State of Alabama Russell County Department of Human Resources, et al. v. Epps, et al.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER directing that this case is REMANDED to the Juvenile Court of Russell County, Alabama; the Clerk of the Court is DIRECTED to take the steps necessary to effectuate the remand. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 12/4/14. (scn, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
STATE OF ALABAMA
DEPARTMENT OF HUMAN
RESOURCES, et al.,
DAMMUON EPPS, et al.
CASE NO. 3:14-CV-1194-WKW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Defendants Dammuon Epps and Tanya Griffin (collectively “Defendants”),
who are proceeding pro se, filed six Notices of Removal in this court on December
2, 2014. This is one of those six cases. (See Doc. # 1.) Each of the six cases
originated in the Juvenile Court of Russell County, Alabama. For the reasons that
follow, this case is due to be remanded to state court.
In October 2014, Russell County Department of Human Resources (“DHR”)
initiated proceedings in the Juvenile Court of Russell County, Alabama, petitioning
that court for temporary custody, care, and control of Defendants’ six children,
D.A.V.G., K.A.S.G., D.V.G., K.G.L.E., K.A.A.G., and L.D.T.E. The individual
Russell County case numbers concerning the six children are respectively JU-14-
234, JU-14-236, JU-14-232, JU-14-233, JU-14-235, and JU-14-262.
November 7, 2014, after two days of hearings for which Defendants had notice and
in which Defendants participated,1 Juvenile Court Judge Buster Landreau entered
orders transferring custody of the children to DHR, pendente lite.
From the documents submitted in support of their notices of removal, the
court discerns that a probate judge temporarily committed Ms. Griffin to East
Alabama Mental Health, Ms. Griffin’s home has been visited by DHR or a truancy
officer concerning the children’s non-enrollment in school or non-compliance with
state requirements for homeschooling, and that DHR has found some or all of the
children to be unkempt, in need of dental or other medical care, and wearing illfitting or inadequate clothing.
Defendants have opposed DHR’s efforts to investigate their circumstances
or to remove any of the six children from their custody.
submissions to this court (see Docs. # 1, 2), Defendants contend that DHR and its
officers have violated the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Due Process and
Takings Clauses,2 the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition against unlawful searches
and seizures, the Fourteenth Amendment’s substantive due process protections of
parental rights to raise and educate children, the First Amendment’s protections of
It appears that Ms. Griffin participated in the hearing on November 6, 2014, and that
Mr. Epps participated in the hearing on November 7, 2014.
Defendants repeatedly assert a property interest in their children.
free exercise of religion3 and familial association, and the Thirteenth Amendment’s
prohibition against involuntary servitude.
Defendants similarly challenge the
constitutionality of certain provisions in the Alabama Code and also appear to
assert common-law claims for trespass, invasion of privacy, conspiracy, or other
torts. With respect to these claims against DHR and its officers, Defendants
clearly cast themselves as the plaintiffs and seek a default judgment, declaratory
judgment, permanent injunction, and temporary restraining order.
In their notices of removal, Defendants assert that they were served with
notice of the state court proceedings on November 5, 2014, making their removal
on December 2, 2014 timely under the removal statute. They invoke the court’s
jurisdiction pursuant to Article III, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, which
confers upon federal courts the power to hear certain cases and controversies.
Liberally construing the notice of removal, the court concludes that Defendants are
asserting that this court has federal question jurisdiction over their federal
constitutional claims, see 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over
their state-law constitutional and tort claims, see 28 U.S.C. § 1367.
Congress has provided that “any civil action brought in a State court of
which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be
Ms. Griffin claims to adhere to the sacred Religious Doctrine of Heru, from which she
seeks guidance in the education of her children.
removed by . . . the defendants, to the district court of the United States for the
district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 1441(a). Defendants seeking to remove suits to federal court bear the burden of
showing facts supporting a federal court’s jurisdiction. Burns v. Windsor Ins. Co.,
31 F.3d 1092, 1094 (11th Cir. 1994).
Federal courts have limited jurisdiction and are “empowered to hear only
those cases within the judicial power of the United States as defined by Article III
of the Constitution, and which have been entrusted to them by a jurisdictional grant
authorized by Congress.” Univ. of S. Ala. v. Am. Tobacco Co., 168 F.3d 405, 409
(11th Cir. 1999) (internal quotation marks omitted). “A necessary corollary to the
concept that a federal court is powerless to act without jurisdiction is the equally
unremarkable principle that a court should inquire,” even on its own initiative,
“into whether it has subject matter jurisdiction at the earliest possible stage in the
proceedings.” Id. at 410. Even without a pending motion to remand, this court
must remand a removed case sua sponte if it appears that subject-matter
jurisdiction is lacking. Taylor v. Phillips, 442 F. App’x 441, 443 n.3 (11th Cir.
The court has construed the instant notice of removal as alleging that this
court has federal question subject-matter jurisdiction.
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1331, a district court has federal question subject-matter jurisdiction over “all
civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.”
“Whether a claim arises under federal law for purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1331 is
generally determined by the well-pleaded complaint rule, which provides that
federal jurisdiction exists only when a federal question is presented on the face of
the [original] plaintiff’s properly pleaded complaint.” Smith v. GTE Corp., 236
F.3d 1292, 1310 (11th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation marks omitted). Therefore,
removal is typically proper only when the underlying state court complaint
“establishes either that federal law creates the cause of action or that the plaintiff’s
right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal
law.” Id. Here, the underlying state court proceedings originated with DHR’s
petition for child custody under Alabama law. Alabama law, not federal law,
supports DHR’s petition, and DHR’s right to pursue custody does not depend upon
the resolution of a substantial question of federal law.
By alleging constitutional claims as the removing defendants against the
state court petitioners and others, Defendants are in essence raising, or attempting
to raise, federal counterclaims. However, “[t]here can be no federal question
jurisdiction or removal based on an argument raised by the defense, whether that
argument is a defense or a counterclaim.” Bank of New York v. Angley, 559
F. App’x 956, 957 (11th Cir. 2014); see also Stone v. Williams, 792 F. Supp. 749,
754 (M.D. Ala. 1992) (Thompson, J.) (confining jurisdictional scrutiny to the
allegations of the original plaintiff’s complaint, not those set forth in the removing
defendant’s counterclaim). Hence, Defendants fail to carry their burden of proving
a basis for this court’s exercise of jurisdiction over either the original custody
petitions or what Defendants are presenting as federal-law counterclaims.4
Once a court determines that subject-matter jurisdiction is lacking, “the only
function remaining to the court is that of announcing the fact and dismissing the
cause.” Univ. of S. Ala., 168 F.3d at 410 (internal quotation marks omitted).
Because this court lacks authority to rule on Defendants’ pending motion for leave
to proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. # 3) or the motion for a temporary restraining
order (Doc. # 1), it cannot do so.
Accordingly, it is ORDERED that this case is REMANDED to the Juvenile
Court of Russell County, Alabama. The Clerk of the Court is DIRECTED to take
the steps necessary to effectuate the remand.
DONE this 4th day of December, 2014.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Further, there is nothing in Defendants’ notices of removal suggesting that this court has
diversity subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332, but even if there was some
allegation to support diversity subject-matter jurisdiction, the court would still lack jurisdiction
over the matters raised in each of the six custody petitions. “The domestic relations exception to
diversity of citizenship jurisdiction is a well-accepted doctrine which allows the federal courts to
abstain from deciding” family law disputes, including, among other things, “child custody
actions.” Kirby v. Mellenger, 830 F.2d 176, 177–78 (11th Cir. 1987).
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