Arveson v. Montana DHHS et al
IT IS ORDERED: DPHHS' motion to dismiss (ECF No. 7 ) is GRANTED; Arveson's motion to strike (ECF No. 12 ) is DENIED; Arveson's motion to object (ECF No. 15 ) is DENIED; and Arveson's request to combine cases (ECF No. 16 ) is DENIED. Signed by Magistrate Judge Carolyn S Ostby on 7/5/2016. (NOB)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MONTANA
MOTION TO DISMISS
MONTANA DHHS, GLENDIVE
CPS, and ANN SHEEHY
Plaintiff Karen Arveson (“Arveson”), appearing pro se, has filed a
complaint against Defendants Montana Department of Public Health
and Human Services (“DPHHS”),1 Glendive Child Protective Services
(“CPS”), and Ann Sheehy Yegen, Assistant Attorney General for the
State of Montana (“Yegen”) (Defendants collectively “DPHHS”).
Arveson claims that DPHHS violated her civil rights under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 respecting its handling of child abuse and neglect cases involving
her children. Cmplt. (ECF No. 1) at 2, 7-9, 11-12.2 For her relief, she
Although Arveson refers to this entity as DHHS, its full name is
the Department of Public Health and Human Services. See MCA § 531-601, et seq.
“ECF No.” refers to the the Court’s Electronic Case Files. See
The Bluebook, A Uniform System of Citation, § 10.8.3. References to
page numbers are to those assigned by the electronic filing system.
seeks immediate return of her three children, a “state wide audit,” the
holding accountable of DPHHS employees “for tampering, altering,
fraud, [and] negligence[,]” and $13.7 million with “1 million donated to
[a] nation[al] center for missing and endangered children, 1 million
donated to the Glendive Police Department to help fight abuse[, and] 1
million donated to Domestic Violence[.]” Id. at 13.
On May 31, 2016, upon the written parties’ consent, this case was
assigned to the undersigned. Notice of Assignment to United States
Magistrate Judge (ECF No. 11). The following motions are pending:
DPHHS’ motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), Fed. R. Civ. P., (ECF No. 7);
Arveson’s motion to strike DPHHS’ brief in support of its
motion to dismiss (ECF No. 12);
Arveson’s “motion to object” (ECF No. 15), which is
Arveson’s response to DPHHS’ motion to dismiss; and
Arveson’s “request to combine cases” which is a motion (ECF
No. 16) in which she asks the Court to combine court cases
in which she has been involved over the past six years from
state courts and Glendive City Court.
For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant DPHHS’ motion
to dismiss and deny Arveson’s motions.
Although her Complaint is difficult to decipher, Arveson alleges
that Glendive CPS and state employees have repeatedly interfered with
her and her children. ECF No. 1 at 11-12. For example, she alleges: (1)
DPHHS employees have made more than 30 visits to her home since
2012; (2) DPHHS employees have gone to her son’s school more than 15
times; (3) police have conducted 14 welfare checks on her minor
children; (4) CPS employees have gone to her workplace and conducted
random drug tests; (5) DPHHS employees have interviewed her
children without her present; and (6) her children have received
inadequate care when they have not been in her care or custody. Id.
The gist of Arveson’s allegations is that DPHHS mishandled abuse and
neglect cases involving her minor children, and she seeks the return of
her children to her, plus the damages noted above. ECF No. 1 at 13.
DPHHS’ Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter
DPHHS’ motion to dismiss and supporting brief provide
additional information on Arveson’s allegations. DPHHS represents in
its brief that Arveson’s allegations arise from three “youth-in-need-ofcare” cases pending in Montana’s Seventh Judicial District Court,
Dawson County, Cause Nos. DN-15-008, DN-15-009, and DN-15-010.
DPHHS’ Supporting Br. (ECF No. 8). In those cases, the state court
issued orders declaring Arveson’s three children “youths in need of
care” and granting temporary legal custody of them to DPHHS. See
Exhibits A, B, and C to DPHHS’ Supporting Brief (ECF No. 8-1, 8-2,
In seeking dismissal of this action for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction, DPHHS argues that: (1) Arveson’s Complaint fails as a
matter of law because her allegations fall under the domestic relations
exception to federal subject matter jurisdiction and the relief she seeks
is purely a matter of state law, ECF No. 8 at 3-5; and (2) Arveson’s
Complaint is barred by the Younger abstention doctrine, id. at 5-8.
III. Arveson’s Motion to Strike DPHHS’ Brief
Because DPHHS filed its motion to dismiss on May 18, 2016,
Arveson’s response brief was due June 8, 2016. See Local Rule
7.1(d)(1)(B)(I) (“Responses to motions to dismiss . . . must be filed
within 21 days after the motion was filed.”). She did not file a response
brief labeled as such, but on June 3, 2016, Arveson filed a motion to
strike DPHHS’ brief in support of its motion to dismiss. Mtn. to Strike
(ECF No. 12). To her motion, Arveson attached approximately 173
pages of exhibits, nearly all of which are documents from the three
“youth-in-need-of-care” cases noted above. See ECF Nos. 12-1, 12-2,
and 12-3. In her motion to strike, Arveson attempts to respond to
DPHHS’ motion to dismiss, arguing that DPHHS “continues to use
allegations of abuse against the Plaintiff and use statements by other
parties of said minors which isn’t policy procedure in order to protect
the minors when [DPHHS’] actions in this matter should be in
question, [raising] questions of Abuse of Power, not upholding 18 U.S.C.
§ 3771 Crime Victims Rights, [and] violation of 8 U.S.C. § 1324c of
Documentation Fraud.” ECF No. 12 at 2.
On July 1, 2016, Arveson filed her “motion to object” and “request
to combine cases.” ECF 15 and 16. Although Arveson’s motion to
strike, motion to object, and request to combine cases are not
denominated as such, the Court will treat them as her response to
DPHHS’ motion to dismiss. And, construing the pro se Arveson’s
documents liberally, as it must, the Court also will view her motion to
strike as it is denominated – as a motion to strike DPHHS’ brief
supporting its motion to dismiss.
Because Arveson’s motion to strike DPHHS’ brief necessarily
impacts DPHHS’ motion to dismiss, the Court addresses the motion to
Arveson’s Motion to Strike DPHHS’ Supporting Brief
Arveson did not specify the basis for her motion to strike. Rule
12(f) governs motions to strike. It provides, in relevant part, that “[t]he
court may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any
redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or scandalous matter.” Rule 12(f),
Fed. R. Civ. P. Rule 7(a), in turn, defines “pleadings” as “(1) a
complaint; (2) an answer to a complaint; (3) an answer to a
counterclaim designated as a counterclaim; (4) an answer to a
crossclaim; (5) a third-party complaint; (6) an answer to a third-party
complaint; and (7) if the court orders one, a reply to an answer.” Rule
7(a), Fed. R. Civ. P. Whether to grant or deny a motion to strike is left
to the district court’s discretion. Whittlestone, Inc. v. Handi-Craft Co.,
618 F.3d 970, 973 (9th Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).
Here, DPHHS’ brief is not a pleading as defined in Rule 7(a).
Thus, Rule 12(f) does not provide Arveson with a basis for striking
DPHHS’ brief. Even if Rule 12(f) did apply, however, motions to strike
are viewed with disfavor and are rarely granted. See U.S. v. Southern
Cal. Edison Co., 300 F.Supp.2d 964, 973 (E.D. Cal. 2004) (citations
omitted). “Such motions should be granted only where it can be shown
that none of the evidence in support of an allegation is admissible.” Id.
Arveson has made no such showing.
Arveson also has not persuasively argued any other basis for
striking DPHHS’ brief. First, Arveson’s citation to 18 U.S.C. § 3771 is
not pertinent because that provision delineates crime victims’ rights.
Arveson fails to explain how this provision is relevant to this civil
action, which she has brought against state actors.
Second, her citation to 8 U.S.C. § 1324c also is unavailing. That
provision governs penalties for document fraud in the context of
employment of aliens. Arveson does not explain the provision’s
applicability to this action, and none is apparent to the Court.
For the foregoing reasons, the Court will deny Arveson’s motion to
DPHHS’ Rule 12(b)(1) Motion to Dismiss
Rule 12(b)(1) allows a defendant to raise the defense, by motion,
that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over an entire action or
over specific claims alleged in the action. A Rule 12(b)(1) motion
attacking subject matter jurisdiction may be either a facial challenge to
the allegations of a pleading, or a substantive challenge to the facts
underlying the allegations. Savage v. Glendale Union High School,
Dist. No. 205, Maricopa County, 343 F.3d 1036, 1039 n.2 (9th Cir. 2003).
A facial challenge to the jurisdictional allegations is one which contends
that the allegations “are insufficient on their face to invoke federal
jurisdiction.” Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th
Cir. 2004). “By contrast, in a factual attack, the challenger disputes
the truth of the allegations that, by themselves, would otherwise invoke
federal jurisdiction.” Id.
Here, in asserting that Arveson’s allegations are insufficient to
invoke this Court’s jurisdiction as a matter of law because of the
domestic relations exception and the Younger abstention doctrine,
DPHHS makes a facial challenge to this Court’s subject matter
jurisdiction. Resolution of facial challenges to jurisdiction depends on a
complaint’s allegations and does not involve resolution of factual
disputes. Wolfe v. Strankman, 392 F.3d 358, 362 (9th Cir. 2004). In a
facial challenge, the court must assume the allegations in the
complaint are true and “draw all reasonable inferences in [plaintiff's]
favor.” Id.; Whisnant v. U.S., 400 F.3d 1177, 1179 (9th Cir. 2005). Even
when faced with a facial challenge, however, courts may look beyond
the face of the pleadings and consider “exhibits attached to the
complaint, matters subject to judicial notice, [and] documents
necessarily relied on by the complaint and whose authenticity no party
questions.” Bautista–Perez v. Holder, 681 F.Supp.2d 1083, 1087 (N.D.
Cal. 2009) (citing Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 688-89 (9th
Cir. 2001)); see also Barron v. Riech, 13 F.3d 1370, 1377 (9th Cir.1994).
Thus, review of DPHHS’ motion is informed by the state court
documents that the parties have submitted and over which this Court
takes judicial notice. And where, as here, Arveson, as plaintiff, is
proceeding pro se, the Court liberally construes the allegations in her
Complaint. Wolfe, 392 F.3d at 362.
As noted, DPHHS first argues that the domestic relations
exception to federal subject matter jurisdiction applies. The Court
agrees. Federal district courts have no jurisdiction over child custody
issues, which are exclusively matters of state law. See Ankenbrandt v.
Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 702-704 (1992) (holding that the domestic
relations exception to federal subject matter jurisdiction “divests the
federal courts of power to issue divorce, alimony and child custody
decrees.”). Here, Arveson’s allegations raise issues of child custody and
placement. For her relief, she seeks return of her children to her. In
doing so, she is challenging state court decisions regarding custody and
placement of her children. The domestic relations exception deprives
this Court of subject matter jurisdiction to consider her claims.
DPHHS also argues that the Younger abstention doctrine applies.
Although Arveson purports to assert claims against DPHHS under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 (ECF No. 1 at 7), her allegations and DPHHS’ responses
thereto indicate that the dispute respecting custody of her children is
still pending in state court. Under the Younger abstention doctrine,
she must use available state court process to appeal or challenge the
state court’s decisions.
Younger v. Harris held that federal courts should not enjoin
pending state criminal proceedings except under extraordinary
circumstances. 401 U.S. 37, 49, 53 (1971). The Younger doctrine has
since been extended to civil actions. See Gilbertson v. Albright, 381
F.3d 965, 971-72 (9th Cir. 2004) (en banc). Federal courts ordinarily
must refrain from exercising jurisdiction in actions for injunctive or
declaratory relief that would interfere with pending state judicial
proceedings. See Gilbertson, 381 F.3d at 975, 978. In the Ninth
Circuit, Younger abstention prevents a court from exercising
jurisdiction when three criteria are met: (1) there are ongoing state
judicial proceedings; (2) an important state interest is involved; and (3)
there is an adequate opportunity to raise the federal question at issue
in the state proceedings. H.C. ex rel. Gordon v. Koppel, 203 F.3d 610,
613 (9th Cir. 2000).
Here, the foregoing factors are met. Arveson’s allegations and
DPHHS’ submissions indicate that the child custody proceedings that
Arveson challenges are ongoing in state court. Such disputes implicate
important state interests. And Arveson has the opportunity to raise
any federal issue she may have in those proceedings, and she has not
demonstrated that she cannot. Thus, this Court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction over this matter under Younger.
Whether to afford Arveson an opportunity to amend her
Complaint lies within the Court’s discretion. Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S.
178, 182 (1962). In accordance with the above discussion, because this
Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, the Court concludes that
amendment would be futile. And, in light of this conclusion, the Court
denies Arveson’s remaining motions for want of jurisdiction.
Based on the foregoing, IT IS ORDERED that: (1) DPHHS’ motion
to dismiss (ECF No. 7) is GRANTED; (2) Arveson’s motion to strike
(ECF No. 12) is DENIED; (3) Arveson’s motion to object (ECF No. 15) is
DENIED; and (4) Arveson’s request to combine cases (ECF No. 16) is
The Clerk of Court shall enter Judgment accordingly and close
DATED this 5th day of July, 2016.
/s/ Carolyn S. Ostby
United States Magistrate Judge
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