Haugen v. State of Missouri et al
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION, 7 . Signed on 10/25/17 by District Judge Ortrie D. Smith. (Order mailed to Plaintiff.) (Matthes Mitra, Renea)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
WESTERN DISTRICT OF MISSOURI
SARAH MARIE HAUGEN,
STATE OF MISSOURI, et al.,
Case No. 17-00794-CV-W-ODS
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION
Pending is Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration. Doc. #7. For the reasons
below, the Court denies Plaintiff’s motion.
On September 22, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to proceed in forma
pauperis (Doc. #1), and a motion to appoint counsel (Doc. #2). The Court denied these
motions after determining it lacked diversity and federal question jurisdiction. Doc. #4.
Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a motion for order instructing Defendant Roberta Tonsfeldt to
surrender child (Doc. #5), which the Court denied (Doc. #6). Plaintiff now asks the
Court to reconsider its rulings.
Plaintiff alleges her constitutional rights were violated based on events in a
guardianship proceeding in the probate court of Jackson County, Missouri.1 Plaintiff
alleges “the State of Missouri is in...violation of [her] Constitutional Rights when it
knowingly summoned all parties before the Court but excluded [her] from the
proceedings....” Doc. #7, at 2. The Court understands this allegation to be based on
initial issues with service of the complaint in the probate court, and/or based on events
at a September 21, 2017 hearing in which the Probate Commissioner allegedly
excluded Plaintiff from a meeting in chambers with attorneys involved in the matter.
All facts are taken from Plaintiff’s filings (Docs. #1, 5, 7). The probate matter involving
Plaintiff’s child is pending in Jackson County, Missouri. See Case No. 17P9-PR00429
(Prob. Ct. Jackson Cty., MO).
See Doc. #5, at 4-5. Plaintiff also alleges the State of Missouri violated her rights when
“the State of Missouri knowingly failed to NOTIFY the Bois Forte Band of Chippewa
Tribe about proceedings against [Plaintiff], a Protected Registered Member of said
Tribe.” Doc. #7, at 2. The Court understands this allegation to be based on the Probate
Commissioner denying Plaintiff’s request that the Probate Court notify Plaintiff’s tribe
about the guardianship proceedings. See Doc. #5, at 6. Regarding Defendant Roberta
Tonsfeldt, the grandmother of Plaintiff’s child, Plaintiff alleges Tonsfeldt “falsely claimed
[Plaintiff] was unfit” and “never had proper authority to take guardianship/custody over
[Plaintiff’s] daughter.” Docs. #1, at 3; #7, at 2. Plaintiff’s suit seeks the “release” of her
child to her custody, an order directing “Defendant to surrender the Passport of said
child,” and an order directing “the personal production of the natural father....” Docs. #1,
at 4; #5, at 7. Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration seeks to clarify the allegations upon
which the Complaint is based, and asserts jurisdiction is established based on alleged
Constitutional violations. Doc. #7.
Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, meaning there are only certain
subject matters the federal courts have authority to hear and decide. Ark. Blue Cross &
Blue Shield v. Little Rock Cardiology Clinic, P.A., 551 F.3d 812, 816 (8th Cir. 2009).
The Court has jurisdiction over “all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or
treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Although a plaintiff may allege a
constitutional violation, certain jurisdictional doctrines may nonetheless prevent the
Court’s exercise of jurisdiction. Based on Plaintiff’s filings, the Court finds it cannot
exercise jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claims.
A lower federal court is generally without jurisdiction to hear “challenges to state
court decisions in particular cases arising out of judicial proceedings even if those
challenges allege that that state court’s action was unconstitutional.” Dist. of Columbia
Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 486 (1983). Federal courts, with the
exception of the United States Supreme Court, do not have jurisdiction over an appeal
of a state appellate court decision. Id.; see also 28 U.S.C. § 1257; Keene Corp. v.
Cass, 908 F.2d 293, 296 (8th Cir. 1990). The Eighth Circuit holds the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine precludes jurisdiction over “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.”
Edwards v. City of Jonesboro, 645 F.3d 1014, 1018 (8th Cir. 2011) (citing Exxon Mobil
Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005)).
Even when liberally construing Plaintiff’s allegations, as the Court must do, it is
clear Plaintiff seeks redress in this Court for alleged violations in a state court
proceeding. This Court does not have jurisdiction to hear challenges to state court
decisions even if a party maintains the decision was unconstitutional. Feldman, 460
U.S. at 486 (1983); Edwards, 645 F.3d at 1018. For this reason alone, the Court denies
Plaintiff’s motion to reconsider because the Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies.
Even if the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not apply, the Court would find
abstention appropriate based on the Younger abstention doctrine. The Younger
abstention doctrine indicates federal courts must abstain from exercising jurisdiction
when (1) there is an ongoing state court proceeding, (2) implicating important state
interests, and (3) there is an adequate opportunity to raise any relevant federal
questions in the state court proceeding. Plouffe v. Ligon, 606 F.3d 890, 892 (8th Cir.
2010). The first Younger factor is met here because the guardianship proceeding giving
rise to Plaintiff’s Complaint is ongoing. See Case No. 17P9-PR00429 (Prob. Ct.
Jackson Cty., MO). The second factor is met as well because child custody issues are
important state issues. Young v. Lawson, No. 08-3459-CV-S-RED, 2009 WL 900808,
at *1 (W.D. Mo. Mar. 31, 2009) (citing Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S. 415, 434-35 (1979)).
Finally, an adequate opportunity exists for Plaintiff to raise these issues in the state
court proceeding. See Shapiro v. Columbia Union Nat. Bank & Tr. Co., 576 S.W.2d
310, 316 (Mo. banc 1978) (recognizing state courts are empowered to adjudicate
alleged violations of the United States Constitution). The fact that a state court
consistently rejects a claim of unconstitutional violations does not render Younger
abstention inappropriate. See Tony Alamo Christian Ministries v. Selig, 664 F.3d 1245,
1250 (8th Cir. 2012).
When Younger applies and only injunctive relief is before the Court, dismissal is
appropriate. See Night Clubs, Inc. v. City of Fort Smith, 163 F.3d 475, 1250 (8th Cir.
1998). Dismissal is appropriate to prevent interference with a pending judicial
proceeding. Id. Here, Plaintiff seeks the “release” of her child to her custody, an order
directing “Defendant to surrender the Passport of said child,” and an order directing “the
personal production of the natural father....” Docs. #1, at 4; #5, at 7. Any directive by
this Court granting the relief sought would plainly interfere with the ongoing
guardianship proceeding in Jackson County, Missouri. The Court denies Plaintiff’s
motion for reconsideration on the additional basis that Younger abstention applies.
For the above reasons, the Court denies Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
/s/ Ortrie D. Smith
ORTRIE D. SMITH, SENIOR JUDGE
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DATE: October 25, 2017
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