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Charles-Whitfield v. Texas Dept. of Family & Protective Services

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

May 15, 2019

Brandy Brenay Charles-Whitfield Petitioner,
Texas Dept. of Family & Protective Services, ET AL., Respondents.


          Gray H. Miller Senior United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is a pro se pleading filed by Brandy Brenay Charles-Whitfield. (Docket Entry No. 1.) The 101-page pleading contains various narratives, arguments, and photocopies of court decisions and other materials. The Court has screened the pleading and finds that Charles-Whitfield seeks habeas relief under section 2241 and civil relief under section 1983.

         Having reviewed the pleading, matters of public record, and the applicable law, the Court DISMISSES this lawsuit for the reasons that follow.

         Claims Under Section 1983

         Charles-Whitfield complains that state courts and state agencies failed to follow state law, unlawfully “kidnapped” her minor son, K.L.W., from her home, made false allegations of abuse and neglect, appointed counsel without allowing her to choose her own (free) counsel, and generally erred in terminating her parental rights to K.L.W.

         Charles-Whitfield's alleged constitutional claims under section 1983 stem from the removal of her child and termination of her parental rights. However, her primary complaint appears to be that the state trial court failed to pronounce a final order of termination in open court at trial. A final, written decree of termination was entered by the state trial court and was upheld by the intermediate state court of appeals:

This is an appeal from the trial court's final decree for termination in a suit brought by the Department of Family and Protective Services (“DFPS”) to terminate the parent-child relationship between appellants and K.L.W. (“the child”). In its decree, the trial court terminated both parents' parental rights, and appointed DFPS as sole managing conservator of the child. Both the father, R.D.W., and the mother, B.B.C., filed notices of appeal, and the trial court appointed separate counsel on their behalves to prosecute this appeal. Both the father and the mother's court-appointed appellate counsel have moved to withdraw and filed separate Anders briefs, stating that, in their professional opinions, this appeal is without merit and that there are no arguable grounds for reversal.

         Accordingly, we affirm the trial court's termination decree.

         In the Interest of K.L.W., a Child, No. 01-18-00485-CV, *1-3 (Tex. App. - Houston [1st Dist.] Dec. 5, 2018, pet. ref'd). The Texas Supreme Court subsequently refused discretionary review.

         It is clear that Charles-Whitfield is attempting to set aside the final decree of termination by casting her procedural and substantive challenges to the state courts and agencies' actions as section 1983 claims. This misuse of the federal district courts is prohibited under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which bars a federal court from entertaining collateral attacks on state court judgments. Under this doctrine, “lower federal courts are precluded from exercising appellate jurisdiction over final state-court judgments.” Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 463 (2006) (per curiam). If the federal district court “is confronted with issues that are ‘inextricably intertwined' with a state judgment, the court is in essence being called upon to review the state-court decision, and the originality of the district court's jurisdiction precludes such a review.” United States v. Shepherd, 23 F.3d 923, 924 (5th Cir. 1994) (internal quotations omitted).

         Charles-Whitfield's arguments that various state courts, agencies and employees failed to follow Texas law and acted with false grounds to keep her child render her section 1983 claims “inextricably intertwined” with the state court judgment. Resolving these claims would require this Court to review the merits of the state court's termination proceedings, which the Court may not do. See District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 486 n.16 (1983).

         Charles-Whitfield's section 1983 claims are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE as barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

         Habeas Claims

         Charles-Whitfield additionally claims entitlement to habeas relief under section 2241, and she paid the $5.00 habeas filing fee. Where both habeas and section 1983 claims are brought in the same lawsuit, the district court is required to separate the claims and decide the section 1983 claims. Patton v. Jefferson Corr. Ctr., 136 F.3d 458, ...

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