United States District Court, E.D. California
F. BRENNAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
seek leave to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to
28 U.S.C. 1915. Their declaration makes the showing
required by 28 U.S.C. §1915(a)(1) and (2). See
ECF No. 2. Accordingly, the request to proceed in forma
pauperis is granted. 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a).
that plaintiffs may proceed in forma pauperis does
not complete the required inquiry. Pursuant to §
1915(e)(2), the court must dismiss the case at any time if it
determines the allegation of poverty is untrue, or if the
action is frivolous or malicious, fails to state a claim on
which relief may be granted, or seeks monetary relief against
an immune defendant.
pro se pleadings are liberally construed, see Haines v.
Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972), a complaint, or
portion thereof, should be dismissed for failure to state a
claim if it fails to set forth “enough facts to state a
claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”
Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554,
562-563 (2007) (citing Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41
(1957)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6).
“[A] plaintiff’s obligation to provide the
‘grounds’ of his ‘entitlement to
relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions, and
a formulaic recitation of a cause of action’s elements
will not do. Factual allegations must be enough to raise a
right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption
that all of the complaint’s allegations are
true.” Id. (citations omitted). Dismissal is
appropriate based either on the lack of cognizable legal
theories or the lack of pleading sufficient facts to support
cognizable legal theories. Balistreri v. Pacifica Police
Dep’t, 901 F.2d 696, 699 (9th Cir. 1990).
reviewing a complaint under this standard, the court must
accept as true the allegations of the complaint in question,
Hospital Bldg. Co. v. Rex Hosp. Trustees, 425 U.S.
738, 740 (1976), construe the pleading in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff, and resolve all doubts in the
plaintiff’s favor, Jenkins v. McKeithen, 395
U.S. 411, 421 (1969). A pro se plaintiff must satisfy the
pleading requirements of Rule 8(a) of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure. Rule 8(a)(2) “requires a complaint to
include a short and plain statement of the claim showing that
the pleader is entitled to relief, in order to give the
defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds
upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 554, 562-563 (2007) (citing
Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957)).
a federal court is a court of limited jurisdiction, and may
adjudicate only those cases authorized by the Constitution
and by Congress. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co.,
511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). The basic federal jurisdiction
statutes, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 & 1332, confer
“federal question” and “diversity”
jurisdiction, respectively. Federal question jurisdiction
requires that the complaint (1) arise under a federal law or
the U.S. Constitution, (2) allege a “case or
controversy” within the meaning of Article III, §
2 of the U.S. Constitution, or (3) be authorized by a federal
statute that both regulates a specific subject matter and
confers federal jurisdiction. Baker v. Carr, 369
U.S. 186, 198 (1962). To invoke the court’s diversity
jurisdiction, a plaintiff must specifically allege the
diverse citizenship of all parties, and that the matter in
controversy exceeds $75, 000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a);
Bautista v. Pan American World Airlines,
Inc., 828 F.2d 546, 552 (9th Cir. 1987). A case
presumably lies outside the jurisdiction of the federal
courts unless demonstrated otherwise. Kokkonen, 511
U.S. at 376-78. Lack of subject matter jurisdiction may be
raised at any time by either party or by the court.
Attorneys Trust v. Videotape Computer Products,
Inc., 93 F.3d 593, 594-95 (9th Cir. 1996).
complaint alleges that plaintiffs’ four children were
wrongfully removed from their care by defendant Child
Protective Services (“CPS”) based on false
allegations that plaintiff Jeffrey Johnson, the
children’s father, engaged in sexual abuse of the
children. ECF No. 1 at 1-2. Since the children’s
placement in foster care, the father has not been permitted
to see the children due to the state court allegedly ignoring
his requests for visitations. Id. at 3. The
complaint further alleges that the children have been abused
and their basic needs neglected by CPS and their foster
parents. Id. at 4, 7. Plaintiffs also allege that
CPS made false representations to the Social Security
Administration to take away from the father social security
benefits belonging to the children. Id. at 8. In
addition to seeking damages, the complaint requests that
plaintiffs’ children be returned to their mother.
Id. at 11-12.
complaint purports to assert claims against defendant Child
Protective Services under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. ECF No. 1 at
1. Plaintiffs’ allegations indicate that a dispute
regarding the custody of their children is still pending in
state court. Thus, under the Younger abstention
doctrine, plaintiffs must use the available state court
process to appeal or challenge the decisions made by the
state court. Younger v. Harris held that federal
courts should not enjoin pending state criminal proceedings
except under extraordinary circumstances. 401 U.S. 37, 49, 53
(1971). The Younger doctrine has since been extended
to civil actions. See Gilbertson v. Albright, 381
F.3d 965, 971-72 (9th Cir. 2004) (en banc). Therefore,
federal courts ordinarily must refrain from exercising
jurisdiction in actions for injunctive or declaratory relief
that would interfere with pending state judicial proceedings.
See Gilbertson, 381 F.3d at 975, 978. In the Ninth
Circuit, Younger abstention prevents a court from
exercising jurisdiction when three criteria are met: 1) there
are ongoing state judicial proceedings; 2) an important state
interest is involved; and 3) there is an adequate opportunity
to raise the federal question at issue in the state
proceedings. H.C. ex rel. Gordon v. Koppel, 203 F.3d
610, 613 (9th Cir. 2000). Further, a court may consider
sua sponte whether Younger abstention
should be invoked. See id.
appears from the complaint that these factors are met in this
case. Plaintiffs’ allegations indicate that a child
custody action is pending in state court that involved the
same custody dispute raised in this complaint. Thus, it
appears this court lacks jurisdiction over this action.
Plaintiffs, however, will be given leave to file an amended
complaint explaining, if they can, why the Younger
abstention doctrine does not apply to this case.
state court proceedings have concluded, but were resolved
adversely to plaintiffs, federal jurisdiction would still be
lacking over matters decided by the state court. Under the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a federal district court
does not have subject-matter jurisdiction to hear an appeal
from the judgment of a state court. Exxon Mobil Corp. v.
Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 283-84 (2005);
see also Dist. of Columbia Court of Appeals v.
Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 476 (1983); Rooker v.
Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415 (1923). The
Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars jurisdiction in federal
district court if the exact claims raised in a state court
case are raised in the subsequent federal case, or if the
constitutional claims presented to the district court are
“inextricably intertwined” with the state
court’s denial of relief. Bianchi v.
Rylaarsdam, 334 F.3d 895, 898-99 (9th Cir. 2003)
(quoting Feldman, 460 U.S. at 483 n. 16).
Rooker-Feldman thus bars federal adjudication of any
suit where a plaintiff alleges an injury based on a state
court judgment or directly appeals a state court’s
decision. Id. at 900 n. 4.
district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction either to
conduct a direct review of a state court judgment or to
scrutinize the state court’s application of various
rules and procedures pertaining to the state case. Samuel
v. Michaud, 980 F.Supp. 1381, 1411-12 (D. Idaho 1996),
aff’d, 129 F.3d 127 (9th Cir. 1997); see also
Branson v. Nott, 62 F.3d 287, 291-92 (9th Cir.1995)
(finding no subject matter jurisdiction over section 1983
claim seeking, inter alia, implicit reversal of state trial
court action). “That the federal district court action
alleges the state court’s action was unconstitutional
does not change the rule.” Feldman, 460 U.S.
at 486. In sum, “a state court’s application of
its rules and procedures is unreviewable by a federal
district court. The federal district court only has
jurisdiction to hear general challenges to state rules or
claims that are based on the investigation of a new case
arising upon new facts.” Samuel, 980 F.Supp.
addition, and perhaps more fundamentally, federal district
courts have no jurisdiction over child custody issues, which
are exclusively matters of state law. See Ankenbrandt v.
Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 702-704 (1992) (holding that the
domestic relations exception to federal subject matter
jurisdiction “divests the federal courts of power to
issue divorce, alimony and child custody decrees.”).
from the jurisdictional hurdle, the complaint also fails to
state a claim for relief upon which relief may be granted.
The complaint purports to allege claims under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 against defendant CPS for violation of
plaintiffs’ constitutional rights. See ECF No.
1 at 1. “Municipalities and other local government
units . . . [are] among those persons to whom § 1983
applies.” Monell v. Dep’t of Soc.
Servs., 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978). However, a municipal
entity or its departments, is liable under § 1983 only
if plaintiff shows that his constitutional injury was caused
by employees acting pursuant to the municipality’s
policy or custom. See Villegas v. Gilroy Garlic Festival
Ass’n, 541 F.3d 950, 964 (9th Cir. 2008) (citing
436 U.S. at 690-94). “[A]n act performed pursuant to a
‘custom’ that has not been formally approved by
an appropriate decisionmaker may fairly subject a
municipality to liability on the theory that the relevant
practice is so widespread as to have the force of law.”
Board of Cty. Comm’rs. of Bryan Cty. v. Brown,
520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997). A local governmental entity may
also be liable if it has a “policy of inaction and such
inaction amounts to a failure to protect constitutional
rights.” Oviatt v. Pearce, 954 F.2d 1470, 1474
(9th Cir. 1992) (citing City of Canton v. Harris,
489 U.S. 378 (1989)); see also Monell, 436 U.S. at
690-91. The custom or policy of inaction, however, must be
the result of a “conscious, ” City of
Canton, 489 U.S. at 389, or “‘deliberate
choice to follow a course of action . . . made from among
various alternatives by the official or officials responsible
for establishing final policy with respect to the subject
matter in question.’” Oviatt, 954 F.2d
at 1477 (quoting Pembaur v. City of Cincinnati, 475
U.S. 469, 483-84 (1986) (plurality opinion)).
complaint does not allege a constitutional violation based on
a policy or custom. Accordingly, plaintiffs fail to state ...