Davis-Massey et al v. Ameen et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER Accepting 30 Report and Recommendations which is granting 6 Motion to Dismiss; granting 8 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim; granting 9 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim; and granting 12 Motion for Summary Judgment. The complaint (Doc. No. 1 ) is hereby dismissed with prejudice. Signed by Judge Leonard T Strand on 9/26/2016. Order/NEF mailed to pro se plaintiffs. (src)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF IOWA
CANDICE DEE DAVIS-MASSEY, et
AND ORDER ON REPORT AND
CHERYL AMEEN, et al.,
This case is before me on a Report and Recommendation (R&R) filed August 22,
2016, in which the Honorable Jon Stuart Scoles, Chief United States Magistrate Judge,
recommends that I: (a) grant the motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 6) filed by defendants
Cheryl Ameen, Suzanne Kofka and Charles Palmer, (b) grant the motion to dismiss (Doc.
No. 8) filed by defendant Marchelle Denker, (c) grant the motion to dismiss (Doc. No.
9) filed by defendant Mary Jane Sokolovske and (d) grant the motion for summary
judgment (Doc. No. 12) filed by defendants Dewey P. Sloan, Jaquelin Fox and Kristine
Timmins. See Doc. No. 30. No party has filed objections to the R&R.
The procedural history and relevant facts are set forth in the R&R and are repeated
herein only to the extent necessary.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A district judge must review a magistrate judge’s R&R under the following
Within fourteen days after being served with a copy, any party may serve
and file written objections to such proposed findings and recommendations
as provided by rules of court. A judge of the court shall make a de novo
determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings
or recommendations to which objection is made. A judge of the court may
accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or
recommendations made by the magistrate judge. The judge may also
receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate judge with
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). Thus, when a party objects to
any portion of an R&R, the district judge must undertake a de novo review of that portion.
Any portions of an R&R to which no objections have been made must be reviewed
under at least a “clearly erroneous” standard. See, e.g., Grinder v. Gammon, 73 F.3d
793, 795 (8th Cir. 1996) (noting that when no objections are filed “[the district court
judge] would only have to review the findings of the magistrate judge for clear error”).
As the Supreme Court has explained, “[a] finding is ‘clearly erroneous’ when although
there is evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire evidence is left with the
definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.”
Anderson v. City of
Bessemer City, 470 U.S. 564, 573 74 (1985) (quoting United States v. U.S. Gypsum Co.,
333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)). However, a district judge may elect to review an R&R
under a more-exacting standard even if no objections are filed:
Any party that desires plenary consideration by the Article III judge of any
issue need only ask. Moreover, while the statute does not require the judge
to review an issue de novo if no objections are filed, it does not preclude
further review by the district judge, sua sponte or at the request of a party,
under a de novo or any other standard.
Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985).
Judge Scoles noted that within their various motions, some or all of the defendants
argue that this action must be dismissed based on (1) lack of subject matter jurisdiction
under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, (2) absolute or qualified immunity, (3) failure to
state a claim upon which relief may be granted, (4) the applicable statute of limitations,
(5) res judicata and (6) lack of supervisory liability. Doc. No. 30 at 11. He then
described the standards for analyzing motions to dismiss brought pursuant to Rule
Under FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 12(b)(1), a
party may seek dismissal of an action for “lack of subject-matter
jurisdiction.” Id. When deciding a RULE 12(b)(1) motion, courts must
first determine whether the motion is a “facial attack” or “factual attack.”
Osborn v. United States, 918 F.2d 724, 729 n.6 (8th Cir. 1990) (citing
Menchaca v. Chrysler Credit Corp., 613 F.2d 507, 511 (5th Cir. 1980));
see also Branson Label, Inc. v. City of Branson, Mo., 793 F.3d 910, 914
(8th Cir. 2015) (discussing RULE 12(b)(1) motions and Osborn). In a
facial attack, courts must determine whether the “‘plaintiff has sufficiently
alleged a basis of subject matter jurisdiction.’” Branson Label, Inc., 793
F.3d at 914 (quotation omitted). Thus, a court restricts itself “‘to the face
of the pleadings and the non-moving party receives the same protections as
it would defending against a motion brought under Rule 12(b)(6).’” Id.
In a factual attack, subject matter jurisdiction is challenged in fact,
and “‘no presumptive truthfulness attaches to the plaintiff’s allegations, and
the existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from
evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional claims.’” Osborn, 918
F.2d at 730 (quoting Mortensen v. First Federal Savings and Loan
Association, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977)). In evaluating the
jurisdictional claims in a factual attack, courts “may receive competent
evidence such as affidavits, deposition testimony, and the like in order to
determine the factual dispute.” Titus v. Sullivan, 4 F.3d 590, 593 (8th
Cir. 1993) (citing Land v. Dollar, 330 U.S. 731, 735 n.4 (1947)). The
burden is on the plaintiff to show that jurisdiction does in fact exist. Osborn,
918 F.2d at 730.
Doc. No. 30 at 8-9. Judge Scoles found that by invoking the Rooker-Feldman doctrine,
the defendants are presenting a facial attack on the court’s subject matter jurisdiction.
Id. at 9.
Next, Judge Scoles described the standards for addressing motions to dismiss
brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6):
FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 12(b)(6) authorizes the
dismissal of a claim if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief
can be granted. In assessing a motion to dismiss, courts view the
allegations in the complaint in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party. In re Operation of Missouri River System Litigation, 418 F.3d 915,
917 (8th Cir. 2005). In discussing RULE 12(b)(6) motions to dismiss, the
Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals has stated that such motions:
‘[do] not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff’s
obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief
requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.’
Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, ___ U.S. ____, 127 S. Ct.
1955, 1964-65, 167 L.Ed. 2d 929 (2007). The complaint
must allege facts, which, taken as true, raise more than a
speculative right to relief.
Id. at 1965.
allegations show on the face of the complaint there is some
insuperable bar to relief, dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is
appropriate. Parnes v. Gateway 2000, Inc., 122 F.3d 539,
546 (8th Cir. 1997).
Benton v. Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc., 524 F.3d 866, 870 (8th Cir. 2008);
see also Missouri River System Litigation, 418 F.3d at 917 (A court may
“dismiss the case only when it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can
prove no set of facts in support of [the plaintiff’s] claim which would entitle
[the plaintiff] to relief.”); Strand v. Diversified Collection Service, Inc.,
380 F.3d 316, 317 (8th Cir. 2004) (“A motion to dismiss should be granted
‘as a practical matter ... only in the unusual case in which a plaintiff
includes allegations that show, on the face of the complaint, that there is
some insuperable bar to relief.’ Frey v. Herculaneum, 44 F.3d 667, 671
(8th Cir. 1995).”).
Doc. No. 30 at 9-10.
Finally, Judge Scoles explained the standards for addressing motions for summary
judgment brought pursuant to Rule 56:
Summary judgment is appropriate if the moving party shows that
“there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled
to a judgment as a matter of law.” FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). A genuine
dispute as to a material fact “‘exists if a reasonable jury could return a
verdict for the party opposing the motion.’” Anderson v. Durham D &
M, L.L.C., 606 F.3d 513, 518 (8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Humphries v.
Pulaski County Special School District, 580 F.3d 688, 692 (8th Cir. 2009)).
A fact is a “material fact” when it “might affect the outcome of the suit
under the governing law....” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S.
242, 248 (1986). In order to establish the existence of a genuine dispute
as to a material fact, the non-moving party “‘may not merely point to
unsupported self-serving allegations.’” Anda v. Wickes Furniture Co.,
517 F.3d 526, 531 (8th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bass v. SBC Communications,
Inc., 418 F.3d 870, 872 (8th Cir. 2005)). Instead, the non-moving party
“‘must substantiate [its] allegations with sufficient probative evidence that
would permit a finding in [its] favor.’” Anda, 517 F.3d at 531 (quoting
Bass, 418 F.3d at 873); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248 (A nonmoving
party must offer proof “such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict
for the nonmoving party.”).
“‘Evidence, not contentions, avoids
summary judgment.’” Reasonover v. St. Louis County, Mo., 447 F.3d
569, 578 (8th Cir. 2006) (quoting Mayer v. Nextel W. Corp., 318 F.3d 803,
809 (8th Cir. 2003)). The court must view the record in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party and afford it all reasonable inferences.
Baer Gallery, Inc. v. Citizen's Scholarship Foundation of America, Inc.,
450 F.3d 816, 820 (8th Cir. 2006) (citing Drake ex rel. Cotton v. Koss,
445 F.3d 1038, 1042 (8th Cir. 2006)).
Doc. No. 30 at 10-11. I find that Judge Scoles correctly described the standards that
apply to each type of motion.
After describing the various standards, Judge Scoles analyzed whether this court
has jurisdiction to hear the case under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Id. at 12-14. He
explained: “Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, ‘with the exception of habeas corpus
petitions, lower federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over challenges to a state
court judgment.’” Id. at 12 (citing Lemonds v. St. Louis County, 222 F.3d 488, 492
(8th Cir. 2000); D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482 (1983); Rooker
v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415 (1923) (parenthetical quotations omitted)).
Judge Scoles determined that the plaintiffs are, in fact, complaining of injuries caused by
a state court decision and concluded that this court does not have jurisdiction to hear such
claims. Id. at 13-14. As such, Judge Scoles recommends dismissal of the complaint
on this basis. Id. at 14.
Judge Scoles also addressed defendants’ arguments concerning absolute and/or
qualified immunity. He first noted that defendants Kofka and Ameen are being sued
based on their roles in the investigation of a child abuse allegation and resulting initiation
of a child-in-need-of assistance (CINA) action regarding plaintiff ADH.
Id. at 14-15.
He found, based on established Eighth Circuit law, that Kofka and Ameen enjoy absolute
immunity with regard to the initiation of the CINA proceedings.
Id. at 15-16.
With regard to defendant Sokolovske, an Iowa District Court Judge who presided
over various proceedings involving ADH, Judge Scoles stated:
Absolute judicial immunity “is an immunity from suit, not just from
ultimate assessment of damages.” Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991)
(citing Mitchell v. Forsyth, All U.S. 511, 526 (1985)). “[J]udicial
immunity is not overcome by allegations of bad faith or malice[.]” Id.;
see also Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967) (“[I]mmunity applies
even when the judge is accused of acting maliciously or corruptly[.]”).
Judicial immunity is overcome in only two sets of circumstances: (1) A
judge is not entitled to immunity for nonjudicial actions (actions taken out
of the judge's judicial capacity); and (2) a judge is not entitled to immunity,
even if his or her actions were judicial in nature, if the actions were taken
in the absence of all jurisdiction. Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11-12; see also
Robinson v. Freeze, 15 F.3d 107, 108 (8th Cir. 1994) (“Judges performing
judicial functions enjoy absolute immunity from ... liability.”); Liles v.
Reagan, 804 F.2d 493, 495 (8th Cir. 1986) (“[A] judge is entitled to
absolute immunity if the acts complained of were “judicial acts” and were
not taken in the “clear absence of all jurisdiction.” Stump v. Sparkman,
435 U.S. 349, 355-57, 98 S. Ct. 1099, 1104-05, 55 L.Ed. 2d 331
(1978).”). In determining whether an act by a judge is “judicial,” courts
must consider “whether the judge was interacting with the complaining
party in a judicial capacity.” Liles, 804 F.2d at 495 (citation omitted).
Doc. No. 30 at 16-17. Judge Scoles found that neither exception applies here, meaning
Judge Sokolovske is entitled to absolute judicial immunity.
Id. at 17.
Next, Judge Scoles addressed Sloan’s, Fox’s and Timmins’ argument that they are
entitled to absolute prosecutorial immunity. He explained:
Prosecutors enjoy absolute immunity from civil liability “when they
are engaged in prosecutorial functions that are ‘intimately associated with
the judicial process.’” Schenk v. Chavis, 461 F.3d 1043, 1046 (8th Cir.
2006) (quoting Anderson v. Larson, 327, F.3d 762, 768 (8th Cir. 2003)).
“‘Actions connected with initiation of prosecution, even if those actions are
patently improper’ are immunized.” Schenk, 461 F.3d at 1046 (quoting
Williams v. Hartje, 827 F.2d 1203, 1208 (8th Cir. 1987)); see also
Reasonover v. St. Louis County, Mo., 447 F.3d 569, 580 (8th Cir. 2006)
(“Immunity is not defeated by allegations of malice, vindictiveness, or selfinterest.”). However, absolute immunity is not available to prosecutors
for administrative or investigative actions unrelated to the initiation of a
prosecution. Schenk, 461 F.3d at 1046 (citation omitted). Thus, the issue
of “‘whether absolute or qualified immunity applies depends on whether
the prosecutor's acts were prosecutorial, investigatory or administrative in
nature.’” Id. (quotation omitted).
Doc. No. 30 at 18. Judge Scoles found that because Sloan, Fox and Timmins were
acting in their official capacity and within their prosecutorial functions, they are entitled
to absolute immunity. Id. at 18-19.
Judge Scoles then addressed qualified immunity, noting that while absolute
immunity applies to Kofka’s and Ameen’s initiation of CINA proceedings, qualified
immunity applies with regard to their investigatory activities.
Id. at 20.
Qualified immunity “protects government officials ‘from liability for
civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established
statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have
known.’” Pearson v. Callahan, 555 U.S. 223, 129 S. Ct. 808, 815 (2009)
(quoting Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982)); see also Howard
v. Kansas City Police Department, 570 F.3d 984, 987-88 (8th Cir. 2009)
(“‘Qualified immunity protects a government official from liability in a
section 1983 action unless the official's conduct violated a clearly
established constitutional or statutory right of which a reasonable person
would have known.’ Henderson v. Munn, 439 F.3d 497, 501 (8th Cir.
A two-part inquiry is employed to determine whether a government
official is entitled to qualified immunity. Serna v. Goodno, 567 F.3d 944,
951 (8th Cir. 2009). The two-part inquiry requires the Court to determine:
(1) whether the facts shown by the plaintiff make out a
violation of a constitutional or statutory right, and (2) whether
the right was clearly established at the time of the defendant's
Brown v. City of Golden Valley, 574 F.3d 491,496 (8th Cir. 2009) (citing
Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001)). In determining whether a
right is clearly established the “‘contours of the right must be sufficiently
clear that a reasonable official would understand that what he is doing
violates that right.’” Serna, 567 F.3d at 952 (quoting Buckley v.
Rogerson, 133 F.3d 1125, 1128 (8th Cir. 1998)).
Doc. No. 30 at 19-20.
Judge Scoles found that the facts underlying Kofka’s and
Ameen’s investigation of alleged child abuse entitle them to qualified immunity.
Next, Judge Scoles addressed defendants’ argument that the complaint does not
state a claim for which relief may be granted. He explained:
In order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must
establish: (1) the violation of a right secured by the Constitution or laws of
the United States, and (2) the alleged deprivation of that right was
committed by a person acting under color of state law. West v. Atkins,
487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE
8(a)(2) only requires “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief.” Id. “While a complaint attacked by a
Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations,
a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitlement to relief’
requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action will not do[.]” Bell Atlantic Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (citations omitted). “Factual
allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level[.]” Id. (citation omitted).
Doc. No. 30 at 21.
Judge Scoles found that the factual allegations set forth in the
complaint do not “r[ise] to a right to relief above the speculative level[.]”
Id. at 22.
As such, he recommends that I dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon
which relief can be granted. Id.
Judge Scoles next addressed the applicable statute of limitations:
“A court may dismiss a claim under Rule 12(b)(6) as barred by the
statute of limitations if the complaint itself establishes that the claim is timebarred.” Illig v. Union Elec. Co., 652 F.3d 971, 976 (8th Cir. 2011)
(citing Jessie v. Potter, 516 F.3d 709, 713 n.2 (8th Cir. 2008)). Section
1983 actions are not governed by a specific statute of limitations, Wilson v.
Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 266 (1985), and no federal statute of limitations
governs such actions. Board of Regents, Univ. of New York v. Tomanio,
446 U.S. 478, 483 (1980). When no relevant federal statute of limitations
exists, “the controlling period would ordinarily be the most appropriate one
provided by state law.” Johnson v. Railway Express Agency, Inc., 421
U.S. 454, 462 (1975) (citations omitted). In § 1983 actions, the applicable
statute of limitations is governed by the statute of limitations for personal
injury action in the state where the claim arises. Sanchez v. United States,
49 F.3d 1329, 1330 (8th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). Here, the
applicable statute of limitations is Iowa's two-year statute of limitations for
personal injury. See Iowa Code section 614.1(2); Wycoff v. Menke, 773
F.2d 983, 984 (8th Cir. 1985) (providing that § 1983 actions in Iowa are
governed by a two-year statute of limitations).
Doc. No. 30 at 22-23.
Judge Scoles noted that the claims against Kofka, Ameen,
Palmer, Fox, Timmins and Sloan are based on events that are alleged to have occurred
between August 2011 and January 2014. Id. at 23. He also noted that plaintiffs did
not file this action until March 25, 2016. Id. Thus, he concluded that all claims against
Kofka, Ameen, Palmer, Fox, Timmins and Sloan are barred by the applicable two-year
statute of limitations. Id.
Judge Scoles also addressed the doctrine of res judicata. After explaining the
applicable standards, he found that plaintiffs’ claims in this case are “based on the same
nucleus of operative fact before the Iowa courts.”
Id. at 25. As such, he found that
the complaint should be dismissed on grounds of res judicata.
Finally, Judge Scoles considered whether plaintiffs have alleged facts that might
state a claim against defendant Palmer, who serves as the Director of the Iowa
Department of Human Services. Id. at 25-26. Judge Scoles found no evidence in the
record suggesting that Palmer either (a) participated in any alleged constitutional violation
or (b) failed to properly train or supervise his subordinates. Id. at 26. As such, Judge
Scoles recommends the complaint be dismissed as against Palmer.
Because neither party objected to the R&R, I have reviewed it for clear error.
Based on that review, I find that Judge Scoles applied the correct legal standards and
reached the correct conclusions. For all of the (many) reasons set forth in the R&R, I
therefore find that this action must be dismissed.
I further note that most, if not all, of the claims asserted in this case are frivolous
within the meaning of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11(b). While the defendants
have not requested the imposition of sanctions pursuant to Rule 11(c), I caution plaintiffs
that if they present frivolous claims to this court in the future, they will be ordered to
appear in person and show cause as to why sanctions should not be imposed.
For the reasons set forth herein, I hereby accept Chief United States Magistrate
Judge Jon Stuart Scoles’ August 22, 2016, report and recommendation (Doc. No. 30)
See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).
Pursuant to that report and
The motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 6) filed by defendants Cheryl Ameen,
Suzanne Kofka and Charles Palmer is granted.
The motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 8) filed by defendant Marchelle Denker
The motion to dismiss (Doc. No. 9) filed by defendant Mary Jane
Sokolovske is granted.
The motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 12) filed by defendants
Dewey P. Sloan, Jaquelin Fox and Kristine Timmins is granted.
The complaint (Doc. No. 1) is hereby dismissed with prejudice.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
DATED this 26th day of September, 2016.
LEONARD T. STRAND
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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