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Daniels v. Grady

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

April 2, 2018

Rahul-Ebenezer Daniels, Plaintiff,
Joseph Grady, Kathryn Karayannis, Frederick John Steffen, Jr., Lisa Nyuli, and Donald Kramer, Defendants.


          Manish S. Shah United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Rahul-Ebenezer Daniels filed this suit pro se alleging that the attorney, state-court judges, guardian ad litem, and sheriff involved in his state-court divorce proceedings violated state and federal civil and criminal laws, court rules, and rules of professional conduct, and also infringed on his constitutional rights by conspiring against him during the divorce proceedings. The defendants move to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, the motions are granted.

         I. Legal Standards

         A Rule 12(b)(1) motion challenges the federal court's jurisdiction. On such a motion, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving that jurisdiction is proper and must allege facts sufficient to plausibly suggest that subject-matter jurisdiction exists. Silha v. ACT, Inc., 807 F.3d 169, 173-74 (7th Cir. 2015). To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must contain factual allegations that plausibly suggest a right to relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009). With a 12(b)(6) motion, a court may consider allegations in the complaint and documents attached to the complaint. Williamson v. Curran, 714 F.3d 432, 436 (7th Cir. 2013). When analyzing a motion under either a Rule 12(b)(1) or 12(b)(6), a court must accept all factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor, but need not accept legal conclusions or conclusory allegations. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79; Silha, 807 F.3d at 174.

         II. Background

         Daniels's wife, Tanuja Daniels, filed for divorce in the Circuit Court of the Sixteenth Judicial Circuit on May 6, 2015. [4-4] ¶ 1.[1] Tanuja hired attorney Frederick John Steffen to represent her in the divorce proceedings. Id. ¶ 3. Daniels hired his own attorney. Id. ¶ 6. During the proceedings, Daniels noticed that there was no attorney certification on his wife's dissolution of marriage petition, which he understood to be a violation of Illinois Supreme Court Rule 137. Id. ¶ 8. He also realized there was no affidavit of service in the summons he had received. Id. ¶ 10. Judge Kathryn Karayannis was the presiding judge at this time. Id. ¶ 11. In late 2015 or 2016, Daniels began to notice inconsistencies in Steffen's signatures on various court documents. Id. ¶ 14. Believing these violations demonstrated a lack of respect for due process, Daniels required his attorney to withdraw during open court. Id. ¶ 15. Judge Joseph Grady (now presiding over the divorce case) granted that request, and Daniels filed an entry of appearance the same day. Id. ¶¶ 16-17.

         In March 2016, Daniels filed a counterclaim raising the issue of Steffen's signatures and the Rule 137 violation. Id. ¶¶ 19-20. A month later, Daniels showed Judge Grady the inconsistent signatures, but Judge Grady accepted Steffen's in-court acknowledgment that the signatures were his and entered an order denying Daniels's objections to the legibility of the signatures (although Daniels complained about their inconsistency, not legibility). Id. ¶¶ 21-25. Daniels then hired an expert forensic document examiner to review Steffen's signatures, and the examiner issued a report stating he had found evidence strongly suggesting that the signatures were fraudulent. Id. ¶¶ 26-27. In June, Daniels's mother received a subpoena. Id. ¶ 29. Daniels brought the expert examiner's findings to Judge Grady's attention and argued that the subpoena issued to his mother had been fraudulent. Id. ¶ 31.[2] He also accused Steffen of violating his notary oath and committing perjury. Id. ¶ 32. Judge Grady said, “Mr. Daniels, it's only a signature, ” and denied all of Daniels's motions. Id. ¶¶ 33-34. Daniels next filed a motion to hold Steffen in contempt of court for issuing a fraudulent subpoena and then accused him of violating the Illinois Notary Public Act in a 2011 (apparently unrelated) marriage settlement agreement. Id. ¶¶ 35-36. Judge Grady acknowledged Daniels's claim about Steffen's criminal violations, but stated that the court did not have jurisdiction over the matter. Id. ¶ 37. At this point, Daniels came to believe that Judge Grady was colluding with Steffen. Id. ¶ 40.

         Daniels submitted a FOIA request to the court clerk seeking access to Steffen's case files. Id. ¶ 43. After reviewing those files, Daniels reported his findings to the Illinois Attorney General, the State's Attorney, and the Illinois Secretary of State, alleging that Steffen had repeatedly violated the Illinois Notary Public Act. Id. ¶¶ 47-50. Following the advice of the State's Attorney's Office, Daniels then filed a complaint with the Chief of Police of the Village of South Elgin, who did nothing in response. Id. ¶¶ 52-53.

         The petition for divorce that Steffen drafted on behalf of Tanuja Daniels cited irreconcilable differences or mental cruelty as reasons for the divorce. Id. ¶ 57.[3] On Steffen's advice, Tanuja also began working with a guardian ad litem, Lisa Nyuli, and took the couple's children for an interview with Nyuli without telling Daniels. Id. ¶¶ 74-75. Nyuli and Tanuja prepared a petition to have Daniels evicted from his home. Id. ¶ 77.[4] Tanuja, Nyuli, and Steffen met before the eviction hearing in June 2016, and along with Judge Grady, ganged up on Daniels and his parents during the hearing, treating them as though they had committed a crime. Id. ¶ 78. Judge Grady issued an eviction order removing Daniels and his parents from their home and giving them four days to comply. Id. ¶ 80. Daniels objected to the order, asserting that it was based on false allegations, interfered with his freedom to exercise his religious beliefs, and required a full hearing. Id. ¶ 81. Judge Grady interrupted Daniels, but Daniels continued to voice his objections. Id. ¶ 82. Judge Grady, Steffen, and Nyuli all failed to consider Daniels's parents role in taking care of the children. Id. ¶ 86. Just before issuing the order, Judge Grady turned to Steffen and said, “Mr. Steffen, shall we cut him some slack?” and then told Daniels to “be glad that I did not issue the Order to have you out within 24 hours.” Id. ¶ 80. Daniels filed a motion to reconsider the eviction order, arguing that it would cause undue hardship on his elderly parents. Id. ¶ 89. Daniels gave a copy of the motion to the Sheriff's office asking that it halt the forced removal. Id. ¶ 90.

         After Judge Grady refused to rescind the eviction order, Daniels filed a motion to stop the divorce case pending an administrative determination regarding his claims of fraud. Id. ¶¶ 93-94. Citing a policy of only accepting one motion per case, the sheriff's office refused to accept this motion. Id. ¶ 95. So instead, Daniels sent a letter to the sheriff informing him of these events. Id. ¶ 96. Despite his knowledge of these events, Sheriff Kramer sent an officer to Daniels's home to ensure that he and his parents were not there. Id. ¶ 98. Had they been there, officers would have forcibly removed them. Id. The officer later called Daniels and told him that he had never seen such an extreme measure taken before a case had been fully adjudicated. Id. ¶ 101.

         Daniels filed an administrative claim to alert administrative agencies to the violations of law he had observed. Id. ¶ 106. Daniels informed Judge Grady and Steffen of his administrative complaint, but neither recused himself from the divorce proceedings. Id. ¶¶ 109, 112, 114. The Secretary of State investigated Steffen's notarial violations. Id. ¶ 108. In February 2017, Daniels filed a motion to show cause in his divorce proceedings, followed by a notice to vacate and hold plaintiff in default when an answer was not returned in a timely manner. Id. ¶¶ 115-116. Judge Grady denied both. Id. ¶ 117. The court prevented Daniels from seeing his children from April through July 2017 and compelled him to get a mental evaluation. Id. ¶ 122.

         III. Analysis

         Unhappy with many aspects of his state-court divorce proceedings, Daniels filed this lawsuit against his wife's attorney (Steffen), the guardian ad litem (Nyuli), the two judges who presided over the proceeding (Judges Karayannis and Grady), and the sheriff (Kramer). The defendants filed motions to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim. Defendants Steffen, Nyuli, Judge Karayannis, and Judge Grady assert immunity from suit. Steffen argues that to the extent there is subject-matter jurisdiction over any of the claims, Younger abstention is appropriate to avoid interfering with the ongoing state-court proceedings.

         Daniels invokes numerous legal principles, statutes, and constitutional provisions. His complaint is at times difficult to follow and uses legal labels and conclusions that are not informative. The factual allegations against each defendant, however, are clear. And because Daniels is pro se, I read his complaint liberally. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972). For relief, Daniels asks for money damages, disciplinary action for the defendants' official misconduct, felony and fraud charges against Steffen, the return of his children and home, and the restoration of honor to the judicial and legal profession.

         A. Ro ...

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