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Sykes v. Cook County Circuit Court Probate Division

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

September 14, 2016

Gloria Jean Sykes, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Cook County Circuit Court Probate Division, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued April 5, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. l:14-cv-07459 - John J. Tharp, Jr., Judge.

          Before Wood, Chief Judge, and Bauer and Williams, Circuit Judges.


         Gloria 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.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Gloria's First Federal Lawsuit

         This 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 Sykes v. Toerpe, No. 12-3373, Dkt. 19 (7th Cir. Jan. 9, 2013) (unpublished order).

         B. State Probate Proceeding

         After 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.

         C. The Current Lawsuit

         Gloria 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).

         II. ANALYSIS

         On 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).

         A. ADA Accommodations ...

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