United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
OPINION AND ORDER
THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE
Plaintiff, Brenda Ann Brubaker, has initiated a lawsuit
against the Grant County Child Protective Services. (Compl.,
ECF No. 1.) After setting forth background facts related to
custody decisions involving her granddaughter, the Plaintiff
requests the following relief: “I want full custody of
my grandchild, not be hassled by CPS.” (Id. at
3.) The Defendant has filed a Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 16]
and supporting Memorandum [ECF No. 17]. The Defendant argues
that dismissal is warranted under Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) because the Plaintiff's
suit is barred by the Eleventh Amendment, federal courts do
not have jurisdiction over custody decisions, and the
Plaintiff has failed to state a cause of action. In response
[ECF No. 22], the Plaintiff asserts that she believes that
her rights were violated, and that her complaint has merit.
However, she accepts that the Eleventh Amendment and
jurisdictional issues may not permit this federal Court to
rule on the Grant County CPS's custody decision.
reasons stated in this Opinion and Order, the Defendant's
Motion is granted.
Plaintiff asks this Court to intervene in a state
agency's custody decision regarding her grandchild, who
was placed in foster care. She contends that, because she is
a family member, CPS should have granted her custody instead.
From what the Court can discern, the Plaintiff had temporary
custody of her grandchild for eleven months in 2013. After
the child's mother regained custody, CPS was required, as
some point, to intervene. Although CPS attempted to place the
child with another family member, the Plaintiff advised that
this would place the child in harm. CPS then placed the child
in foster care. After the child again went to her mother,
then CPS, and then foster care, the Plaintiff attempted to
convince CPS to place her granddaughter with her. This
litigation is the Plaintiff's continued attempt to gain
custody of her granddaughter. The Plaintiff alleges that her
due process rights were violated in relation to the removal
of her granddaughter from the Plaintiff's home in 2013.
She does not seek monetary damages.
Standard of Review
may be dismissed under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b)(1) when the court lacks jurisdiction over the subject
matter. “Subject-matter jurisdiction is the first
question in every case, and if the court concludes that it
lacks jurisdiction it must proceed no further.”
Illinois v. City of Chi., 137 F.3d 474, 478 (7th
Cir. 1998). However, a court is not required to
“consider subject matter jurisdiction over all other
threshold matters, ” but may choose among threshold
grounds for denying consideration of a case on its merits.
Meyers v. Oneida Tribe of Indians of Wis.,
836 F.3d 818, 821 (7th Cir. 2016) (citing Ruhrgas AG v.
Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 584-85 (1999)). When
considering a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction, a court must accept as true all well-pleaded
factual allegations and draw all reasonable inferences in
favor of the plaintiff. Alicea-Hernandez v. Catholic
Bishop of Chi., 320 F.3d 698, 701 (7th Cir. 2003).
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), and a
court may also consider facts alleged in a pro se
plaintiff's brief in opposition to a motion to dismiss
when considering the sufficiency of the complaint (if the
facts are “consistent with the allegations in the
complaint”), Smith v. Dart, 803 F.3d 304, 311
(7th Cir. 2015), 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
Jurisdictional and Other Threshold Issues
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, this Court does not
have jurisdiction to review or reverse orders issued in state
court or state administrative proceedings. See Gilbert v.
Ill. Bd. of Educ., 591 F.3d 896, 900 (7th Cir. 2010)
(first citing Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus.
Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 283-84 (2005); and then citing
Johnson v. Orr, 551 F.3d 564, 568 (7th Cir. 2008));
Lewis v. Anderson, 308 F.3d 768, 771-72 (7th Cir.
2002)). Additionally, if the state agency decision is not yet
final, a separate abstention doctrine prohibits federal
courts from intervening in ongoing state proceedings.
Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). However, both
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and Younger
abstention “extend only to parties to ongoing state
court litigation while specifically leaving non-parties free
to pursue their claims.” Allen v. Allen, 48
F.3d 259, 261 (7th Cir. 1995) (first citing Leaf v. Sup.
Ct. of Wis., 979 F.2d 589, 598 (7th Cir. 1992), then
citing Lynk v. LaPorte Superior Ct. No. 2, 789 F.2d
554 (7th Cir. 1986)).
not appear from the Plaintiff's Complaint that she was a
party to the CPS proceedings, so Rooker-Feldman
would not be a bar. However, if she were not a party, her
claims are still not properly in federal court under the
“longstanding rule that domestic disputes involving
divorce, custody or alimony issues are the province of state
courts.” Allen, 48 F.3d at 261 (citing
Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 703 (1992)
(setting forth the “domestic relations exception”
to federal jurisdiction)).
Court assumes that the Plaintiff was a party to the state
agency proceedings, Rooker-Feldman bars her claim.
In essence, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine
“prevents a state-court loser from bringing suit in
federal court in order to effectively set aside the
state-court judgment.” Gilbert, 591 F.3d at
900. The doctrine applies “even though the state court
judgment might be erroneous or even unconstitutional.”
Id. (citing Kamilewicz v. Bank of Boston
Corp., 92 F.3d 506, 510 (7th Cir. 1996)). “[A]
plaintiff may not seek a reversal of a state court judgment
simply by casting his complaint in the form of a civil rights
action.” Ritter v. Ross, 992 F.2d 750, 754
(7th Cir. 1993) (internal quotations omitted).
Plaintiff's request that the Court grant her full custody
of her granddaughter and require that CPS not hassle her, is
in contravention of the decision of the Grant County CPS. Her
only alleged injury-not being allowed to have custody of her
granddaughter-was “executed through a court order,
” meaning that “there is no conceivable way to
redress the wrong without overturning the order of a state
court.” Sykes v. Cook Cty. Cir. Ct. Probate
Div., 837 F.3d 736, 743 (7th Cir. 2016).
“Rooker-Feldman does not permit ...