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Valentine v. Thomas

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

June 14, 2016

VERONICA VALENTINE, Plaintiff,
v.
WADIE THOMAS, CUNNINGHAM, JUVENILE COURT OF NEBR, PALERNO, and JAMES, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Richard G. Kopf Senior United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, a non-prisoner, filed her Complaint in this matter on June 7, 2016. (Filing No. 1.) Plaintiff has been given leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Filing No. 5.) The court now conducts an initial review of Plaintiff’s claims to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

         I. SUMMARY OF COMPLAINT

         Plaintiff sues the Juvenile Court of Nebraska and four individuals requesting that everyone who is proceeding in forma pauperis in the Nebraska Juvenile Court be provided a free bill of exceptions for appeal and that she, in particular, needs a bill of exceptions free of charge “to vindicate our constitutional rights of Due process/equal Protection.” Plaintiff is apparently attempting to appeal a decision of the juvenile court involving the removal of her child from her home, but is being required to pay for a bill of exceptions although she is proceeding in forma pauperis. (Filing No. 1.)

         II. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS ON INITIAL REVIEW

         The court is required to review in forma pauperis complaints to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2). The court must dismiss a complaint or any portion thereof that states a frivolous or malicious claim, that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

         III. DISCUSSION OF CLAIMS

         Liberally construed, Plaintiff’s Complaint requests injunctive relief in the form of a directive to the Nebraska Juvenile Court that it should provide to Plaintiff, free of charge, a bill of exceptions for purposes of appeal. Although not at all clear, Plaintiff could also be requesting an injunction to stop the continuing deprivation of her parental rights. Finally, Plaintiff could also be challenging a juvenile-court judgment.

         A. Domestic-Relations Exception to Federal Jurisdiction

         Plaintiff’s claims for injunctive relief are subject to dismissal under the domestic relations exception to federal court jurisdiction. It is well-settled that “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.” In re Burrus, 136 U.S. 586, 593-94 (1890). Even if this court were to liberally construe Plaintiff’s Complaint to allege that she requests relief from the continued deprivation of her parental rights in violation of her constitutional rights, the substance of such claims concern state-law domestic relations matters. This is particularly so where it is clear from Plaintiff’s allegations that her son’s care and custody is the subject of a juvenile court case in Nebraska Juvenile Court that she seeks to appeal. See Overman v. U.S., 563 F.2d 1287, 1292 (8th Cir. 1977) (“There is, and ought to be, a continuing federal policy to avoid handling domestic relations cases in federal court in the absence of important concerns of a constitutional dimension. . . . Such cases touch state law and policy in a deep and sensitive manner and as a matter of policy and comity, these local problems should be decided in state courts.”) (internal quotations omitted).

         B. Younger Abstention

         Further, even if this court did not lack jurisdiction based on the domestic relations exception, this court is without jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claims for injunctive relief under the abstention doctrine set out by the Supreme Court in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 43-45 (1971). Under Younger, abstention is mandatory where: (1) there is an ongoing state proceeding; (2) an important state interest is implicated; and (3) the plaintiff has an avenue open for review of constitutional claims in the state court. See Aaron v. Target Corp., 357 F.3d 768, 774 (8th Cir. 2004) (“Under Younger v. Harris, federal courts should abstain from exercising jurisdiction in cases where equitable relief would interfere with pending state proceedings in a way that offends principles of comity and federalism.”)

         Here, each of the three Younger conditions is satisfied. First, the state proceeding in the Nebraska Juvenile Court, and the appeal therefrom, are apparently ongoing. Second, disputes concerning the care and custody of minors implicate important state interests. Third, there is no indication that the state courts could not afford Plaintiff the opportunity for judicial review of any civil rights challenges. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s claims for injunctive relief are dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Carson P. ex rel. Foreman v. Heineman, 240 F.R.D. 456, 529 (D. Neb. 2007) (“‘federal court oversight of state court operations, even if not framed as direct review of state court judgments’ . . . is problematic, calling for Younger abstention. . . . The relief that the plaintiffs seek would interfere extensively with the ongoing state proceedings for each plaintiff.” (quoting 31 Foster Children v. Bush, 329 F.3d 1255, 1278-1279 (11th Cir. 2003)).

         C. ...


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