LINDIMENT v. JONES
MEMORANDUM OPINION, ORDER AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE L. PATRICK AULD, signed on 09/15/2017. Plaintiff's Application 1 is GRANTED for the limited purpose of considering this recommendation of dismissal. FURTHER that t he minors' photographs (Docket entry [2-1] at 19,22,23,30; Docket Entry 6 at 3-8 and medical report, docket entry [2-1] at 5) shall remain SEALED. The Clerk shall redact the minors' names from the Application 1 , Complaint 2 and exhibits [2-1], civil cover sheet 3 and Supplement 6 . IT IS RECOMMENDED that this action be dismissed with prejudice pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) for being frivolous. (Coyne, Michelle)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF NORTH CAROLINA
ERICA LINDIMENT, et al.,1
BRIDGETT JONES, et al.,
MEMORANDUM OPINION, ORDER, AND RECOMMENDATION
OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
Magistrate Judge on the Application to Proceed in District Court
Without Prepaying Fees or Costs (the “Application”) (Docket Entry
1) filed by Erica Lindiment (the “Plaintiff”) in conjunction with
her pro se Complaint (Docket Entry 2) against (i) the Rockingham
County Child Protective Services (the “Rockingham County CPS”),
Marry [sic] Harris, Martha Meadows, Andre Chambers, Michael S.
Defendants”), (ii) James E. Reaves (“Reaves”), Felissa H. Ferrell
LCSW/Director, Stephanie Harriet, “My kids G.A.L. name unknown at
this time” (id. at 2),2 Lori Priddy, Bridgett Jones (“Jones”),
As discussed below, it remains unclear whether Erica
Lindiment pursues this action solely on her own behalf or also on
behalf of certain minors.
2 Citations herein to Docket Entry pages utilize the CM/ECF
footer’s pagination. For legibility purposes, this Opinion uses
standardized capitalization in all quotations from Plaintiff’s
“Rockingham Co. Court System” (id. at 6), Judge Christine Strayer
(collectively, the “Additional Defendants”), and (iii) Beverly
Smith (“Smith,” and collectively with Original Defendants and
Additional Defendants, the “Defendants”).
The undersigned will
grant the Application for the limited purpose of recommending
dismissal of this action.
IN FORMA PAUPERIS PRINCIPLES
“The federal in forma pauperis statute, first enacted in 1892
[and now codified at 28 U.S.C. § 1915], is intended to guarantee
that no citizen shall be denied access to the courts solely because
his poverty makes it impossible for him to pay or secure the
Nasim v. Warden, Md. House of Corr., 64 F.3d 951, 953 (4th
problems. . . . In particular, litigants suing in forma pauperis
d[o] not need to balance the prospects of successfully obtaining
relief against the administrative costs of bringing suit.” Nagy v.
FMC Butner, 376 F.3d 252, 255 (4th Cir. 2004).
To address this
concern, the in forma pauperis statute provides that “the court
shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines that
. . . the action . . . (i) is frivolous or . . . (ii) fails to
As to the first of these grounds, “a complaint, containing as
frivolous where it lacks an arguable basis either in law or in
Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989).
categorical definition. . . . The term’s capaciousness directs
lower courts to conduct a flexible analysis, in light of the
totality of the circumstances, of all factors bearing upon the
frivolity of a claim.”
Nagy, 376 F.3d at 256–57 (some internal
quotation marks omitted).
In determining frivolousness, the Court
may “apply common sense.”
Nasim, 64 F.3d at 954.
As to the second ground, a plaintiff “fails to state a claim
on which relief may be granted,” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii),
when the complaint does not “contain sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (emphasis
added) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
consistent with a defendant’s liability, it stops short of the line
between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.”
Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).
This standard “demands
In other words, “the tenet that a court must
accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is
inapplicable to legal conclusions.
Threadbare recitals of the
statements, do not suffice.”
Furthermore, federal courts possess limited jurisdiction, such
that they may “exercise only the authority conferred by Article III
of the Constitution and affirmatively granted by federal statute.”
In re Bulldog Trucking, Inc., 147 F.3d 347, 352 (4th Cir. 1998).
No presumption of jurisdiction applies, Pinkley, Inc. v. City of
Frederick, Md., 191 F.3d 394, 399 (4th Cir. 1999); instead, federal
courts must determine if a valid jurisdictional basis exists and
“dismiss the action if no such ground appears,” Bulldog Trucking,
147 F.3d at 352; see also Constantine v. Rectors & Visitors of
George Mason Univ., 411 F.3d 474, 480 (4th Cir. 2005) (“A federal
court has an independent obligation to assess its subject-matter
3 Although the United States Supreme Court has reiterated
that “[a] document filed pro se is to be liberally construed, and
a pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to
less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers,”
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted), the United States Court of Appeals for
the Fourth Circuit has “not read Erickson to undermine Twombly’s
requirement that a pleading contain more than labels and
conclusions,” Giarratano v. Johnson, 521 F.3d 298, 304 n.5 (4th
Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks omitted) (dismissing pro se
complaint); accord Atherton v. District of Columbia Office of
Mayor, 567 F.3d 672, 681-82 (D.C. Cir. 2009) (“A pro se complaint
. . . ‘must be held to less stringent standards than formal
pleadings drafted by lawyers.’ But even a pro se complainant must
plead ‘factual matter’ that permits the court to infer ‘more than
the mere possibility of misconduct.’” (first quoting Erickson, 551
U.S. at 94; then quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679)).
jurisdiction on its own motion.’”); Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3) (“If
the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter
jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.”).
federal courts possess jurisdiction over “actions arising under the
Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States,” 28 U.S.C.
§ 1331, and actions involving citizens of different states, 28
U.S.C. § 1332.
Facts supporting jurisdiction must appear in the
complaint, Pinkley, 191 F.3d at 399, and the party asserting
jurisdiction does, in fact, exist,” Davis v. Pak, 856 F.2d 648, 650
(4th Cir. 1988) (internal quotation marks omitted).
The Court may
consider subject-matter jurisdiction in assessing frivolity under
See Cummings v. Rahmati, No. 1:17cv196, 2017 WL 1194364,
at *1 (M.D.N.C. Mar. 30, 2017), recommendation adopted, slip op.
(M.D.N.C. Apr. 20, 2017).
In October 2016, Plaintiff initiated a lawsuit (the “Original
Suit”) raising substantially the same claims against Smith and
See Lindiment v. Smith, No. 1:16-cv-1269,
Docket Entry 2 (the “Original Complaint”) (M.D.N.C. Oct. 28, 2016).
The Court (per United States Magistrate Judge Joi Elizabeth Peake)
recommended dismissing the Original Suit “for being frivolous and
for failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.”
relations exception to federal jurisdiction, id. at 2-3, the
Younger abstention doctrine, id. at 3, and the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine, id., rendered frivolous Plaintiff’s Original Complaint.
It further concluded that, “[i]n addition to th[o]se bases for
dismissal, a review of the specific allegations that Plaintiff
makes as to each [d]efendant shows that she has failed to state a
claim upon which relief may be granted.”
Id. at 4.
conclusion of this analysis, the Recommendation observed that the
dismissal should occur “without prejudice to Plaintiff pursuing
whatever state law claims she may have.”
Id. at 6.4
In her “Response to Recommendation,” Plaintiff presented
certain new claims and asked for time to “rewrite and reenter these
“Objections”) at 1-2 (M.D.N.C. Dec. 12, 2016).
Court (per United States District Judge Loretta C. Biggs) adopted
the Recommendation and dismissed the Original Suit.
Smith, No. 1:16-cv-1269, Docket Entry 8 (the “Dismissal Order”) at
1-2 (M.D.N.C. Dec. 28, 2016).
In so doing, the Dismissal Order
4 The decretal portion of the Recommendation does not include
this statement. See id.
To the extent that Plaintiff attempts to summarily assert
new claims in her [O]bjections and then asks for more
time to “rewrite and reenter” the new claims, the Court
notes that this case is being dismissed without prejudice
to Plaintiff filing her new claims on the proper forms
correcting the problems noted in the Recommendation.
Id. at 1.
The Court cautioned, however, that the claims against
Smith, Jones, and the specified Original Defendants expressed in
(See Docket Entries 1, 2.)
The following week,
Plaintiff filed a “Corrections to Defendants List,” which states
that “Ms Felissa H. Ferrell LCSW may or may not be the person that
sent the police away.
I [sic] may be Philis Conus.” (Docket Entry
5 (the “Correction”) at 1.)
On June 20, 2017, Plaintiff filed a
supplement to the Complaint, which includes, inter alia, emails
dated as of June 19, 2017, regarding Plaintiff’s ongoing child
custody proceedings. (See Docket Entry 6 (the “Supplement”) at 5859.)
present the claims expressed in the Original Suit against Original
Defendants and Smith related to developments in Plaintiff’s child
custody dispute since she filed the Original Suit.
As relief for
Roc[kingham] Co. from the date of Sept 5 2016 to now to be
dismissed. . . & or [her] kids to be removed from Roc[kingham]
Co[unty] CPS to ambulance co. where no conflict is.” (Docket Entry
2 at 15.)
Plaintiff further requests “[her] case to be moved from
Roc[kingham] Co. & stop [sic] all court filing they have in place
. . . & to put in place writs of habeas corpus returning all kids
I. Preliminary Matters
Ambiguity exists regarding the identity of the purported
plaintiff(s) in this action.
To begin with, the Complaint’s
caption identifies only Erica Lindiment as a plaintiff.
at 1 (listing “Erica Lindiment”); see also Docket Entry 1 at 1
(listing “Erica Sample Lindiment” in the Application’s caption).)5
Meanwhile, the Correction bears the caption “Lindiment v. Jones
eta” (Docket Entry 5 at 1), and the Supplement identifies “Erica &
Lindiments” as “Plaintiffs,” but classifies “[her] kids” as “the
(Docket Entry 6 at 1).
Finally, two sections of the
Complaint identify Plaintiff’s minor children as plaintiffs.
Docket Entry 2 at 1, 7; see also Docket Entry 1 at 3 (listing
5 The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure mandate that “[t]he
title of the complaint must name all the parties” to the action.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 10(a). As such, technically only parties listed in
the complaint’s caption qualify as “properly named parties to th[e]
action.” Peters v. Child Protective Servs., No. 3:07cv23, 2007 WL
2287830, at *2 (W.D. Ky. Aug. 2, 2007) (“The [c]ourt will,
therefore, not consider any claims brought on behalf of or against
any of those persons not listed in the caption.”).
minors’ ages and relationship).)
Under these circumstances, it
remains unclear whether Plaintiff attempts to pursue claims on
Plaintiff seeks to present such claims, they necessarily fail.
Pursuant to this Court’s Local Rules, minors may sue “only by
their general or testamentary guardians within this state or by
guardians ad litem appointed by this Court.”
M.D.N.C. LR 17.1(a).6
Plaintiff does not contend that she qualifies either as a general
or testamentary guardian or as a court-appointed guardian ad litem
for the minors.
(See Docket Entries 2, 2-1, 5, 6.)
record reveals no appointment of Plaintiff as the minors’ guardian.
(See Docket Entries dated June 2, 2017, to present.)
by naming “[her] kids G.A.L.” as a defendant (Docket Entry 2 at 2),
Plaintiff tacitly acknowledges that the North Carolina courts have
appointed someone else the minors’ guardian ad litem.
custody proceedings (see, e.g., id. at 10, 13; Docket Entry 6 at
58-60) establish that North Carolina officials have not appointed
her as general guardian of the minors.
See Corbett v. Lynch, 795
6 Under North Carolina law, a “‘[g]eneral guardian’ means a
guardian of both the estate and the person,” N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann.
§ 35A-1202(7), and a “testamentary guardian” signifies a guardian
named in a parent’s will for such parent’s minor children, see N.C.
Gen. Stat. Ann. §§ 35A-1224(d) & 35A-1225; see also Corbett v.
Lynch, 795 S.E.2d 564, 565 (N.C. Ct. App. 2016) (“In 2015, Mr.
Corbett died, leaving Max and Allison orphaned. In his will, Mr.
Corbett named Aunt and Aunt’s husband as testamentary guardians for
both minor children.”).
S.E.2d 564 (N.C. Ct. App. 2016) (examining relationship between
appointment of general guardian mooted child custody proceeding);
McKoy v. McKoy, 202 N.C. App. 509, 515, 689 S.E.2d 590, 594 (2010)
jurisdiction over guardianship matters,” including any custody
matters arising after the guardian’s appointment (citing decision
involving “abuse, dependency, and neglect proceedings”)).
Accordingly, the minors do not qualify as parties to this
action, and (pro se) Plaintiff cannot assert any claims on their
behalf. See M.D.N.C. LR 17.1(a); see also Shepherd v. Wellman, 313
F.3d 963, 970-71 (6th Cir. 2002) (explaining that “parents cannot
appear pro se on behalf of their minor children because a minor’s
personal cause of action is her own and does not belong to her
parent or representative” and affirming dismissal of minor’s 42
U.S.C. § 1983 claim).
Thus only Plaintiff’s individual claims
remain before the Court.
B. Jurisdictional Basis
The Complaint asserts both diversity jurisdiction, pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1332, and federal question jurisdiction, pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1331.
(See Docket Entry 2 at 6.)
According to the
Complaint, Plaintiff and all Defendants qualify as citizens of
(See id. at 6, 8-9; see also id. at 1, 3-5.)
Under Section 1332(a), “jurisdiction does not exist unless each
defendant is a citizen of a different State from each plaintiff.”
Owen Equip. & Erection Co. v. Kroger, 437 U.S. 365, 373 (1978)
(emphasis in original).
Because Plaintiff and Defendants do not
satisfy this standard, the Court lacks diversity jurisdiction over
In regard to federal question jurisdiction, the Complaint
states: “The moorish science treaties/I challenged jurisdiction 14
Amendment” (Docket Entry 2 at 6).
(See also id. at 9 (detailing
“Statement of Claim” as “When I challenged jurisdiction they did
not stop to prove they had jurisdiction in my case. & they are
hurting my kids”), 10 (alleging that a defendant “violated our
rights by . . . calling CPS . . . where he had no jurisdiction of
The statutory basis for federal claims
7 The United States does “not recognize the Moorish Nation
as a sovereign state,” Bey v. Meacham, No. 4:16 cv 744, 2016 WL
1704358, at *2 (N.D. Ohio Apr. 27, 2016) (collecting cases), appeal
dismissed, No. 16-3489 (6th Cir. Mar. 3, 2017), and thus “[t]he
jurisdiction, see 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (limiting jurisdiction to
“actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the
United States”). Moreover, any claims based on alleged Moorish
Nation membership qualify as frivolous. See, e.g., Hemingway-El v.
City of High Point, No. 1:09cv711, 2012 WL 1313312, at *2 (M.D.N.C.
Apr. 17, 2012) (recommending § 1915(e)(2) dismissal of claims
“based on the patently frivolous and thoroughly discredited notion
that [the plaintiff] has special status in the United States as a
function of her association with some ‘Moorish’ group”),
recommendation adopted, 2012 WL 1867113 (M.D.N.C. May 22, 2012);
El-Bey v. City of Charlotte, No. 3:11-cv-0131, 2011 WL 4757653, at
*5-6 (W.D.N.C. May 17, 2011) (collecting cases and “recommend[ing]
that [the p]laintiff’s claims relying on his alleged membership in
the ‘Washitaw Empire’ [or ‘Moorish Nation’] should be summarily
dismissed”), recommendation adopted, 2011 WL 4755560 (W.D.N.C. Oct.
7, 2011), aff’d, 465 F. App’x 236 (4th Cir. 2012).
involving constitutional violations by state actors appears in 42
U.S.C. § 1983.
See id.; see also Cummings, 2017 WL 1194364, at *2
“To state a claim for relief in an action brought under
§ 1983, [Plaintiff] must establish that [she] w[as] deprived of a
right secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States, and
that the alleged deprivation was committed under color of state
law.” American Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 49-50
As a general matter, “Section 1983 provides no remedy for
common law torts,” Bailey v. Prince George’s Cty., 34 F. Supp. 2d
1025, 1027 (D. Md. 1999) (citing Street v. Surdyka, 492 F.2d 368,
371 (4th Cir. 1974)), or for conduct by state agencies, see Will v.
Michigan Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-71 (1989).
C. Res Judicata Effect of Original Suit
The Original Suit also presented Section 1983 claims against
Original Defendants, Jones, and Smith. See Lindiment v. Smith, No.
1:16-cv-1269, Docket Entry 3 at 1 (M.D.N.C. Oct. 28, 2016) (listing
“42 USC [§] 1983” as the statutory basis for the Original Suit).
However, to limit unnecessary costs, promote the finality of
judgments, and provide closure to litigants, the doctrine of res
judicata bars attempts to relitigate claims adjudicated in a
previous suit between the same parties.
See Brown v. Felsen, 442
U.S. 127, 131 (1979); Montana v. United States, 440 U.S. 147, 153
The doctrine also bars claims in the second suit that
could have been raised in the first proceeding.
See Keith v.
Aldridge, 900 F.2d 736, 740 (4th Cir. 1990) (observing that “the
appropriate inquiry is whether the new claim arises out of same
transaction or series of transactions as the claim resolved by the
prior judgment” (internal quotation marks omitted)); Harnett v.
precludes the litigation by the plaintiff in a subsequent action of
claims with respect to all or any part of the transaction, or
series of connected transactions, out of which the [first] action
arose.” (brackets in original; internal quotation marks omitted)).
Application of res judicata generally requires satisfaction of
“(1) a final judgment on the merits in a prior
suit, (2) an identity of the cause of action in both the earlier
and the later suit, and (3) an identity of parties or their privies
in the two suits.”
Jones v. SEC, 115 F.3d 1173, 1178 (4th Cir.
1997) (internal quotation marks omitted).
A dismissal pursuant to
§ 1915(e) does not qualify as an adjudication on the merits, and
therefore “does not prejudice the filing of a paid complaint making
the same allegations.”
Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 34
However, unless done with leave to cure the identified
deficiencies, a § 1915(e) dismissal “ha[s] a res judicata effect on
petitions.” Id. (collecting cases); Hughes v. Lott, 350 F.3d 1157,
1162 (11th Cir. 2003) (explaining that “§ 1915 dismissals with
prejudice would have a res judicata effect on future in forma
pauperis petitions” (emphasis omitted)); Waller v. Groose, 38 F.3d
dismissal of [the petitioner’s] first claim has res judicata effect
and establishes that [the petitioner’s] second, identical claim is
frivolous for § 1915([e]) purposes”).8
The Court dismissed the Original Suit “without prejudice
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) for being frivolous and for
failing to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.”
Lindiment, Docket Entry 8 at 2.
Given its adoption of the
Recommendation and resolution of Plaintiff’s Objections, the Court
prejudice to Plaintiff pursuing any state claims and any new claims
expressed in the Objections, but with prejudice to Plaintiff
relitigating the claims expressed in her Original Complaint.
Complaint’s dismissal “could . . . have a res judicata effect on
frivolousness determinations for [Plaintiff’s current] in forma
Denton, 504 U.S. at 34.
With the possible exception of claims against Rockingham
(Compare Docket Entry 2, with Lindiment, Docket Entry 2.)
Prior to 1996, § 1915(e) appeared at § 1915(d).
Hughes, 350 F.3d at 1162 n.3.
Rockingham County CPS.
See generally Lindiment, Docket Entry 2.
This absence of “any factual allegations against Rockingham County
CPS” meant that the Original Complaint “fail[ed] to state a claim
upon which relief may be granted against [Rockingham County CPS].”
Lindiment, Docket Entry 5 at 6.
The Complaint likewise fails to
assert factual allegations against Rockingham County CPS, stating
only that it “violated our right to equal protection & will not
specificity complicates the res judicata analysis.10
because Plaintiff’s claims in the Original Suit and the instant
Complaint arise from the same underlying events — namely her child
custody dispute — Plaintiff’s claim against Rockingham County CPS
also remains subject to res judicata.
See Petros v. City of
9 In a separate paragraph on the same page as the allegations
against Rockingham County CPS, the Complaint presents allegations
against an unidentified “they.”
(See id. at 18 (“[T]hey don’t
understand our body. . . . [T]hey are forcing there [sic] religious
freedoms on us.”).)
The Complaint generally details its
allegations against individual Defendants in separate paragraphs.
(See, e.g., id. at 10-14; see also id. at 26-28 (recounting
different allegations against “Ms. Smith”).) Given this structure,
the religious-freedom allegations do not appear aimed specifically
at Rockingham County CPS.
10 It also means that the Complaint fails to state a claim on
which relief may be granted against Rockingham County CPS.
See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (explaining that a complaint must plead
accusation” to state a valid claim, and that “[t]hreadbare recitals
of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory
statements, do not suffice”).
Wheeling, No. 5:05cv140, 2006 WL 1705911, at *2-3 (N.D. W. Va. June
16, 2006) (explaining that “this action has arisen out of the same
controversy as [the plaintiff’s] previous two actions,” concluding
prejudice pursuant to § 1915(e)).
Under these circumstances, the Original Suit’s “dismissal
provides res judicata effect and establishes that [Plaintiff’s
claims against Original Defendants] are frivolous for 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e) purposes.”
Pack v. David, Civ. Action No. 07-2004, 2007
WL 4947819, at *1 (D. Md. Aug. 1, 2007).
claims against Original Defendants fail for the reasons expressed
in the Recommendation, see generally Lindiment, Docket Entry 5,
abstention doctrine render these claims frivolous, see id. at 2-3.
Accordingly, the Court should dismiss with prejudice Plaintiff’s
claims against Original Defendants as frivolous pursuant to 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i).
See also Cochran v. Morris, 73 F.3d
1310, 1317 (4th Cir. 1996) (explaining that “Section 1915([e]) is
aimed at the dismissal of ‘frivolous, malicious, or repetitive
lawsuits’” and concluding that “[t]he district court did not abuse
its discretion when it rejected [the plaintiff’s] attempt to
relitigate th[e same] claim [from a prior suit]” (emphasis in
original) (quoting Neitzke, 490 U.S. at 324)).
II. Remaining Claims
As with Original Defendants, the Complaint, Correction, and
Supplement present claims against Smith and Additional Defendants
involving Plaintiff’s ongoing child custody proceedings.
Docket Entry 2 at 10-14, 19, 25-28.)
As an initial matter, the
Complaint reiterates Plaintiff’s claim against Smith from the
(Compare Docket Entry 2 at 10, 26, with
Lindiment, Docket Entry 2 at 3-4.)11
As with the claims against
Original Defendants, this claim fails under res judicata and for
the reasons stated in the Recommendation, see Lindiment, Docket
Entry 5 at 2-3, 6. The Complaint also contains allegations against
Smith regarding conduct following the Original Suit’s filing.
(See, e.g., Docket Entry 2 at 19 (alleging that “[Jones] & Miss
Smith asked for me to be moved back to Roc[kingham] Co after 1st
suit was dismissed”); id. at 27 (alleging that Smith “subpoena
[sic] Ms[.] Jone[s] & Mr. Chambers as witnesses because she knew I
had them in the last law suit”).)
Even assuming that res judicata
does not bar such claim, it qualifies as frivolous under the
domestic relations exception and Younger abstention doctrine, as
11 The Complaint does not repeat the Original Complaint’s
allegations against Jones. (Compare Docket Entry 2 at 10, 19, with
Lindiment, Docket Entry 2 at 2-3.)
A. Domestic Relations Exception
“Domestic relations cases are traditionally matters within the
exclusive purview of state, not federal, courts.”
Inc. v. Friedman, 215 F. Supp. 3d 440, 454-55 (D. Md. 2016), aff’d,
679 F. App’x 254 (4th Cir. 2017), petition for cert. filed, __ U.S.
__ (July 24, 2017) (No. 17-144).
As such, the so-called “domestic
relations exception . . . divests the federal courts of power to
issue divorce, alimony, and child custody decrees.” Ankenbrandt v.
exception applies in both federal-question and diversity cases.
See Johnson v. Byrd, No. 1:16cv1052, 2016 WL 6839410, at *9-13
(M.D.N.C. Nov. 21, 2016) (analyzing domestic relations exception
and concluding it applied to, inter alia, the plaintiff’s § 1983
claim), recommendation adopted, slip op. (M.D.N.C. Jan. 20, 2017),
appeal dismissed, No. 17-1305, 2017 WL 3098162, __ F. App’x __ (4th
Cir. July 21, 2017).
Plaintiff’s claims against Additional Defendants and Smith
arise from her ongoing state child custody proceedings.
generally Docket Entries 2, 6.)
For instance, Plaintiff asserts
that (i) “Lori Priddy is in violation of our rights by trying to
prolong case by add [sic] thing in case plan when [Plaintiff] was
not in the room” (Docket Entry 2 at 12); (ii) “Judge Christine
Strayer violated our rights by taking visitation from me” and “also
didn’t prove jurisdiction & favor Ms[.] Smith in court with no
proof” (id. at 13); and (iii) Smith “enters things i[n] court like
voluntary paternity acknowledgment when [Plaintiff] disagreed” (id.
at 26) and “gave [Plaintiff’s] baby dad visits with the kids to
hurt [Plaintiff]” (id. at 27).
Throughout the instant litigation,
Plaintiff has explicitly acknowledged the relationship between this
federal action and her ongoing state-court custody proceedings.
(See Docket Entry 3 at 1 (identifying “related case(s)” as “16JA9699”); Docket Entry 6 at 1 (“Reference Case No. /About: 16JA96-99 —
state court”); see also Docket Entry 2-1 at 6-14 (containing
subpoenas and motions from Rockingham County District Court Case
No. 16JA96-99, including Smith’s “Motion for Review” regarding
Plaintiff’s visitation privileges).)
Indeed, the relief Plaintiff
seeks in this federal action explicitly involves — and attempts to
circumvent — the state-court custody proceedings.
Entry 2 at 15 (requesting orders that “remove[ the kids] from
Roc[kingham] Co[unty] CPS” and “return all kids to [Plaintiff]”
as well as orders dismissing “all files filed in Roc[kingham] Co.”
and “stop[ping] all court filing they have in place[, including]
all non-secure custody orders[,] all visition [sic] filing[,] . . .
all visition [sic] filing for kids to see abuser father[,] all
foster care placement[, and] all court order mandates”).)
The record further indicates that Plaintiff seeks to use this
federal action as leverage in her state-court custody proceedings.
For instance, the Supplement contains an email exchange between
Reaves and Plaintiff on June 19, 2017, related to the custody
(See Docket Entry 6 at 58-59.)
In this exchange,
Plaintiff discusses the “religious belief[ f]ood list” she provided
to “Ms[.] Ross at RCDSS” and tells Reaves “u [sic] should b [sic]
getting some paper work on me soon.”
(Id. at 58.)
states that “[she] ha[s] already add [sic] it to the law suit.”
In response, Reaves writes:
I am familiar with many of the religious dietary
laws. If you have documentation I will pass it along to
Is there a reason that we are just now
hearing about this? If you have requested at an earlier
time I had no knowledge.
You mentioned adding things to the lawsuit. It was
my understanding that your lawsuit in Federal District
Court was dismissed. Please provide information on any
other legal action relating to your child welfare case.
You also indicate that you are working on setting up
the assessment. It is my understanding that the agency
has given you a few options. Please call and make an
appointment to discus your case. Ms. Walker and I both
want to help you get your children back.
(Id. at 59.)
Plaintiff then states, “I do it will b [sic] in the
paper u [sic] should get[.]”
(See id. at 1.)
In the case caption, the Supplement
provides the instant case number, the “Previous Lawsuits Case No.
1:16CV1269” and the “Reference Case No. /About: 16JA96-99 — state
reiterate claims from the Original Suit.
(Compare id., with
Lindiment, Docket Entry 2 at 3, and id., Docket Entry 7 at 1-2.)
The Supplement then asserts:
It is unclean to get meat and my kids have allergies to
the things on the food list. Every holiday have [sic]
rules of what to eat. We are Evangelist but also follow
Jewish & Muslim traditions. These food list [sic] are
new do [sic] to whats [sic] been going on. The food has
a clean date. It might b [sic] 2018.
(Docket Entry 6 at 1.)
The majority of the remainder of the
Supplement contains assorted articles, bible passages, and bible
commentary regarding food and cannibalism. (See id. at 9-46.) The
Plaintiff states Reaves “should b[e] getting . . . soon” (id. at
58) regarding her state-court custody proceedings. (See id. at 5859.)
Under the circumstances, “despite the superficial federal
question nature of this suit, the real purpose is plainly a
domestic relations issue that belongs to the [North Carolina] state
It does not belong in federal court.”
Supp. 3d at 458.
Aldmyr Sys., 215 F.
Therefore, the domestic relations exception
divests the Court of jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claims against
Additional Defendants and Smith, rendering those claims frivolous.
See Johnson, 2016 WL 6839410, at *13-14 (recommending dismissal of
claims involving ongoing child custody dispute as frivolous in
light of, inter alia, the domestic relations exception).
B. Younger Abstention Doctrine
In addition to custody orders, Plaintiff “would like all files
filed in Roc[kingham] Co. from the date of Sept 5 2016 to now to be
(Docket Entry 2 at 15.)
Plaintiff further requests
that this Court move “[her] case . . . from Roc[kingham] Co. & stop
all court filing they have in place.”
As such, Plaintiff
proceedings (see id. at 13) and the “Rockingham Co. Court System”
(the “State Court”) (id. at 6) as defendants in this action.12
However, abstention principles articulated in Younger v. Harris,
401 U.S. 37 (1971), preclude Plaintiff’s requested injunctive
“Younger abstention requires a federal court to abstain from
granting injunctive or declaratory relief that would interfere with
pending state judicial proceedings.” O’Neill v. Coughlan, 511 F.3d
638, 643 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing Younger, 401 U.S. at 40-41).
relevant here, Younger abstention precludes federal intrusion into
ongoing state civil proceedings that “implicate a State’s interest
in enforcing the orders and judgments of its courts.”
It bears noting that the Complaint lacks any factual
allegations against the State Court (see generally Docket Entry 2)
and thus fails to state a claim on which relief can be granted
against the State Court, see Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Moreover, the
State Court “does not qualify as a ‘person’ amenable to suit under
Section 1983,” rendering frivolous such claim. Mobley v. Foster,
No. 1:17cv117, 2017 WL 1409612, at *3 (M.D.N.C. Apr. 20, 2017),
recommendation adopted, slip op. (M.D.N.C. May 25, 2017).
Commc’ns, Inc. v. Jacobs, __ U.S. __, __, 134 S. Ct. 584, 588
(2013). In considering whether to apply Younger abstention in such
circumstances, a federal court may consider certain “additional
factors” articulated in Middlesex County Ethics Committee v. Garden
State Bar Ass’n, 457 U.S. 423 (1982).
Sprint, __ U.S. at __, 134
S. Ct. at 593 (emphasis omitted). These additional factors include
whether the ongoing state proceedings “implicate important state
interests” and provide “an adequate opportunity . . . to raise
Middlesex, 457 U.S. at 432.
Plaintiff’s allegations and exhibits establish that the child
custody proceedings in State Court predate the instant action and
remaining ongoing. (See, e.g., Docket Entry 2 at 13 (alleging that
“Judge Christine Strayer violated our rights” through certain
rulings from “Sept 2016 till now”), 15 (requesting dismissal of
“all files filed in [State Court] from the date of Sept 5 2016 to
now”); Docket Entry 2-1 at 6-14 (motions and subpoenas in State
Court case spanning from October 2016 to April 2017); Docket Entry
6 at 61 (requesting attendance at April hearings in State Court),
58-59 (discussing, in emails on June 19, 2017, Plaintiff’s ongoing
child custody proceedings, including the fact that, “as [Reaves and
Plaintiff] have previously discussed, the [State] Court has Ordered
Assessment,” but Plaintiff has not yet “compl[ied] with the [State]
Moreover, Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief to
“stop all court filing” in the State Court proceedings, including
“all non-secure custody orders[,] all visition [sic] filing[,]
. . . all foster care placement[, and] all court order mandates.”
(Docket Entry 2 at 15.)
This case thus qualifies for Younger
appropriateness of Younger abstention:
First, Plaintiff’s claims implicate important state
interests as they concern an ongoing child custody
See Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S. 415, 435 (1979)
(noting that “[f]amily relations are a traditional area
of state concern”); see also C.C.S. v. Child Protective
Servs. of Orange Cty., No. 1:11CV81, 2011 WL 1325125, at
*1-2 (M.D.N.C. Apr. 7, 2011) (recommending against
exercising jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s claims
because of, inter alia, Younger abstention principles,
and noting that child custody and visitation matters
“implicate important state interests”), recommendation
adopted, slip op. (M.D.N.C. June 6, 2011). Second, the
State Court provides a sufficient forum for Plaintiff to
assert her federal rights. See C.C.S., 2011 WL 1325125,
at *2 (recognizing that state child custody proceeding
afforded the plaintiff an adequate opportunity to present
her federal questions).
Plaintiff’s claims for injunctive relief regarding her ongoing
State Court custody proceedings. See, e.g., Wattie-Bey v. Attorney
Gen.’s Office, 424 F. App’x 95, 96 (3d Cir. 2011) (concluding that
“Younger abstention principles dictated dismissal of the complaint
. . . with regard to [the plaintiffs’] claims for prospective
injunctive and declaratory relief based on alleged violations of
their constitutional rights in the ongoing state court custody
abstention under Younger from exercising jurisdiction over action
that concerned ongoing state court child custody and visitation
matters). The Court should therefore dismiss Plaintiff’s claims as
frivolous under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i). See Johnson, 2016 WL
6839410, at *7-9, *14 (concluding that Younger abstention rendered
frivolous claims for injunctive and declaratory relief regarding
ongoing state custody proceedings).
III. Sealing and Redaction
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require redaction of the
“name of [every] individual known to be a minor” from every “filing
with the court.”
Fed. R. Civ. P. 5.2(a).
Plaintiff did not comply
with this requirement in filing, inter alia, the Application,
Complaint, and Supplement.
(See Docket Entries 1-3, 6.)
materials and require her to refile them with the appropriate
See Powell v. Williams, No. 5:14-cv-282, 2014 WL
3809964, at *2 (E.D.N.C. July 14, 2014), recommendation adopted,
2014 WL 3809956 (E.D.N.C. Aug. 1, 2014).
Nevertheless, in the
interests of judicial efficiency, see id., the Court (per the
undersigned) orally directed the Clerk’s Office to redact the
(Docket Entries 1-3, 6.)
Plaintiff’s filings also contain sensitive medical information
(See Docket Entries 2-1, 6.)
To protect the privacy of the non-
party minors, the Court orally directed the Clerk’s Office to place
those materials under seal.
The Court now reaffirms that order.
“[T]he courts of this country recognize a general right to
inspect and copy . . . judicial records and documents.”
Warner Commc’ns, Inc., 435 U.S. 589, 597 (1978).
“This right of
access to court records is not absolute, however.
The trial court
discretion, seal documents if the public’s right of access is
outweighed by competing interests.”
F.2d 231, 235 (4th Cir. 1984).
In re Knight Publ’g Co., 743
Prior to granting a request to seal
materials, a court should provide notice and an opportunity for
objections to sealing.
Nevertheless, “[t]he court may
temporarily seal the documents while the motion to seal is under
consideration so that the issue is not mooted by the immediate
availability of the documents.”
Id. at 235 n.1.
appropriate circumstances, an opportunity to object to a sealing
order may satisfy the notice requirement. See Baltimore Sun Co. v.
Goetz, 886 F.2d 60, 65 (4th Cir. 1989) (“Since the application and
issuance of a warrant are necessarily closed to press and public,
notice can be given by docketing the order sealing the documents.
If someone desires to inspect the papers, an opportunity must be
afforded to voice objections to the denial of access.”); see also
United States v. Fretz, No. 7:02-cr-67-1, 2012 WL 1655412, at *2-3
(E.D.N.C. May 10, 2012) (“[Non-party movant] correctly observes
requirements when ruling on the [parties’] Joint Motion to Seal.
Accordingly, the court will do so now when considering [movant’s]
Motion to Unseal.”).
“[S]afeguarding the physical and psychological well-being of
a minor [qualifies as] a compelling [interest]” that can outweigh
the public’s right of access.
Globe Newspaper Co. v. Superior
Court for the Cty. of Norfolk, 457 U.S. 596, 607-08 (1982).
“[c]ourts have found a compelling government interest in sealing
sensitive medical or other personal information, especially when
relating to minors.”
Interstate Fire & Cas. Co. v. Dimensions
Assurance Ltd., Civ. Action No. 13-3908, 2014 WL 6388334, at *2 (D.
Md. Nov. 13, 2014) (collecting cases).
A minor’s non-party status
heightens the justification for sealing.
See, e.g., Johnson v.
City of Fayetteville, No. 5:12-cv-456, 2014 WL 7151147, at *11
(E.D.N.C. Dec. 11, 2014) (“[F]ederal courts have found that the
need to keep personal health information confidential may justify
sealing certain documents. This is especially so where the medical
records are of third parties, or are not central to the disposition
of a case.” (citation omitted)); Interstate Fire, 2014 WL 6388334,
at *2 (“To protect the privacy of the child, who is not a party to
this action, the [c]ourt may find it proper to redact sensitive
Between June 2, 2017, and June 20, 2017, Plaintiff submitted
more than one hundred pages of material to the Court, including one
medical report and ten photographs of the minors.
Entries 1-6.) In June 2017, pursuant to the Court’s directive, the
Clerk’s Office placed the medical report and photographs under seal
and identified such sealing in the version of the filings available
on the public docket.
(See, e.g., Docket Entry 2-1 at 5 (“FILED
UNDER SEAL MEDICAL RECORDS (The court instructed Clerk’s Office
place records under seal.)” (emphasis in original)), 19 (“FILED
UNDER SEAL PICTURE OF CHILD (The court instructed Clerk’s Office
place under seal.)” (emphasis in original)).)
Thus, both the
directive since June 2017, but have not contested the sealing.
(See Docket Entries dated June 2, 2017, to present.)
the Court finds that all interested persons have received “notice
of the request to seal and a reasonable opportunity to challenge
the request,” Virginia Dep’t of State Police v. Washington Post,
386 F.3d 567, 576 (4th Cir. 2004).
The Court further finds that a
compelling interest in protecting the minors’ privacy outweighs the
public’s right of access to these materials, particularly given
that these photographs and records do not affect the disposition of
The Court also concludes that, given the nature of
redaction, would adequately protect the minors. Finally, the Court
finds that sealing only the medical records and photographs, rather
than the entire Supplement and all exhibits to the Complaint,
narrowly tailors the sealing order to the compelling interest at
The Court will therefore maintain under seal the minors’
photographs and medical records.
Res judicata, the domestic relations exception, and Younger
abstention render frivolous Plaintiff’s claims.
In addition, the
names, medical information, and photographs of the minors contained
in Plaintiff’s filings remain subject to sealing and redaction.
IT IS THEREFORE ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Application (Docket
Entry 1) is GRANTED for the limited purpose of considering this
recommendation of dismissal.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the minors’ photographs (Docket
Entry 2-1 at 19, 22, 23, 30; Docket Entry 6 at 3-8) and medical
report (Docket Entry 2-1 at 5) shall remain SEALED.
shall redact the minors’ names from the Application (Docket Entry
1), Complaint (Docket Entry 2) and exhibits (Docket Entry 2-1),
Civil Cover Sheet (Docket Entry 3), and Supplement (Docket Entry
IT IS RECOMMENDED that this action be dismissed with prejudice
pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) for being frivolous.
This 15th day of September, 2017.
/s/ L. Patrick Auld
L. Patrick Auld
United States Magistrate Judge
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