United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Western Division
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
D. SMITH, SENIOR JUDGE
is Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration. Doc. #7. For
the reasons below, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion.
September 22, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion for leave to
proceed in forma pauperis (Doc. #1), and a motion to appoint
counsel (Doc. #2). The Court denied these motions after
determining it lacked diversity and federal question
jurisdiction. Doc. #4. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a motion
for order instructing Defendant Roberta Tonsfeldt to
surrender child (Doc. #5), which the Court denied (Doc. #6).
Plaintiff now asks the Court to reconsider its rulings.
alleges her constitutional rights were violated based on
events in a guardianship proceeding in the probate court of
Jackson County, Missouri. Plaintiff alleges “the State of
Missouri is in...violation of [her] Constitutional Rights
when it knowingly summoned all parties before the Court but
excluded [her] from the proceedings....” Doc. #7, at 2.
The Court understands this allegation to be based on initial
issues with service of the complaint in the probate court,
and/or based on events at a September 21, 2017 hearing in
which the Probate Commissioner allegedly excluded Plaintiff
from a meeting in chambers with attorneys involved in the
matter. See Doc. #5, at 4-5. Plaintiff also alleges
the State of Missouri violated her rights when “the
State of Missouri knowingly failed to NOTIFY the Bois Forte
Band of Chippewa Tribe about proceedings against [Plaintiff],
a Protected Registered Member of said Tribe.” Doc. #7,
at 2. The Court understands this allegation to be based on
the Probate Commissioner denying Plaintiff's request that
the Probate Court notify Plaintiff's tribe about the
guardianship proceedings. See Doc. #5, at 6.
Regarding Defendant Roberta Tonsfeldt, the grandmother of
Plaintiff's child, Plaintiff alleges Tonsfeldt
“falsely claimed [Plaintiff] was unfit” and
“never had proper authority to take
guardianship/custody over [Plaintiff's] daughter.”
Docs. #1, at 3; #7, at 2. Plaintiff's suit seeks the
“release” of her child to her custody, an order
directing “Defendant to surrender the Passport of said
child, ” and an order directing “the personal
production of the natural father....” Docs. #1, at 4;
#5, at 7. Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration seeks to
clarify the allegations upon which the Complaint is based,
and asserts jurisdiction is established based on alleged
Constitutional violations. Doc. #7.
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, meaning there are
only certain subject matters the federal courts have
authority to hear and decide. Ark. Blue Cross & Blue
Shield v. Little Rock Cardiology Clinic, P.A., 551 F.3d
812, 816 (8th Cir. 2009). The Court has jurisdiction over
“all civil actions arising under the Constitution,
laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C.
§ 1331. Although a plaintiff may allege a constitutional
violation, certain jurisdictional doctrines may nonetheless
prevent the Court's exercise of jurisdiction. Based on
Plaintiff's filings, the Court finds it cannot exercise
jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims.
federal court is generally without jurisdiction to hear
“challenges to state court decisions in particular
cases arising out of judicial proceedings even if those
challenges allege that that state court's action was
unconstitutional.” Dist. of Columbia Court of
Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 486 (1983). Federal
courts, with the exception of the United States Supreme
Court, do not have jurisdiction over an appeal of a state
appellate court decision. Id.; see also 28
U.S.C. § 1257; Keene Corp. v. Cass, 908 F.2d
293, 296 (8th Cir. 1990). The Eighth Circuit holds the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine precludes jurisdiction over
“cases brought by state-court losers complaining of
injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the
district court proceedings commenced and inviting district
court review and rejection of those judgments.”
Edwards v. City of Jonesboro, 645 F.3d 1014, 1018
(8th Cir. 2011) (citing Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic
Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005)).
when liberally construing Plaintiff's allegations, as the
Court must do, it is clear Plaintiff seeks redress in this
Court for alleged violations in a state court proceeding.
This Court does not have jurisdiction to hear challenges to
state court decisions even if a party maintains the decision
was unconstitutional. Feldman, 460 U.S. at 486
(1983); Edwards, 645 F.3d at 1018. For this reason
alone, the Court denies Plaintiff's motion to reconsider
because the Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies.
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not apply, the Court
would find abstention appropriate based on the
Younger abstention doctrine. The Younger
abstention doctrine indicates federal courts must abstain
from exercising jurisdiction when (1) there is an ongoing
state court proceeding, (2) implicating important state
interests, and (3) there is an adequate opportunity to raise
any relevant federal questions in the state court proceeding.
Plouffe v. Ligon, 606 F.3d 890, 892 (8th Cir. 2010).
The first Younger factor is met here because the
guardianship proceeding giving rise to Plaintiff's
Complaint is ongoing. See Case No. 17P9-PR00429
(Prob. Ct. Jackson Cty., MO). The second factor is met as
well because child custody issues are important state issues.
Young v. Lawson, No. 08-3459-CV-S-RED, 2009 WL
900808, at *1 (W.D. Mo. Mar. 31, 2009) (citing Moore v.
Sims, 442 U.S. 415, 434-35 (1979)). Finally, an adequate
opportunity exists for Plaintiff to raise these issues in the
state court proceeding. See Shapiro v. Columbia Union
Nat. Bank & Tr. Co., 576 S.W.2d 310, 316 (Mo. banc
1978) (recognizing state courts are empowered to adjudicate
alleged violations of the United States Constitution). The
fact that a state court consistently rejects a claim of
unconstitutional violations does not render Younger
abstention inappropriate. See Tony Alamo Christian
Ministries v. Selig, 664 F.3d 1245, 1250 (8th Cir.
Younger applies and only injunctive relief is before
the Court, dismissal is appropriate. See Night Clubs,
Inc. v. City of Fort Smith, 163 F.3d 475, 1250 (8th Cir.
1998). Dismissal is appropriate to prevent interference with
a pending judicial proceeding. Id. Here, Plaintiff
seeks the “release” of her child to her custody,
an order directing “Defendant to surrender the Passport
of said child, ” and an order directing “the
personal production of the natural father....” Docs.
#1, at 4; #5, at 7. Any directive by this Court granting the
relief sought would plainly interfere with the ongoing
guardianship proceeding in Jackson County, Missouri. The
Court denies Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration on
the additional basis that Younger abstention