant fair notice of
what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it
rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S.
41, 47 (1957)). However, a complaint that offers
“labels and conclusions” or “formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not
do.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678
(2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). To state
a claim, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, “that is plausible on its
face.” Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S.
at 570). “A claim has facial plausibility when the
plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to
draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable
for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). The complaint's
allegations “must be enough to raise a right to relief
above the speculative level.” Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555 (citations omitted).
considering whether a complaint states a claim, courts should
follow the principles set forth in Twombly by first
“identifying pleadings that, because they are no more
than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of
truth.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. Legal
conclusions must be supported by factual allegations.
Id. If there are well-pleaded factual allegations,
the court must, second, “assume their veracity and then
determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement
to relief.” Id. The court is obliged to give
the plaintiff's pro se allegations, however
inartfully pleaded, a liberal construction. Haines v.
Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972).
complaint arises from the removal of her son from her
guardianship in the Langlade County Circuit Court in 2016.
She that these seven defendants were involved in removing her
guardianship over her son from her, including Langlade County
Judge John B. Rhode, her public defender Jessica Schuster,
and the guardian ad litem, Deborah Ratfield. As a remedy, she
would like her guardianship reinstated and all of the
defendants fired from their jobs.
reading Brand's complaint liberally, as I must do at this
stage because she is proceeding without assistant of counsel,
Brand has failed to state a claim over which this court has
jurisdiction. Federal courts are courts of limited
jurisdiction, which means they can hear and decide only the
kinds of cases that the Constitution and Congress authorize
them to hear. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of
Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Brand's guardianship
case is not the kind of case this court can hear. The Supreme
Court has held that federal courts lack jurisdiction over
domestic relations cases where the relief sought would
“involve the issuance of a divorce, alimony, or child
custody decree.” Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504
U.S. 689, 703 (1992); see also In re Burrus, 136
U.S. 586, 593-94 (1890) (“The 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.”). “This ‘domestic
relations' exception to subject matter jurisdiction
applies to such cases even when constitutional claims are
involved.” Adam v. Frantz, No. 02-C-0053-C,
2002 WL 32341816, at *4 (W.D. Wis. May 10, 2002) (citing
Allen v. Allen, 48 F.3d 259, 261-62 (7th Cir.
unclear whether the guardianship proceedings are still
on-going or whether they have been completed. Regardless,
this court lacks jurisdiction to review Brand's state
court guardianship proceedings. To the extent that
Brand's guardianship proceedings are over, the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine precludes a federal court
from reviewing a state court judgment. See Carr v.
Spencer, 13 Fed.Appx. 296, 297-98 (6th Cir. 2001)
(citations omitted). Under the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine, lower federal courts lack the subject matter
jurisdiction to review state court judgments or claims that
are inextricably intertwined with matters previously
determined in a state court decision. See D.C.
Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983);
Rooker v. Fid. Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923).
Rooker-Feldman deprives federal courts of
jurisdiction because “[w]here federal relief can only
be predicated upon a conviction that the state court was
wrong, it is difficult to conceive the federal proceeding as,
in substance, anything other than a prohibited appeal of the
state-court judgment.” Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco,
Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 25 (Marshall, J., concurring). A party
may not relitigate matters raised in prior state court
proceedings even if the federal court is convinced that the
state court's decision was unreasonable, in error, or
contrary to the law. See Rizzo v. Sheahan, 266 F.3d
705, 713 (7th Cir. 2001). Thus, the pertinent question is
“whether the injury alleged by the federal plaintiff
resulted from the state court judgment itself or is distinct
from that judgment.” Rizzo, 266 F.3d at 713
(quotations omitted). Brand's injury is the removal of
her guardianship over her son. This is inextricably
intertwined with her state court proceedings, and is
explicitly barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
to the extent that Brand's guardianship proceedings are
still ongoing, this court must abstain from interfering with
a state court's proceedings under the abstention
principle of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971);
see also Wattie-Bey v. Attorney General's
Office, 424 Fed.Appx. 95, 96 (3d Cir. 2011)(applying
Younger to bar plaintiff's request for
injunctive relief in an ongoing state child custody
proceeding); Johnson v. Byrd, No. 1:16cv1052, 2016
WL 6839410, at *7-9 (M.D. N.C. Nov. 21, 2016) (holding
similarly). The United States Supreme Court has emphasized
that “Younger . . . and its progeny espouse a
strong federal policy against federal court interference with
pending state judicial proceedings absent extraordinary
circumstances.” Middlesex Cty. Ethics Comm. v.
Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 431 (1982). In
Middlesex, the Supreme Court explained that under
the Younger doctrine a district court must abstain
from enjoining ongoing state proceedings that “(1) are
judicial in nature, (2) implicate important state interests,
and (3) offer an adequate opportunity for review of
constitutional claims, (4) so long as no extraordinary
circumstances exist which would make abstention
inappropriate.” Parejko v. Dunn Circuit Court,
209 Fed.Appx. 545, 546 (7th Cir. 2006) (citing Middlesex
Cty. Ethics Comm., 547 U.S. at 437).
Middlesex, this court must abstain. First,
guardianship proceedings are judicial in nature.
Adam, 2002 WL 32341816, at *4.; see also
Black's Law Dictionary (10th ed. 2014) (defining
“judicial proceeding” as “any proceeding
authorized by law and instituted in a court or tribunal to
acquire a right or to enforce a remedy”). Second, a
child custody proceeding implicates important state interests
in domestic relations and child custody. See Moore v.
Sims, 442 U.S. 415, 435 (1979) (noting that
“[f]amily relations are a traditional area of state
concern”); Parejko, 209 Fed.Appx. at 546.
Third, the state court provides an adequate opportunity for
the plaintiff to present his constitutional claims. See
Brunken v. Lance, 807 F.2d 1325, 1331 (7th Cir. 1986)
(“state courts are just as able to enforce federal
constitutional rights as federal courts”);
Parejko, 209 Fed.Appx. at 546-47 . Brand has not
alleged any constitutional claims, let alone that she is
prevented from bringing them during her guardianship
proceedings at the state court.
Brand's complaint does not fall within any of the
recognized exceptions to the Younger doctrine.
See Parejko, 209 Fed.Appx. at 547 (explaining that
Younger exceptions include circumstance where
ongoing state proceedings were motivated by a desire to
harass or were being conducted in bad faith, or where the
plaintiff has demonstrated an “extraordinarily pressing
need for immediate equitable relief”). Brand's
complaint does not identify who or when guardianship
proceedings were started. Furthermore, Brand has not alleged
that she has an “extraordinarily pressing need for
immediate equitable relief.” See Moore, 442
U.S. at 434-35 (explaining that a child custody order does
not create per se a great, immediate, and
irreparable harm that would warrant federal court
intervention, especially where the state is capable of
“accommodating the various interests and deciding the
constitutional questions that may arise in child-welfare
jurisdiction.”); see also Adam, 2002 WL
32341816, at *5. Younger thus dictates that this
court must abstain from interfering with any of Brand's
ongoing state child custody proceedings.
of the foregoing reasons, the court lacks jurisdiction to
hear Brand's claims to review her state court
guardianship proceeding. Brand fails to state a claim over
which this court would have ...