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Mannix v. Machnik

March 24, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall


Sheila Mannix, ("Plaintiff"), filed a complaint pro se seeking a temporary restraining order pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, which order would enjoin the four named Defendants from abusing the constitutional rights of Plaintiff and her two minor children. The Defendants, all state court judges, have filed a motion to dismiss (i) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction on the basis of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the domestic relations exception, and Younger abstention, and (ii) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted due to the doctrine of judicial immunity. Because this Court does not have jurisdiction to hear claims stemming from ongoing state court domestic relations proceedings, and because judicial immunity bars suits against judges for acts performed in their official capacity, Plaintiff's claims before this court are dismissed.


The Court summarized the facts of Plaintiff's complaint and the history of the federal court proceedings in this case as part of its March 3, 2006 Memorandum Opinion and Order, and reprints that summary here. In 1993, Plaintiff or her former husband commenced divorce and custody proceedings in Lake County Circuit Court. According to representations by Plaintiff, she and her ex-husband initially received joint custody of their two children. It appears that some time between 2002 and 2005, either the ex-husband or the guardian ad litem of the two minor children moved to alter the terms of the custody arrangement on the grounds of Plaintiff's alleged mental illness. Plaintiff orally represented to the Court that the state court ordered both children removed from Plaintiff's custody entirely in October 2005. Of central importance to the Court, the divorce and custody proceeding before the state court remains ongoing.

On December 27, 2005, Plaintiff filed a Verified Emergency Complaint for Temporary Restraining Order before the Court*fn1 seeking to enjoin state officials from "prospective violation of the Civil Rights laws," specifically, preventing Defendants from prosecuting Plaintiff for action taken in defense of her constitutional rights and those of her two children. Verified Complaint at ¶ 43. Plaintiff also seeks the return of her children to her custody, and a complete review of Illinois state cases 93 D 2984 and 05 OP 1348. Id.

On December 30, 2005, the Court denied Plaintiff's request for a temporary restraining order ("TRO") due to Plaintiff's "inability to show a likelihood of success." On January 4, 2006, Plaintiff moved the Court to reconsider the ruling; on January 6, 2006, Defendants filed both a response and a motion to dismiss the complaint. On January 9, 2006, and again on January 12, 2006 the Court denied Plaintiff's motions to reconsider. Starting on January 18, 2006, Plaintiff filed three notices of appeal, one for of each of the Court's three denials. The Court of Appeals consolidated each of the three notices into a single appeal, which remains pending before the Seventh Circuit.

On January 30, 2006, Plaintiff requested that the Court certify the denial of her request for a TRO for interlocutory appeal under 28 U.S.C. §1292(b). The Court denied Plaintiff's request on March 3, 2006, on the grounds that the TRO did not involve a contested question of law. Since January 30, 2006, Plaintiff has also filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus, and a motion for appointment of counsel pursuant to 18 U.S.C. §1514(a)(2), both of which have been denied by the Court for lack of standing.

Defendants move for dismissal of the case on two independent grounds. First, Defendants state that the actions underlying Plaintiff's section 1983 claim are the subject of a pending state court divorce and custody proceeding, and are therefore barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine or, in the alternative, by Younger abstention. Second, Defendants argue that the doctrine of judicial immunity bars Plaintiff's claims, because the named Defendants in this action are state court judges and the actions underlying the complaint before the Court are judicial orders adverse to Plaintiff. Id. at ¶ 4. While the Court does not believe that Rooker-Feldman applies cleanly to this case, the Court agrees the domestic relations exception bars jurisdiction over this matter, and thatabstention from interference with an ongoing proceeding is also appropriate in this case. The Court also agrees that judicial immunity forms an independent ground for dismissal.

Standard of Review

Defendants move for dismissal of Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). A motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) may be entertained by the Court at any time, because "jurisdiction is the 'power to declare law' and without it the federal courts cannot proceed."

Wernsing v. Thompson, 423 F.3d 732, 743 (7th Cir. 2005), quoting Hay v. Ind. State Bd. of Tax Comm'rs, 312 F.3d 876, 879 (7th Cir. 2002).

A complaint will not be dismissed for failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) unless it is "clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73 (1984). In so examining, the Court must take all allegations in the complaint as true, and draw all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Pickrel v. City of Springfield, 45 F.3d 1115, 1117 (7th Cir. 1995). To survive a motion to dismiss, a plaintiff "need not plead particular legal theories or particular facts in order to state a claim." DeWalt v. Carter, 224 F.3d 607, 612 (7th Cir. 2000).

Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars federal courts from hearing collateral attacks on state court judgments. See Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923); District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983). Likewise, a federal district court may not review a claim that was not argued before the state court, but is "inextricably intertwined" with a state court judgment such that the district court is "in ...

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