JOHN v. LANGOYA
REPORT AND RECOMMENDED DECISION re 1 Complaint filed by LILLIAN ABALO JOHN. Objections to R&R due by 10/25/2017. By MAGISTRATE JUDGE JOHN C. NIVISON. (CWP)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF MAINE
LILLIAN ABALO JOHN,
RECOMMENDED DECISION AFTER SCREENING COMPLAINT
PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)
In this action, Plaintiff Lillian Abalo John evidently asks the Court to alter or
overturn a decision of the state court regarding custody of the parties’ children.1 Based on
the allegations in the complaint, including the attachments to the complaint, the parties
appear to be residents of the State of Maine.
Plaintiff filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 2), which
application the Court granted. (ECF No. 5.) In accordance with the in forma pauperis
statute, a preliminary review of Plaintiff’s complaint is appropriate.
28 U.S.C. §
Following a review of Plaintiff’s complaint, I recommend the Court dismiss the
In her complaint, Plaintiff identifies the defendant as John Langoya. (ECF No. 1.) In a notice of pro se
appearance, Plaintiff identifies the defendant as John Abore. (ECF No. 3.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
The federal in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, is designed to ensure
meaningful access to the federal courts for those persons unable to pay the costs of bringing
an action. When a party is proceeding in forma pauperis, however, “the court shall dismiss
the case at any time if the court determines,” inter alia, that the action is “frivolous or
malicious” or “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted.” 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2)(B). “Dismissals [under § 1915] are often made sua sponte prior to the issuance
of process, so as to spare prospective defendants the inconvenience and expense of
answering such complaints.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989).
When considering whether a complaint states a claim for which relief may be
granted, courts must assume the truth of all well-plead facts and give the plaintiff the
benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom. Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuno-Burset, 640
F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011). A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted if it does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).
Although a pro se plaintiff’s complaint is subject to “less stringent standards than
formal pleadings drafted by lawyers,” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), this is
“not to say that pro se plaintiffs are not required to plead basic facts sufficient to state a
claim, Ferranti v. Moran, 618 F.2d 888, 890 (1st Cir. 1980).
Plaintiff alleges that the state court awarded Defendant custody of the parties’
children. (Complaint, ECF No. 1.) Plaintiff asserts that she is “not happy” about the
decision and requests that she have “responsibility” for the children. (Id. at 1.) She also
references a divorce action. (Id.) Plaintiff apparently also asks the Court to direct the
Portland Housing Authority to explain the reason Defendant has been named “head of
household,” and to designate Plaintiff as “head of household.” (Id. at 2.)
“‘Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction,’ possessing ‘only that power
authorized by Constitution and statute.’” Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 256 (2013)
(quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)). “It
is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the burden of
establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction.” Kokkonen, 511 U.S.
at 377 (citation omitted). “A court is duty-bound to notice, and act upon, defects in its
subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte.” Spooner v. EEN, Inc., 644 F.3d 62, 67 (1st Cir.
2011). A review of Plaintiff’s complaint fails to reveal a basis upon which this Court could
exercise either federal question jurisdiction or diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. §§
1331 and 1332.
Pursuant to section 1331, federal district courts “have original jurisdiction of all
civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28
U.S.C. § 1331. Plaintiff’s complaint does not assert a claim based on the United States
Constitution, a federal statute, or a federal treaty. In the United States, parental disputes
over the custody of children are governed by state law, not federal law. Irish v. Irish, 842
F.3d 736, 740 (1st Cir. 2016). Accordingly, Plaintiff’s complaint fails to state a claim
within the Court’s federal question jurisdiction.
Pursuant to section 1332, federal district courts also have original jurisdiction
“where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $75,000 … and is between
citizens of different States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1). In order for Plaintiff’s claim to come
within this Court’s diversity jurisdiction, Plaintiff and Defendant must have been citizens
of different states on the date the complaint was filed. Given that the parities’ dispute
evidently involves a housing issue in Portland, Maine, the current record lacks any
evidence that would support diversity jurisdiction. Even if Plaintiff and Defendant had
diverse citizenship at the time the complaint was filed, the “domestic relations exception”
to the district court’s diversity jurisdiction “divests the federal courts of the power to issue
divorce, alimony and child custody decrees.” Nwankwo v. Nwankwo, 993 F.2d 1530 (1st
Cir. 1992) (unpublished) (quoting Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 703 (1992)).
See also Irish, 842 F.3d at 740 – 41. In this action, Plaintiff specifically asks the Court to
award her “responsibility” for or custody of her children. Plaintiff’s claim, therefore, is
not within the Court’s diversity jurisdiction.
Furthermore, to the extent that Plaintiff’s claim constitutes a challenge to a state
court judgment, Plaintiff’s complaint is precluded under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
“The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents the lower federal courts from exercising
jurisdiction over cases brought by ‘state-court losers’ challenging ‘state-court judgments
rendered before the district court proceedings commenced.’” Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S.
459, 460 (2006) (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280,
284 (2005)); Walczak v. Mass. State Retirement Bd., 141 F.3d 1150 (1st Cir. 1998)
(unpublished) (citing D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 476 (1983); Rooker
v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415-16 (1923)).
In sum, because Plaintiff has not alleged an actionable claim within the Court’s
subject matter jurisdiction, dismissal is appropriate pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).2
Based on the foregoing analysis, after a review in accordance with 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e)(2), I recommend the Court dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint.
A party may file objections to those specified portions of a magistrate
judge's report or proposed findings or recommended decisions entered
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B) for which de novo review by the district
court is sought, together with a supporting memorandum, within fourteen
(14) days of being served with a copy thereof.
Failure to file a timely objection shall constitute a waiver of the right
to de novo review by the district court and to appeal the district court's order.
/s/ John C. Nivison
U.S. Magistrate Judge
Dated this 11th day of October, 2017.
To the extent Plaintiff requests relief related to the “head of household” status in connection with the
Portland Housing Authority, Plaintiff has not identified any law, federal or state, that would entitle her to
pursue an action against Defendant on that issue.
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