BROWN v. BROWN
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Jerome B. Simandle on 5/4/2017. (TH, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
THOMAS S. BROWN,
HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE
No. 16-4549 (JBS/KMW)
SIMANDLE, Chief Judge:
Plaintiff Thomas S. Brown (hereinafter, “Plaintiff”) filed
a Complaint against his ex-wife, Thelma Brown (hereinafter,
“Defendant”) alleging violations of various federal statutes
arising from his divorce proceedings in Cumberland County Family
For the following reasons, the Court will dismiss the
Complaint for lack of jurisdiction.
In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges violations of
violations of (1) the Social Security Act of 1935, 42 U.S.C.
(2) 38 U.S.C. § 5301, the “Nonassignability and Exempt Status of
Benefits” and (3) the “Veterans Disability Protection Act of
The New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division aptly
describes the background of the divorce proceeding in Brown v.
Brown, No. FM-06-144-05, 2016 WL 2350323, at *1-3 (App. Div. May
2010.” (VDPA).2 (Compl. at 2.)3
Plaintiff generally alleges that
his 2006 divorce trial “was neither fair nor legal” because his
federal rights had not been considered or applied to his case.
(Id. at 5.)
Plaintiff alleges that his Social Security
Disability payments have been garnished since 2014, but that
there have been errors in calculation of monies due. (Id. at 4.)
Plaintiff also states that his divorce case should have been
tried in federal court instead of in Cumberland County Family
Court because federal issues were “involved in [his] case.”
In terms of relief, Plaintiff “would like the [divorce]
case researched and reexamined and calculated fairly, and the
order existing now, re-examined, and done fairly.” (Id. at 7.)
Plaintiff further explains that he would like “any and all
overpayments over the years returned to [him].” (Id.)
Defendant filed what the Court will construe as a
motion to dismiss explaining that “[t]his case has been brought
to court and heard in the Superior Court of New Jersey since
2003, 2006, 2007, etc.
The Complaint was brought in the
Appelate [sic] Court of New Jersey the last time in 2015, and
the judge denied his claim and ordered Mr. Brown to pay.”
The Court is unaware of any legislation called the “Veterans
Disability Protection Act of 2010.” However, Plaintiff may be
referring to the “Veterans’ Benefits Act of 2010,” Pub.L. No.
3 Plaintiff asserts federal question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1331. (Compl. at 2.)
[Docket Item 7.]
The Court has also received two letters from
Plaintiff regarding the status of his case. [Docket Items 8 and
Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.
Thus, a federal court shall presume lack of jurisdiction, and
the party seeking to invoke the court's jurisdiction bears the
burden of proving that subject matter jurisdiction
exists. See Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375,
The court is obligated to test subject matter
jurisdiction sua sponte. See Bracken v. Matgouranis, 296 F.3d
160, 162 (3d Cir. 2002) (“Court has a continuing obligation
to sua sponte raise the issue of subject matter
jurisdiction.”); see also Morel v. INS, 144 F.3d 248, 251 n. 3
(3d Cir. 1998) (citation omitted)( “A federal court . . . will
raise lack of subject-matter jurisdiction on its own motion.”).
Plaintiff’s Complaint is barred by the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine, which precludes federal district courts from reviewing
the decisions of state courts. See Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co.,
263 U.S. 413 (1923); District of Columbia Court of Appeals v.
Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983).
Federal district courts lack
jurisdiction to hear appeals from civil judgments of state
Only the Supreme Court can “reverse or modify” state
court judgments. Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp.,
544 U.S. 280, 284-85 (2005) (citing Rooker, 263 U.S. at 416).
There are four requirements that must be met for the RookerFeldman doctrine to apply: (1) the federal plaintiff lost in
state court; (2) the plaintiff “complain[s] of injuries caused
by [the] state-court judgments”; (3) those judgments were
rendered before the federal suit was filed; and (4) the
plaintiff is inviting the district court to review and reject
the state judgments. Great W. Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox
Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 166 (3d Cir. 2010)(quoting Exxon,
544 U.S. at 284)).
Here, all four requirements of Rooker-Feldman are met.
Plaintiff is asking the Court to reexamine and recalculate his
divorce payments decided in Cumberland County Family Court.4
divorce case has been fully adjudicated in state court,
including the issues of garnishing his Social Security
Disability benefits as well as his veterans’ benefits.
Furthermore, he filed this case in July 2016 after the Appellate
Division rendered its decision in May 2016. [Docket Item 1.]
See Brown v. Brown, No. FM-06-144-05, 2009 WL 1097928 at *1
(App. Div. Apr. 24, 2009)(dismissing Plaintiff’s appeal from the
Final Amended Judgement of Divorce and affirming the dismissal
of Plaintiff’s motion to exclude disability benefits from
income); Brown v. Brown, No. FM-06-144-05, 2011 WL 6537 (App.
Div. May 25, 2010)(affirming the motion judge’s determination
that a termination of alimony was not warranted); Brown v.
Brown, No. FM-06-144-05, 2016 WL 2350323, at *1 (App. Div. May
5, 2016)(holding that Plaintiff had not shown a sufficient
material change in circumstances to eliminate or further reduce
a result, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars Plaintiff’s
Complaint. See DeSantis v. Franklin, 160 F. App’x 237 (3d Cir.
2005) (dismissing a former husband’s lawsuit under RookerFeldman, since the husband’s claims related to state court
divorce proceedings and granting the requested relief would
allow him to use federal courts to appeal a state court
judgment); Acrivos v. Vaskov, 216 F. App’x 224, 224-25 (3d Cir.
2007)(affirming order dismissing complaint concerning state
court divorce proceeding under Rooker-Feldman doctrine).
Plaintiff may disagree with the Family Court and Appellate
Division’s reasoning, he cannot simply appeal the decisions to
Thus, this Court is without jurisdiction to hear
Even assuming the Court had jurisdiction over
Plaintiff’s claims, he fails to state a claim under 12(b)(6),
Fed. R. Civ. P.
Plaintiff argues that he recently “learned that
Federal Issues such as Social Security, Service connected
disability [sic] Compensation have to be brought before a
Federal Court.” (Compl. at 1.)
But state courts also have the
power to decide issues of federal law unless Congress has vested
exclusive jurisdiction in the federal courts over the matter.
See Tafflin v. Levitt, 493 U.S. 455, 459 (1990)(holding that
state courts have concurrent jurisdiction over RICO cases).
Moreover, the court in Brown v. Brown, No. FM-06-144-05, 2011 WL
6537 at *3-4 (App. Div. May 25, 2010) explicitly addressed
Plaintiff’s claims under 42 U.S.C. § 407 regarding the inclusion
of Social Security Disability benefits for the purposes of
calculating alimony, and correctly concluded that 42 U.S.C. §
659(a) allows these benefits to be included when “enforc[ing]
the legal obligation of the individual to provide child support
Plaintiff’s Complaint also refers generally to 38
U.S.C. § 5301(a) and the Veterans’ Benefit Act of 2010 to
support his contention that Defendant improperly included
disability compensation payments in calculating alimony. (Compl.
Although veterans benefits have been exempted from
taxation and creditors’ claims, see 28 U.S.C. § 5301(a)(1), the
United States Supreme Court has concluded in a similar context
that § 5301(a) does not prevent a state from considering such
benefits to calculate child support payments. Rose v. Rose, 481
U.S. 619, 630-634 (1987); see also Case v. Dubaj, No. 08-347,
2011 WL 3806291, at *4 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 29, 2011)(“[T]the majority
of courts that have considered the issue have agreed
Plaintiff also vaguely claims that his Fourteenth Amendment
rights under the U.S. Constitution were violated. (Compl. at 2).
While Rooker-Feldman does not bar a suit for violation of
substantive and procedural due process, see B.S. v. Somerset
Cnty., 704 F.3d 250 (3d Cir. 2013), Plaintiff states no facts
indicating that his procedural and/or substantive due process
rights were violated in any way. As a result, the Court will
dismiss Plaintiff’s Fourteenth Amendment claim under Rule
12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P.
with Rose that veterans' disability benefits are not exempt from
claims for alimony, spousal support and child support.”); Sayers
v. Powell, No. 14-385, 2015 WL 3766205, at *2 (W.D. Va. June 16,
2015)(“Courts have ruled differently, however, on the effect
of § 5301(a) in state court garnishment proceedings seeking
funds to cover support claims by the veteran's family
members.”); Riley v. Riley, 82 Md. App. 400, 410 (1999)(noting
that VA benefits may be considered as a resource for purposes of
setting alimony award).
As a result, Plaintiff’s contention
that Defendant violated of federal law by considering his
veterans disability benefit in calculating alimony lacks merit.
An accompanying Order will be entered.
May 4, 2017
s/ Jerome B. Simandle
JEROME B. SIMANDLE
Chief U.S. District Judge
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