United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Charlottesville Division
Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge
Bell's minor children were removed from her custody and
placed in the custody of their maternal grandmother. Bell,
proceeding pro se and in forma pauperis, commenced this
action related to the custody decision and ongoing visitation
issues on July 14, 2016. She named multiple defendants,
including employees of the Charlottesville Department of
Social Services; the maternal grandmother, Joselyn Bell; and
Charlottesville Juvenile and Domestic Relations District
Court Judges Edward Berry and Claude Worrell. For the
following reasons, the court concludes that the action must
be dismissed, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B) and
Rule 12(h)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
2015, Bell was incarcerated as a result of a domestic
altercation that occurred in the presence of her infant
child. Following the incident, Judge Berry awarded custody of
Bell's children to their maternal grandmother. Bell was
released from incarceration in June of 2015. She did not see
her children until October 30, 2015, when she was permitted
to have supervised visitation.
complaint arises from the custody decision and ongoing
visitation issues. Bell alleges that Erin McGowan and Elmona
Reid, who apparently work for the Charlottesville Department
of Social Services, stopped her "outside visits"
after she grew "agitated with them via email" and
"at times ... used profanity." Bell alleges that
Judge Worrell and an attorney, Patricia Brady, have ignored
her requests to have the children removed from their
grandmother's custody, even though Bell has spanked her
youngest child and "guilted [her] children into thinking
and speaking of [her] negatively." Bell further alleges
that Brady has not conducted the home visits necessary to
verify whether Bell's home is safe enough for her
children to return, and that Brady, and another attorney,
Stephanie Cangin, have "failed to contact her when
changes . . . occurred regarding her children."
does not seek any monetary damages. Instead, she asks that
this court "prosecute the defendants to the full extent
of the law, " "allow [her] children to file federal
lawsuits regarding this matter, " and permanently remove
the defendants from their respective positions.
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e), which governs in forma pauperis
proceedings, the court has a mandatory duty to screen initial
filings. Eriline Co. v. Johnson, 440 F.3d 648,
656-57 (4th Cir. 2006). The court must dismiss a case
"at any time" if the court determines that the
complaint "fails to state a claim on which relief may be
granted." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii). The
standards for reviewing a complaint for dismissal under
§ 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) are the same as those which apply
when a defendant moves for dismissal under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). De'Lonta v. Angelone.
330 F.3d 630, 633 (4th Cir. 2003). To survive dismissal, a
complaint must contain sufficient factual allegations
"to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level" and "state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555. '
pursuant to Rule 12(h)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, the court "must dismiss" an action
"[i]f the court determines at any time that it lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3).
"[Q]uestions of subject-matter jurisdiction may be
raised at any point during the proceedings and may (or, more
precisely, must) be raised sua sponte by the court."
Brickwood Contractors, Inc. v. Datanet Eng'g,
Inc., 369 F.3d 385, 390 (4th Cir. 2004).
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. "They possess
only that power authorized by Constitution and statute."
Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S.
375, 377 (1994). Generally, a case can be filed in a federal
district court if there is federal question jurisdiction
under 28 U.S.C. § 1331 or diversity jurisdiction under
28 U.S.C. § 1332.
reviewed the complaint, the court is constrained to conclude
that it must be dismissed for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction. To the extent Bell seeks to invoke the
court's diversity jurisdiction, she has failed to
demonstrate that complete diversity of citizenship exists
between the parties as required by § 1332. To the
contrary, the complaint indicates that the plaintiff and the
defendants are residents of Virginia. Consequently, diversity
jurisdiction is lacking.
extent Bell seeks to invoke the court's federal question
jurisdiction, she has not identified any violation of federal
law which might support the exercise of jurisdiction under
§ 1331. Moreover, under the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine, federal district courts do not have subject matter
jurisdiction to hear "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." [*] Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi
Basic Indus. Corp.. 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005).
Accordingly, to the extent Bell seeks review of, or relief
from, a custody or visitation decision by Judge Berry or
Judge Worrell, her complaint is subject to dismissal under
complaint is also subject to dismissal under §
1915(e)(2) for a number of reasons. First, to the extent Bell
asks this court to intervene in ongoing proceedings before
Judge Berry or Judge Worrell, such relief is barred by the
abstention doctrine set forth in Younger v. Harris,401 U.S. 37 (1971), which provides that a federal court
should abstain from interfering in a state proceeding, even
if it has jurisdiction to reach the merits, if (1) there are
ongoing state judicial proceedings; (2) the proceedings
implicate important state interests; and (3) there is an