United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin
Stadtmueller U.S. District Judge
Alexia Knox (“Knox”) filed a pro se
complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that her
civil rights were violated. (Docket #1). She consented to the
jurisdiction of Magistrate Judge Nancy Joseph, who has
screened her complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A and
recommends to this Court that it be dismissed. (Docket #5);
Coleman v. Labor & Indus. Review Comm'n of
Wis., 860 F.3d 461 (7th Cir. 2017). Knox filed
objections to that recommendation, (Docket #6), which the
Court will now address. This Court reviews a party's
specific written objections to a report and recommendation
de novo. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3).
briefly, Knox's claims arise from a child custody dispute
in Milwaukee County Circuit Court between herself and her
ex-husband which involves events occurring in both Wisconsin
and Georgia. Knox names as defendants three Milwaukee County
Circuit Court judges, Mary Kuhnmuench, Marshall Murray, and
Richard Sankovitz. She also names a guardian ad litem
appointed by the state court, Graham Wiemer
(“Wiemer”), her ex-husband, Alif Richardson, and
an employee at the Georgia Preferred Family Resource Center,
Celeste Arnotti (“Arnotti”). She accuses the
judges, who oversaw her many rounds of divorce and child
custody proceedings, of bias and of taking actions outside
their jurisdiction. She alleges that her ex-husband, Wiemer,
and Arnotti committed fraud on the state court by
misrepresenting various facts. She also believes that Wiemer
and Arnotti did not properly carry out their duties with
respect to her child custody issues.
Joseph found that the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine bars Knox's suit. (Docket #4 at 3-4). That
doctrine provides that a plaintiff may not sue in federal
court for injuries inflicted on her by a state-court
judgment. See Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S.
413, 415-16 (1923); District of Columbia Court of Appeals
v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482-86 (1983). To allow such a
claim would impermissibly force federal district courts to
sit in review of the decisions of state courts. See Garry
v. Geils, 82 F.3d 1362, 1365 (7th Cir. 1996); Homola
v. McNamara, 59 F.3d 647, 650 (7th Cir. 1995).
magistrate noted that “Knox's request for relief
states that she is seeking ‘declaratory relief voiding
previous and current orders.'” (Docket #4 at 3
(quoting (Docket #1 at 11)). “She does not ask for any
monetary damages or any other relief, beyond generally
requesting ‘other relief the court deems appropriate
and for such other relief to which plaintiff is entitled at
law or in equity.'” Id. at 3-4 (quoting
(Docket #1 at 11)). Magistrate Joseph correctly concluded
that voiding orders of a state court is precisely the sort of
relief proscribed by Rooker-Feldman.
Taylor v. Fed. Nat. Mortg. Ass'n, 374 F.3d 529,
532 (7th Cir. 2004); Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic
Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). Thus, Knox has
asked for something the Court cannot give.
objections, while numerous, do not meaningfully address this
fundamental defect in her complaint, and so they need not be
considered in detail. Knox asserts that the decisions she
challenges were non-judicial in nature, (Docket #6 at 2), but
her complaint demonstrates that in reality, she simply thinks
that the state court judges got things wrong in her case. Nor
were the challenged actions ministerial, as Knox seems to
believe, id. at 5; rather, they were ordinary
instances of adjudication inherent in the work of the state
court, Whitehead v. Discover Bank, 118 F.Supp.3d
1111, 1115-16 (E.D. Wis. 2015). In the end, whether Knox
thinks that the judges or other defendants made errors is not
important; what matters is that she wants this Court to
review orders of the state court and substantively alter
them. This the Court cannot do.
Court appreciates that it must generously construe
submissions made by pro se parties. Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). However, even a
layperson can be expected to say, in plain language, what
relief he or she wants the Court to provide. The Court cannot
disregard Knox's actual request for relief-to void orders
of the state court-and conjure up some other, perhaps more
appropriate forms of relief to substitute in its
place. Taking Knox at her word, the Court must
dismiss the complaint because of the Court's inability to
grant the relief she seeks.
Joseph is correct that Rooker-Feldman is an
insuperable obstacle to Knox's claims. But there is
another, independent reason that Knox's complaint should
be dismissed: preclusion. As the magistrate noted in her
report and recommendation, Knox filed a case substantially
similar to this one late last year, in No. 17-CV-1637-LA
(E.D. Wis.). The case was assigned to Judge Adelman, who
dismissed it based on Rooker-Feldman and
Knox's failure to state actionable constitutional claims
against any defendant. Knox v. Kuhnmuench, No.
17-CV-1637-LA (E.D. Wis.), (Docket #4 at 2-4). Knox filed a
motion for reconsideration of the dismissal, but it was
denied. See id., (Docket #6). She did not appeal.
comes in two forms, but for present purposes the Court need
only discuss claim preclusion. Claim preclusion, also known
as res judicata, “applies to bar a second suit in
federal court when there exists: (1) an identity of the
causes of actions; (2) an identity of the parties or their
privies; and (3) a final judgment on the merits.”
Kratville v. Runyon, 90 F.3d 195, 197 (7th Cir.
1996). As to the first element, “[a] claim is deemed to
have ‘identity' with a previously litigated matter
if it is based on the same, or nearly the same, factual
allegations arising from the same transaction or
occurrence.” Id. at 198. (9th Cir. 2003);
Meeker v. Kercher, 782 F.2d 153, 155 (10th Cir.
1986)). Knox's ex-husband is not a state actor, nor did
he conspire with state actors to harm Knox for any
class-based reason, so he cannot be sued under Section 1983.
42 U.S.C. § 1985(3); Fairley v. Andrews, 578
F.3d 518, 526 (7th Cir. 2009). Finally, Knox only accuses
Arnotti of violating state law, not the Constitution,
see (Docket #6 at 5); Buchanan-Moore v. Cnty. of
Milwaukee, 570 F.3d 824, 827 (7th Cir. 2009), and any
reference to infringement of her constitutional rights based
on her status as a “Moorish American, ” sovereign
citizen, or the like is a non-starter, Bey v. State,
847 F.3d 559, 560 (7th Cir. 2017); Moorish Nat'l
Republic: Fed. Gov't Moorish Divine & Nat'l
Movement of the World v. City of Chi., No. 10-CV-1047,
2011 WL 2893024, at *7-8 (N.D. Ill. July 19, 2011).
instant complaint is functionally identical to the one that
Judge Adelman dismissed, save that a few additional
defendants-all involved in the child custody dispute-were
joined in the earlier case. Because the claims and parties
are the same, and because a final judgment disposed of
Knox's earlier complaint on the merits, she cannot
relitigate those claims in a new action. See Bernstein v.
Bankert, 733 F.3d 190, 226-27 (7th Cir. 2013) (even
without exact identity of the facts or legal claims,
preclusion arises where the totality of the circumstances
shows that the two actions arise from the same transaction or
occurrence). Further, although the earlier claims were
dismissed largely for want of subject-matter jurisdiction,
Knox cannot relitigate the merits of the
Rooker-Feldman problem in a successive
case. See Harper Plastics, Inc. v. Amoco Chems.
Corp., 657 F.2d 939, 943 (7th Cir. 1981). In short, Knox
should have appealed the earlier dismissal if she thought it
erroneous, but she cannot take another stab at the same
allegations before a different district judge and hope for a
better result. Thus, for all these reasons, the Court adopts
Judge Joseph's report and recommendation in full and will
dismiss Plaintiff's complaint.
IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiff's
objections to Magistrate Judge Nancy Joseph's Report and
Recommendation (Docket #6) be and the same are hereby
IS FURTHER ORDERED that Magistrate Judge Nancy
Joseph's Report and Recommendation (Docket #5) be and the
same is hereby ADOPTED in full;
IS FURTHER ORDERED that this action be and the same
is hereby DISMISSED pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B) for failure to state a claim; and
COURT FURTHER CERTIFIES that any appeal from this
matter would not be taken in good faith pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(a)(3) unless Plaintiff ...