United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
DEANGELO L. HATCH, Plaintiff,
THE INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF CHILD SERVICES, et al. Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
THERESA L. SPRINGMANN, CHIEF JUDGE
L. Hatch, a Plaintiff proceeding pro se, filed an Amended
Complaint on October 2, 2017 [ECF No. 4], naming the Indiana
Department of Child Services (IDCS), Jamie Fletcher, and
Chrystal Graham as Defendants. He also filed a Motion for
Leave to Proceed in forma pauperis [ECF No. 5]. On February
1, 2018, Defendants Fletcher and Graham filed a Motion to
Dismiss [ECF No. 17] under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(6). The Plaintiff has not responded and has not
provided good cause as to why the Court should extend his
time to respond. (See ECF No. 29.) Therefore, this
matter is ripe for review.
Plaintiff alleged that the Indiana Department of Child
Services and some of its employees violated the
Plaintiff's rights by taking custody of his minor
daughter from her mother instead of transferring custody to
the Plaintiff. The Plaintiff alleged several causes of action
against the Defendants, which included violations of the
Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments, under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. The Court screened his Amended Complaint, see
Rowe v. Shake, 196 F.3d 778, 783 (7th Cir. 1999),
and permitted him to proceed only against Defendants Fletcher
and Graham and only under the theory that they interfered
with his Fourteenth Amendment rights in violation of §
1983. The Plaintiff alleges that the Defendants violated his
Fourteenth Amendment rights to “custody, care, and
management of [his] daughter, ” “to rear [his]
child without state interference, ” and to due process
of law. The Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief in the form of
the immediate return of his daughter to his custody.
survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint
must ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its
face.'” Adams v. City of Indianapolis, 742
F.3d 720, 728 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has
facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content
that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that
the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.”
Id. (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
662, 678 (2009)). Although pro se complaints are to be
liberally construed and are held to a less stringent standard
than pleadings drafted by lawyers, Luevano v. Wal-Mart
Stores, Inc., 722 F.3d 1014, 1027 (7th Cir. 2013), the
factual allegations in the complaint must nevertheless be
enough to raise a right to relief above a speculative level,
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. Factual allegations are
accepted as true at the pleading stage, but
“allegations in the form of legal conclusions are
insufficient to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion.”
Adams, 742 F.3d at 728 (internal citations omitted).
Defendants argue that the Court should abstain from hearing
this case pursuant to the Supreme Court's decision in
Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). The basic
principle of the Younger abstention doctrine is
that, absent extraordinary circumstances, a federal court
should not interfere with pending state judicial proceedings.
Brunken v. Lance, 807 F.2d 1325, 1330 (7th Cir.
1986). This principle, based on federalism and comity
concerns, particularly applies to civil proceedings when
important state interests are involved. Id. (citing
Ohio Civil Rights Comm'n v. Dayton Christian Sch.,
Inc., 477 U.S. 619, 626-28 (1986)); Middlesex Cty.
Ethics Comm'n v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457
U.S. 423, 432 (1982). The Supreme Court has articulated three
factors to aid in the determination of whether the
Younger abstention doctrine applies in a civil
proceeding. A court should consider whether: (1) there is
“an ongoing state judicial proceeding”; (2) the
“proceedings implicate important state
interests”; and (3) “there is an adequate
opportunity in the state proceedings to raise constitutional
challenges.” Middlesex Cty. Ethics Comm'n,
457 U.S. at 432.
Plaintiff seeks relief regarding the issue of custody of his
child, and the Defendants have represented to the Court that
there is an ongoing Child in Need of Services (CHINS)
proceeding in the Indiana state court system regarding the
custody of his child. Therefore, the first part of the test
the Court looks to the State's interests implicated by
the proceeding. An important motivation for the Supreme
Court's decision to abstain in Younger was the
notion of comity: ‘that is, a proper respect for state
functions, a recognition of the fact that the entire country
is made up of a Union of separate state governments, and a
continuance of the belief that the National Government will
fare best if the States and their institutions are left free
to perform their separate functions in their separate
ways.'” Hickey v. Duffy, 827 F.2d 234, 245
(7th Cir. 1987) (citing Younger, 401 U.S. at 44).
Court finds that the Plaintiff's particular complaints
implicate important Indiana state interests because
“the interests of the State of Indiana in the welfare
of children cannot be gainsaid.” Rangel v.
Reynolds, No. 4:07-CV-20, 2007 WL 1189356, at *2 (N.D.
Ind. Apr. 18, 2007). “The Seventh Circuit has applied
the Younger doctrine to child custody matters
because the state is so ‘heavily involved' in the
proceedings and because the state has an independent interest
in the child's health and welfare.” Id.
Therefore, the second part of the test is met.
the Seventh Circuit has “decline[d] to presume that the
Indiana courts . . . will not discharge th[e]
obligation” to protect a party's federal rights.
Lumen Constr., Inc. v. Brant Constr. Co., 780 F.2d
691, 697 (7th Cir. 1985). Though the Plaintiff's claims
implicate purported violations of the Plaintiff's federal
rights by the Defendants, “[s]tate courts are just as
able to enforce federal constitutional rights as federal
courts.” Middlesex Cty. Ethics Comm'n, 457
U.S. at 431. Moreover, Indiana authority indicates that
parties to a CHINS proceeding are able to bring
constitutional claims of due process violations at the time
of the proceeding as well as appeal an adverse decision on
due process grounds. See, e.g., In re N.E.,
919 N.E.2d 102, 108 (Ind. 2010) (vacating CHINS judgment for
potential due process violation); McBride v. Monroe Cty.
Office of Family & Children, 798 N.E.2d 185, 194-95
(Ind.Ct.App. 2003) (finding that parent waived right to
challenge due process violation during CHINS proceeding by
not raising it until appeal); Smith v. Marion Cty. Dept.
of Pub. Welfare, 635 N.E.2d 1144, 1148 (Ind.Ct.App.
1994) (same). Therefore, the third part of the test is met.
the Court finds that the circumstances of this case require
abstention. There is an ongoing state court proceeding
regarding the same issue, child custody and welfare is an
important state interest, and the Plaintiff's
constitutional claims have an adequate remedy in state ...