United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, South Bend Division
OPINION AND ORDER
P. SIMON CHIEF JUDGE
Panagopoulos, a pro se plaintiff, has filed a
complaint arising from his divorce proceedings in Michigan
some fifteen years ago and a petition for leave to proceed
in forma pauperis. (DE 1; DE 2.) For the reasons
below, this action must be dismissed, and Panagopoulos's
motion to proceed in forma pauperis must be denied.
complaint provides contradictory and incomplete information
about what happened during and after Panagopoulos's
divorce, but the following is what I can piece together from
his complaint and its exhibits. In 1998, Panagopoulos hired
defendant William LaBre to defend him in divorce proceedings
brought by Panagopoulos's then-wife, Christine. (DE 1 at
5.) The divorce was filed in Michigan, and the judge
overseeing the proceedings was defendant Michael E. Dodge.
(DE 1-1 at 32.) Judge Dodge entered a Decree of Divorce in
December 1999, providing that the net proceeds from the sale
of the marital home would be split equally. (Id. at
early 2001, Judge Dodge found that Panagopoulos had violated
the Judgment of Divorce by failing to make timely mortgage
and tax payments on the marital home. (Id. at 29.)
To avoid making those payments and on the advice of
Panagopoulos's then attorney, defendant LaBre,
Panagopoulos filed a chapter 7 bankruptcy petition. See
In re Panagopoulos, No. 01-03037 (Bankr. W.D. Mich. Mar.
22, 2001); see also DE 1 at 5. During the
bankruptcy, Panagopoulos's ex-wife received a $33, 929.34
payment on a claim against the bankruptcy estate, and
defendant LaBre received $2, 138.68 on a claim for
attorney's fees. (DE 1 at 31.) Panagopoulos also
allegedly paid LaBre $7, 000 prior to the bankruptcy case.
(Id. at 6.)
or 2015, Panagopoulos filed a malpractice claim against LaBre
with Michigan's Attorney Grievance Commission. (DE 1-1 at
7.) The commission found the claim did not warrant review,
which prompted Panagopoulos to file a malpractice case
against LaBre in state court. (See DE 1 at 9.) The
complaint alleges Judge Dodge, who had handled
Panagopoulos's divorce, also heard the malpractice case
and found it to be barred by the statute of limitations.
this complaint the liberal reading I am required to give all
pro se complaints, it attempts to appeal the
Judgment of Divorce entered by Judge Dodge and seeks $33,
929.34 in damages (the amount Panagopoulos's wife
received during the bankruptcy on the basis of the Judgment
of Divorce), plus interest. See generally Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). In addition, the
complaint alleges malpractice against LaBre and seeks damages
from him equaling attorney's fees,
money“lost” through the bankruptcy, costs, and
Panagopoulos has moved to proceed without paying the filing
fees, I would ordinarily analyze his claims under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B) and would dismiss the action if it is
frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on which
relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against a
defendant who is immune from such relief. However,
Panagopoulos's complaint appears to suffer from a more
fundamental problem, which is that I lack subject matter
jurisdiction over the two claims it alleges.
dismiss any complaint that does not state a basis for federal
jurisdiction. In general, district courts have subject matter
jurisdiction over two types of cases: (a) those in which each
plaintiff is diverse in citizenship from each defendant and
the amount in controversy exceeds $75, 000; and (b) those
that present a “federal question, ” which
essentially means alleges a claim that arises under the U.S.
Constitution or federal law. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331,
complaint appears to seek to challenge the Judgment of
Divorce entered by Judge Dodge in 1999. However, federal
district courts have no authority to hear or decide domestic
relations cases, even where there would otherwise be
diversity jurisdiction. Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504
U.S. 689, 702 (1992). Such cases are “the primary
responsibility of the state courts, administering state law,
rather than of the federal courts.” Newman v.
Ind., 129 F.3d 937, 939 (7th Cir. 1997) (citations
omitted). If Panagopoulos did not like the result of his
divorce, his recourse was to file a timely appeal in Michigan
state court. Dawson v. Newman, 419 F.3d 656, 661
(7th Cir. 2005). For this reason, his claim against Judge
Dodge related to the divorce must be dismissed for want of
event, even if I had jurisdiction over the claim against
Judge Dodge, there would be another problem with the
complaint necessitating dismissal: Judge Dodge is immune to
suits for “acts performed . . . ‘in [his]
judicial capacity.'” See Dawson, 419 F.3d
at 660-61(citation omitted); Stump v. Sparkman, 435
U.S. 349, 359 (1978). He was acting within his judicial
capacity when he adjudicated the Panagopouloses' divorce,
and so he is immune to a damages suit arising from those
have no jurisdiction over Panagopoulos's malpractice
claim against LaBre. I don't have diversity jurisdiction
over the claim because, while it's possible that
Panagopoulos has diverse citizenship from LaBre, the amount
he seeks to recover from LaBre (at most $50, 000 plus fees
and costs) falls short of the $75, 000 required under 28
U.S.C. §1332. Nor does this case present a federal
question that would confer jurisdiction on this court.
“Legal malpractice actions are traditionally the domain
of state law.” James H. Anderson, Inc. v.
Johnson, No. 08-cv-6202, 2009 WL 2244622, at *3 (N.D.
Ill. July 27, 2009) (citing Singh v. Duane Morris
LLP, 538 F.3d 334, 338 (5th Cir. 2008). This one
involves no substantial issues of federal law, and so there
is no reason for me to “disturb the balance of federal
and state judicial responsibilities.” Id. For
these reasons, the claim against LaBre also must be dismissed
for lack of jurisdiction.
it is usually necessary to allow a plaintiff to file an
amended complaint when a case is dismissed sua
sponte, that is not required here because any amendment
would be futile. See Hukic v. Aurora Loan Servs.,
588 F.3d 420, 432 (7th Cir. 2009). Panagopoulos simply cannot
overcome the ...