Horst et al v. Campbell et al

Filing 8

ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT. Plaintiffs Complaint is DISMISSED without leave to amend. Plaintiffs Motion to Appoint Counsel (ECF No. 7) is DENIED AS MOOT. The Court certifies pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3) that any appeal of this Order would not be taken in good faith and would lack any arguable basis in law or fact. Plaintiffs in forma pauperis status is hereby REVOKED. The case is CLOSED. Signed by Chief Judge Thomas O. Rice. (LLH, Courtroom Deputy)

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1 2 3 4 5 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF WASHINGTON 6 7 JENNIFER HORST, JMW, minor, and LAW, minor, NO. 4:17-CV-5152-TOR 8 Plaintiffs, ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT 9 v. 10 11 12 13 14 STATE OF WASHINGTON ASSISTANT ATTORNEY GENERAL JODY CAMPBELL, DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL AND HEALTH SERVICES, CHILDREN’S ADMINSTRATION, DEPARTMENT OF CHILD AND FAMILY SERVICES AND CHILD PROTECTIVE SERVICES, et al., 15 16 17 Defendants. BEFORE THE COURT is Plaintiffs’ Complaint filed on September 26, 18 2017 (ECF No. 2; see also ECF No. 6 (duplicate)) and Motion to Appoint Counsel 19 (ECF No. 7). Plaintiffs Jennifer Horst, JMW, and LAW are proceeding pro se and 20 in forma pauperis. Defendants have not been served. ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT ~ 1 1 The Court has conducted the required screening of the Complaint (ECF No. 2) 2 under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)1 and determines that Plaintiffs’ claims do not survive 3 screening, as discussed below. The Court will not direct service of the Complaint 4 upon Defendants. Because amendment of the Complaint would be futile, the 5 Complaint is DIMISSED without leave to amend. 6 STANDARD OF REVIEW 7 Section 1915(e) “not only permits but requires” the court to sua sponte 8 dismiss an in forma pauperis complaint that is frivolous or malicious; fails to state 9 a claim on which relief may be granted; 2 or seeks monetary relief against a 10 defendant who is immune from such relief. Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126– 11 12 1 13 application of the statutes, including the requirement that the district court screen 14 the complaint, extends to an in forma pauperis complaint. Calhoun v. Stahl, 254 15 F.3d 845 (9th Cir. 2001); Lopez v. Smith, 203 F.3d 1122, 1126–27 (9th Cir. 2000) 16 (en banc). 17 2 18 the non-moving party has failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted, so 19 Rule 12(b)(6) standards govern a § 1915 review for legal sufficiency. Knapp v. 20 Hogan, 738 F.3d 1106, 1109 (9th Cir. 2013). Although 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915 and 1915A reference “prisoners,” the A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) is similarly based on whether ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT ~ 2 1 27 (9th Cir. 2000) (en banc). The facts alleged in a complaint are to be taken as 2 true and must “plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 3 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009). Mere legal conclusions “are not entitled to the 4 assumption of truth.” Id. The complaint must contain more than “a formulaic 5 recitation of the elements of a cause of action.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 6 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). It must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is 7 plausible on its face.” Id. at 570. 8 ALLEGATIONS IN COMPLAINT 9 Plaintiffs’ complaint details a troubling saga arising out of the State of 10 Washington’s removal of Plaintiffs JMW and LAW from the care of their mother, 11 Plaintiff Jennifer Horst. In sum, Plaintiffs allege JMW and LAW suffered as a 12 result of child placement decisions by the State of Washington and its agencies and 13 employees. Plaintiffs assert a series of statutory and constitutional violations and 14 cite various legislative acts, see ECF No. 2 at 4, many of which do not create a 15 private right of action or otherwise do not apply. 3 16 17 3 18 2 at 5, but this appears to reference California, not Washington, law. Plaintiffs also 19 cite (1) the McKinney-Vento Act, (2) No Child Left Behind Act, (3) Every Student 20 Succeeds Act, (4) 42 U.S.C. § 622, State Plans for Child Welfare, and (5) the For example, Plaintiffs cite “the Welfare and Institutions Code[,]” ECF No. ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT ~ 3 1 Plaintiffs request the sum of $50,000 each to Ms. Horst and JMW. ECF No. 2 2 at 25. Plaintiffs otherwise request an “express prohibitory injunction with the 3 defendants to withdraw their Title 13 guardianship petition from the Juvenile 4 division of Benton County Superior Court per Title 28 U.S. Code § 1443 in 5 reference to case numbers 13-7-00150-6 (dependency case) and 17-7-00070-7 6 (guardianship case).” 4 ECF No. 2 at 4. Plaintiffs explain that “[t]he Juvenile 7 division of Benton County Superior Court is scheduled for a guardianship petition 8 trial in October of 2017. Plaintiffs seek concurrent jurisdiction with the family law 9 division of Benton County Superior Court so that the dependency in juvenile court 10 may be dismissed.”5 ECF No. 2 at 4; see also ECF No. 2 at 25. 11 12 13 Adoption Safe Families Act—all of which set conditions for States receiving 14 federal money rather than create private rights of action. 15 4 16 state court under certain limited circumstances. This is a right of removal for a 17 defendant; it does not give Plaintiff access to federal courts nor does it create a 18 cause of action. 19 5 20 discussed more below. 28 U.S.C. § 1443 merely allows the defendant to remove a suit brought in The Court does not have concurrent jurisdiction over family matters, as ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT ~ 4 1 DISCUSSION 2 Plaintiffs’ Complaint (ECF No. 2) centers on a dispute involving the 3 decision of the State of Washington as it pertains to the domestic relationship of 4 Plaintiffs. As discussed below in more detail, the Court may not grant the relief 5 Plaintiffs seek either in the form of monetary damages or injunctive relief. 6 Accordingly, the case must be dismissed. 7 8 9 A. Monetary damages Per the Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution, federal courts may not issue an award of monetary damages against a State, its agencies, 10 or its employees, absent a waiver by the State. Puerto Rico Aqueduct & Sewer 11 Auth. v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 144 (1993) (“Absent waiver, neither a 12 State nor agencies acting under its control may ‘be subject to suit in federal 13 court.’”) (quoting Welch v. Texas Dept. of Highways and Public Transportation, 14 483 U.S. 468, 480 (1987)). “Washington state courts have held that the State of 15 Washington has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity for purposes of 16 actions under § 1983.” Safouane v. Fleck, 226 F. App’x at 760 (9th Cir. 2007) 17 (citing Rains v. State, 100 Wash.2d 660 (1983)). Accordingly, the Court may not 18 issue an award of damages against the state agency defendants or its employees 19 acting in their official capacity. 20 ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT ~ 5 1 Plaintiffs list several employees of the State of Washington as defendants “in 2 both their official and individual capacities . . . .” ECF No. 2 at 1. However, 3 Plaintiffs have not alleged anything demonstrating any of the listed defendants did 4 anything actionable in their individual capacities. Moreover, to the extent there is 5 any basis for a suit against the named defendants individually, none of the federal 6 causes Plaintiffs cite apply to private actors and any other remaining claims may 7 only be brought in a federal court if diversity jurisdiction exists. However 8 diversity jurisdiction does not exist since the parties all appear to be residents of 9 Washington. 10 11 12 Accordingly, the Court cannot entertain Plaintiff’s suit for monetary damages. B. Injunctive Relief 13 The injunctive relief Plaintiffs seek is also beyond the reach of this Court. 14 Any request to review past decisions involving the merits of a domestic relation 15 decision of the State must be denied. See Safouane v. Fleck, 226 F. App’x at 758 16 (“Under the Rooker–Feldman doctrine, federal courts lack jurisdiction to 17 determine whether the proceedings regarding parental rights with respect to [their] 18 children were valid, because those proceedings were concluded before the filing of 19 this action.”); see also Exxon–Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Ind. Corp., 544 U.S. 20 280, 284 (2005) (Rooker–Feldman doctrine precludes review where Plaintiffs are ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT ~ 6 1 “state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments 2 rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district 3 court review and rejection of those judgments.”). 4 The Court must abstain from otherwise intervening in ongoing state 5 domestic relation cases, as “it has been the policy of federal courts to avoid 6 assumption of jurisdiction in this species of litigation.” Magaziner v. Montemuro, 7 468 F.2d 782, 787 (3d Cir. 1972). As the Supreme Court has stated, “[t]he whole 8 subject of the domestic relations of husband and wife, parent and child, belongs to 9 the laws of the states and not to the laws of the United States.” In re Burrus, 136 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 U.S. 586, 593-594 (1890). The Ninth Circuit has addressed the very issue presented before the Court in the case of H.C. ex rel. Gordon v. Koppel, which in relevant part states: The Supreme Court in Younger “espouse[d] a strong federal policy against federal-court interference with pending state judicial proceedings.” Middlesex County Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass’n., 457 U.S. 423, 431 (1982). “Absent extraordinary circumstances, Younger abstention is required if the state proceedings are (1) ongoing, (2) implicate important state interests, and (3) provide the plaintiff an adequate opportunity to litigate federal claims.” San Remo Hotel, 145 F.3d 1095, 1103 (9th Cir. 1998); see also Woodfeathers, Inc. v. Washington County, Oregon, 180 F.3d 1017, 1020 (9th Cir. 1999). When the case is one in which the Younger doctrine applies, the case must be dismissed. See Delta Dental Plan of Cal., Inc. v. Mendoza, 139 F.3d 1289, 1294 (9th Cir. 1998). The requirement that state proceedings be ongoing is satisfied. Indeed, the plaintiffs’ claim is predicated on that fact, because it seeks an order requiring procedural due process to be observed in the future course of the litigation. Important state interests also are implicated. “Family relations are a traditional area of state concern.” Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S. 415, 435 ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT ~ 7 1 (1979); see also Morrow v. Winslow, 94 F.3d 1386, 1397 (10th Cir. 1996). In addition, a state has a vital interest in protecting “the authority of the judicial system, so that its orders and judgments are not rendered nugatory.” Juidice v. Vail, 430 U.S. 327, 336 n.12 (1977). This is a particularly appropriate admonition in the field of domestic relations, over which federal courts have no general jurisdiction, see Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 697–701 (1992), and in which the state courts have a special expertise and experience. See Hisquierdo v. Hisquierdo, 439 U.S. 572, 581 (1979). The plaintiffs have an adequate state forum in which to pursue their federal claims. In fact, they have already raised some of the same due process issues in the California appellate courts. Plaintiffs may appeal through those courts after final judgment. This is precisely the type of case suited to Younger abstention. See Mann v. Conlin, 22 F.3d 100, 106 (6th Cir.1994) (holding that Younger abstention was appropriate in § 1983 action alleging that a state court judge violated plaintiff's due process rights in custody battle). Plaintiffs desire wholesale federal intervention into an ongoing state domestic dispute. They seek vacation of existing interlocutory orders, and a federal injunction directing the future course of the state litigation. This is not the proper business of the federal judiciary. 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 H.C. ex rel. Gordon v. Koppel, 203 F.3d 610, 612–14 (9th Cir. 2000) (citations 13 altered; internal brackets in original). As in Koppell, Plaintiffs request “wholesale federal intervention into an 14 15 ongoing state domestic dispute,” important state interests regarding familial 16 relations are implicated, and state court can provide Plaintiffs an adequate 17 opportunity to litigate the claims brought before the Court. Accordingly, the Court 18 may not entertain Plaintiffs request for an injunction. 19 // 20 // ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT ~ 8 1 2 C. Revocation of In Forma Pauperis Status Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3), “[a]n appeal may not be taken in forma 3 pauperis if the trial court certifies in writing that it is not taken in good faith.” The 4 good faith standard is an objective one, and good faith is demonstrated when an 5 individual “seeks appellate review of any issue not frivolous.” See Coppedge v. 6 United States, 369 U.S. 438, 445 (1962). For purposes of 28 U.S.C. § 1915, an 7 appeal is frivolous if it lacks any arguable basis in law or fact. Neitzke v. Williams, 8 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). 9 The Court finds that any appeal of this Order would not be taken in good 10 faith and would lack any arguable basis in law or fact. Accordingly, the Court 11 hereby revokes Plaintiffs’ in forma pauperis status. If Plaintiffs pursue an appeal, 12 they must pay the requisite filing fee. 13 14 CONCLUSION Unless it is absolutely clear that amendment would be futile, a pro se litigant 15 must be given the opportunity to amend the complaint to correct any deficiencies. 16 Noll v. Carlson, 809 F.2d 1446, 1448 (9th Cir. 1987), superseded by statute on 17 other grounds, 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), as stated in Aktar v. Mesa, 698 F.3d 1202, 18 1212 (9th Cir. 2012). The Court finds that amendment would be futile, as the 19 subject matter is beyond this Court’s jurisdiction and the parties are otherwise 20 immune from suit. ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT ~ 9 1 ACCORDINGLY, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED: 2 1. Plaintiffs’ Complaint is DISMISSED without leave to amend. 3 2. Plaintiffs’ Motion to Appoint Counsel (ECF No. 7) is DENIED AS 4 MOOT. 5 3. The Court certifies pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3) that any appeal of 6 this Order would not be taken in good faith and would lack any arguable 7 basis in law or fact. Plaintiffs’ in forma pauperis status is hereby 8 REVOKED. 9 10 11 The District Court Executive is directed to enter this Order and Judgment accordingly, furnish copies to Plaintiffs, and close the file. DATED November 9, 2017. 12 13 THOMAS O. RICE Chief United States District Judge 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT ~ 10

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