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Kitchen v. DSNO

United States District Court, D. Nebraska

December 3, 2019

DSNO, Developmental Services of Nebraska Community Support Center; AUTISM CENTER OF NEBRASKA, OMNI BEHAVIOR, and ANGIE MITCHELL, Defendants.


          Joseph F. Bataillon Senior United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the defendants' motions to dismiss, Filing Nos. 40, 42, 43, and 46. In their skeletal pro se Amended Complaint, the plaintiffs ostensibly assert claims for unpaid wages, wrongful termination, conflict of interest, workplace discrimination, misrepresentation, workplace harassment, breach of contract, bad faith, Medicaid fraud, and defamation in apparent connection to disputes over the disputes over the provision of services to disabled persons who are subject to guardianships established in Douglas County, Nebraska, Court.

         Plaintiff Iris Kitchen is apparently a present or former foster parent who at some point was paid to furnish care to disabled persons through agencies that administer state benefits. She alleges she was wrongfully underpaid, harassed with excessive visits and drug tests, belittled, wrongfully terminated, forced to repay the State, threatened, and ultimately had persons removed from her care. There are no allegations specific to the other plaintiffs. Defendants OMNI Behavior, Developmental Services of Nebraska d/b/a DSN (“DSN”) and Autism Center of Nebraska (“AC”) (together, “the Providers”) are agencies that deliver care to disabled persons and defendant Angie Mitchell is the court-appointed guardian of the disabled persons removed from plaintiff Iris Kitchen's care. The plaintiffs have submitted voluminous restricted documents to the Court. Filing Nos. 21, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, 29, 30, 31, and 32.[1]

         I. FACTS

         From what the Court can ascertain, in their amended complaint, the plaintiffs allege employment discrimination by the providers, apparently for the vague offense of “trying to find a percentage of a whole number.” They allude to harassment, belittling behavior, bad faith, unfair treatment, breach of contract, and discrimination by the defendants. They also vaguely refer to embezzlement.

         In their motions to dismiss, the Providers assert that they are or were Nebraska Non-Profit Corporations that provide developmental disabilities services and habilitation services to developmentally disabled individuals. Plaintiff Iris Kitchen was an independent contractor of defendants DSN and AC. Defendant Providers argue the plaintiffs' amended complaint offers nothing but labels and conclusions which are not sufficient to state a claim for relief. Although they concede that claims of whistle-blowing, workplace discrimination, harassment, and Medicaid fraud could be interpreted as claims tied to federal laws, the plaintiffs fail to allege sufficient facts to support any arguably federal claims.

         Defendant Omni moves to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). It asserts the plaintiff has not cited any federal statutes, treaties, or constitutional provisions that would afford her relief, nor provided any factual allegations supporting the claims. OMNI asserts the plaintiff does not have standing, in that she has not alleged she suffered an injury in fact that is concrete, and actual or imminent or alleged any causal connection between the injury and Omni's conduct, nor has she alleged that the injury can be remedied by a favorable decision. Defendants DSN and AC contend the plaintiffs' amended complaint offers nothing but labels and conclusions which are not sufficient to state a claim for relief. Defendant Angie Mitchell moves to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, making both a facial attack and a factual attack on the Amended Complaint. She contends the plaintiffs' amended complaint is subject to dismissal on its face due to the absence of any federal question or diversity. In addition, she asserts a factual attack, contending this Court lacks jurisdiction based on two guardianship cases in Douglas County, Nebraska, Court. She argues that the plaintiffs are attempting to relitigate claims that were unsuccessfully asserted in the Guardianship proceedings. She also argues that the Court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction over her.

         In support of her factual attack for lack of jurisdiction, defendant Mitchell has shown she was appointed as Guardian in Douglas County, Nebraska Probate cases PR 12-1231 and PR 14-950. Filing No. 19, Exs. 1 and 2. The Douglas County Probate Court issued Letters of Guardianship to Defendant Mitchell appointing her as Guardian and vesting her with certain powers, including the power to select the ward's place of abode and giving necessary consents on behalf of the wards. Id., Exs. 3 and 4. In both of the Guardianship cases, plaintiff Iris Kitchen attempted to intervene and asserted generalized complaints against the Guardian. Id., Exs. 5 and 7. In both of the Guardianship proceedings, Plaintiff's Kitchen's attempts to intervene were denied. Id., Exs. 6 and 8.

         II. LAW

         A. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1)

         Jurisdiction is a threshold issue for this Court. See Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94-96 (1998); see also Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 507 (2006) (“The objection that a federal court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction . . . may be raised by a party, or by a court on its own initiative, at any stage in the litigation, even after trial and the entry of judgment.”). The Court is obligated to question its subject matter jurisdiction before proceeding to the merits of a plaintiff's case. See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1990). Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[i]f the court determines at any time that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 12(h)(3).

         Federal courts can properly assert jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332, commonly referred to as “diversity of citizenship” jurisdiction, when that “the citizenship of each plaintiff is different from the citizenship of each defendant.” Ryan v. Schneider Nat'l Carriers, Inc., 263 F.3d 816, 819 (8th Cir.2001) (citation omitted). In addition, the amount in controversy must be greater than $75, 000.00 for diversity of citizenship jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). In addition to diversity of citizenship jurisdiction, subject matter jurisdiction is also proper where a plaintiff asserts “[a] non-frivolous claim of a right or remedy under a federal statute, ” commonly referred to as “federal question” jurisdiction. Northwest South Dakota Prod. Credit Ass'n v. Smith, 784 F.2d 323, 325 (8th Cir.1986).

         One limit on the Court's subject matter jurisdiction is a legal principle known as the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which provides that, with the exception of habeas corpus petitions, lower federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over challenges to state court judgments and state proceedings. Mosby v. Ligon, 418 F.3d 927, 931 (8th Cir. 2005); see D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 476 (1983); Rooker v. Fid. Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923). The principle recognizes the contours of state and federal jurisdiction underlying our federalism system by prohibiting “lower federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over actions seeking review of, or relief from, state court judgments.” Webb as next friend of K. S. v. Smith, 936 F.3d 808, 816 (8th Cir. 2019). Put another way, a party who loses in state court “is barred from seeking what in substance would be appellate review of the state judgment in a United States district court, based on the losing party's claim that the state judgment itself violates the loser's federal rights.” Johnson v. De Grandy, 512 U.S. 997, 1005-06 (1994).

         Apart from and in addition to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a legal principle known as the domestic relations exception to federal jurisdiction also stands as an independent bar to federal subject matter jurisdiction. Kahn v. Kahn, 21 F.3d 859, 861 (8th Cir. 1994). With respect to family law matters, the domestic relations exception divests the federal courts of jurisdiction over a narrow range of cases implicating domestic relations issues, such as divorce, allowance of alimony, child custody, and child support. SeeWallace v. Wallace, 736 F.3d 764, 766 (8th Cir. 2013). Even “when a cause of action closely relates to but does not precisely fit into the contours of an action for divorce, alimony or child custody, federal courts generally will abstain from exercising jurisdiction.” Kahn, 21 F.3d at 861. This doctrine precludes federal suit involving “a remedy which is essentially domestic-where, in addressing the same conduct involved in a state domestic proceeding, the effect of a remedy in the federal suit is to modify, nullify, or predetermine the domestic ruling of the state proceeding.” Wallace, 736 F.3d at 767. No matter how styled, the ...

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