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White v. Gee

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

June 13, 2019

MAGAN WHITE, Plaintiff,
v.
SHERIFF DAVID GEE, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER DISMISSING FEDERAL CLAIMS FOR LACK OF SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION AND DECLINING TO EXERCISE SUPPLEMENTAL JURISDICTION OVER STATE LAW CLAIMS

          WILLIAM F. JUNG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Plaintiff's newborn baby was badly beaten, with 27 fractures on 12 ribs and massive brain damage. Dkt. 78-8 at 186. Plaintiff's parental rights were terminated after a state trial court held a hearing, at which Plaintiff testified with counsel. The court found Plaintiff did not shelter or care for her baby. The appellate court affirmed.

         Plaintiff sues for damages due to termination of her parental rights. She blames her incompetent trial counsel, corrupt guardians of the now brain-damaged baby, and a group of law enforcement officers who conspired (for other reasons) against an officer favorable to her. She admits that in order to prevail, this Court must rule that both the trial judge and the Florida Second District Court of Appeal were in error. This Court dismisses the case under Rooker-Feldman.

         This matter came before the Court for a hearing on May 8, 2019, upon Defendants' motions to dismiss the corrected amended complaint.[1] The Court heard extensive argument from counsel on the several defense motions and then received supplemental briefing from all parties[2] on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. As the Eleventh Circuit teaches, “[t]he Rooker-Feldman doctrine eliminates federal court jurisdiction over those cases that are essentially an appeal by a state court loser seeking to relitigate a claim that has already been decided in a state court.” Target Media Partners v. Specialty Mktg. Corp., 881 F.3d 1279, 1281 (11th Cir. 2018). The doctrine applies here, and Plaintiff's federal claims (Counts I-III and XII-XIII) are dismissed from this Court for lack of federal subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rooker-Feldman. The Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims in absence of federal jurisdiction. Thus Counts IV-XI and XIV-XVI are dismissed from this Court.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Magan White had a newborn baby boy. While in Plaintiff's sole custody, the infant was beaten horrifically, mauled to within an inch of his life. He is now severely brain damaged. Dkt. 78-8 at 186. Plaintiff alleges that her live-in boyfriend was the perpetrator. Plaintiff contends that a large and devious conspiracy caused her to lose her parental rights to the infant in the ensuing parental rights termination proceeding begun by the State, during which Plaintiff was at all times represented by counsel.

         Plaintiff contends that her lawyers were incompetent (Dkt. 49 at 2 n.1; Dkt. 83-1 at 23), and the guardians ad litem appointed for the infant were incompetent or corrupt for siding with the State (Dkt. 49 at 47-49; Dkt. 83-1 at 12, 23). Plaintiff contends that the Circuit Court Judge who terminated her parental rights by final written Order (Dkt. 78-8 at 182-92) after several evidentiary hearings erred and that the ruling was fraudulently induced by the conspiracy set forth in her corrected amended complaint. Likewise, appeals to Florida's Second District Court of Appeal (“Second DCA”) foundered and did not correct the corrupted final judgment.

         The corrected amended complaint is the third complaint Plaintiff has filed. Plaintiff sued 15 defendants in a 16-count conspiracy and racketeering complaint spanning 97 pages. The defendants are the present and former State Attorneys for the Thirteenth Judicial Circuit (Hillsborough County) and two of their Assistant State Attorneys, as well as the former and present County Sheriffs, several current and one retired Sheriff's Office deputies, a Sheriff's Office child protection investigator, and the Florida Assistant Attorney General who prosecuted the parental termination case.

         Because these proceedings arise on multiple motions to dismiss, the facts as alleged in the complaint are deemed true.[3] Plaintiff also filed a number of other documents for the Court to review in connection with her responses to the motions to dismiss. Dkt. 78.

         The corrected amended complaint alleges federal racketeering under 18 U.S.C. § 1962 (Counts I-III) and federal civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (Counts XII-XIII), as well as multiple state law claims (Counts IV-XI and XIV-XVI). What the federal claims have in common is the injury sought to be recompensed. As noted in Count I, that injury is:

As a direct and proximate result of DEFENDANTS' [actionable conduct], [Plaintiff] has been injured in her property, in that she has had her child taken away from her, her parental rights . . . have been severed, she has lost standing to sue [the hospital at which her son was treated] for failing to recognize that [her boyfriend] was beating her baby, and [Plaintiff's boyfriend] walked away from the crime without prosecution . . . .

Dkt. 49 ¶ 265.

         The theory of Plaintiff's case is that the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office (HCSO) and the State's Attorney's Office had a personal vendetta against one HCSO Detective named Brian Boswell. According to Plaintiff, Boswell was being wrongly drummed out of the HCSO for various failures to be a “team player” and his refusal to be corrupt. The first line of the corrected amended complaint states that “[t]his case arises out of Boswell v. Gee, 18-cv-1769 (M.D. Fla. July 19, 2018), ” which is Boswell's suit pending in this Court before Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich against many of these same parties, seeking recompense for the conspiracy to force Boswell out of the HCSO and to defame him. Id. ¶ 1. Indeed, at the May 8, 2019 hearing on Plaintiff's instant complaint, Boswell was present, but Plaintiff was not. Boswell and Plaintiff share lawyers.

         The gist of the allegations in the corrected amended complaint is that the conspiracy to “undermine” Boswell and force him out of the HCSO caused the proper investigation of Plaintiff's boyfriend to fall apart. That boyfriend beat Plaintiff's baby. Boswell was investigating this child battery. And Boswell could have exculpated Plaintiff in her parental rights termination hearings had he been aware they were occurring. But Boswell was allegedly misled by Defendant Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Beck that the parental rights termination matter was not going to proceed. As Plaintiff explains it, the conspiracy to “get” Boswell had collateral effects, including the dropping of criminal charges against the boyfriend and the improper focus of attention to the allegedly deficient parenting of Plaintiff.

         DISCUSSION

         The Court has considered the parties' supplemental briefing and concludes that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine precludes it from exercising subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's federal claims. Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, federal courts do not have jurisdiction to review state court decisions. May v. Morgan Cty., 878 F.3d 1001, 1004 (11th Cir. 2017) (citations omitted). The doctrine is a narrow one and applies only in cases (1) brought by state-court losers (2) complaining of injuries caused by final state-court judgments (3) rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and (4) inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments. Id. (citation omitted). The federal claims in this case easily satisfy the first three requirements: Plaintiff is a state-court loser who is complaining about injuries caused when the state court by final judgment terminated her parental rights in 2016 (a decision that was affirmed in 2017, see In the Interest of A.W., 226 So.3d 828 (Fla. 2d DCA 2017))-long before Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit.

         The Court also concludes that Plaintiff's case invites district court review and rejection of the state court's judgments. Notably, although the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is narrow in its application, “a state court loser cannot avoid Rooker-Feldman's bar by cleverly cloaking her pleadings in the cloth of a different claim. Pretext is not tolerated.” May, 878 F.3d at 1005. To determine whether a claim invites rejection of a state court decision, courts must consider whether a claim was either actually adjudicated by a state court or is “inextricably intertwined” with a state court judgment. Target Media Partners, 881 F.3d at 1286 (citation omitted). A claim is “inextricably intertwined” with a state court judgment if it asks to “effectively nullify the state court judgment, or it succeeds only to the extent that the state court wrongly decided the issues.” Id. (internal quotation and citation omitted). That said, a federal claim is not “inextricably intertwined” with a state court judgment when there was no “reasonable opportunity to raise” that claim during the relevant state court proceeding. Id. (citation omitted).

         Here, Plaintiff's federal RICO and § 1983 claims are inextricably intertwined with the state court's judgment terminating her parental rights because they can succeed only to the extent that the state court wrongly decided the issues. At the hearing, this Court asked and received the following question and answer:

THE COURT: I mean, basically, I have to determine . . . Judge Tesche was misled or fooled or defrauded into finding the termination unjustly. Isn't ...

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