Wilson v. York et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER (Signed by Judge Nancy F Atlas) Parties notified.(sashabranner, 4)
United States District Court
Southern District of Texas
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
JEFFREY LANG WILSON,
JUDGE ALICIA FRANKLIN YORK,
JENNIE MARIE COLEMAN,
ALLETTE WILLIAMS, and
THEODORE HAYNES, JR.,
March 31, 2017
David J. Bradley, Clerk
CIVIL ACTION NO. 4:17-0705
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
On March 6, 2017, Plaintiff Jeffrey Lang Wilson filed this case complaining of
events connected to a family court proceeding. Complaint [Doc. # 1]. Plaintiff
proceeds pro se and has paid the filing fee. The time for service of process has not yet
expired. The docket does not yet reflect service on any Defendant and no Defendant
The divorce proceedings about which Plaintiff complains are currently active
proceedings in Harris County.1 Plaintiff names as Defendants the following persons:
Judge Alicia Franklin York of the 311th Family Court in Harris County, who presided
The Court takes judicial notice of the proceedings in Jennie Marie Coleman v. Jeffery
Lang Wilson, Cause No. 2012-33042 (257th Family Court of Harris County, Tex.)
(filed June 6, 2012).
over Plaintiff’s divorce proceeding before recently recusing herself; Jeannie Marie
Coleman, Plaintiff’s wife, soon to be his ex-wife; Allete Williams, Ms. Coleman’s
attorney in the divorce proceedings; and Theodore Haynes, Jr., Plaintiff’s attorney in
the divorce proceedings until Plaintiff fired him.
Plaintiff’s handwritten complaint appears to allege that, after Plaintiff attempted
to dismiss Mr. Haynes as his attorney during divorce proceedings, Judge York had
Plaintiff escorted out of her court. Plaintiff complains of “threat and coer[c]ion by the
deputies with guns” and that he was “touched pushed [sic] without my consent.”
Complaint, at 1. Plaintiff seeks the “return” of his homestead, which property
apparently is at issue in the divorce proceeding. He also seeks to proceed pro se in the
divorce proceeding. He alleges that the First and Sixth Amendments to the United
States Constitution have been violated because “my body has been trespassed against
as well as my land.” Id.
The Court screens this case to determine whether the Court may exercise
subject matter jurisdiction.2 A federal court has jurisdiction to determine its own
jurisdiction. See Trinity Marine Prod., Inc. v. U.S., 812 F.3d 481, 486 (5th Cir. 2016);
Smith v. Reg’l Transit Auth., 756 F.3d 340, 347 (5th Cir. 2014). This Court has the
“‘responsibility to consider the question of subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte if it
See Apple v. Glenn, 183 F.3d 477, 479 (6th Cir. 1999) (per curiam) (citing Hagans v.
Lavine, 415 U.S. 528, 536-37 (1974)) (recognizing a district court’s authority to
conduct limited screening of fee-paid case to determine subject matter jurisdiction).
is not raised by the parties and to dismiss any action if such jurisdiction is lacking.’”
Crutchfield v. Sewerage & Water Bd. of New Orleans, 829 F.3d 370, 375 (5th Cir.
2016) (quoting Giannakos v. M/V Bravo Trader, 762 F.2d 1295, 1297 (5th Cir.
1985)). See 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”).
A district court lacks jurisdiction over a federal claim if the claim “clearly
appears to be immaterial and made solely for the purpose of obtaining jurisdiction or
where such claim is wholly insubstantial and frivolous.” Jefferson Cmty. Health Care
Ctrs., Inc. v. Jefferson Par. Gov’t, 849 F.3d 615, 621 (5th Cir. 2017) (quoting Steel
Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env’t, 523 U.S. 83, 89 (1998); Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678,
682 (1946)) (internal quotation marks omitted).
Dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction because of the
inadequacy of the federal claim is proper only when the claim is “so
insubstantial, implausible, foreclosed by prior decisions of this Court, or
otherwise completely devoid of merit as not to involve a federal
Steel Co., 523 U.S. at 89 (quoting Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. v. County of Oneida,
414 U.S. 661, 666 (1974)). See Stem v. Gomez, 813 F.3d 205, 209-10 (5th Cir. 2016);
Payne v. Progressive Fin. Servs., Inc., 748 F.3d 605, 608 (5th Cir. 2014); Apple, 183
F.3d at 479 (“a district court may, at any time, sua sponte dismiss a complaint for lack
of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure when the allegations of a complaint are totally implausible, attenuated,
unsubstantial, frivolous, devoid of merit, or no longer open to discussion”) (citing
Hagans, 415 U.S. at 536-37).
In rare cases, a federal court abstains from the exercise of federal jurisdiction.
Sprint Commc’ns, Inc. v. Jacobs, 134 S. Ct. 584, 593 (2013) (“abstention from the
exercise of federal jurisdiction is the exception, not the rule”) (internal citations and
quotation marks omitted); see Google, Inc. v. Hood, 822 F.3d 212, 223 (5th Cir.
2016). Under a doctrine originating with Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971),
federal courts must abstain from enjoining a pending state proceeding. Younger
abstention applies in three “exceptional categories” of state proceedings: ongoing
state criminal prosecutions; certain civil enforcement proceedings akin to criminal
prosecutions, and “pending civil proceedings . . . . uniquely in furtherance of the state
courts’ ability to perform their judicial functions” Sprint, 134 S. Ct. at 591 (internal
citation and quotation marks omitted). When a case falls into these categories, the
court potentially invoking Younger considers “whether there is (1) an ongoing state
judicial proceeding, which (2) implicates important state interests, and (3) provides
an adequate opportunity to raise federal challenges.” Google, 822 F.3d at 222-23
(internal citations, quotation marks, and alteration omitted)
Plaintiff’s complaints in this Court are inextricably connected to an ongoing
divorce proceeding in Texas court.
These divorce proceedings fit the third
“exceptional” category of state proceedings subject to Younger abstention, pending
civil proceedings “uniquely in furtherance of the state courts’ ability to perform their
judicial functions.” Sprint, 134 S. Ct. at 591 (internal citation and quotation marks
omitted); Google, 822 F.2d at 222. “Family relations are a traditional area of state
concern.” Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S. 415, 435 (1979). See Estate of Merkel v. Pollard,
354 F. App’x 88, 94 (5th Cir. 2009).
The Court therefore considers whether Younger abstention is warranted in this
case. See Google, 822 F.3d at 222-23. The first factor is satisfied because the
relevant divorce proceedings were pending when Plaintiff filed the instant case and
remain pending to date. Because the case involves family relations, it clearly satisfies
the “important state interests” requirement in the second factor. See Moore, 442 U.S.
at 435; Merkel, 354 F. App’x at 94. As for the third factor, the state court proceedings
offer Plaintiff an adequate opportunity to raise his federal claims under the First and
Sixth Amendments to the United States Constitution.3
The Court therefore must abstain under Younger v. Harris from exercising
jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claims. Because his federal claim is “foreclosed by prior
decisions of this Court” and so “completely devoid of merit as not to involve a federal
See Google, 822 F.3d at 222-23. Cf. Odonnell v. Harris Cty., Tex., ___ F. Supp. 3d
___, 2016 WL 7337549, at *20 (S.D. Tex. Dec. 16, 2016) (Rosenthal, J.) (finding
that plaintiffs did not have adequate opportunity to raise in state court proceedings
their claim regarding lack of timely judicial consideration of their inability to pay
bond because “the adequacy of a timely hearing is precisely what the plaintiffs are
challenging in this case”).
controversy,” this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. See Steel Co., 523 U.S. at
89; Oneida, 414 U.S. at 666.
Additionally, to the extent Plaintiff brings claims that rely on Defendants’
conduct during the family court proceedings, Defendants are immune. “A judge
generally has absolute immunity from suits for damages.” Davis v. Tarrant County,
Texas, 565 F.3d 214, 221 (5th Cir. 2009) (citing Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 9-10
(1991)). Federal courts have no authority to issue injunctive relief directing state
courts or their judicial officers in the performance of their duties. See LaBranche v.
Becnel, 559 F. App’x 290 (5th Cir. 2014) (citing Holloway v. Walker, 765 F.2d 517,
525 (5th Cir. 1985); Moye v. Clerk, DeKalb Cnty. Superior Court, 474 F.2d 1275,
1276 (5th Cir. 1973)). Similarly, under Texas law, attorneys are immune from suit for
conduct during litigation in order to “safeguard the unfettered exercise of judgment
in the judicial system by protecting the person exercising it not only against liability
but also against incurring the costs of defending a lawsuit.” Troice v. Proskauer Rose,
L.L.P., 816 F.3d 341, 346 (5th Cir. 2016) (“The policies underlying the attorney
immunity doctrine, as the Texas Supreme Court has explained, suggest that attorney
immunity should be an immunity from suit” and not a defense to liability) (citing
Texas law). See also Kinney v. Weaver, 367 F.3d 337, 352 & n.17 (5th Cir. 2004) (en
banc) (“absolute immunity . . . protects witnesses from civil liability arising from
For the foregoing reasons, the Court holds that under the doctrines of Younger
v. Harris and its progeny, as well as binding authority regarding immunity from suit,
Plaitniff’s federal claims are so clearly foreclosed by Supreme Court precedent as to
be frivolous and devoid of merit. See Steel Co., 523 U.S. at 89; Stem, 813 F.3d at 210;
Apple, 183 F.3d at 479. Therefore it is hereby
ORDERED that this suit is dismissed without prejudice for lack of subject
SIGNED at Houston, Texas, this 31st day of March, 2017.
NAN Y F. ATLAS
STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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