Sandra Chambers v. MI, et al
OPINION filed: AFFIRMED, decision not for publication pursuant to local rule 206. Richard F. Suhrheinrich, Circuit Judge; Jane Branstetter Stranch, Circuit Judge and Bernice Bouie Donald, (authoring) Circuit Judge.
NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PUBLICATION
File Name: 12a0368n.06
UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS
FOR THE SIXTH CIRCUIT
STATE OF MICHIGAN, et.al.,
Apr 05, 2012
LEONARD GREEN, Clerk
ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED
STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
Before: SUHRHEINRICH, STRANCH, and DONALD, Circuit Judges.
DONALD, Circuit Judge. Sandra Chambers (“Plaintiff”) filed a complaint for declaratory,
injunctive, and equitable relief against Nadine Chambers (“Nadine”), Judge Nick Holowka, the State
of Michigan, and Lapeer County Circuit Court (collectively, “the Defendants”) alleging they violated
her constitutional rights. Plaintiff appeals the district court’s grant of the Defendants’ motion to
dismiss or alternatively for summary judgment. Plaintiff argues that the district court erred in (1)
determining that it lacked jurisdiction, (2) applying the Younger abstention doctrine, and (3) refusing
to grant declaratory and injunctive relief. For the following reasons, we affirm.
In 1993, Judge Holowka entered a judgment finalizing a divorce between Plaintiff’s husband,
Merle Chambers (“Merle”), and Nadine, his former wife, and awarding Nadine permanent alimony.
In March 2008, Merle filed a motion to modify and/or terminate the permanent alimony obligation
Chambers v. State of Michigan
based on income reduction from his retirement. In September 2008, Judge Holowka held an
evidentiary hearing on Merle’s motion and on April 27, 2009 issued a written opinion holding that
there had been no change in circumstances to warrant a modification of alimony. Judge Holowka
considered all income sources for all parties. In December 2008, between the hearing date and
issuance of the court’s opinion, Merle transferred promissory notes, issued by his employer, to
Plaintiff. Judge Holowka, nonetheless, considered these promissory notes in the income calculation
for Merle’s motion to modify the alimony he owed Nadine.
On June 24, 2010, Plaintiff filed a Complaint for Declaratory and Injunctive Relief against
Defendants setting forth nine counts. Plaintiff challenged the constitutionality of Judge Holowka’s
decision to consider certain assets and property in his income calculation determination. On July
26, 2010, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff appeals from the grant of that
Under the domestic relations exception federal courts are precluded from exercising
jurisdiction over cases whose substance is generally domestic relations. Barber v. Barber, 62 U.S.
582, 584 (1858). The exception, as articulated by the Supreme Court since Barber, encompasses
only cases involving the issuance of a divorce, an award of alimony, or a child custody decree.
Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 703 (1992). Even when brought under the guise of a federal
question action, a suit whose substance is domestic relations generally will not be entertained in a
federal court. Firestone v. Cleveland Trust Co., 654 F.2d 1212, 1215 (6th Cir. 1981).
Chambers v. State of Michigan
Plaintiff argues that since she is not seeking a divorce, alimony, or child custody decree, the
domestic relations exception does not apply. This would be true if Plaintiff’s complaint did not
revolve around a state court order issuing alimony. Although couched as a constitutional violation
that deprives her of her marital and personal property, Plaintiff ultimately wants this Court to enjoin
the state court from using property she characterizes as her “federally protected ERISA, marital, and
personal property” to determine the amount of alimony owed. Based on the domestic relations
exception, this Court lacks jurisdiction.
Since the district court lacked jurisdiction over this matter, we affirm on that ground and need
not address the issues of abstention or injunctive and declaratory relief.
Accordingly, we affirm the district court’s judgment.
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?