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Ozfidan v. Marshall

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Richmond Division

January 9, 2018

OSCAR O. OZFIDAN, Plaintiff,
JOHN MARSHALL, Presiding Judge, and PAMELA L. OZFIDAN, Defendants.


          Henry E. Hudson United States District Judge

         This is an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 seeking declaratory judgment, specifically that an award of spousal support to Plaintiffs former wife by the Circuit Court of Henrico County, Virginia ("Circuit Court") is unconstitutional and unenforceable. The Plaintiff, proceeding pro se [1]names both the Circuit Court Judge and his former wife, in their individual capacities, as Defendants. His claims hinge on the contention that the trial court, led astray by his former wife, arbitrarily and capriciously disregarded what he contends is established Virginia procedural and substantive law. He maintains that those sections of the Code of Virginia pertaining to the award of alimony were unconstitutionally applied by the trial court.

         The issue of a spousal support award between Plaintiff and Defendant Ozfidan was first litigated in the Circuit Court. Following an evidentiary hearing on November 25, 2013, addressing the issues of divorce, equitable distribution, fees and costs, the state trial court[2] indicated that it would not address the spousal support issue at that point for two reasons. First, the divorce complaint did not request spousal support, and second, a hearing on spousal support was pending before the Juvenile and Domestic Relations ("J&DR") Court. On December 11, 2013, the trial court issued a letter opinion concluding that "the divorce will be entered on the grounds of cruelty" and that "matters of spousal support will be transferred to the J&DR Court." Ozfldan v. Ozfidan, 2017 WL 83630 at *2-3 (Va. Ct. App. Jan. 10, 2017) (quoting the Circuit Court's letter opinion).

         Plaintiff subsequently filed a "Motion to Decree Spousal Support, " petitioning the trial court to override the J&DR court's award and issue its own support decree, and further requesting that if any such decree was made, it would be made in periodic payments for a defined duration. This motion was denied "as [Ms. Ozfldan's] pleadings never requested [a] spousal support [decree]" from the trial court. Ofzidan, 2017 WL 83630 at *2. Plaintiff appealed to the Court of Appeals for Virginia, which remanded the case back to the trial court for reconsideration of the spousal support issue. Ozfldan v. Ozfidan, 2015 WL 1994114 (Va. Ct. App. May 05, 2015). On remand, Judge Marshall considered the direction of the Court of Appeals, Virginia precedent, and the parties' positions, and ultimately issued a letter opinion ordering Plaintiff to pay Ms. Ozfidan spousal support for an indefinite duration. Ofzidan, 2017 WL 83630 at *3. Plaintiff again appealed, but this time the Court of Appeals affirmed. The Virginia Supreme Court subsequently denied Plaintiffs petition for review. The present action followed.

         This matter is presently before the Court on Motions to Dismiss filed by Defendants Judge John Marshall[3] ("Judge Marshall") and Pamela L. Ozfidan ("Ms. Ozfidan").[4] All parties have filed memoranda supporting their respective positions. For the reasons that follow, both motions to dismiss will be granted.[5]

         As an initial matter, the Court notes that Plaintiff fails to identify any relevant authority to support his abstract allegation that Virginia's statutory scheme enabling circuit courts to award support in domestic relations cases is, in any manner, unconstitutional. Furthermore, this Court's survey of domestic relations jurisprudence reveals none.[6] To survive a motion to dismiss under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), a plaintiffs complaint must contain factual allegations sufficient to raise a right to relief above the speculative level and facially state a plausible claim to relief. Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 570 (2007).

         The Court next turns to Judge Marshall's Motion to Dismiss. Although Judge Marshall appropriately points out that he is generally entitled to absolute judicial immunity and notes that the Complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, the centerpiece of his Motion to Dismiss is this Court's lack of subject matter jurisdiction over the Complaint. This Court agrees with Judge Marshall that this action is, in essence, an appeal of the Circuit Court's award of spousal support sailing under the false flag of a constitutional claim. Plaintiffs assertions of illegality are quite nuanced.

         In attempting to carefully craft a facially viable claim, Plaintiff asserts that "the Complaint does not ask this court to review the merits of the state court decision but rather the procedural and legal improprieties which led to the ruling from the constitutional perspective." (PL Br. Opp. Ozfidan Mot. Dismiss 8, ECF No. 14.) "The primary focus of the [C]omplaint is undeniably on procedural and legal improprieties encouraged by Ms. Ozfidan and employed by Judge Marshall leading up to the ruling to reach an unconstitutional result they personally desired." (Id.) "I am seeking a judgement declaring that whatever the legal bases Judge Marshall relied on in making the spousal support award to Ms. Ozfidan were unconstitutional as applied by him for the reasons stated in my Complaint." (Id. at 10.) "Judge Marshall disregarded state rules, statues [sic], and binding precedents, my independent right to be heard in an impartial forum was violated also." (Id. at 13.) "As a citizen of the Commonwealth, I have a right to expect that the support award would comply with Virginia rules and statues [sic]." (PL Br. Opp. Marshall Mot. Dismiss 11, ECF No. 12.) "The claims in my Complaint question the constitutionality of vague Virginia rules and statues [sic] and constitutionality of Judge Marshall's application of whatever the legal bases were for the support award." (Id. at 13.)

         Focusing the analysis more closely, the genesis of Plaintiff s challenge is the Circuit Court's purported error in making an award of spousal support to his wife in the absence of a valid pleading before the court, filed by her, which requested such support. Plaintiff contends that the only issue properly before the Circuit Court on remand was his own Motion to Decree Spousal Support, which he, by counsel, attempted to retroactively limit to a request that the Circuit Court "decrease spousal support... to a denial of support for [Ms. Ozfidan]." Ofzidan, 2017 WL 83630 at *2. Such limited review, however, is contrary both to the text of Plaintiff s original Motion and to well established Virginia law, particularly in a court of equity. Trial courts in Virginia have broad discretion in awarding and fixing the amount of spousal support. Brooks v. Brooks, 498 S.E.2d 461, 463 (Va. 1998).

         The Court of Appeals of Virginia rejected Plaintiffs counsel's contention that his wife had waived her right to spousal support by not addressing spousal support specifically in her divorce complaint in the Circuit Court. In affirming the decision of the Circuit Court, the Court of Appeals of Virginia noted:

The facts at bar indicate that wife had no intent to relinquish her right to spousal support. Wife's opposition to husband's motion to decree spousal support was predicated on the belief that, absent a trial court ruling on spousal support, her favorable [J&DR] court support order would remain in effect, a position wife has consistently maintained throughout this litigation. Only after this Court remanded the spousal support issue to the trial court for reconsideration did wife, knowing that a trial court award would nullify the JDR court's award, begin affirmatively seeking a spousal support award in the trial court. Wife's desire to receive an award of spousal support, either from the original JDR court order or from the trial court, has remained constant throughout this litigation.

(Id. at *8-9.)[7]

         As acknowledged by the Court of Appeals, the reasoning Judge Marshall employed in awarding support to Plaintiffs wife was consistent in all respects with the dictates of the Virginia Supreme Court. In Werner v. Commonwealth, the Supreme Court held that "a support order of a juvenile and domestic relations court continues in full force and effect notwithstanding the entry by a court of record of a divorce decree that is silent as to support." 181 S.E.2d 76, 78 (Va. 1972). Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to show that Judge Marshall acted unconstitutionally, substantively or procedurally.

         In addition to highlighting the inherent legal fallacies underlying Plaintiffs claims, Judge Marshall correctly challenges this Court's jurisdiction to entertain what is essentially an appeal of a state court's award of alimony. Initially, Judge Marshall points out that the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine, [8] although narrow in application, squarely precludes federal district courts from reviewing such state court decisions. Judge Marshall argues that despite Plaintiffs effort to characterize his claims to the contrary, the relief he seeks necessarily involves a review of a state court's decision ...

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