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Christian v. Reynolds-Christian

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

June 28, 2019


          Richardson Judge.




         Tonya Christian, proceeding pro se, brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that various individuals violated her civil rights, specifically, “[t]he right to direct the upbringing of my son or to care for him, ” and “my freedom of speech.” Docket No. 1, p. 3. She further alleges that “[e]ach of the defendants used their state appointed titles to violate several of my civil rights: 1st, 4th, 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, [and] 14th.” Id. at 8. The events leading to this action allegedly relate to the removal of Ms. Christian's son from her home and custody following an altercation at his school involving the school principal. Id. at 14-17. Ms. Christian asserts that in March 2016, a DCS worker came to her home and searched it based on “allegations, ” and in April 2016, DCS workers came to her home and removed her son. Id. at 8. Ms. Christian named a total of fifteen individual Defendants, including a juvenile court judge and various employees of the Tennessee Department of Children's Services (“DCS”), including Chelsea Wade and Caitlyn Febles. Id. at 3. This matter is now before the Court upon a Motion to Dismiss filed by Ms. Wade and Ms. Febles (“DCS Defendants”). Docket No. 15. They have also filed a Supporting Memorandum of Law. Docket No. 16. The DCS Defendants argue that the claims against them should be dismissed because: 1) the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under the doctrine of sovereign immunity and the domestic-relations exception; 2) the DCS Defendants were not properly served; and 3) Ms. Christian has failed “to state any claim against the DCS Defendants.” Id. at 1-2. Ms. Christian has not responded to the Motion. For the reasons set forth below, the Court recommends that the DCS Defendants' Motion be GRANTED.


         A. Failure to Respond

         As noted above, Ms. Christian has not responded to the DCS Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. The Court construes the failure to respond to the Defendants' arguments as a waiver of whatever responsive arguments Ms. Christian might have had. Humphrey v. United States AG Office, 279 Fed.Appx. 328, 331 (6th Cir. 2008) (“where, as here, plaintiff has not raised arguments in the district court by virtue of his failure to oppose defendants' motions to dismiss, the arguments have been waived, ”) citing Resnick v. Patton, 258 Fed.Appx. 789 (6th Cir. 2007). See also M.D. Tenn. Local Rule 7.01(a)(3) (“If a timely response is not filed, the motion shall be deemed to be unopposed . . . .”). Nevertheless, since granting Defendants' Motion would be a final disposition of the case, the Court will review the matter for legal sufficiency. See Maynard v. Hale, No. 3:11-cv-1233, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114136 at *3, 2012 WL 3401095 (M.D. Tenn. Aug. 14, 2012).

         B. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         1. Generally

         When there is a question as to whether the court has subject matter jurisdiction, it must be resolved, even if it is not raised by a party. See Answers in Genesis, Inc., v. Creation Ministries Int'l, Ltd., 556 F.3d 459, 465 (6th Cir. 2009) (“federal courts have a duty to consider their subject matter jurisdiction in regard to every case and may raise the issue sua sponte”). “Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by the Constitution and statute . . . and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377, 114 S.Ct. 1673 (1994); see also Ins. Corp. of Ireland, Ltd. V. Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee, 456 U.S. 694, 701, 102 S.Ct. 2099 (1982) (“Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. The character of the controversies over which federal judicial authority may extend are delineated in Art. III, § 2, cl. 1. Jurisdiction of the lower federal courts is further limited to those subjects encompassed within a statutory grant of jurisdiction”). Under Rule 12(h)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[i]f the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.”

         2. Attacks on Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         Motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction fall into two general categories: facial attacks and factual attacks. United States v. Ritchie, 15 F.3d 592, 598 (6th Cir. 1994). A facial attack is a challenge to the sufficiency of the complaint; in considering the motion, the court must accept the material allegations of the complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Id.; see also Ohio Nat'l Life Ins. Co. v. United States, 922 F.2d 320, 325 (6th Cir. 1990). A factual attack is a challenge to the factual existence of subject matter jurisdiction. No. presumptive truthfulness applies to the factual allegations, and the court can weigh the evidence in order to satisfy itself as to the existence of its jurisdiction to hear the case. Ritchie, 15 F.3d at 598; Moir v. Greater Cleveland Reg'l Transit Auth., 895 F.2d 266, 269 (6th Cir. 1990). “When a Rule 12(b)(1) motion attacks the factual basis for jurisdiction, the district court must weigh the evidence and the plaintiff has the burden of proving that the court has jurisdiction over the subject matter.” Golden v. Gorno Bros., Inc., 410 F.3d 879, 881 (6th Cir. 2005). The DCS Defendants contend that this case falls within the domestic relations exception to federal jurisdiction. Docket No. 16, p. 3-4. Thus, they make a factual attack on jurisdiction.

         3. The Domestic Relations Exception to Federal Jurisdiction

         Under the domestic relations exception, federal courts are precluded from exercising jurisdiction over cases whose substance is primarily domestic relations. Chambers v. Michigan, 473 Fed.Appx. 477, 478 (6th Cir. 2012); citing Barber v. Barber, 62 U.S. 582, 584, 16 L.Ed. 226 (1858). This exception to federal jurisdiction “is supported by sound ...

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