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Wehmeyer v. Indiana Department of Child Services

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division

July 31, 2019

INDIANA DEPARTMENT OF CHILD SERVICES, TERRY J. STIGDON, Director of the Indiana Department of Child Services “DCS”, and DEREK BOLKA individually and in his official capacity as Family Manager for DCS, Defendants.



         This matter is before the Court on the Defendants, Indiana Department of Child Services (IDCS), Derek Bolka, and Terry Stigdon, Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction and Failure to State a Claim [ECF No. 95] pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6).


         The Plaintiff, Janet Wehmeyer, individually and as next friend of her children, E.W. and C.W. brings this action asserting various claims against the Defendants. The Plaintiff first filed a pro se Complaint against the Defendants on January 11, 2018 [ECF No. 1]. The Plaintiff subsequently obtained legal counsel [ECF No. 48] and the Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint [ECF No. 59], filed on May 16, 2018, is now the operative complaint in this case.[1] The Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint centers around involvement of the Defendants in an investigation of alleged child abuse between August 2015 and January 2016, the removal of her children and their placement into foster care, and the alleged abuse her children endured during their time in foster care.

         The Plaintiff brings five counts against the Defendants: Count I is a First Amendment Retaliation claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Count II is a Fourth Amendment claim alleging that the Defendants violated the Plaintiff's right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Count III is a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim alleging violation of the Plaintiff's liberty interest in familial relations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Count IV is a Fourteenth Amendment due process claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and Count V is a state-law assault and battery claim.[2]

         Defendants IDCS, Bolka, and Stigdon filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction and Failure to State a Claim [ECF No. 95] on April 16, 2019. The Defendants argue that subject-matter jurisdiction is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Further, the Defendants argue in the alternative that the Plaintiff failed to state a claim as Defendant IDCS is entitled to immunity pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment, and the Plaintiff's official and individual capacity claims against Defendants Stigdon and Bolka are deficient. Defs.' Mem. in Supp. at 2, ECF No. 96. The Plaintiff filed several responses in opposition [ECF Nos. 98-101], which did not address the Defendants' jurisdictional arguments. The Defendants filed a reply [ECF No. 102] and the matter is now ripe for review.


         The Defendant alleges that the Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint is deficient for a lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and, in the alternative, fails to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6).

         Under 12(b)(1), the Defendant argues that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine deprives this Court of subject matter jurisdiction over the Plaintiff's Complaint because the requested relief would require the Court to disrupt a final judgment of the state court. Rule 12(b)(1) provides that a party may assert the defense of lack of subject-matter jurisdiction by motion. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). “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). When considering a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, a court must accept as true all well-pleaded 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).

         Rule 12(b)(6), on the other hand, “challenges the viability of a complaint by arguing that it fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.” Camasta v. Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, Inc., 761 F.3d 732, 736 (7th Cir. 2014). The Court presumes that all well-pleaded allegations are true, views these well-pleaded allegations in the light most favorable to the Plaintiffs, and accepts as true all reasonable inferences that may be drawn from the allegations. Whirlpool Fin. Corp. v. GN Holdings, Inc., 67 F.3d 605, 608 (7th Cir. 1995). Surviving a Rule 12(b)(6) motion “requires more than labels and conclusions . . . Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). “A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556).


         It is The First Amended Complaint, which was filed when the Plaintiff was represented by counsel, that is the subject of the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.[3] Regardless of the Plaintiff's representation status, the Plaintiff remains responsible for proving that jurisdictional requirements have been met. Ctr. For Dermatology & Skin Cancer, Ltd. V. Burwell, 770 F.3d 586, 588 (7th Cir. 2014). The Court is obligated to monitor its own jurisdiction and dismiss the case if the Court lacks jurisdiction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1); Baker v. Kingsley, 387 F.3d 649, 656 (7th Cir. 2004).

         A. Plaintiff's Federal Claims

         The Plaintiff brings various federal claims against the Defendants, which the Defendants maintain the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). Under the Rooker- Feldman doctrine, lower federal courts lack jurisdiction to review the decisions of state courts in civil cases. 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); then citing Johnson v. Orr, 551 F.3d 564, 568 (7th Cir. 2008)). The doctrine “prevents a state-court loser from bringing suit in federal court in order effectively to set aside the state-court judgment, ” and applies “even though the state court judgment might be erroneous or even unconstitutional.” Gilbert, 591 F.3d at 900 (citations and quotation marks omitted). The doctrine “bars federal claims in two instances. The first involves a plaintiff's request of a federal district court to overturn an adverse state court judgment. The second, and more difficult instance, involves federal claims that were not raised in state court or do not on their face require review of a state court's decision.” Brown v. Bowman, 668 F.3d 437, 442 (7th Cir. 2012) (citing Taylor v. Fed. Nat'l Mortg. Ass'n, 374 F.3d 529, 532-33 (7th Cir. 2004)). In the second case, “Rooker-Feldman will act as a jurisdictional bar if those claims are ‘inextricably intertwined' with a state court judgment.” Id. (quoting Taylor, 374 F.3d at 533). Although the Seventh Circuit has described the inextricably intertwined inquiry as “a somewhat metaphysical concept, ” a district court must determine whether it “is in essence being called upon to review the state-court decision.” Taylor, 374 F.3d at 533 (quotation marks omitted). “In order to determine the applicability of the Rooker-Feldman ...

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