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Natusch v. Nibert

United States District Court, N.D. West Virginia

March 28, 2017

DELORIS J. NIBERT, individually and in her capacity as Marion County West Virginia Temporary Family Court Judge; and DAVID R. JANES, individually and in his capacity as Marion County West Virginia Circuit Court Judge, Defendants.



         On May 5, 2016, the pro se plaintiff, Matthew R. Natusch (“Natusch”), filed a complaint against the defendants, the Honorable Deloris J. Nibert (“Judge Nibert”) and the Honorable David R. Janes (“Judge Janes”), in both their official and individual capacities. (Dkt. No. 1). At the relevant time, Judge Nibert and Judge Janes were West Virginia state court judges presiding over the Family Court and Circuit Court in Marion County, West Virginia, respectively. Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636 and L.R. Civ. P. 7.02(c) and 72.01(d)(6), the Court referred the action to the Honorable James E. Seibert, United States Magistrate Judge (Dkt. No. 6).

         The defendants moved to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) (Dkt. No. 18). On September 22, 2016, Magistrate Judge Seibert filed a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) recommending that the Court grant the defendants' motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 31). Thereafter, Natusch timely objected to the recommendation (Dkt. No. 33). For the reasons that follow, the Court ADOPTS the R&R (Dkt. No. 31), GRANTS the defendants' motion to dismiss (Dkt. No. 18), and DISMISSES this case WITHOUT PREJUDICE.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         The Court draws its recitation of the facts from Natusch's complaint and construes them in the light most favorable to him. See De'Lonta v. Johnson, 708 F.3d 520, 524 (4th Cir. 2013).

         From the fall of 2002 to October 2003, Natusch lived in North Carolina with Michele Ice (“Ice”). During this time, a daughter was born to them on February 20, 2003 (Dkt. No. 1-4 at 1). On November 17, 2005, the Family Court in Wake County, North Carolina, entered a child custody and child support order (Dkt. No. 1 at 6). Thereafter, in 2007, the child custody and support matters were severed and assigned respectively to the Wake County Family Court and Wake County Child Support Court. Id. On March 26, 2012, the North Carolina Family Court granted Ice's motion to file for modification of child custody in West Virginia, id., and on April 25, 2013, the Family Court of Marion County, West Virginia, assumed jurisdiction over the matter (Dkt. No. 1-2 at 2).

         On July 12, 2013, Judge Nibert held a hearing to address school placement, child support, and several petitions to hold Natusch in contempt. Id. at 1. Natusch appeared at the hearing to contest both proper notice and West Virginia's exercise of “jurisdiction both in matters of child custody and in child support.” Id. at 8, 12. Judge Nibert rejected both arguments and, on August 20, 2013, entered an order finding Natusch in contempt, modifying his parenting time, and accepting Ice's estimation of his income. Judge Nibert then ordered Natusch to pay $705.92 per month as child support. Id. at 4-6.

         Natusch appealed this ruling to the Circuit Court of Marion County, where Judge Janes affirmed the order in its entirety (Dkt. No. 1-3 at 14). Natusch then appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia (“Supreme Court of Appeals”), arguing that Judge Nibert lacked the power to modify his child support obligation because the North Carolina court had relinquished jurisdiction only over child custody matters (Dkt. No. 1-4). The Supreme Court of Appeals, however, held that the authority to decide child custody carried with it the authority to order child support, and also concluded that Natusch had received sufficient notice of the issues taken up at the July 12, 2013, hearing. Id. at 4, 6. It therefore affirmed the decision of Judge Janes in a memorandum opinion dated November 25, 2014. Id. at 1. Natusch then petitioned the Supreme Court of the United States (“Supreme Court”) for a writ of certiorari, which that court denied on April 27, 2015 (Dkt. No. 1 at 16-17).

         Meanwhile, Natusch again appeared before Judge Nibert on January 30, 2015, to contest the West Virginia court's jurisdiction to determine child support. He argued that federal law precluded such jurisdiction because Natusch was still a resident of North Carolina. Id. at 15.[1] On March 9, 2015, Judge Nibert rejected this argument and held Natusch in contempt of her previous child support order. Judge Janes affirmed this ruling on May 22, 2015, concluding that the Supreme Court of Appeals had previously rejected Natusch's jurisdictional arguments (Dkt. No. 1-5 at 1-5). Ultimately, on June 12, 2015, Judge Nibert incarcerated Natusch for failing to comply with her child support order (Dkt. Nos. 1 at 20; 1-6).

         During the latter part of 2015, Natusch sought a declaration in Wake County, North Carolina, regarding jurisdiction (Dkt. No. 1-9; 1-10). Ultimately, on March 2, 2016, the state trial court in Wake County entered an order declaring that “North Carolina has continuing, exclusive jurisdiction over the matter of child support, ” and thus had the controlling child support order (Dkt. No. 1-12 at 5-6).

         B. Procedural Background

         Natusch's primary claim is that both Judge Nibert and Judge Janes deprived him of his rights within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 when they “subject[ed] [him] to . . . unlawful ‘orders'” without due process (Dkt. No. 1 at 25). He alleges that he has been a resident of North Carolina during all relevant times, and that, under 28 U.S.C. § 1738B, [2] North Carolina retains continuing jurisdiction over all relevant child support matters, to the exclusion of West Virginia. Id. at 29. As a result, Natusch claims that the defendants acted unconstitutionally and unlawfully “in the absence of jurisdiction.” Id. at 32.

         Natusch's complaint seeks a variety of declaratory and injunctive relief in connection with his § 1983 claim. First, he seeks a declaration that no West Virginia state court “has, or has ever had, jurisdiction in matters of child support.” Id. at 38. Second, he seeks a declaration that Judge Nibert and Judge Janes deprived him of his rights, privileges, and immunities under the Constitution and 28 U.S.C. §§ 1738 and 1738B. Finally, he seeks an injunction against “similar unlawful acts and other potential acts of discrimination and retaliation.” Id. at 38-39.

         In his second, third, and fourth claims, Natusch requests that the Court refer this matter to federal law enforcement due to violations of 18 U.S.C. §§ 4 and 2382, award him fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988, and declare that he has preserved his right to bring further claims against the defendants. Id. at 39.

         Both Judge Nibert and Judge Janes moved to dismiss the complaint on May 26, 2016 (Dkt. No. 18). As a threshold matter, they argue that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine[3] precludes the Court from exercising jurisdiction over this case (Dkt. No. 19 at 10). Additionally, they argue that sovereign immunity and judicial immunity bar the recovery of damages, id. at 11-17, and that Younger abstention and the limitations of § 1983 foreclose the equitable and injunctive relief Natusch seeks. Id. at 17-22. Finally, they argue that Natusch has no private right of action under 18 U.S.C. §§ 4 and 2382. Id. at 22-23.

         Following full briefing (Dkt. Nos. 27; 29), Magistrate Judge Seibert filed an R&R recommending that the Court grant the defendants' motion (Dkt. No. 31). Natusch filed timely objections (Dkt. No. 33), making the matter ripe for review by this Court (Dkt. No. 34).


         A. Motion to Dismiss

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) allow a defendant to move for dismissal on the ground that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction or that the complaint does not “state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” When reviewing the sufficiency of a complaint, a district court “must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint.” Anderson v. Sara Lee Corp., 508 F.3d 181, 188 (4th Cir. 2007) (quoting Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007)). “While a complaint . . . does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the ‘grounds' of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citation omitted).

         A court is “not bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.” Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986). In order to be sufficient, “a complaint must contain ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Anderson, 508 F.3d at 188 n.7 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 547). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A motion to dismiss “does not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses.” Republican Party of N.C. v. Martin, 980 F.2d 943, 952 (4th Cir. 1992).

         In deciding on the motion, the Court need not confine its inquiry to the complaint; it may also consider “documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice.” Tellabs, Inc. v. Makor Issues & Rights, Ltd., 551 U.S. 308, 322 (2007). “A copy of a written instrument that is an exhibit to a pleading is a part of the pleading for all purposes.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 10(c). The Court may also consider documents “attached to the motion to dismiss, so long as they are integral to the complaint and authentic.” Philips v. Pitt Cty. Mem'l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009).

         B. Magistrate Judge's R&R

         When reviewing a magistrate judge's R&R, the Court must review de novo only the portion to which an objection is timely made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). On the other hand, the Court may adopt, without explanation, any of the magistrate judge's recommendations to which the parties do not object. See Camby v. Davis, 718 F.2d 198, 199-200 (4th Cir. 1983). Courts will uphold those portions of an R&R to which no objection has been made unless they are “clearly erroneous.” See Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005).


         After careful review, it is clear that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and the Eleventh Amendment divest this Court of subject matter jurisdiction over Natusch's claims. Moreover, Natusch has not established that he otherwise would be entitled to damages, declaratory relief, or injunctive relief.

         A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         1. The Rooker-F ...

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