United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
HOWARD E. LEVENTHAL, Plaintiff,
BARRY BOLINE, MARY LOU MUELLER, PAUL MALLOY, OZAUKEE COUNTY CHIEF EXECUTIVE, OZAUKEE COUNTY BOARD MEMBERS, OZAUKEE CORPORATION COUNSEL, MARY HANDELAND, CHRISTINE KLOTZ, LORRAINE MARX, JANE PROBST, KRISTINA EBBOTT, and ELIZABETH GROESCHEL, Defendants.
DECISION AND ORDER
ADELMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Howard E. Leventhal, a federal prisoner who is representing
himself, filed a complaint alleging claims against his
ex-wife and a judge of the Ozaukee County, Wisconsin, Circuit
Court (among other defendants). This order resolves
Leventhal's motion to proceed without prepayment of the
filing fee and screens his complaint.
Motion to Proceed without Prepayment of the Filing Fee
Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) applies to
this case because Leventhal was incarcerated at the time he
filed his complaint. The PLRA gives courts discretion to
allow plaintiffs to proceed with their lawsuits without
prepaying the $350 filing fee, as long as they comply with
certain requirements. 28 U.S.C. § 1915. One of those
requirements is that the plaintiff pay an initial partial
filing fee. On March 6, 2018, Magistrate Judge David E. Jones
ordered Leventhal to pay an initial partial filing fee of
$19.18. Leventhal paid this amount, and therefore I will
grant his motion to proceed without prepayment of the full
filing fee. He must pay the remainder of the filing fee over
time in the manner I explain at the end of this order.
of Plaintiff's Complaint
law requires that I screen complaints brought by prisoners
seeking relief against a governmental entity or officer or
employee of a governmental entity. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(a).
I must dismiss a complaint if the prisoner has raised claims
that are legally frivolous or malicious, that fail to state a
claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seek monetary
relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28
U.S.C. § 1915A(b).
alleges that, in 2002, he and his then-wife, defendant Mary
Handeland, adopted a child from China. The parties divorced
in 2008, while they were domiciled in Illinois. A state court
in Lake County, Illinois, adjudicated the divorce and
child-custody matters. That court entered an order governing
the parties' rights to placement and visitation with
their child. Years later, Leventhal was convicted of the
federal crimes for which he is now in custody. He alleges
that, both before and after he was imprisoned, Handeland
interfered with his visitation rights under the Lake County
point, Handeland moved to Ozaukee County, Wisconsin, with her
daughter. In 2017, she filed a motion asking the Ozaukee
County Circuit Court to take jurisdiction of the custody
case. Judge Paul Malloy of that court found that Ozaukee
County had jurisdiction over the custody matter because the
child had resided in the county for more than six months.
Later, Leventhal filed a motion with the Ozaukee court asking
for various forms of relief. On October 31, 2017, a court
commissioner, Barry J. Boline, denied these motions.
November 15, 2017, Leventhal commenced this action in the
District of Minnesota. On February 2, 2018, that court
transferred venue to this court. When the case arrived here,
it was assigned to a magistrate judge. After the magistrate
judge determined that the case should be dismissed, the case
was reassigned to me for entry of a dispositive order.
asserts several claims against his ex-wife and Ozaukee court
officials. (He also sues other defendants, including members
of his ex-wife's family, his ex-wife's attorneys, and
other Ozaukee County officials; however, his claims against
these defendants are so feeble that they can be dismissed
without further discussion.) Leventhal's first claim is
against his ex-wife. He alleges that she committed fraud
during the process of adopting their daughter from China and
therefore violated the Intercountry Adoption Act, 42 U.S.C.
§§ 14901-14954. The remedy he seeks is to have his
ex-wife's status as the child's adoptive mother
revoked. (Compl. at p. 11, ¶ 7.) However, this is not a
claim that exists under the Intercountry Adoption Act. The
Act states that it is not enforceable through private suits
except as specifically provided elsewhere in the Act. 42
U.S.C. § 14954. No specific provision of the Act gives
an adoptive parent a cause of action against another adoptive
parent for fraud. Therefore, this claim must be dismissed.
next asserts a series of claims based on the Ozaukee
court's exercising jurisdiction over the custody case and
denying his motions regarding visitation and other matters.
(Compl. at p. 12, ¶ 3 & pp. 20-21.) Leventhal
alleges that, in exercising jurisdiction over the case, the
Ozaukee court violated the Parental Kidnapping Prevention
Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1738B, which requires state courts to
give full faith and credit to the child-custody decrees of
other state courts. See Thompson v. Thompson, 484
U.S. 174, 183 (1988). However, the Parental Kidnapping
Prevention Act cannot be enforced through a private cause of
action. Id. Therefore, to the extent that
Leventhal's claims are based on this Act, they must be
also asserts a claim against his ex-wife and Ozaukee court
officials under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment. He asserts that his ex-wife's involving the
Ozaukee court in the custody dispute, and that court's
deciding to exercise jurisdiction over the dispute, had the
effect of denying him his parental rights, which are
protected by the Due Process Clause. More specifically, he
alleges that the Ozaukee court's rulings in the case
deprived him of visitation time with his daughter that he
would have received under the Lake County placement order.
(Compl. pp. 16-18, ¶¶ 14-17.) In related claims,
Leventhal alleges that the Ozaukee court officials who
entered the orders did so because they were biased against
him because he is a man, in violation of the Equal Protection
Clause, and also because they wanted to punish him for his
federal crime, in violation of the Eighth Amendment. (Compl.
at pp. 18-19, 19- 20 & 22-23.) He seeks damages under 42
U.S.C. § 1983.
note that these claims raise questions under at least two
jurisdictional doctrines. The first is the domestic-relations
exception, under which a federal court will not exercise
jurisdiction over child-custody disputes. See Struck v.
Cook County Public Guardian, 508 F.3d 858, 859-60 (7th
Cir. 2007); Jones v. Brennan, 465 F.3d 304, 306- 08
(7th Cir. 2006). The second is the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine, which prevents district courts from exercising
jurisdiction over cases that are essentially appeals from
state court orders. See Lennon v. City of Carmel,
Ind., 865 F.3d 503, 506 (7th Cir. 2017). Although both
of these doctrines might apply to this case, I will focus
only on Rooker-Feldman because it is dispositive.
Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies to “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 Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005).
That's this case. Before he filed his federal complaint,
Leventhal lost the dispute over the proper forum for the
custody case. He now complains about injuries caused by the
Ozaukee court's rulings, namely, the denial of visits
with his daughter. He has gone so far as to sue the court
officials who signed the orders he complains about. He argues
that the Ozaukee court's rulings were either wrong or
unconstitutional or void, and he seeks damages from the court
officials. Because these claims fall within the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, they must be dismissed ...