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Bibbs v. Harris

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

December 17, 2013

JACKIE LEE BIBBS, (TDCJ No. 1650103)
v.
BILL HARRIS, 233rd District Court, Tarrant County, Texas, et al.

OPINION and ORDER OF DISMISSAL UNDER 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(B)(1) and UNDER 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(i)

REED C. O'CONNOR, District Judge.

This case is before the Court for review of pro-se inmate and plaintiff Jackie Lee Bibbs's case under the screening provisions of 28 U.S.C. §§ 1915A and 1915(e)(2)(B). Bibbs has named several individual defendants and asserts challenges to a child-custody proceeding in Texas state court. (Compl.§ V; attachment page.) Bibbs has named Bill Harris, judge, 233rd District Court, Tarrant County, Texas; Melissa R. Paschall, assistant district attorney, Tarrant County, Texas; as well as three private attorneys, Ami J. Decker, Michael Tressider, and M. Breanne Finley. (Compl.§ IV(B).) Bibbs complains that the state court entered a default judgment terminating his parent-child relationship, and that the defendants conspired through an abuse of process to deprive him of the custody of his child. (Compl. § V.) Bibbs seeks to have this Court "remand this cause back to state court for remedy." (Compl. § VI.)

A complaint filed in forma pauperis that lacks an arguable basis in law should be dismissed under 28 U.S.C. § 1915.[1] Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), a district court retains broad discretion in determining at any time whether an in-forma-pauperis claim should be dismissed.[2] Furthermore, as a part of the PLRA, Congress enacted 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which requires the Court to review a complaint from a prisoner seeking relief from a governmental entity or governmental officer or employee as soon as possible after docketing.[3] Consistent with § 1915A is prior case law recognizing that a district court is not required to await a responsive pleading to conduct its § 1915 inquiry.[4] Rather, § 1915 gives judges the power to "dismiss a claim based on an indisputably meritless legal theory."[5] After review of the complaint under these standards, the Court concludes that Bibbs's claims must be dismissed.

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine provides that "federal district courts, as courts of original jurisdiction, lack appellate jurisdiction to review, modify, or nullify final orders of state courts.'"[6] The doctrine derives its name from two Supreme Court cases decided sixty years apart. The first, Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415-16 (1923) held that, by statute, jurisdiction over appeals from state court lies exclusively in the Supreme Court and is beyond the original jurisdiction of federal district courts. The second, District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 486-87 (1983), held that this jurisdictional bar extends to particular claims "inextricably intertwined" with those a state court has already decided. The essence of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is that a "party losing 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 losing party's claim that the state judgment itself violates the loser's federal rights."[7]

In this case, Bibbs seeks this Court's review of the termination of his parent-child relationship in state family district court, and he seeks to remand this matter (assumably with a ruling in his favor) to state court. This is an effort to seek federal review and a modification of a state court's ruling. Because this federal-court action is "inextricably intertwined" with the state-court ruling, this Court, under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, does not have subject-matter jurisdiction to consider the case.[8]

To the extent Bibbs is challenging adverse rulings in a state court domestic relations proceeding, a related doctrine also precludes his claims for relief under § 1983. Under the "domestic relations exception" to federal court jurisdiction, federal courts have no jurisdiction over domestic relations matters. The Supreme Court long ago recognized that "the whole subject of the domestic relations of husband and wife, parent and child, belongs to the laws of the States and not to the laws of the United States."[9] More recently, the Supreme Court explained in Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689 (1992), that the "domestic relations exception" to federal jurisdiction "divests the federal courts of power to issue divorce, alimony, and child custody decrees."[10] In resolving whether this exception to jurisdiction applies, the "crucial factor is the type of determination that the federal court must make in order to resolve the case, rather than the formal label attached to the claim."[11] "If the federal court must determine which parent should receive custody, what rights the non-custodial parent should have, how much child support should be paid and under what conditions, or whether a previous court's determination on these matters should be modified, then the court should dismiss the case."[12] Bibbs seeks to have this Court review and modify the previous state court's judgment as to the resolution of child custody. Thus, this court has no jurisdiction over these matters and Bibbs's claims must be dismissed.

Therefore, all Plaintiff's claims are DISMISSED for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under authority of 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)(1) ...


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