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Everingham v. Rogers

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

April 11, 2019


          William L. Campbell, Jr. Judge.


          Alistair E. Newbern United States Magistrate Judge.

         To: The Honorable William L. Campbell, Jr., District Judge.

         Before the Court is Defendant Judge J. Mark Rogers's motion to dismiss Plaintiff Richard Darrell Everingham's pro se amended petition for a writ of habeas corpus. (Doc. No. 14.) The referral order in this action authorizes the Magistrate Judge to recommend disposition of any pretrial motions under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) and (B). (Doc. No. 7.) For the reasons that follow, the Magistrate Judge RECOMMENDS that Rogers's motion to dismiss be GRANTED.

         I. Factual and Procedural Background

         This action arises out of Plaintiff Everingham's divorce proceedings in the Circuit Court for Rutherford County, Tennessee. On June 28, 2018, Everingham filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus naming his ex-wife, Kristina Marie Everingham, as the sole defendant. (Doc. No. 1.) On August 20, 2018, Everingham moved for leave to amend his petition to remove Ms. Everingham as a defendant and instead name Judge Rogers, who presided over the couple's divorce proceedings. (Doc. No. 8.) The Court granted Everingham's motion to amend on August 21, 2018 (Doc. No. 9), and Everingham filed an amended petition on August 27, 2018 (Doc. No. 10). The amended petition alleges that Rogers entered a divorce decree, child support order, and monetary judgment against Everingham without providing him a jury trial; that Rogers refused to recuse himself despite his friendship with Ms. Everingham's stepfather; that Rogers threatened to have Everingham arrested for refusing to volunteer evidence against himself; and that Rogers did have Everingham arrested on July 13, 2018, for failure to appear and contempt of court. (Doc. No. 10.) The amended petition does not allege that Everingham is currently in custody. It appears that the relief that Everingham seeks is a declaration that Rogers's orders in the underlying divorce proceedings are void. (Id.)

         Rogers has filed a motion to dismiss the amended petition under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction or under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. (Doc. Nos. 14, 15.) Rogers argues that, because Everingham was not in state custody when he filed his petition, this Court lacks jurisdiction to consider his claims for habeas relief and that, even if the Court were to construe Everingham's claims as arising under some other federal statute, this Court still lacks subject-matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. (Id.) In the alternative, Rogers argues that judicial immunity protects him against any of Everingham's claims that could be construed to seek monetary damages; that the Eleventh Amendment bars any claims against him in his official capacity; that Everingham's claims are barred by the applicable statutes of limitation; and that Everingham has failed to state a claim of any constitutional violations. (Id.) Everingham opposes the motion. (Doc. No. 16.)

         II. Legal Standard

         Whether a court has subject-matter jurisdiction is a “threshold determination” in any action. Am. Telecom Co. v. Republic of Lebanon, 501 F.3d 534, 537 (6th Cir. 2007). This reflects the fundamental principle that “[j]urisdiction is power to declare the law, and when it ceases to exist, the only function remaining to the court is that of announcing the fact and dismissing the cause.” Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 94 (1998) (quoting Ex parte McCardle, 74 U.S. (7 Wall.) 506, 514 (1868)); see Wayside Church v. Van Buren Cty., 847 F.3d 812, 816 (6th Cir. 2017) (explaining that courts “are ‘bound to consider [a] 12(b)(1) motion first, since [a] Rule 12(b)(6) challenge becomes moot if th[e] court lacks subject matter jurisdiction” (quoting Moir v. Greater Cleveland Reg'l Transit Auth., 895 F.2d 266, 269 (6th Cir. 1990))).

         The party asserting jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing that subject-matter jurisdiction exists. Ammons v. Ally Fin., Inc., 305 F.Supp.3d 818, 820 (M.D. Tenn. 2018). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction “may either attack the claim of jurisdiction on its face or it can attack the factual basis of jurisdiction.” Golden v. Gorno Bros., Inc., 410 F.3d 879, 881 (6th Cir. 2005). A facial attack challenges the sufficiency of the pleading and, like a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), requires the Court to take all facts alleged in the pleading as true. Wayside Church, 847 F.3d at 816-17 (quoting Gentek Bldg. Prods., Inc. v. Sherwin-Williams Co., 491 F.3d 320, 330 (6th Cir. 2007)). A factual attack challenges the allegations supporting jurisdiction, raising “a factual controversy requiring the district court to ‘weigh the conflicting evidence to arrive at the factual predicate that subject-matter does or does not exist.” Id. at 817 (quoting Gentek Bldg. Prods., Inc., 491 F.3d at 330). District courts reviewing factual attacks have “wide discretion to allow affidavits, documents and even a limited evidentiary hearing to resolve disputed jurisdictional facts.” Ohio Nat'l Life Ins. Co. v. United States, 922 F.3d 320, 325 (6th Cir. 1990).

         Here, Rogers argues that the Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction because Everingham was not in state custody when he filed his habeas petition-which implicates factual questions- and because the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars Everingham's claims for injuries stemming from Rogers's final orders in Everingham's divorce proceedings-which implicates only the allegations in Everingham's petition. See Reguli v. Guffee, 371 Fed.Appx. 590, 595 (6th Cir. 2010) (treating Rooker-Feldman argument as a facial attack on subject-matter jurisdiction). Because this Court lacks jurisdiction to hear Everingham's claims, it need not address Rogers's remaining arguments for dismissal.

         III. Analysis

         A. Habeas Jurisdiction

         By statute, federal courts may consider “an application for a writ of habeas corpus [o]n behalf of a person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a State court only on the ground that he is in custody in violation of the Constitution or law or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a). “This language is jurisdictional: if a petitioner is not ‘in custody' when [he or] she files [the] petition, courts may not consider it.” Hautzenroeder v. Dewine, 887 F.3d 737, 740 (6th Cir. 2018) (citing Steverson v. Summers, 258 F.3d 520, 522 (6th Cir. 2001)); Maleng v. Cook, 490 U.S. 488, 490 (1989) (“The federal habeas statute gives the United States district courts jurisdiction to entertain petitions for ...

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