McCray v. Spector
Memorandum Opinion and Order Granting 13 MOTION to Dismiss and Abstain. (Ordered by Senior Judge A. Joe Fish on 5/3/2012) (cea)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
HOWARD MARC SPECTOR, in his
official capacity as Receiver,
CIVIL ACTION NO.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the court is the defendant’s motion to abstain and dismiss, or in the
alternative, to stay the proceeding (docket entry 13). For the reasons set forth below,
the motion is granted.
This case arises out of a divorce dispute in state court. The plaintiff, Stewart
McCray (“McCray”), was the husband of Nikki Slaughter McCray (“Slaughter
McCray”). Plaintiff’s Verified Complaint (“Complaint”) ¶¶ 2, 7 (docket entry 1).
The defendant, Howard Marc Spector (“Spector”), serves as a court-appointed
receiver in the state court divorce proceedings. Id. ¶¶ 3, 5.
McCray and Slaughter McCray were married in October of 2004. Id. ¶ 7. On
February 12, 2009, McCray filed for divorce. Id. The Texas district court ordered
the appointment of Spector as a receiver in the divorce proceedings in March of
2011. Id. ¶¶ 16, 20-21. These proceedings are still pending. Memorandum in
Support of Defendant Howard Marc Spector’s Motion to Abstain and Dismiss, or in
the Alternative, Stay this Proceeding (“Motion Brief”) at 2 (docket entry 14).
On January 6, 2012, McCray learned that Spector intended to seize two
accounts with Gilder, Gagnon, and Howe (“the Guilder accounts”). Complaint ¶ 24.
McCray claims that he and his mother own the Guilder accounts as joint tenants with
rights of survivorship. Id. McCray contends that these accounts are pre-marital
assets and therefore not subject to property division in divorce proceedings under
Texas law. Id. ¶ 25.
In addition, the plaintiff appealed the decision to appoint a receiver to the
state court of appeals. Motion Brief at 3. The court of appeals has since affirmed the
district court’s decision to appoint a receiver. Id. at 4. The court of appeals also
considered, and rejected, McCray’s argument that Spector was not entitled to take
control of the Guilder accounts. Id.
On January 18, 2012, Spector filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and
1988. Complaint ¶ 1. McCray maintains that Spector’s actions violate his property
rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution. Id. ¶
30. On the same day, Spector filed a motion for temporary restraining order.
Motion for Temporary Restraining Order at 1-2 (docket entry 2). The court denied
this motion. Order of January 25, 2012 (docket entry 7). The defendant has since
filed the instant motion to abstain and dismiss, or in the alternative, to stay this
proceeding. Defendant Howard Marc Spector’s Motion to Abstain and Dismiss or, in
the Alternative, Stay this Proceeding (“Motion”) at 1 (docket entry 13).
The Supreme Court established a doctrine of mandatory abstention for federal
courts in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). Under Younger abstention, federal
courts must abstain when “federal jurisdiction has been invoked for the purpose of
restraining state criminal proceedings.” Colorado River Water Conservation District v.
United States, 424 U.S. 800, 816 (1976). In subsequent cases, the Supreme Court
expanded Younger abstention to apply in civil cases as well. Pennzoil Company v.
Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 11 (1987). The goal of Younger abstention is to protect “Our
Federalism,” which is the notion that “the National Government will fare best if the
States and their institutions are left free to perform their separate functions in their
separate ways.” Younger, 401 U.S. at 44.
The Supreme Court has developed a three-part test to help determine when a
federal court must employ Younger abstention. Middlesex County Ethics Commission v.
Garden State Bar Association, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982). Under this test, a federal
court should abstain (1) when there is an ongoing state judicial proceeding, (2) when
the proceedings implicate important state interests, and (3) when there is an adequate
opportunity in the state proceedings to raise constitutional challenges. Id.
In this case, it is clear that this court should dismiss this case under Younger
abstention. First, the state court divorce proceeding is an ongoing state judicial
proceeding. The divorce proceeding has dealt with, and continues to deal with, the
constitutional issues that the plaintiff has raised in his federal case. Second, the
province of family relations is an important and traditional area of state, and not
federal, concern. Finally, there is no reason to believe that the Texas state court
system cannot provide McCray with an adequate opportunity to raise his
For the reasons set forth above, the defendant’s motion to dismiss is
GRANTED. Judgment will be entered dismissing this case.
May 3, 2012.
A. JOE FISH
Senior United States District Judge