Dial v. Crnkovich
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER-Plaintiff's Complaint (filing no. 1 ) is dismissed without prejudice. All pending motions are denied. A separate judgment will be entered in accordance with this Memorandum and Order. Ordered by Senior Judge Richard G. Kopf. (Copy mailed to pro se party)(MKR)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEBRASKA
Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this matter on November 15, 2013. (Filing No.
1.) Plaintiff has previously been given leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (Filing
No. 7.) The court now conducts an initial review of the Complaint to determine
whether summary dismissal is appropriate under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).
Plaintiff filed her Complaint in this matter on November 15, 2013, against
Douglas County Juvenile Court Judge Elizabeth Crnkovich. (Filing No. 1 at CM/ECF
p. 1.) In her Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that the Nebraska Department of Health and
Human Services kidnapped her children. (Id.) During a state juvenile proceeding,
Judge Crnkovich refused to allow Plaintiff to represent herself. (Id.) Plaintiff seeks
monetary damages and a judgment declaring that Judge Crnkovich violated her
constitutional rights. (Id. at CM/ECF p. 2.)
II. APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS ON INITIAL REVIEW
The court is required to review in forma pauperis complaints to determine
whether summary dismissal is appropriate. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e). The court must
dismiss a complaint or any portion thereof that states a frivolous or malicious claim,
that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary
relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).
A pro se plaintiff must set forth enough factual allegations to “nudge their
claims across the line from conceivable to plausible,” or “their complaint must be
dismissed” for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Bell Atlantic
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 569-70 (2007); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct.
1937, 1950 (2009) (“A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual
content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is
liable for the misconduct alleged.”). Regardless of whether a plaintiff is represented
or is appearing pro se, the plaintiff’s complaint must allege specific facts sufficient to
state a claim. See Martin v. Sargent, 780 F.2d 1334, 1337 (8th Cir. 1985). However,
a pro se plaintiff’s allegations must be construed liberally. Burke v. North Dakota
Dep’t of Corr. & Rehab., 294 F.3d 1043, 1043-44 (8th Cir. 2002) (citations omitted).
III. DISCUSSION OF CLAIMS
Liberally construed, Plaintiff’s claims are brought pursuant to the Fourteenth
Amendment. The Fourteenth Amendment protects parents’ liberty interest in the
“care, custody, and management of their children.” Manzano v. S.D. Dep’t of Soc.
Servs., 60 F.3d 505, 509-10 (8th Cir. 1995). However, to promote comity between
state and federal judicial bodies, federal courts have developed a strong policy against
exercising jurisdiction over these matters when state court proceedings have already
commenced. Aaron v. Target Corp., 357 F.3d 768, 774 (8th Cir. 2004). Courts use
the doctrine developed in Younger v. Harris to carry out this policy. 401 U.S. 37
(1971). Under Younger, a federal court should abstain from jurisdiction “‘when (1)
there is an ongoing state judicial proceeding which (2) implicates important state
interests, and when (3) that proceeding affords an adequate opportunity to raise the
federal questions presented.’” Norwood v. Dickey, 409 F.3d 901, 903 (8th Cir. 2005)
(quoting Fuller v. Ulland, 76 F.3d 957, 959 (8th Cir.1996)).
Plaintiff’s Complaint indicates that she is involved in state court proceedings
regarding the care, custody and management of her children. (Filing No. 1.) Plaintiff
has not alleged, nor demonstrated, that these proceedings do not provide her with the
opportunity to raise her Fourteenth Amendment claims.1 Accordingly, the court will
abstain from exercising jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claims.
To the extent Plaintiff asserts Judge Crnkovich violated her right to selfrepresentation, her claim lacks merit. Indeed, the Sixth Amendment does not apply
to civil proceedings and the right to represent oneself is not protected by the due
process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. See generally Austin v. United States,
509 U.S. 602, 608 (1993) (protections provided by the Sixth Amendment are
explicitly confined to criminal prosecutions); Eitel v. Holland, 787 F.2d 995, 997-98
(5th Cir. 1986) (dismissing a plaintiff’s claim that a state court judge denied his right
to represent himself in a state proceeding and stating the right to represent oneself in
a civil case is not one of the fundamental rights protected by the due process clause
of the Fourteenth Amendment).
To the extent that Plaintiff asks this court to review and reverse a state court
order, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine
prohibits lower federal courts from exercising appellate review of state court
judgments. Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 416 (1923); D.C. Court of
Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482 (1983). In fact, federal district courts do not
have jurisdiction “over challenges to state-court decisions . . . even if those challenges
allege that the state court’s action was unconstitutional.” Feldman, 460 U.S. at 486;
see also Ballinger v. Culotta, 322 F.3d 546, 548-49 (8th Cir. 2003) (dismissing claims
under Rooker-Feldman doctrine where the relief requested in the complaint would
effectively reverse or undermine the state court decision or void its ruling and noting
that “[f]ederal district courts thus may not ‘exercis[e] jurisdiction over general
constitutional claims that are ‘inextricably intertwined’ with specific claims already
adjudicated in state court” (citation omitted)). Put simply, a federal district court does
not possess authority in a civil rights case to review or alter final judgments of a state
court judicial proceeding.
Further, Judges are absolutely immune from suits for damages arising from
acts, whether or not erroneous, in their judicial capacity, as long as such actions were
not taken in the complete absence of all jurisdiction. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9,
11-12 (1991). Judicial immunity is an immunity from suit, not just from damages,
and “is not overcome by allegations of bad faith or malice, the existence of which
ordinarily cannot be resolved without engaging in discovery and eventual trial.” Id.
Moreover, “[a] judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was
in error . . . or was in excess of his authority.” Id. at 12 (quotation omitted). Absolute
judicial immunity applies to monetary damages claims only and does not extend to
suits requesting declaratory and prospective injunctive relief. Pulliam v. Allen, 466
U.S. 522, 536-38 (1984).
As the Supreme Court set forth in Mireles, “the relevant inquiry is the ‘nature’
and ‘function’ of the act, not the ‘act itself,’” and courts “look to the particular act’s
relation to a general function normally performed by a judge” in determining whether
judicial immunity applies. Mireles, 502 U.S. at 13. A judge’s ruling on a request to
proceed pro se is an act entitled to judicial immunity. See Cody v. Severson, No. 0504107-KES, 2005 WL 2046009, at *2 (D.S.D. Aug. 23, 2005); see also Hawley v.
Nelson, 968 F. Supp. 1372, 1394 (E.D. Mo. Apr. 4, 1997) (concluding civil rights
claim against judge based on alleged violation of right of self-representation was
barred by absolute judicial immunity). Accordingly,
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that:
Plaintiff’s Complaint (filing no. 1) is dismissed without prejudice.
All pending motions are denied.
A separate judgment will be entered in accordance with this
Memorandum and Order.
DATED this 14th day of April, 2014.
BY THE COURT:
Richard G. Kopf
Senior United States District Judge
*This opinion may contain hyperlinks to other documents or Web sites. The
U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska does not endorse, recommend,
approve, or guarantee any third parties or the services or products they provide on
their Web sites. Likewise, the court has no agreements with any of these third parties
or their Web sites. The court accepts no responsibility for the availability or
functionality of any hyperlink. Thus, the fact that a hyperlink ceases to work or
directs the user to some other site does not affect the opinion of the court.
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?