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Parsons v. McDaniel

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

May 1, 2019

MACHELLE PARSONS, et al., Plaintiffs,
ASHTON MCDANIEL, et al., Defendants.



         This action was referred to United States Magistrate Judge Dwane L. Tinsley for submission of proposed findings of fact and recommendations for disposition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). On April 9, 2019, Magistrate Judge Tinsley submitted his Proposed Findings and Recommendation [ECF No. 7] (“PF&R”). The PF&R recommends the court dismiss this civil action and deny the plaintiffs' Application to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees and Costs [ECF No. 1]. On April 24, 2019, the plaintiffs-Machelle Parsons and Darius Grose-timely submitted objections [ECF No. 8] to the PF&R. For the reasons that follow, the court OVERRULES the plaintiffs' objections and ADOPTS the PF&R in full.

         I. Procedural History

         Because the plaintiffs make no objections to the PF&R's procedural history, the court ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's procedural history.

         II. Legal Standard

         A district court “shall make a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objection is made.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). This court is not, however, required to review, under a de novo or any other standard, the factual or legal conclusions of the magistrate judge as to those portions of the findings or recommendation to which no objections are addressed. Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 150 (1985). In addition, this court need not conduct a de novo review when a party “makes general and conclusory objections that do not direct the Court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). When reviewing portions of the report de novo, this court will consider the fact that the plaintiffs are acting pro se, and their pleadings will be accorded liberal construction. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976); Loe v. Armistead, 582 F.2d 1291, 1295 (4th Cir. 1978).

         III. Discussion

         The Complaint in this matter appears to allege violations of the plaintiffs' rights under the Fourth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendments based on the defendants' removal of and denial of visitation rights with the plaintiffs' minor child. The plaintiffs seek the “immediate return” of the child. Compl. [ECF No. 2] 6. The Magistrate Judge proposed that the court find (1) that the defendants, in their official capacity, are immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment and (2) that the court should abstain from exercising subject matter jurisdiction over this matter under the “Younger-abstention doctrine, ”[1] and the “domestic relations exception, ”[2] even if the plaintiffs could overcome the Eleventh Amendment bar.

         In their objections to the PF&R, the plaintiffs first contend that the defendants are being sued in both their individual and official capacities. The plaintiffs also state that “presently” there are “ongoing state judicial proceedings” concerning the minor child's custody. Pls.' Objs. [ECF No. 8] 7. Specifically, the plaintiffs state that “[t]he [state court] judge ordered a parental evaluation for both plaintiffs Machelle Parsons and Darius Grose. . . . She ordered no reinstatement of improvement period, and continue no contact with [the minor child]. Our next hearing is scheduled for May 16, 2019[.]” Id. at 4-5 (emphasis added). The plaintiffs' objections reiterate that they seek “injunctive relief commanding defendants to return [the minor child] to her biological parents.” Id. at 9.

         However, the plaintiffs' objections-to the extent they direct the court to a specific error in the PF&R-only provide additional support for the Magistrate Judge's application of the Younger-abstention doctrine and the domestic relations exception. Moreover, these doctrines apply regardless of whether the defendants are sued in their individual or official capacities.

         First, the domestic relations exception precludes federal jurisdiction in this case. In Ankenbrand v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 703-04 (1992), the Supreme Court held:

We conclude, therefore, that the domestic relations exception, as articulated by this Court since Barber, divests the federal courts of power to issue divorce, alimony, and child custody decrees. . . .
Not only is our conclusion rooted in respect for this long-held understanding, it is also supported by sound policy considerations. Issuance of decrees of this type not infrequently involves retention of jurisdiction by the court and the deployment of social workers to monitor compliance. As a matter of judicial economy, state courts are more eminently suited to work of this type than federal courts, which lack the close association with state and local government organizations dedicated to handling issues that arise out of conflicts over divorce, alimony and child custody decrees. Moreover, as a matter of judicial expertise, it makes far more sense to retain the rule that federal courts lack power to issue these types of decrees because of the special proficiency developed by state tribunals over the past century and a half in handling issues that arise in the granting of such decrees.

Id. at 703-04 (emphasis added); see also Becker v. Clarke, No. DKC-12-1214, 2012 WL 1570139, at *2 (D. Md. May 2, 2012) (“federal courts do not have the power to intervene with regard to . . . ...

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