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Austin v. Stavros

United States District Court, D. Maine

June 25, 2018

CHRISTOPHER AUSTIN, Plaintiff
v.
JUDGE MARILYN STAVROS, et al., Defendants

          RECOMMENDED DECISION AFTER SCREENING COMPLAINT PURSUANT TO 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(E)

          JOHN C. NIVISON U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Plaintiff filed a complaint in which he seeks relief from a judgment entered in the state court. (Complaint at 4, ECF No. 1.) Defendants consist of two state court judges and an enforcement officer with a state agency.

         Plaintiff filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis (ECF No. 3), which the Court granted. (ECF No. 5.) In accordance with the in forma pauperis statute, a preliminary review of Plaintiff's complaint is appropriate. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

         Following a review of Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), I recommend the Court dismiss the matter.

         Discussion

         The federal in forma pauperis statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1915, is designed to ensure meaningful access to the federal courts for those persons unable to pay the costs of bringing an action. When a party is proceeding in forma pauperis, however, “the court shall dismiss the case at any time if the court determines, ” that the action is “frivolous or malicious” or “fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted” or “seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief.” 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). “Dismissals [under § 1915] are often made sua sponte prior to the issuance of process, so as to spare prospective defendants the inconvenience and expense of answering such complaints.” Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 324 (1989).

         When considering whether a complaint states a claim for which relief may be granted, courts must assume the truth of all well-plead facts and give the plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences therefrom. Ocasio-Hernandez v. Fortuno-Burset, 640 F.3d 1, 12 (1st Cir. 2011). A complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted if it does not plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007).

         Although a pro se plaintiff's complaint is subject to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, ” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972), this is “not to say that pro se plaintiffs are not required to plead basic facts sufficient to state a claim, ” Ferranti v. Moran, 618 F.2d 888, 890 (1st Cir. 1980). To allege a civil action in federal court, it is not enough for a plaintiff merely to allege that a defendant acted unlawfully; a plaintiff must affirmatively allege facts that identify the manner by which the defendant subjected the plaintiff to a harm for which the law affords a remedy. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009).

         In this case, Plaintiff alleges that in a state court proceeding, Defendant Stavros improperly entered a child support judgment against him, Defendant McLeod, an agent with the Department of Health and Human Services Department, threatened to revoke his driver's license, evidently as the result of the state court proceedings and the judgment, and Defendant Gorman prevented him from obtaining a writ of habeas corpus in connection with the judgment. (Complaint at 4.)

         “‘Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction,' possessing ‘only that power authorized by Constitution and statute.'” Gunn v. Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 256 (2013) (quoting Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994)). “It is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction.” Kokkonen, 511 U.S. at 377 (citation omitted). “A court is duty-bound to notice, and act upon, defects in its subject matter jurisdiction sua sponte.” Spooner v. EEN, Inc., 644 F.3d 62, 67 (1st Cir. 2011).

         “The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents the lower federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over cases brought by ‘state-court losers' challenging ‘state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced.'” Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 460 (2006) (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005)); Walczak v. Mass. State Retirement Bd., 141 F.3d 1150 (1st Cir. 1998) (unpublished) (citing District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 476 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415-16 (1923)). Here, through his request for the Court to “dismiss [the] void judgment” entered in the state court (Complaint at 4), Plaintiff clearly challenges the validity of decisions of the state court and the consequences of the decisions. To grant Plaintiff the relief he seeks, the Court would have to vacate or invalidate a state court judgment. Plaintiff is precluded by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine from pursuing such relief in this Court.

         Conclusion

         Based on the foregoing analysis, following a review pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), I recommend the ...


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