CASE NO. 18-cv-00470-YGR
ORDER DISMISSING ACTION WITHOUT PREJUDICE SUA SPONTE; DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS AS MOOT; VACATING HEARING Dkt. No. 36
Plaintiff Khlood Khalih Salah filed an amended complaint on May 4, 2018 ("FAC," Dkt. No. 28.) Defendant Contra Costa County ("County") filed its motion to dismiss pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78(b) and Civil Local Rule 7-1(b), the Court finds this motion appropriate for decision without oral argument. Accordingly, the Court VACATES the hearing set for July 10, 2018.
In its motion, County raised the Rooker-Feldman doctrine as a basis for dismissal for lack of jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1). Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a district court may not adjudicate an action which seeks to reverse or nullify a final state court judgment, nor may it adjudicate issues "inextricably intertwined" with issues adjudicated by the state court, such as claims that the underlying action violated a party's constitutional rights. Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 292-293 (2005). However, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies only to cases "brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments." Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 284. It does not apply when the underlying state court proceedings have not concluded.
Here, the Court takes judicial notice of the fact that the underlying juvenile dependency proceedings are not final, and are the subject of pending appeal and writ proceedings. Consequently, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply.
Plaintiff alleged that the juvenile dependency proceedings were filed as Contra Costa Superior Court Case No. JV1600075. (FAC ¶ 4.) That matter is the subject of three appellate proceedings, currently pending as of the date of this order, in California's First District Court of Appeal: Case Nos. A152136, Contra Costa County Children & Family Services Bureau v. K.S.; A152648, Contra Costa County Children & Family Services Bureau v. K.S.; and A154102, In re Y.G. et al.
Nevertheless, the pendency of those proceedings raises related questions of abstention under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 49-53 (1971). Younger abstention arises from "strong policies counseling against the exercise of [federal] jurisdiction where particular kinds of state proceedings have already been commenced." Ohio Civil Rights Comm'n v. Dayton Christian Schools, Inc., 477 U.S. 619, 626 (1986). The policies underlying Younger abstention were "first articulated with reference to state criminal proceedings" but later recognized as being applicable to "civil proceedings in which important state interests are involved." Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S. 415, 423 (1979).
Thus, federal courts should abstain where: (1) state court proceedings are pending when the federal action is filed; (2) the proceedings implicate important state interests; and (3) the proceedings provide adequate opportunity to raise the federal claims. Middlesex County Ethics Committee v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 431 (1982); M&A Gabaee v. Community Redevelop. Agency of City of Los Angeles, 419 F.3d 1036, 1039 (9th Cir. 2005). Because of the important policies underlying the doctrine, Younger abstention may be raised sua sponte by the federal court at any time. See H.C. ex rel. Gordon v. Koppel, 203 F.3d 610, 613 (9th Cir. 2000); San Remo Hotel v. City & Cty. of San Francisco, 145 F.3d 1095, 1103 n.5 (9th Cir. 1998).
Again, the juvenile dependency proceedings that are the basis for all of plaintiff's claims are still pending on appeal in the state appellate court. Thus, the instant action meets the first requirement for Younger abstention. Moreover, the Supreme Court has held that child welfare and custody issues implicate important state interests, meeting the second criterion. Moore, 442 U.S. at 435 (abstention and dismissal proper where federal action challenged state child abuse statutes based upon "compelling state interest in quickly and effectively removing the victims of child abuse from their parents"); see also H.C. ex rel. Gordon v. Koppel, 203 F.3d 610, 612-14 (9th Cir. 2000) (pending state custody proceedings were "precisely the type of case suited to Younger abstention"). Finally, the Supreme Court has held that state judicial processes were sufficient for "deciding the constitutional questions that may arise in child-welfare litigation." Id. State court proceedings are presumed adequate to raise the federal claim "in the absence of unambiguous authority to the contrary." Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc. 481 U.S. 1, 15 (1987). Plaintiff bears the burden of showing that the state court proceedings bar the federal claims she alleges here. See Communications Telesystems Int'l v. California Pub. Util. Comm'n, 196 F.3d 1011, 1020 (9th Cir. 1999) (citing Pennzoil, 481 U.S. at 14).
The FAC alleges that the Court has jurisdiction over the action based upon federal question under 28 U.S.C. section 1331, because it alleges claims implicating the Constitution of the United States, and federal laws such as 42 U.S.C. section 1983. Plaintiff further alleges the Court has supplemental jurisdiction over her state common law causes of action, including fraud, malpractice, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. section 1367.
In addition, plaintiff identified certain "placeholder" claims in her FAC, which she alleged were "to be amended," including a claim under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and two state common law claims. Because the federal ADA claim was not alleged beyond this placeholder, it does not affect the Court's decision herein. --------
Under the Younger abstention doctrine, the Court finds that dismissal is appropriate as to plaintiff's claims for violation of her constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. section 1983 and Monell. Because those claims form the only basis for the Court's jurisdiction over her remaining state common law claims (such as her claims for malpractice and fraud against her former attorney, and for abuse of process and malicious prosecution against her ex-husband), the Court likewise finds dismissal of those claims appropriate.
Based upon the foregoing, the Court DISMISSES the First Amended Complaint sua sponte based upon Younger abstention with respect to the constitutional claims, and for lack of a basis for supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining claims. See 28 U.S.C. section 1367(c). This dismissal is without prejudice.
Defendant County's motion to dismiss is, therefore, DENIED AS MOOT.
This terminates Docket No. 36.
IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: July 2, 2018
YVONNE GONZALEZ ROGERS
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE