Prewitt v. Wood County Common Pleas Juvenile Division
Order: This action is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court certifies pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(a)(3) that an appeal from this decision could not be taken in good faith. Judge James G. Carr on 10/28/14. (C,D)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
Andrew W. Prewitt,
Case No. 3:14 CV 1324
JUDGE JAMES G. CARR
Wood County Common Pleas Court
Pro se Plaintiff Andrew W. Prewitt filed the above-captioned action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
against the Wood County Juvenile Court. In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges the Juvenile Court
awarded custody of his child to someone other than him or the child’s mother. He contends the
decision deprived him of his fundamental right to raise his child and denied him due process. He
seeks reversal of the Juvenile Court’s decision, and an Order from this Court granting him custody
of the child.
Plaintiff contends that on January 22, 2014, Wood County Juvenile Court Judge David
Basinski violated his constitutional rights by placing his child, K.P., in the custody of a non-parent
“over one instance of alleged unruliness filed by the minor child’s mother.” (Doc. No. 1 at 2). He
claims this decision deprived him of his fundamental right to raise his child.
He contends the Juvenile Court could not award custody to a non-parent without first
determining that the parent abandoned the child, relinquished the child, or was not supporting the
child. Plaintiff argues he has a constitutional right to raise his child and that right cannot be
disturbed unless he is found to be unfit as a parent. He indicates the Juvenile Court did not make
He also asserts the Juvenile Court’s decision violated his First Amendment rights because
he cannot bring his child up in his Christian faith.
II. Standard of Review
While pro se pleadings are liberally construed, Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364, 365
(1982) (per curiam); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), the District Court may dismiss an
action sua sponte if the Court clearly lacks jurisdiction over the matters presented in the Complaint.
Federal courts are always “under an independent obligation to examine their own
jurisdiction,” FW/PBS, Inc. v. City of Dallas, 493 U.S. 215, 231(1990) and may not entertain an
action over which jurisdiction is lacking. See Insurance Corp. of Ireland, Ltd. v. Compagnie des
Bauxites de Guinee, 456 U.S. 694, 701 (1982). Defects in subject matter jurisdiction cannot be
waived by the parties and may be addressed by the Court on its own motion at any stage of the
proceedings. Curry v. U.S. Bulk Transport, Inc., 462 F.3d 536, 539-40 (6th Cir. 2006); Owens v.
Brock, 860 F.2d 1363, 1367 (6th Cir. 1988).
In this case, Plaintiff is asking this Court to review the decision of the Wood County Juvenile
Court, reverse that decision, and enter a judgment in his favor. United States District Courts do not
have jurisdiction to overturn state court decisions even if the request to reverse the state court
judgment is based on an allegation that the state court’s action was unconstitutional. Exxon Mobil
Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 292 (2005). Federal appellate review of state court
judgments can only occur in the United States Supreme Court, by appeal or by writ of certiorari.
Id. Under this principle, generally referred to as the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine, a party losing his
case in state court is barred from seeking what in substance would be appellate review of the state
judgment in a United States District Court based on the party’s claim that the state judgment itself
violates his or her federal rights. Berry v. Schmitt 688 F.3d 290, 298-99 (6th Cir. 2012).
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is based on two United States Supreme Court decisions
interpreting 28 U.S.C. § 1257(a).1 See District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S.
462, 103 S.Ct. 1303, 75 L.Ed.2d 206 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 44 S.Ct.
149, 68 L.Ed. 362 (1923). This statute was enacted to prevent “end-runs around state court
judgments” by requiring litigants seeking review of that judgment to file a writ of certiorari with the
United States Supreme Court. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is based on the negative inference
that, if appellate court review of state judgments is vested in the United States Supreme Court, then
such review may not occur in the lower federal courts. Exxon Mobil Corp., 544 U.S. at 283-84;
Kovacic v. Cuyahoga County Dep’t of Children and Family Services, 606 F.3d 301, 308-311 (6th
28 U.S.C. § 1257(a) provides:
Final judgments or decrees rendered by the highest court of a State
in which a decision could be had, may be reviewed by the Supreme
Court by writ of certiorari where the validity of a treaty or statute of
the United States is drawn in question or where the validity of a
statute of any State is drawn in question on the ground of its being
repugnant to the Constitution, treaties, or laws of the United States,
or where any title, right, privilege, or immunity is specially set up or
claimed under the Constitution or the treaties or statutes of, or any
commission held or authority exercised under, the United States.
Cir. 2010); Lawrence v. Welch, 531 F.3d 364, 369 (6th Cir. 2008).
Rooker-Feldman is a doctrine with narrow application. It does not bar federal jurisdiction
“simply because a party attempts to litigate in federal court a matter previously litigated in state
court.” Exxon Mobil Corp., 544 U.S. at 293; Berry, 688 F.3d 298-99. It also does not address
potential conflicts between federal and state court orders, which fall within the parameters of the
doctrines of comity, abstention, and preclusion. Berry, 688 F.3d 299.
Instead, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies only where a party losing his or her case in
state court initiates an action in federal district court complaining of injury caused by a state court
judgment itself, and seeks review and rejection of that judgment. Berry, 688 F.3d 298-99; In re
Cook, 551 F.3d 542, 548 (6th Cir. 2009).
To determine whether Rooker-Feldman bars a claim, the Court must look to the source of
the injury the Plaintiff alleges in the Complaint. McCormick v. Braverman, 451 F.3d 382, 393 (6th
Cir.2006); see Berry, 688 F.3d at 299; Kovacic, 606 F.3d at 310. If the source of the Plaintiff’s
injury is the state-court judgment itself, then the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars the federal claim.
McCormick, 451 F.3d at 393. “If there is some other source of injury, such as a third party’s actions,
then the Plaintiff asserts an independent claim.” Id.; see Lawrence, 531 F.3d at 368-69. In
conducting this inquiry, the Court considers the Plaintiff’s requested relief. Evans v. Cordray, No.
09–3998, 2011 WL 2149547, at *1 (6th Cir. May 27, 2011).
Plaintiff in this case is seeking review of the Juvenile Court’s decision to grant custody of
his child to another individual. The source of his injury is the state court judgment, and he asks as
his only relief that this Court reverse the decision of the Juvenile Court and enter a judgment in his
favor. This Court lacks jurisdiction to review a state court judgment and grant the relief Plaintiff
Accordingly, this action is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court
certifies pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §1915(a)(3) that an appeal from this decision could not be taken in
IT IS SO ORDERED.
s/James G. Carr
JAMES G. CARR
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3) provides:
An appeal may not be taken in forma pauperis if the trial court certifies that it is not
taken in good faith.
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