United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Houston Division
CHERRIE M. BAZILE, Plaintiff,
ROY L. MOORE, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
F. ATLAS JUDGE
Cherrie M. Bazile filed this case on April 3, 2017, seeking
to regain custody of one of her children. Complaint [Doc. #
1]. Plaintiff proceeds pro se and in forma
pauperis. See Order [Doc. # 7]. The time for
service of process has not yet expired. The docket does not
yet reflect service of process by Plaintiff on any Defendant
and no Defendant has appeared. Preliminary review of the
Complaint reveals that the Court has no authority to rule on
Plaintiff's claims and the case must be dismissed.
BASIS FOR REVIEW
Court screens this case sua sponte to determine
whether the Court may exercise subject matter jurisdiction.
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B). 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 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”).
Complaint refers to, and attaches some documentation from,
family law proceedings in the 245th Family Court of Harris
County. Her Complaint names five Defendants: (1)
Judge Roy L. Moore, 245th Family Court of Harris County; (2)
Judge James Cooper, 245th Family Court of Harris County; (3)
Eraka Watson, an attorney who previously represented
Plaintiff in the custody dispute about which Plaintiff
currently complains; (4) Rebecca Rowland, an attorney who
represented the father of Plaintiff's child in the same
custody dispute; and (5) Julio Rodriguez, also known as Juan
Salgedo, the father of Plaintiff's child and the
plaintiff in the custody dispute.
alleges in her Complaint that her child, who is two years
old, “has been signed over to an illegal citizen”
and that despite her notifications to Defendants, she has
been “ignored by everyone.” Complaint, at 8. She
claims that Judge Moore told her she would go to jail if she
“went looking” for the child. She alleges that,
when she did not receive a court summons, Judge Cooper called
her and told her that he would send officers to take her to
jail if she did not appear in court within two hours. She
maintains that Rowland, an attorney for the child's
father, told her that if she did not transfer the child to
his father, the police would take Plaintiff to jail for
kidnapping. She further alleges that Watson, her attorney,
did not appear for court and took Plaintiff's money but
never did any work on Plaintiff's case. Id. at
8-9. Her Complaint states, “I am not looking for money
. . . I just want my son back.” Id. at 10.
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.'”
Settlement Funding, L.L.C. v. Rapid Settlements,
Ltd., 851 F.3d 530, 537 (5th Cir. 2017) (quoting
Howery v. Allstate Ins. Co., 243 F.3d 912, 916 (5th
Cir. 2001)). This Court “‘must presume that a
suit lies outside this limited jurisdiction, and the burden
of establishing federal jurisdiction rests on the party
seeking the federal forum.'” Id. (quoting
Howery, 243 F.3d at 916). There are two types of
federal jurisdiction: diversity jurisdiction and federal
jurisdiction exists when the amount in controversy exceeds
$75, 000.00, exclusive of interest and costs, and there is
complete diversity of citizenship between the parties. 28
U.S.C. § 1332; see Vantage Drilling Co. v. Hsin-Chi
Su, 741 F.3d 535, 537 (5th Cir. 2014). The statutory
requirement for “complete diversity” of
citizenship means that a “federal court cannot exercise
diversity jurisdiction if one of the plaintiffs shares the
same state citizenship as any one of the defendants.”
Stiftung v. Plains Marketing, L.P., 603 F.3d. 295,
297 (5th Cir. 2010) (citing Whalen v. Carter, 954
F.2d 1087, 1094 (5th Cir. 1992)). Plaintiff's Complaint
does not establish diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1332(a). Plaintiff provides Texas addresses for
herself and all Defendants, and her allegations suggest that
both she and each Defendant are Texas
residents. Moreover, Plaintiff does not claim an
amount in controversy more than $75, 000. Plaintiff's
Complaint does not adequately allege a basis for diversity
jurisdiction. See Howery, 243 F.3d at 919
(“Failure adequately to allege the basis for diversity
jurisdiction mandates dismissal.”).
addition, Plaintiff has not demonstrated that the Court has
“federal question” jurisdiction over her claims.
Plaintiff does not assert any claims arising under the United
States Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.
See 28 U.S.C. § 1331; Settlement
Funding, 851 F.3d at 535 (“”Under the
well-pleaded complaint rule, a federal court does not have
federal question jurisdiction unless a federal question
appears on the face of the plaintiff's well-pleaded
complaint.'” (quoting Elam v. Kan. City S. Ry.
Co., 635 F.3d 796, 803 (5th Cir. 2011)).
construing Plaintiff's Complaint liberally to assert that
her federal civil rights were violated by the custody
proceedings, Plaintiff may not challenge the Family Court
rulings and judgment in this Court. The Supreme Court has
long held that state courts must resolve constitutional
questions that arise during their proceedings. Dist. of
Columbia Ct. of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983);
Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923).
If the state trial court errs in deciding the constitutional
issues, the judgment is not void, but the appropriate state
appellate court must correct it. Rooker, 263 U.S. at
416. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine thus deprives
federal courts of 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, 284 (2005).
Unsuccessful state court 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.'” Turner v. Cade,
354 F. App'x 108, 111 (5th Cir. 2009) (quoting Hale
v. Harney, 786 F.2d 688, 690-91 (5th Cir. 1986)).
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) (under Texas
law, attorney immunity is an immunity from suit, and not a
defense to liability). 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 their testimony”).
the foregoing reasons, the Court holds that it lacks subject
matter jurisdiction under the doctrine of
Rooker-Feldman and its progeny, as well as binding