Reese v. State of Maryland et al

Filing 3

MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge George Jarrod Hazel on 6/21/2017. (c/m 6/22/2017 tds, Deputy Clerk)

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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOI{ THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND Southern Divisioll KELVIN DARREN REESE, ~I '''I. 1 r""\ • * Plaintiff, * v. * STATE OF MARYLAND, et lit., * Defendants. * * * * Civil Action No. G.JH-17-1.t87 * * * * * * * * * * * MEMORANDUM OPINION Plaintiff Kelvin Darren Reese filed this pro se Complaint against Defendants the State of Maryland. Governor Larry Hogan. Attorney General Brian E. Frosh. Judge John Paul Davey. Chief Judge Peter 13.Krauser. and John Siowe and Mary Murphy of the Prince Georgc's County Ollice of Child Support Enforcement ("Defendants") on May 31. 20 J 7. ECF NO.1. along with a Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis. ECF NO.2. which shall be granted. Plaintiff alleges various statutory and constitutional violations of his civil rights. No hearing is neccssary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). Because Plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted with respect to the calculation of his child support obligations. these claims shall be dismissed. Plaintitrs claims against Governor Hogan and Mr. Frosh in their otlicial capacities. and against Judge Davey and Judge Krauser. are barred lor reasons described below. Plaintiff will. however. be afforded the opportunity to tile a separate civil rights action regarding his 2015 an'est and detention. I. BACKGROUND Plaintiff Rcesc sccks dcclaratory rclief and damages from this Court in thc context of child support and custody procecdings emanating from the Circuit Court for Princc Gcorgc's County. ECF NO.1 at 2. 25-27. Rcese asserts that his statutory rights and constitutional rights under the Filih and Fourteenth Amcndmcnts havc bccn violated. and that hc has bccn dcnicd equal protection by Defendants' actions in calculating his child support obligation bascd on disability income he rcccivcs through thc Veterans Administration ("VA"). !d. at 20-24. Rccsc lilrther statcs that Defendants' failurc to excludc his VA benetits from the child support calculation violates his right to due process and his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. ~ 1983. and amounts to a conspiracy under 42 U.S.c. ~ 1985. 1<1. at 23-24. I Plainti 1'1' also statcs that in 2015. hc was "illegally incarceratcd" for failure to pay child support. and that his dctcntion imposcd cruel conditions of continement. 1<1. at 262 A review of the Maryland Judiciary Casc Search website. thc contcnt of which the Court takes judicial notice. see Fed. R. Evid. 20 I(b)(2): Colonial Penn Ins. Co. \'. Coil. 887 F.2d 1236. 1239 (4th Cir. 1989). reveals that a September 4. 2014 ordcr issucd by thc Circuit Court for Princc Georgc' s County asscsscd child support payments against Plaintiff at $1.264.00 per month. See Reese \'. Reese. Case No. CAD13-22462 at Ok. 085 (Cir. Ct. Prince Georgc's Cty. I Although VA benelits have been exempted from taxation and creditors' rights. the Supreme Court has ruled that 38 U.S.C. ~ 310 I(a), now codified at 38 U.S.C. ~ 530 I. docs not prevent a state from considering the benefits to calculate child support. See Rose \'. Ilose. 481 U.S. 619. 630~634 (1987) . .2 A.t the end of his Complaint. Plaintiff adds that. "[w]hile imprisoned I went through physical withdra\\'als from medication that could have killed me. I sufTer with asthma and the Sheriffs threw me in a van with flO \ ••..indows and turned the heat up to high '.•.. the outside temperature was ninety-six degrees (96). I was leli in a van laying on the hile floor \vith my mouth pressed to the door trying to get air:' ECF No. I at 26. It is unclear to the COllrt whether PlaintitTintcnds to bring a claim against thc Defcndants in this action for these allegations. Thus. he will be pennitted to tile a separate civil rights action regarding these allegations. and naming the appropriate defendants. if he so chooses. 2016) ..1 On November 21. 2014. Plaintiff was held in contempt for failure to pay a $10.240.00 child support arrearage. See ill. at Dk. 092: lOCI'No. 1-4 at 5. On October 20. 2015. Judge Davey again held Plaintiff in contempt lor lailure to satisfy the arrearage. and remanded Reese to the custody of the sheriff until $5.000.00 of the arrearage was satislied. See Reese. CAD13-22462 at Dk. J 27: lOCI'No. 1-4 at 3. Plaintiff was released on his personal recognizance that same day. See Reese. CAD13-22462 at Dk. 128. Plaintiffs motion to modify child support was withdrawn in open court on April 21. 2016. See hl.: lOCI'No. 1-4 at 4. Additional motions for modilication and It)r contempt culminated in a notice of appeal to the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland. which was dismissed for procedural deficiencies on March 16. 2017. See Reese. Case No. CADI3-22462 at Dk. 159-168: lOCI'No. 1-3 at 2-3. The Circuit Court case is closed for statistieal purposes only. See Reese. Case No. CAD13-22462 at Dk. 158. The crux ofReese's Complaint is that his veterans' benefits were wrongfully included as income in the calculation of his child support obligations. II. STANDARD OF REVIEW The Court may dismiss a case filed infiJl"lna pauperis if it determines that the action is frivolous or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted. 28 U.S.c. ~ 1915(e)(2). Although the Courts construes the pleadings of selt~represented litigants liberally. Erickson \'. Pardu.l'. 551 U.S. 89. 94 (2007). a complaint must contain factual allegations suflicient to "raise a right 10 relief above the speculative level" and "state a claim to rcliefthat is plausible on its face." Bell A/lan/ic \'. TlI'ol11h1y. 50 U.S. 544. 555. 570 (2007). 5 'Reese 1'. Reese. Case No. CAD13-22462 (Cir. Cl. Prioee Georges Cly.).! (last visited June 15. 2017). , .' III. ANALYSIS Reese's Complaint must be dismissed becausc it is a maller Irom which this Court must abstain. The Younger abstention doctrine. see Younger \'. flarris. 40 I U.S. 37 (1971 ). "requires a federal court to abstain from interfering in state procccdings. even if jurisdiction cxists:' if there is: ..( I) an ongoing state judicial proceeding. instituted prior to any substantial progrcss in the federal proceeding: that (2) implicates important. substantial. or vital state interests: and (3) provides an adequate opportunity for the plaintiff to raise the federal constitutional claim advanced in the federal lawsuit:' Laurel Sand & Gravel. Inc. 1'. Wilson. 519 !'Jd 156. 165 (4th Cir. 2008) ... Younger is not merely a principle of abstention: rather. the case sets forth a mandatory rule of equitable restraint. requiring the dismissal of a federal action:' Williallls \'. Luhin. 516 1'. Supp. 2d 535. 539 (D. Md. 2007) (quoting Nivens 1'. Gilchrist. 444 1'.3d 237. 247 (4th Cir. 2006)). Reese's state court proceedings are closed only for statistical purposes. and may be reopened by the parties at any time, whether for contempt proceedings or to move for modification of the monthly child support obligation. See Reese. Case No. CAD 13-22462 at Dk. 158. I'urthermore. the State of Maryland has a vital intcrest in ensuring the well-being of children who reside in the state. providing further basis for abstention. See B.G. CV RDB-15-2663. 2016 WL 3384941. at *7 (D. Md. June 20. 2016). affdsuh 1'. Malhotra. No. nOIll. No. 16. 1837.2017 WL 765794 (4th Cir. I'eb. 27. 2017) (abstaining from child custody case brought in federal court. based on Younger. where State had important interest in welfare ofa child). Additional grounds lor dismissal exist. PlaintifT does not indicate why the Governor or the Maryland Attorney General are named in his Complaint. nor does he indicate whcthcr thcsc Delendants are sued in thcir ofticial or individual capacities. As no actual misconduct is allcged against Defendants Hogan and I'rosh. the Court shall assume they are named in their ofticial capacities. Judgment against a public employee "in his official capacity" imposcs liability on the 4 public entity. See Bralldolll'. 110/1.469 U.S. 464. 471-72 (1985) (citing MOlle/l \'. Ne1l' York Depl. a/Soc. Sen' .. 436 U.S. 658. 690 n.55 (1978) (internal quotation omitted». Thus. it follows that Plaintiffs suit against Hogan and Frosh for actions undertaken in their oflicial capacity is a claim against the State of Maryland. Under the Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution. a state. its agencies. and departments are immune Ihnl1 suits in federal court brought by its citizens or the citizens of another state. unless it consents. See Pellllhursl Slll/e Sch. am/limjJ. 1'. lIa/demulI1. 465 U.S. 89.100 (1984). While the State of Maryland has waived its sovereign immunity for certain types of cases brought in state courts. see Md. Code. State Gov't * 12-202(a). it has not broadly waived its immunity under the Eleventh Amendment in federal court. See Gray I'. to suit La1l's. 51 F.3d 426. 431-32 (4th Cir. 1995) (noting that "it is well established that an unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens ... ") (internal citations omitted): Madisoll1'. Wheal. No. GJI-l-16-1542, 2016 WL 3546223. at *2 (D. Md. Junc 23. 2016): Youllg 1'. Dep'l oj'l'uh. Sa/i!ly & Carr. Sal's .. No. eIV.A. DKC-14-1493, 2015 WI. 3932433. at *4 (D. Md. June 24. 2015). Thus.PlaintilTs complaint against Hogan and Frosh in their official capacities is barred by the Eleventh Amendmcnt. Additionally. Plaintiff seeks to sue Maryland state judges for decisions made in their judicial capacities. This cause of action is prohibited by the doctrine of judicial immunity. See ivlire/es 1'. Waco. 502 U.S. 9. 9 (1991) (per curiam) (noting that "generally. ajudge is immune trom a suit for money damages."). As the Supreme Court wrote in For,.e,,'er 219.226-27 1'. While. 484 U.S. (1988): If judges were personally liable lor erroneous decisions. the resulting avalanche of suits. most of them Irivolous but vexatious. would provide powerful incentives Ii)/' judges to avoid rendering dccisions likely to provoke such suits. The resulting timidity would be hard to detect or control. and it would manifestly detract from independent and impartial adjudication. Nor are suits against judges the only available means through which litigants can protect 5 themselvcs from thc consequences of judicial error. Most judicial mistakes or wrongs arc open to correction through ordinary mechanisms of rcview, which arc largely free of the harm lid sidc-cffccts inevitably associatcd with exposing judges to personal liability. Forres/er. 484 U.S. at 226-27. "Like other fomls ofoflicial immunity. judicial immunity is an immunity from suit. not just from ultimate assessment of damages:' Mireles. 502 U.S. at II. This immunity can be overcomc only in two circumstanccs. A judgc is not immune from liability tor actions taken outside the judge' s judicial capacity. nor I(H"actions. though judicial in nature. taken in the complcte absence of all jurisdiction:' Ill. 1lere. it is plain from the face of the Complaint that Rcese's allegations derive from actions taken within Judge Davey and Judgc Krauser'sjudicial capacities. Rcese's core dispute is with the substance of child support rulings that he perceives werc unjust. Notably. "immunity applies even whcn the judge is accuscd of acting maliciously and corruptly'" Pierson I'. Ray. 386 U.S. 547. 554 (1967). Reese's Complaint also fails to demonstrate that the Circuit Court. which is the court of general jurisdiction ftlr Prince George's County. Maryland. lackcd jurisdiction over Reese's finnily law mailers. Accordingly. the judges' acts were protected by judicial immunity. and Reese's claims against them cannot proceed. Moreover. there is an exception to this Court's jurisdiction that excludcs the authority to hcar domestic relations mallcrs. See e.g RafieIJ'I'. Sm/l. 756 F.2d 335. 343 (4th Cir. 1985) (domestic relations cxception to lederal courts' jurisdiction bascd on idca that statc courts havc "a stronger and more direct intcrest in the domestic relations of its citizens than docs thc lederal court"); WassermanI'. Wasserman. 671 F.2d 832. 834 (4th Cir. 1982) ("divcrsityjurisdiction does not include thc powcr to grant divorces. determine alimony or support obligations. or decide child custody rights"); Can/or \'. Cohen. 442 F.3d 196,202 (4th Cir. 2006) (noting that "fedcral 6 courts ... Complaint generally abstain from hearing child custody matters"). is the calculation and imposition of child SUPP0l1 The gravamen obligations. of Reese's a domestic relations matter from which the Court properly abstains. Finally. this Court notes that to the extent Plaintifrs constitutional and statutory he may consult appropriate reopening. rights with regard to the calculation the Complaint. that observation. his of child support have any merit. as to the merits of those claims: however. the deficiencies and the child support calculation improperly-tiled. regarding counsel and assert them in the state case. which remains subject to This Court makes no observation notwithstanding assertions noted cannot be cured through amendment portion of the action must be dismissed and for lailure to state a cognizable of as federal claim upon which the relief sought may be granted. See Goode v. Cel7f. Virxillia Lexa{ Aid Soc ~v./IIC .• 807 F.3d 619. 624 (4th Cir. 2015). PlaintifTis free. ifhe so chooses. to assert a civil rights action with regard to his 2015 arrest and detention in this Court by way of a separate action using Court-approved naming the appropriate IV. forms and delendants. CONCLUSION For the foregoing reasons. the Complaint other than the claim concerning Plaintiffs is dismissed with prejudice as to all claims 2015 arrest and detention. A separate Order shall ISSUC. dA- ?:>/;..; /2 of] 6EORGE J. HAZEL Date United States District Judge 7

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