Cronin v. Circuit Court for Prague 5
ORDER denying 1 Motion for Complaint Regarding Jurisdiction of Case and dismissing case sua sponte; denying as moot 2 Motion for TRO. Signed by Judge Stefan R. Underhill on 8/29/2013. (Carter, J.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
No. 3:13-mc-117 (SRU)
CIRCUIT COURT FOR PRAGUE 5,
ORDER DISMISSING CASE
On August 28, 2013, Xavier Cronin (“Cronin” or “the plaintiff”), appearing pro se, filed
a civil complaint and motion for temporary restraining order asking this court to assume
jurisdiction over an international custody battle involving Cronin’s seventeen-year-old son that
has proceeded, heretofore, in the municipal courts of the Czech Republic. For the reasons that
follow, the complaint must be dismissed, sua sponte, for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.
According to the complaint, Cronin’s son, Kevin, was born in Connecticut, but has lived
with his mother in Prague for the past three years. On July 19, 2013, the named defendant in this
matter, the Circuit Court for Prague 5 (the “Prague Court”), entered an order permitting Cronin
to bring Kevin to the United States for a month-long visitation period. That period ends on
August 31, 2013, at which time Kevin must be returned to his mother’s custody in Prague.
Cronin now claims that his son does not wish to return to Prague because he fears he will
be subjected to psychological abuse and other unhealthy living conditions. On that basis, Cronin
asks this court to (1) temporarily enjoin the Prague Court’s order; and (2) assume jurisdiction
over the custody case to determine where Kevin should live until he reaches the age of majority.
Standard of Review
Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), “[a] case is properly dismissed for lack
of subject matter jurisdiction . . . when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional
power to adjudicate it.” Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000). “[T]he
court must take all facts alleged in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in
favor of plaintiff,” but “jurisdiction must be shown affirmatively, and that showing is not made
by drawing from the pleadings inferences favorable to the party asserting it.” Morrison v. Nat'l
Australia Bank Ltd., 547 F.3d 167, 170 (2d Cir. 2008) (internal citations omitted).
Because the plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the court must liberally construe his
submissions. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (“[A] pro se complaint, however
inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by
lawyers.”) (internal quotation omitted). But even under that liberal standard, Cronin’s complaint
does not raise any claims over which this court may exercise jurisdiction.
“[F]ederal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and, as such, lack the power to
disregard such limits as have been imposed by the Constitution or Congress.” Purdue Pharma
L.P. v. Kentucky, 704 F.3d 208, 213 (2d Cir. 2013) (internal quotation omitted). Generally
speaking, “Congress has granted district courts original jurisdiction over cases in which there is a
federal question, see 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and certain cases between citizens of different states, so
long as the requirements of complete diversity and amount in controversy are met, see 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332.” Id. Even in diversity cases, however, the United States Supreme Court has long
recognized a “domestic relations exception” to federal jurisdiction, which means that federal
courts may not hear divorce, alimony, or child custody cases. See Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504
U.S. 689, 703 (1992) (“We conclude, therefore, that the domestic relations exception . . . divests
the federal courts of power to issue divorce, alimony, and child custody decrees.”); see also
Hernstadt v. Hernstadt, 373 F.2d 316, 317 (2d Cir. 1967) (“Since the very early dicta [of] In re
Burrus, 136 U.S. 586 (1890), it has been uniformly held that federal courts do not adjudicate
cases involving the custody of minors and, a fortiori, rights of visitation.”).1
Here, the plaintiff asks that I enjoin the prior order of the Prague Court and assume
jurisdiction over the case to determine Cronin’s custodial rights. Even if I somehow had the
power to enjoin a foreign tribunal, I clearly lack subject-matter jurisdiction over Cronin’s
custody case. See Ankenbrandt, 504 U.S. at 703. For this reason, the plaintiff’s complaint falls
squarely within the domestic-relations exception to federal jurisdiction and must be dismissed.
Although the Second Circuit has cautioned against sua sponte dismissal of pro se
complaints before service of process, see Elliot v. Bronson, 872 F.2d 20, 21 (2d Cir.1989),
because the jurisdictional defect in this case is undeniable, I conclude it would be a waste of
judicial resources to permit this case to persist any further. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3) (“If the
court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the
action.”) (emphasis added). That being said, it is my sincere hope that the family can resolve this
custody dispute amicably—whether in the courts of the Czech Republic or elsewhere—and that
the best interests of the juvenile will prevail.
In sum, the plaintiff’s complaint is hereby dismissed, sua sponte, for lack of subject-
Although not implicated here, one obvious exception to this rule is the International
Child Abduction Remedies Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 11601-11610, which permits federal courts to
intervene in international custody disputes to ensure the prompt return of children wrongfully
removed from their home countries. See Souratgar v. Lee, 720 F.3d 96, 102 (2d Cir. 2013)
(explaining that, under the Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child
Abduction, “when a parent wrongfully removes a child from one contracting state which is the
child’s country of habitual residence to another contracting state, the other parent may initiate a
matter jurisdiction. The motion for a temporary restraining order (doc. # 2) is denied as moot.
The clerk shall seal those portions of Cronin’s submissions that reveal personal identifying
information and then close the file.
It is so ordered.
Dated at Bridgeport, Connecticut, this 29th day of August 2013.
/s/ Stefan R. Underhill
Stefan R. Underhill
United States District Judge
proceeding to repatriate the child to the first state”).
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