United States District Court, D. Kansas
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
L. TEETER, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Jorel Shophar and Sasuah Shophar, proceeding pro se,
bring this action against various entities and individuals
who, they contend, violated their constitutional rights when
they “illegally” placed two of Plaintiff Jorel
Shophar's minor children in state custody. Plaintiffs
seek a writ of habeas corpus directing that the children be
returned to their custody and also assert claims under 42
U.S.C. § 1983 and a number of other federal statutes.
This is at least the fourteenth lawsuit filed by Plaintiff
Jorel Shophar in various state and federal courts stemming
from these custody issues.
Kathleen Sloan, Erica Miller, Kansas Department of Children
and Families, Stacey Bray, Richard Klein, KVC Health, Saarah
Ahmad, and Kimberly Smith move to dismiss Plaintiffs'
petition pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and
12(b)(6). Docs. 34, 57, 76. As more fully explained
below, the Court finds that it lacks subject matter
jurisdiction over the asserted claims and, therefore,
dismisses this case without prejudice.
action is essentially a challenge to a state court child
custody order. Plaintiff Jorel Shophar and a woman named
Krissy Gorski had two children together, identified herein as
J.S. and B.S. On August 12, 2015, Gorski took the children
away from Plaintiff Jorel Shophar, went to a safe home, and
reported to various agencies that he was abusing her and the
children. Ultimately, in September 2015, the District Court
of Johnson County, Kansas placed J.S. and B.S. into custody
of the Kansas Department of Children and Families
(“DCF”); the children were accordingly placed
with foster parents.
the petition is somewhat unclear on this point, subsequent to
the initial September 2015 custody ruling, a Child in Need of
Care (“CINC”) case pertaining to the two children
was initiated with the state court. In connection with those
proceedings, in an order dated April 22, 2019 (which
Plaintiffs include in their petition), the state court found
that J.S. and B.S. were “children in need of
care” and ordered that they remain in state custody. A
little over a month later, on May 24, 2019, Plaintiffs filed
a “petition for emergency writ of habeas corpus,
” naming as defendants a number of individuals and
entities involved in the state court child custody
proceedings: Kathleen Sloan (the judge who presided over the
proceedings); Erica Miller (assistant district attorney);
DCF; Stacey Bray (DCF case worker); Richard Klein (guardian
ad litem); KVC Health (“KVC”) (a private child
advocacy organization); Saarah Ahmad (KVC case worker);
Kimberly Smith (KVC case worker); Marc Berry (Gorski's
court-appointed attorney); Paul LaFleur (Plaintiff Jorel
Shophar's brother); and Teena and Nathan Wilkie (foster
parents). Plaintiffs also name the United States of America
as a defendant to this case.
petition-which is often nonsensical and difficult to
understand-pertains to the alleged treatment of J.S. and B.S.
while in state custody. Generally, Plaintiffs allege the
children have been subjected to physical, sexual, and
emotional abuse while in the custody of Gorski (who is not a
defendant to this action) and their foster parents.
Plaintiffs claim that B.S. nonetheless remains in the custody
of his foster parents and that J.S. is currently in a
“psychiatric hospital.” Although the exact nature
of the claims in this action is somewhat difficult to
decipher-indeed, Plaintiffs' petition references a
laundry list of federal statutes and constitutional
rights-Plaintiffs ultimately appear to allege
various due process violations stemming from the state court
custody proceedings. Plaintiffs request monetary, injunctive,
and declaratory relief, and also seek a writ of habeas corpus
directing that J.S. and B.S. be returned to their custody.
of the thirteen named defendants-namely, Judge Sloan, Miller,
DCF, Bray, Klein, KVC, Ahmad, and Smith-now move to dismiss
pursuant to Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), arguing, generally,
that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this
action and that Plaintiffs fail to state a claim for relief.
Docs. 34, 57, 76. Because federal courts have an independent
obligation to determine whether subject matter jurisdiction
exists (even in the absence of a challenge from any party),
the Court first addresses its jurisdiction. See 1mage
Software, Inc. v. Reynolds & Reynolds Co., 459 F.3d
1044, 1048 (10th Cir. 2006); Marcus v. Kan. Dep't of
Revenue, 170 F.3d 1305, 1309 (10th Cir. 1999) (holding
that where the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, it
“must dismiss the cause at any stage of the
proceedings in which it becomes apparent that jurisdiction is
lacking”). In doing so, the Court finds that it lacks
jurisdiction to consider Plaintiffs' claims on three
separate bases. The Court addresses each jurisdictional
defect in turn.
“it is well established that federal courts lack
jurisdiction over the whole subject of the domestic relations
of husband and wife, and parent and child.” Gordon
v. Respondent, 2007 WL 628205, at *1 (D. Kan. 2007);
see also Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 703
(1992) (noting that “[t]he whole subject of the
domestic relations of husband and wife, parent and child,
belongs to the laws of the States and not to the laws of the
United States”) (internal quotations omitted). This
rule-known as the “domestic-relations
exception”-means that “a federal court cannot
‘reopen, reissue, correct, or modify' an order in a
domestic-relations case.” Alfaro v. Cty. of
Arapahoe, 766 Fed.Appx. 657, 659 (10th Cir. 2019)
(internal quotations omitted). Here, Plaintiffs'
petition-seeking a writ directing that J.S. and B.S. be
returned to their custody-is essentially a request to
“undo” the state court's order placing J.S.
and B.S. in state custody. Therefore, the relief Plaintiffs
seek is, at least in large part, that the Court invalidate
the child custody order entered by the state court, which is
essentially a request to modify that order. The Court lacks
jurisdiction to issue such relief.
habeas writs are not available in child custody matters.
Indeed, “federal habeas has never been available to
challenge parental rights or child custody.” Lehman
v. Lycoming Cty. Children's Servs. Agency, 458 U.S.
502, 511 (1982); see also Roman-Nose v. N.M. Dep't of
Human Servs., 967 F.2d 435, 436 (10th Cir. 1992)
(“A state-court judgment involuntarily terminating
parental rights cannot be collaterally attacked by way of a
habeas corpus petition.”); Braun v. Stovall,
1996 WL 211737, at *1 (10th Cir. 1996) (holding that
“[f]ederal courts do not have jurisdiction under §
2254 to consider collateral challenges to state child-custody
decisions”). And the Supreme Court has recognized that
“extending the federal writ to challenges to state
child-custody decisions-challenges based on alleged
constitutional defects collateral to the actual custody
decision-would be an unprecedented expansion of the
jurisdiction of the lower federal courts.”
Lehman, 458 U.S. at 512 (emphasis added). Again,
Plaintiffs' challenge is essentially a request to
“undo” the state court's order placing
Plaintiff Jorel Shophar's children in state custody. But
Plaintiffs cannot use federal habeas relief as a vehicle to
undo the state court custody decision. And, similarly, the
Court does not have jurisdiction to consider Plaintiffs'
claims for violations of due process collateral to that
and finally, the Court finds that, to the extent Plaintiffs
contest actions taken by the state court in the underlying
custody proceedings, it lacks jurisdiction to consider such
claims under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. The
Rooker-Feldman doctrine provides that federal
district courts generally lack subject matter jurisdiction
over claims that seek review of adverse state court
judgments. See D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460
U.S. 462, 482 (1983) (“[A] United States District Court
has no authority to review final judgments of a state court
in judicial proceedings.”); Rooker v. Fidelity Tr.
Co., 263 U.S. 413, 416 (1923) (holding that “no
court of the United States other than [the Supreme Court]
could entertain a proceeding to reverse or modify [a state
court's] judgment for errors”); PJ ex rel.
Jensen v. Wagner, 603 F.3d 1182, 1193 (10th Cir. 2010)
(“Because it implicates our subject matter
jurisdiction, we address [whether] the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars this entire § 1983
suit before turning to the merits of the case.”).
the doctrine deprives federal courts of jurisdiction to
consider a claim when the plaintiff-a “state-court
loser”-is “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 Corp. v.
Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005);
see also McDonald v. Colo.'s 5th Judicial Dist.,
646 Fed.Appx. 697, 699 (10th Cir. 2016). This prohibition
extends to all state court decisions, final or otherwise, and
covers both claims actually decided by the state court and
issues “inextricably intertwined” with such
claims. Atkinson-Bird v. Utah, Div. of Child & Family
Servs., 92 Fed.Appx. 645, 647 (10th Cir. 2004). To
determine whether Rooker-Feldman applies, the Tenth
Circuit instructs the district court to first identify the
state court judgment that the court cannot undo or review in
any way, and, second, determine whether the plaintiff's
claim alleges injury caused by the state court judgment that
the court would have to review and reject in order for the
plaintiff to succeed. McHenry v. Burch, 2010 WL
5287732, at *4 (D. Kan. 2010) (citing PJ ex rel.
Jensen, 603 F.3d at 1193-94).
Court accordingly first identifies the state court actions it
cannot undo or review: here, the child custody order related
to J.S. and B.S. Second, the Court analyzes whether
Plaintiffs' asserted claims allege injury caused by that
order that the Court would have to review and reject in order
for Plaintiffs to prevail. Here, as discussed above,
Plaintiffs request custody of the children and assert
injuries related to the manner in which the state court
custody proceedings were conducted. In other words,
Plaintiffs' claims are little more than a thinly
disguised effort to overturn, or at least call into question
the validity of, the rulings entered in the state court child
custody proceedings. The relief Plaintiffs request is