United States District Court, S.D. Florida
ORDER GRANTING MOTIONS TO DISMISS, DISMISSING CLAIMS
AGAINST DEFENDANT JUDGE ROBERT MEADOWS WITH PREJUDICE, AND
DISMISSING CLAIMS AGAINST DEFENDANTS CHRISTOPHER HICKS AND
ROY MILDNER WITHOUT PREJUDICE AND WITH LEAVE TO
L. ROSENBERG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
CAUSE comes before the Court on Defendant
Christopher Hicks's Motion to Dismiss [DE 12] and on
Defendant Judge Robert Meadows's Motion to Dismiss With
Prejudice [DE 16]. The Court has carefully considered the
Motions, Plaintiff's Responses thereto [DE 28 and 29],
and the record, and is otherwise fully advised in the
may grant a motion to dismiss a pleading if the pleading
fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss
should be granted only when the pleading fails to contain
“enough facts to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). “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). The
pleading must contain more than labels, conclusions, a
formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action,
and naked assertions devoid of further factual enhancement.
Id. The factual allegations must be enough to raise
a right to relief above the speculative level.
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
ruling on a motion to dismiss, a court accepts as true the
facts alleged in the complaint and draws all reasonable
inferences in the plaintiff's favor. West v.
Warden, 869 F.3d 1289, 1296 (11th Cir. 2017). A
complaint may be dismissed if an affirmative defense appears
on the face of the complaint. Jones v. Bock, 549
U.S. 199, 215 (2007). Pro se pleadings are liberally
construed and are held to a less stringent standard than
attorney-drafted pleadings. Miller v. Donald, 541
F.3d 1091, 1100 (11th Cir. 2008).
sues Judge Meadows, Hicks, and Roy Mildner for their actions
in conjunction with child dependency and paternity cases
involving Plaintiff's minor child, S.V.D., in the Circuit
Court of the Nineteenth Judicial Circuit in and for St. Lucie
County. See DE 1. As alleged, Judge Meadows presided
over those cases, Hicks was Plaintiff's appointed
attorney during at least some of the relevant time period,
and Mildner was the attorney of S.V.D.'s biological
father. Id. ¶¶ 8-10. The Court addresses
Plaintiff's allegations against each Defendant in turn.
sues Judge Meadows in his official and individual capacities
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of her
constitutional rights to due process and equal protection.
See Id. at 11-16. She challenges his rulings in the
state cases, see, e.g., id. ¶¶
11, 31-33, 35, 37, 40-42, 45, 49, 61-64, alleges that he
erred by failing to appoint her “new” counsel,
see, e.g., id. ¶¶ 29, 50, 65, and
contends that he made rulings without her presence and an
opportunity to be heard, see, e.g., id.
¶¶ 62, 71-72. Plaintiff further alleges that Judge
Meadows acted in “the clear absence of
jurisdiction.” See Id. ¶ 61. She reasons
that he initially presided over the dependency case, that the
dependency case concluded and was closed with an order that
modifications of a timesharing schedule would be addressed in
family court, that the paternity case subsequently commenced
in family court, and that the court consolidated the
dependency and paternity cases, assigned Judge Meadows to the
cases, and closed the paternity case, with all further
activity taking place in the dependency case. See,
e.g., id. ¶¶ 11, 15-18, 21-24.
Plaintiff contends that Judge Meadows lacked jurisdiction to
act because the dependency case had been closed. See,
e.g., id. ¶¶ 32, 59-61.
claims against Judge Meadows in his official capacity are, in
fact, claims against the State of Florida that are barred by
Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity. See Higdon v.
Tusan, 746 Fed.Appx. 805, 809-10 (11th Cir. 2018)
(affirming the dismissal of claims brought against state
judges in their official capacities). The State of Florida has not
waived its Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity to being
sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in federal court. Gamble
v. Fla. Dep't of Health & Rehab. Servs., 779
F.2d 1509 (11th Cir. 1986). Thus, Plaintiff's claims
against Judge Meadows in his official capacity must be
dismissed with prejudice.
immunity bars Plaintiff's claims for damages against
Judge Meadows in his individual capacity. See Sibley v.
Lando, 437 F.3d 1067, 1070 (11th Cir. 2005) (stating
that judges are entitled to absolute judicial immunity from
damages for acts taken while they are acting in their
judicial capacity, even when the acts are in error,
malicious, or in excess of jurisdiction). Judicial immunity
does not apply when a judge “acted in the clear absence
of all jurisdiction.” Id. (quotation marks
omitted). Plaintiff alleges that Judge Meadows acted in
“the clear absence of jurisdiction, ”
see DE 1 ¶ 61, however that allegation is a
legal conclusion that need not be accepted as true for the
purpose of a motion to dismiss. See Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555 (explaining that a court is not bound to accept
as true a legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation
when ruling on a motion to dismiss). A court acts in the
clear absence of jurisdiction only when subject matter
jurisdiction is completely absent. Dykes v.
Hosemann, 776 F.2d 942, 947-48 & n.17 (11th Cir.
1985); see also Subject-Matter
Jurisdiction, Black's Law Dictionary (11th ed. 2019)
(defining “subject-matter jurisdiction” as
“[j]urisdiction over the nature of the case and the
type of relief sought”).
Plaintiff acknowledges in the Complaint that the dependency
and paternity cases were consolidated and assigned to Judge
Meadows under procedural rules providing for one judge to
handle related family cases. See DE 1 ¶ 81;
see also Fla. Fam. Law Rules of P. 12.003(a)(1)
(“All related family cases must be handled before one
judge unless impractical.”); Amended Administrative
Order 2015-12 of the Circuit Court of the Nineteenth Judicial
Circuit in and for Indian River, Martin, Okeechobee, and St.
Lucie Counties (creating a family division that includes
dependency and paternity cases and providing for the
consolidation of interrelated family cases).
has pointed to no authority that supports the proposition
that Judge Meadows lacked subject matter jurisdiction because
the dependency case previously had been closed. The caselaw
that Plaintiff cites for the proposition that Judge Meadows
lost jurisdiction upon the closure of the dependency case
makes clear that the use of the word
“jurisdiction” in such a context does not refer
to subject matter jurisdiction. See Tobkin v. State,
777 So.2d 1160, 1163 (Fla. 4th Dist. Ct. App. 2001)
(concluding that a voluntary dismissal divested a court of
jurisdiction to continue to act in a case and clarifying that
“[t]he jurisdictional issue here is not one of subject
matter jurisdiction, which the court clearly has”);
T.D. v. K.D., 747 So.2d 456, 457-58 & n.2 (Fla.
4th Dist. Ct. App. 1999) (reversing a court's assertion
of jurisdiction over a modification motion in a closed
dependency case and clarifying that the use of the word
“jurisdiction” meant “case jurisdiction,
” that is, “the power of the court over a
particular case that is within its subject matter
jurisdiction”). In addition, the case that Plaintiff
cites for the proposition that a juvenile court loses subject
matter jurisdiction over a child who has reached the age of
nineteen is inapposite, as Plaintiff acknowledges in the
Complaint that S.V.D. is a minor of kindergarten age.
See DE 1 ¶¶ 7, 37; see also Cesaire v.
State, 811 So.2d 816, 818 (Fla. 4th Dist. Ct. App. 2002)
(holding that “any action taken by the juvenile court
after petitioner's nineteenth birthday was void for lack
of subject matter jurisdiction”).
Judge Meadows has judicial immunity, Plaintiff's claims
against him in his individual capacity must be dismissed with
prejudice. In addition, to the extent that Plaintiff seeks
appellate review of any state court judgment, this Court
lacks jurisdiction to conduct such review. See Lance v.
Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 463-66 (2006) (stating that, under
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, lower federal courts
are precluded from exercising appellate jurisdiction over
final state court judgments). For these reasons, Judge
Meadows's Motion to Dismiss granted and the claims
against him in Counts I and II of the Complaint are dismissed