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Tyler v. Lohaus

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

March 17, 2017

BILLY TYLER, Plaintiff,
v.
LOHAUS, Judge County Court; FLYNN, Deputy Sheriff Douglas County; and ETTA GRAVES, Deputy Clerk County Court Nebraska; Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          Richard G. Kopf Senior United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint on January 5, 2017. (Filing No. 1.) He has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Filing No. 5.) The court now conducts an initial review of Plaintiff's Complaint to determine whether summary dismissal is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

         I. SUMMARY OF COMPLAINT

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Lohaus, a county court judge, threatened him with jail in Douglas County Court Case No. CR14-24620. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF p. 2.) He alleges that she told him that she would have Defendant Flynn, a deputy sheriff, arrest him if he did not pay $149 in fines/costs or sign up for the Offender Work Program. (Id.) He states that he explained his medical history of coronary heart disease to her, and Lohaus insisted that he is not a “pauper.” (Id.) Plaintiff signed up for the Offender Work Program, as evidenced by the form that he attached to his Complaint. (Id. at CM/ECF p. 7.) Plaintiff agreed to work one day per week until the entire amount of his fines/costs is satisfied or paid. (Id.) Each day worked equates to $90.00 of fine cost. (Id.) Plaintiff can pay the amount owed at any time to avoid the work requirement. (Id.) Plaintiffs failure to comply will result in jail time. (Id.)

         Plaintiff alleges that he filed an appeal of Lohaus' order, but Defendant Graves, a deputy clerk, would not process his appeal without an order granting him leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Id. at CM/ECF p. 3.)[1] Plaintiff seeks one million dollars in damages. (Id. at CM/ECF p. 4.) He also wants this court to direct Graves to transmit his appeal and to enjoin the State from attempting to jail him for not paying his fines/costs when he is poor. (Id.) He claims that he is being subjected to an illegal “debtor's prison, ” in violation of Tate v. Short, 401 U.S. 395 (1971). (Id. at CM/ECF p. 5.)

         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). The court must dismiss a complaint or any portion of it 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).

         Pro se plaintiffs must set forth enough factual allegations to “nudge[] their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible, ” or “their complaint must be dismissed.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 569-70 (2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (“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.”).

         “The essential function of a complaint under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is to give the opposing party ‘fair notice of the nature and basis or grounds for a claim, and a general indication of the type of litigation involved.'” Topchian v. JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A., 760 F.3d 843, 848 (8th Cir. 2014) (quoting Hopkins v. Saunders, 199 F.3d 968, 973 (8th Cir. 1999)). However, “[a] pro se complaint must be liberally construed, and pro se litigants are held to a lesser pleading standard than other parties.” Topchian, 760 F.3d at 849 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted).

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

         To the extent Plaintiff's Complaint can be construed to challenge a judgment of the Douglas County Court, this court lacks jurisdiction. Only the Supreme Court has the authority to entertain a proceeding to reverse or modify a state court judgment. Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 416 (1923); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1257(a) (granting the United States Supreme Court the power to review final judgments rendered by high courts of a state). In addition, federal courts do not have jurisdiction to review final state court judgments in judicial proceedings. District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482-86 (1983). Together, these two principles have merged to become the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

         The Rooker-Feldman doctrine stands for the proposition that federal district courts lack subject matter jurisdiction to review final state judgments or to review claims that are inextricably intertwined with state court decisions. See Riehm v. Engelking, 538 F.3d 952, 964 (8th Cir. 2008) (explaining limited scope of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine); see e.g., Ballinger v. Culotta, 322 F.3d 546, 548-49 (8th Cir. 2003) (concluding Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred the district court from considering plaintiff's claim that the state court unconstitutionally infringed on his parental rights); Amerson v. Iowa, 94 F.3d 510, 513 (8th Cir. 1996) (stating that it is “inappropriate for a federal court to address a claim that necessitates invalidating a state court judgment on a matter committed to the states in order to grant the relief sought”). It is not possible for the court to grant the requested relief without disrupting the judicial process of the Douglas County Court.

         B. Young ...


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