April 5, 2016
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. l:14-cv-07459 -
John J. Tharp, Jr., Judge.
Wood, Chief Judge, and Bauer and Williams, Circuit Judges.
WILLIAMS, CIRCUIT JUDGE.
Jean Sykes went to her mother's probate proceeding to
present a motion and brought her service dog, Shaggy. Instead
of letting her present her motion, the judge asked her a
series of questions about Shaggy, struck her motion, and
entered an order barring Shaggy from the courtroom. Gloria
argues that she should be able to bring a lawsuit in federal
court for denial of reasonable accommodations under the
Americans with Disabilities Act. But because the source of
her injury is a state court judgment, we lack subject matter
jurisdiction to hear her case.
Gloria's First Federal Lawsuit
case originates in an earlier guardianship dispute between
two sisters over their mother, Mary G. Sykes. Gloria Jean
Sykes is Mary's younger daughter. Carolyn Toerpe, her
older daughter, was granted guardianship of Mary in 2009.
After losing the state guardianship battle, Gloria filed a
lawsuit in 2011 in federal court, alleging that Toerpe, the
Cook County Guardian, two participating guardians ad litem,
the Cook County Circuit Court, then-Governor Quinn, and the
state of Illinois were violating the ADA by refusing
reasonable accommodations to her mother. Gloria alleged among
other things that the state defendants were depriving her
mother of the right to be present at court proceedings and to
receive reasonable accommodations in the form of support and
consultation with family members. The district court
dismissed the lawsuit, finding that if Gloria obtained the
relief she sought, it would be forced to overturn the state
court decision granting guardianship to Toerpe, in violation
of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. It also relied on
long-established precedent that federal courts may not
intervene in state probate proceedings. We affirmed the
dismissal of that lawsuit. M.G.S. ex rel. Sykes v.
Toerpe, No. 12-3373, Dkt. 19 (7th Cir. Jan. 9, 2013)
State Probate Proceeding
losing her federal appeal, Gloria returned to state court,
pursuing her federal claims in a "Motion for Reasonable
Accommodations, " seeking relief both for herself and
her mother in the probate proceeding. On the day the motion
was scheduled for hearing, Gloria went to the Daley Center
with her service dog, Shaggy, whom she uses for assistance
with her post-traumatic stress disorder. She entered the
building without a problem and then went up to the courtroom
of Judge Aicha MacCarthy who was presiding over Mary's
probate case. Gloria alleges that Judge MacCarthy called the
case, and then "immediately, angrily, and
indifferently" interrogated Gloria about her need for
Shaggy. She also states that the interrogation lasted for
several minutes, and at its end, MacCarthy "expelled
Gloria and her dog from the courtroom-banned forever."
While it's unclear what caused Gloria to think the ban
was in perpetuity, the probate record reflects that Judge
MacCarthy entered an order striking Gloria's motion
without prejudice and prohibiting Gloria from returning with
Shaggy without leave of the court.
The Current Lawsuit
returned to federal court with a new complaint that recycled
many of her old claims, but added one that is the focus of
today's decision: she alleged that by banning Shaggy from
her courtroom, various state defendants violated Gloria's
rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The
district court again dismissed all claims that Gloria
asserted on behalf of her mother for largely the same reasons
as the first lawsuit. It then turned specifically to
Gloria's claim regarding Shaggy and concluded that it
lacked subject matter jurisdiction to determine if
Gloria's ADA rights were violated because she was denied
use of a service animal during court proceedings. First, it
held that because Gloria's claim against the state
defendants was inextricably intertwined with the state court
order banning Shaggy and striking Gloria's reasonable
accommodation motion, as a federal court, it was barred from
hearing the claim under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
Rooker v. Fidelity Tr. Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923);
B.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462
(1983). Second, it held that it was barred from hearing the
claim because it arose out of a state probate proceeding. And
finally, it held that it should exercise Younger
abstention because the proceeding was ongoing and because
Gloria had an adequate opportunity to raise her federal
claims about Shaggy in state court. See Younger v.
Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971).
appeal, Gloria only challenges the district court's
dismissal of her ADA claim pertaining to the use of Shaggy in
Judge MacCarthy's courtroom. We review a district
court's dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction
de novo, accept as true all facts in the complaint and draw
all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor.
G&S Holdings, LLC v. Cont'l Cas. Co., 697
F.3d 534, 539 (7th Cir. 2012). We may affirm a dismissal for
lack of jurisdiction on any ground that the record supports.
Sladek v. Bell Mgmt. Pension Plan, 880 F.2d 972, 979
(7th Cir. 1989).
ADA Accommodations ...