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Falkenhorst v. Ford

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division

April 11, 2017

Rainer Von Falkenhorst III, Plaintiff,
George D. Ford, et al., Defendants.


          Gray H. Miller United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff, a state inmate proceeding pro se, filed this section 1983 lawsuit against numerous state district judges, state and local government agencies and officials, and municipal and county judges for claims arising from a final state court decree terminating his parental rights.

         Because plaintiff is incarcerated, the Court is required to scrutinize the pleadings and dismiss the complaint in whole or in part if it is frivolous, malicious, fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary damages from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A. Having reviewed plaintiffs complaint pursuant to section 1915A, the Court DISMISSES this lawsuit for the reasons that follow.

         Background and Claims

         Plaintiff is a state inmate currently imprisoned for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and assault on a family member causing bodily injury. The claims in this lawsuit arise from a 2006 Harris County family law court trial and final decree terminating plaintiff s parental rights to his son in In re Vonfalkenhorst, Cause No. 2005-06844J, 313th Judicial District Court of Harris County, Texas. He names as defendants Harris County Child Protective Services and its director, George D. Ford, former Judge Patrick Shelton, former Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, Judge Jean Spaulding Hughes [sic], Justice of the Peace Steve L. Seider, Judge Ed Emmett, Judge David Farr, Judge Eileen Gaffney, Judge Glen Delvin [sic], and Judge Stephen Newhouse.

         Among his numerous claims are complaints that he was incarcerated at the time of trial, was denied appointed counsel under state law, was not allowed to present his own evidence and testimony, and that other witnesses presented false testimony. He further complains that the various judges and government agencies violated his state law rights and that judicial and state agencies refused to take action in his defense. He argues that his constitutional rights to a jury trial, due process and a fair trial, counsel, and access to court were violated, and that the defendants committed federal kidnaping and conspiracy, organized crimes, "stole" his son, and executed a "constitutional death penalty sentence."

         As judicial relief, plaintiff states "I want a jury trial - not a trial by judge. I want a fair and impartial trial on merits of case. I want full custody of my child/son, visitation now & case over turned cause of court error by said former judge and this case retried. I want a lawyer - then damages for court error, etc. Loss of love/cortium [sic]. I want my rights & my son." (Docket Entry No. 1, p. 4.)

         The state court trial took place in 2006 and the termination decree was entered that same year. Plaintiff does not state that he pursued any appeals through the state courts, and offers no explanation for his eleven-year delay in filing this lawsuit.


         Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

         It is clear that all of plaintiff s claims arise from or are related to the final decree of termination entered by the state court in 2006. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is a common law doctrine that bars federal district courts from asserting subject matter jurisdiction in "cases brought by state court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments." Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 281 (2005); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923). In other words, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars federal district courts from collaterally attacking or interfering with state court judgments and proceedings. Saudi Basic, 544 U.S. at 284; Price v. Porter, 251 F.App'x, 925, 926 (5th Cir. 2009).

         A state court judgment is considered attacked for purposes of Rooker-Feldman when the losing party in a state court action seeks what in substance would be appellate review of a state judgment. Weaver v. Tex. Capital Bank N. A., 660 F.3d 900, 904 (5th Cir. 2011). The governing issue is whether the claims are inextricably intertwined with the state court judgment and thereby barred by Rooker-Feldman or whether there is an independent claim where the injury does not arise from the state court judgment. Turner v. Cade, 354 F.App'x 108, 110-11 (5th Cir. 2009). The Fifth Circuit has made clear "that litigants may not obtain review of state court actions by filing complaints about those actions in lower federal courts cast in the form of civil rights suits." Hale v. Harney, 786 F.2d 688, 690-91 (5th Cir. 1986).

         Plaintiff here seeks redress from a final, unfavorable state court decree terminating his parental rights. Plaintiff himself states that his goal in this federal lawsuit is to obtain reversal of the state court decree and have immediate visitation rights with his son pending retrial. It would not be possible for this Court to review plaintiffs requested relief without reviewing the merits of the state court termination decree. See Weaver, 660 F.3d at 904.

         As such, plaintiffs claims are inextricably intertwined with the state court's final decree of 2006. Because this Court's review of plaintiff s claims is barred by Rooker-Feldman, this lawsuit must be dismissed for want of subject matter jurisdiction. Plaintiffs recourse is through the state court system then, if necessary, by application for writ of certiorari to ...

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