United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
TINIKA S. WARREN, Plaintiff.
SUSAN E. BRAY, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND RECOMMENDATION OF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
JOE L. WEBSTER, Magistrate Judge.
This matter is before the court on a motion to dismiss by Defendant Susan E. Bray ("Judge Bray") ( See Docket Entry 9.) Pro se Plaintiff Tinika Warren has responded to the motion. ( See Docket Entry 12.) For the reasons that follow, the undersigned will recommend that Defendant's motion be granted, and that this action should be dismissed against Judge Bray for insufficient service of process, lack of personal jurisdiction, lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the Eleventh Amendment, absolute judicial immunity, and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
On December 23, 2013, Plaintiff filed her complaint in this court against Judge Bray alleging violations of her civil rights pursuant to various federal statutes, seeking damages in the amount of $2, 000, 000 and asking for Judge Bray's "judicial license" to be suspended. ( See Docket Entry 1.) Defendant is the Honorable Susan E. Bray, District Court Judge, Eighteenth Judicial District, State of North Carolina. ( See Docket Entry 9). On January 8, 2014, Plaintiff caused a summons to be issued to Judge Bray directing process to be served at Judge Bray's office in the Guilford County Courthouse located at 201 S. Eugene Street, Greensboro, N.C. 27401. ( See Docket Entry 5.) On January 23, 2014, a United States Marshal served process on Judge Bray by delivering a copy of the summons and complaint to her personally at her office at the Guilford County Courthouse. ( See Docket Entry 7.)
II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND
According to the complaint and attachments thereto, this action arises from state district court proceedings involving Plaintiff, specifically child support and custody proceedings, and a domestic violence protective order proceeding, or "50B" proceeding, over which Judge Bray was the presiding district court judge. ( See Docket Entry 2 and 3.) Plaintiff makes the following allegations against Judge Bray arising out of these state court proceedings: 1) violation of Plaintiff's parental rights without cause and jurisdiction; 2) alienation; 3) violation of her rights to due process; 4) judicial misconduct; and 5) defamation, or libel per se. ( See Docket Entry 2.)
Although Plaintiff has named Letitia McGeough and Gary R. Scales as Defendants, only summonses have been issued as to them, and thus they have not been served and for the purposes of this motion to dismiss, they are not relevant parties. ( See Docket Entry 16.)
A. Applicable Law
Defendants argue that dismissal is appropriate pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), (2), (5), and (6) as well as the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the Eleventh Amendment, and absolute judicial immunity. A motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) tests on lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, Rule 12(b)(2) tests on lack of personal jurisdiction, Rule 12(b)(5) tests on insufficient service of process, and Rule 12(b)(6) tests on failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (1999).
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies where a federal litigant seeks to review or overturn a state court order in federal district court. Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 281 (2005). In order to grant relief to Plaintiff, this Court would have to find that the state courts were in error in rendering their orders. "Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, lower federal courts generally do not have jurisdiction to review state-court decisions; rather, jurisdiction to review such decisions lies exclusively with superior state courts and, ultimately, the United States Supreme Court." Plyler v. Moore, 129 F.3d 728, 731 (4th Cir. 1997). The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents a federal court from determining that a state court judgment was erroneously entered or taking action that would render a state court judgment ineffectual. Jordahl v. Democratic Party of Va., 122 F.3d 192, 202-03 (4th Cir. 1997).
Rooker-Feldman "bars lower federal courts from considering not only issues raised and decided in the state courts, but also issues that are inextricably intertwined' with the issues that were before the state court." Washington v. Wilmore, 407 F.3d 274, 279 (4th Cir. 2005). An issue is "inextricably intertwined" with those before the state court if "success on the federal claim depends upon a determination that the state court wrongly decided the issues before it." Plyler, 129 F.3d at 731 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Davani v. Va. Dep't. of Tramp., 434 F.3d 712, 719 (4th Cir. 2006) ("A claim seeking redress for an injury caused by the state-court decision itself - even if the basis of the claim was not asserted to the state court - asks the federal district court to conduct an appellate review of the state-court decision.")
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is a "narrow doctrine." Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 464 (2006) (per curiam). In Exxon, the Supreme Court limited the doctrine "to cases of the kind from which the doctrine acquired its name: 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). The Court reiterated this holding in Skinner v. Swizer, 131 S.Ct. 1289, 1297 (2011). The relief sought in federal court must do more than upset the state court order; it must "reverse or modify the state court decree" for the doctrine to apply. Adkins v. Rumsfeld, 464 F.3d 456, 464 (4th Cir. 2006) (quoting Exxon, 544 U.S. at 284). Accordingly, " Exxon requires us to examine whether the state-court loser who files suit in federal ...