Kelly v. Montgomery County Office of Child Support Enforcement
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Paul W. Grimm on 12/23/2015. (kw2s, Deputy Clerk) (c/m 12.23.15)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
BYRON ALEXANDER KELLY
MONTGOMERY COUNTY OFFICE OF
CIVIL NO. PWG-15-3707
On December 3, 2015, Bryon Alexander Kelly, a resident of Silver Spring, Maryland, filed a
in which he alleges that Defendant has violated his rights by
discriminating against him "on the basis of race and/or national origin." CompI. 2, ECF No. 1. His
discrimination allegations appear to relate to child support proceedings brought against him: He
claims that Defendant filed contempt charges against him "while plaintiff was actively paying child
support"; refused to modify his child support when he "lost his job" and "was not working";
garnished his wages; committed "[t]heft of funds" from his checking account; refused to reinstate his
driver's license "while reinstating driver's license of others who owe child support"; "UJudge
shop[ed]" his case; and participated in a conspiracy. Id. Kelly seeks damages in the amount of
$150,000.00. Id. at 3. Kelly has submitted a Motion to Proceed In Forma Pauperis, ECF No.2,
which shall be granted.
Kelly invokes this court's federal question jurisdiction.
"[Q]uestions of subject-matter
jurisdiction may be raised at any point during the proceedings and may (or, more precisely, must) be
raised sua sponte by the court." Brickwood Contractors, Inc. v. Datanet Eng 'g, Inc., 369 F.3d 385,
390 (4th Cir. 2004). "The existence of subject matter jurisdiction depends upon the assertion of a
substantial claim." See Garraghty v. Va. Retirement Sys., 200 F. App'x 209, 211 (4th Cir. 2006); see
also Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 536-37 (1974). "[F]eder~l courts are without power to
entertain claims otherwise within their jurisdiction if they are so attenuated and unsubstantial as to be
absolutely devoid of merit, wholly insubstantial, obviously frivolous, plainly unsubstantial, or no
longer open to discussion."
Hagans, 415 U.S. at 536-37 (internal quotation marks and citations
omitted); see also Davis v. Pak, 856 F.2d 648, 651 (4th Cir. 1988) (federal courts are precluded from
exercising jurisdiction when the only federal claim is obviously meritless). Rule 12 authorizes the
district court to dismiss a "patently insubstantial complaint. .. for want of subject-matter jurisdiction."
Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 327 n.6 (1989); see also 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.").
Furthermore, the court has an independent obligation to evaluate, sua sponte, its subject matter
jurisdiction if it is in doubt. Mt. Healthy City Sch. Dis!. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274,278
(1977); see also Apple v. Glenn, 183 F.3d 477,479-80
(6th Cir. 1999) ("[A] district court may, at
any time, sua sponte dismiss a complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule
12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when the allegations of a complaint are totally
implausible, attenuated, unsubstantial, frivolous, devoid of merit, or no longer open to discussion. ").
Subject matter jurisdiction is not apparent here. The claims raised in this Complaint plainly
relate to an ongoing domestic case filed by the Montgomery County Office of Child Support
Enforcement against Kelly in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. See MCOCSE v. Kelly, No:
99322FL (copy attached). The docket shows that a complaint for support was filed in December of
2011, that contempt proceedings were held from 2012-2014, and that in June of2014, Kelly was
found in contempt by Judge Albright. Kelly's motion for modification of child support remains
pending before the Circuit Court, and a hearing is currently scheduled for January 14,2016.
The case may not proceed in this court for a number of reasons. First, it involves matters of
family law. Such issues have traditionally been reserved to the state or municipal court systems with
their expertise and professional support staff. See Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S. 415, 435 (1979). Under
the domestic relations exception to federal jurisdiction, federal courts generally abstain from review
of such cases. SeeAnkenbrandtv.
Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 701-05 (1992); Rafieryv. Scott, 756F.2d
335,343 (4th Cir. 1985) (domestic relations exception to federal courts' jurisdiction based on idea
that state has a stronger more direct interest). It may be appropriate for the federal courts to decline
to hear a case involving elements of the domestic relationship, even when divorce, alimony or child
custody is not strictly at issue:
"This would be so when a case presents difficult questions of state law bearing on
policy problems of substantial public import whose importance transcends the result
in the case then at bar. Such might well be the case if a federal suit were filed prior
to effectuation of a divorce, alimony, or child custody decree, and the suit depended
on a determination of the status ofthe parties."
!d. at 705-06 (quoting Colorado River Water Conservation District v. United States, 424 U.S. 800,
This conclusion is supported by sound policy considerations. Issuance of decrees ofthis type
not infrequently involves retention of jurisdiction by the state court and deployment of social
workers to monitor compliance. As a matter of judicial economy, state courts are eminently more
suited to work of this type than are federal courts, which lack the close association with state and
local government organizations dedicated to handling issues that arise out of conflicts over child
custody and support decrees. Moreover, as a matter of judicial expertise, it makes far more sense to
retain the rule that federal courts lack power over these cases because of the special proficiency
developed by state tribunals over the past century and a half in handling issues that arise in the
granting of such decrees.
Second, the court is also without jurisdiction to review the gravamen of the allegations. The
action is based upon the history of a four-year-old state court proceeding and Kelly's issue with the
judicial determinations entered therein. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine, based upon the holdings of
the Supreme Court in Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923) and District of Columbia
Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983), operates to deprive a district court of subject
matter jurisdiction only in a narrow set of circumstances, specifically in "cases brought by state-court
losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court
proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments." Exxon
Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). In Davani v. Va. Dep't of
Transp., 434 F.3d 712, 713 (4th Cir. 2006), the Fourth Circuit held that "the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine applies only when the loser in state court files suit in federal district court seeking redress
for an injury allegedly caused by the state court's decision itself." That is, "Exxon requires us to
examine whether the state-court loser who files suit in federal district court seeks redress for an
injury caused by the state-court decision itself. Ifhe is not challenging the state-court decision, the
doctrine does not apply." 434 F.3d at 718.
Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a federal court does not have jurisdiction to overturn a
state court judgment, even when the federal complaint raises allegations that the state court judgment
violates a claimant's constitutional or federal statutory rights. In creating this jurisdictional bar, the
Supreme Court reasoned that because federal district courts have only original jurisdiction, they lack
appellate jurisdiction to review state court judgments.
This action is based upon state court
proceedings and plaintiff s dispute with those judicial determinations, and he may not proceed in this
the Supreme Court has federal court appellate jurisdiction over state court judgments. See 28
U.S.C. S 1257.
federal district court based upon his dissatisfaction with the state court findings. See Exxon Mobil
Corp., 544 U.S. at 281.
Finally, to the extent that Kelly's allegation may be generously construed to raise a
Fourteenth Amendment equal protection allegation, his legal assertion of discrimination amounts to a
bald assertion, unsupported by any facts. Generally, to establish an equal protection claim, a plaintiff
must demonstrate that, (1) compared with others similarly situated, he was selectively treated, and
(2) that the selective treatment was motivated by purposeful discrimination on some improper basis,
such as plaintiff s membership in a particular race or religion. See Morrison v. Garraghty, 239 F.3d
648,654 (4th Cir. 2001).
Here, Kelly baldly asserts "Discrimination on the basis of race and/or national origin." Kelly
provides no factual basis to support his conclusory claim of discriminatory intent. His assertion
alone fails to establish a prima facie case of discrimination.
His allegation is insufficient to state a
plausible claim that he has a right to relief "above the speculative level." See Bell Atl. Corp v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009) (pleading
offering only conclusions "will not do").
Accordingly, Kelly's equal protection claim will be
The complaint is dismissible for lack of subject matte
12(h)(3). A separate Order follows.
J1" 1.. ~
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?