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Hoke v. Wisconsin Dane County Child Support Agency

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

September 23, 2019

DENNIS D. HOKE, JR, Plaintiff,



         Currently pending before the court is plaintiff Dennis D. Hoke, Jr’s Request to Proceed in District Court without Prepaying the Filing Fee. (ECF No. 2.) Having reviewed Hoke’s request, the court concludes that he lacks the financial resources to prepay the fees and costs associated with this action. Therefore, Hoke’s Request to Proceed in District Court without Prepaying the Filing Fee will be granted.

         However, because the court is granting Hoke’s Request to Proceed in District Court without Prepaying the Filing Fee, it must determine whether the complaint is legally sufficient to proceed. 28 U.S.C. § 1915.

         Congress sought to ensure that no citizen would be denied the opportunity to commence a civil action in any court of the United States solely due to poverty. Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 31 (1992) (quoting Adkins v. E. I. DuPont de Nemours & Co., 335 U.S. 331, 342 (1948)). However, Congress also recognized that “a litigant whose filing fees and court costs are assumed by the public, unlike a paying litigant, lacks an economic incentive to refrain from filing frivolous, malicious, or repetitive lawsuits.” Id. (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989)). To balance these competing concerns, before the court can allow a plaintiff to proceed in forma pauperis it must determine that the case neither (1) is frivolous or malicious, (2) fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, nor (3) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). Thus, although “a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, ” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)), a pro se complaint must meet these minimal standards before the court shall grant a plaintiff leave to proceed in forma pauperis.

         A claim is legally frivolous when it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in fact. Denton, 504 U.S. at 31; Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 325. Although factual allegations must be weighed in favor of the plaintiff, that does not mean that the court is required to accept without question the truth of the plaintiff's allegations. Denton, 504 U.S. at 32. Thus, a court may dismiss a claim as frivolous if it is “clearly baseless, ” “fanciful, ” “fantastic, ” “delusional, ” “irrational, ” “wholly incredible, ” or “based on an indisputably meritless legal theory.” Id. at 32-33. A court may not dismiss a claim as frivolous simply because “the plaintiff’s allegations are unlikely.” Id.

         A claim might not be frivolous or malicious but nonetheless fail to state a claim upon which relief may be granted and, therefore, be subject to dismissal. In determining whether a complaint is sufficient to state a claim under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii), the court applies the same well-established standards applicable to a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607, 611 (7th Cir. 2000).

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief.” Although the allegations in a complaint need not be detailed, a complaint “demands more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation. A pleading that offers labels and conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do. Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal quotation marks, citation, and brackets omitted). The complaint must be sufficiently detailed “to 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)) (quotation marks and ellipses omitted).

         If the complaint contains well-pleaded non-frivolous factual allegations, the court should assume the veracity of those allegations and “then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. “Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will … be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Id.

         With the standards set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) in mind, the court turns to the allegations raised in the plaintiff’s complaint. Hoke complains of the actions of the Dane County Child Support Agency. The precise nature of his allegations is often unclear, but his claim appears to be focused on the agency’s efforts to serve him with notice proceedings. Hoke names as defendants “Wisconsin Dane County Child Support Agency” and four individuals. Two of the individuals are identified as family court commissioners. (ECF No. 1 at 2.) One is identified as a “Child Support WORKER.” (ECF No. 1 at 2.) A fourth is not identified.

         There are many problems with Hoke’s complaint, but for present purposes it is sufficient to address only a few. “[A] litigant may not obtain review of a state court judgment merely by recasting it as a civil rights action under § 1983.” O'Grady v. Marathon Cty. Child Support Agency, No. 03-C-700-C, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1891, at *3 (W.D. Wis. Feb. 3, 2004); see also Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923); District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 486 (1983); Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005); Ritter v. Ross, 992 F.2d 750, 755 (7th Cir. 1993). Under what has come to be known as the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a federal district court is barred “from entertaining not only claims actually reviewed in state court but also other claims, including constitutional claims, that are ‘inextricably intertwined’ with the claims heard by the state court.” O'Grady, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1891, at *3 (quoting Leaf v. Supreme Court of Wisconsin, 979 F.2d 589, 598 (7th Cir. 1992)).

         It is clear that Hoke is asking this court to do precisely what is prohibited under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. For relief, Hoke asks the court to:

Vacate My Support Order. Demand to Defendents listed that Dennis D Hoke Jr at said date and time give to them my victem impact statement . at Dane co court house Mental anguish, Distress, loss of time with my civil rights taken, Re payment of all monies payed to Child Support agency() damages by each Defendents, Grand Total of $300.000 - Three Hundred Thousand Dollers - Appears to me that all Defendants are willing to destoy my life for there profits and gains At any cost to me .....

(ECF No. 1 at 5 (ellipses in original) (reprinted as written in original).)

         The court lacks jurisdiction over Hoke’s claims. See Frederiksen v. City of Lockport, 384 F.3d 437, 438 (7th Cir. 2004). Although narrow exceptions exist for certain extreme cases, see Loubser v. Thacker, 440 F.3d 439, 441-42 (7th Cir. 2006), or when the federal claim is distinct from the decision of the state court, see Johnson v. Orr, 551 F.3d 564, 568 (7th Cir. 2008) (citing Centres, Inc. v. Town of Brookfield, Wis., 148 F.3d 699, 702 (7th Cir. 1998), Hoke’s complaint does not contain details sufficient to ...

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