United States District Court, Southern District of New York
September 30, 2002
DARRELL ALLEYNE, FOR HIMSELF AND AS NATURAL PARENT OF KEYSHAWNA ALLEYNE AN INFANT, KIBIN ALLEYNE AN INFANT, AND EDWARD ALLEYNE, AN INFANT, PLAINTIFFS,
CITY OF NEW YORK, ADMINISTRATION OF CHILDREN SERVICES, THE NEW YORK CITY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES JEWISH CHILD CARE ASSOCIATION OF NEW YORK, DIANA STEPHEN, IN HER NAME AND AS THE FOSTER PARENT OF KEYSHAWNA ALLEYNE, VELMA ALLEYNE ONLY AS THE GUARDIAN OF KIBIN ALLEYNE & EDWARD ALLEYNE, SHAWANNA HATCHETT FOR HERSELF AND AS NATURAL PARENT OF KEYSHAWNA ALLEYNE, KIBIN ALLEYNE AND EDWARD ALLEYNE ALL INFANTS, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: VICTOR Marrero, United States District Judge.
DECISION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Derrell Alleyne ("Alleyne") filed this action on his own
behalf and on behalf of his natural children, Keyshawna Alleyne, Kibin
Alleyne and Edward Alleyne (collectively, "Children") on July 19, 2002
and amended the complaint on August 15, 2002 (the Complaint). Defendants
City of New York and the Jewish Child Care Association of New York
(collectively, "Defendants") filed motions to dismiss the Complaint for
lack of subject matter jurisdiction. At the conference on September 20,
2002 (the "September Conference"), the Court granted Alleyne an
opportunity to address jurisdictional issues through oral argument and
further briefing. After the conference, Alleyne sought to voluntarily
dismiss the action without prejudice or costs. Defendants would not agree
to the dismissal. Thus, the Court issues the following order of dismissal
"upon such terms and conditions as it deems proper." Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b).
The Complaint concerns matters currently pending before the New York
State Family Court, Bronx County (the "State Proceeding"). Earlier this
year, Alleyne sought to remove the State Proceeding to this Court. The
Court remanded the State Proceeding as untimely, noting also that it
lacked subject matter jurisdiction. See Alleyne v. City of New York, No.
02 Civ. 5614, slip op. (S.D.N.Y. August 14, 2002).
The State Proceeding was commenced in response to a report that the
Children had been abused. During the State Proceeding, the Children were
placed in foster care. In April of 1999 the Family Court found that
Alleyne and defendant Shawana Hatchett abused the Children directly and
derivatively. See In the Matter of Alleyene Children, No.
NA-11131-33/98, Slip. op. at 1 (N.Y. Fan. Ct. July 5, 2001). Proceedings
to terminate Alleyne's parental rights were commenced. In September of
2001, Alleyne surrendered his Children for adoption. The next conference
in the State Proceeding is scheduled to occur in October, and no appeals
have been taken. See Bronx Administration for Children's Services v.
Hatchett, No. N-11131/98, slip. op. at 1 (N.Y. Fam. Ct. July 3, 2002).
In the instant case, Alleyne seeks injunctive relief that effectively
would end the State Proceeding and return full custody of the Children to
him. Alleyne also seeks $5,000,000 in compensatory damages, as well as
costs and attorney's fees. Alleyne believes that the State Proceedings
violate various rights protected by the United States Constitution. In
particular, he argues that because in the State Proceedings custody
decisions are made on the basis of the "best interests of the
child", they violate Alleyne's right to family integrity. According to
Alleyne, Defendants design to alienate the Alleyne Children from Alleyne
through unidentified, "diverse subtle, overt, and covert devices . . ."
(Compl., at ¶ 14.) As such, Alleyne makes a conclusory claim that the
State Proceeding is being conducted in bad faith. Further, they violate due
process because at unidentified times he was not afforded an opportunity
to cross-examine witnesses, and various named defendants exceeded their
authority in unspecified ways. (See Compl., at ¶¶ 17, 19.) Finally,
Alleyne asserts that the Family Court "terrorize[d] and harass[ed]" him
so much that he "was compelled and pressurized . . . to surrender two of
his children for adoption." (Compl., at ¶ 18.)
As a matter of law, Alleyne took the position on that the court in the
State Proceeding is incapable of adjudicating his federal claims and that
if a matter pending state court implicates the federal constitution, a
federal court has jurisdiction to adjudicate the federal constitutional
Because federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, courts must
police subject matter delineations on their own initiative. See
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h); Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co., 526 U.S. 574, 583
(1999) (citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)); Lyndonville Savinos Bank &
Trust Co. v. Lussier, 211 F.3d 697, 700 (2d Cir. 2011) ("[F]ailure of
subject matter jurisdiction is not waivable and may be raised at any time
by a party or by the court sua sponte.") Creaciones Con Idea, S.A. de
C.V. v. Confecciones, S.A. de C.V., 75 F. Supp.2d 279, 280-81 (S.D.N.Y.
1999) (sua sponte dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under
28 U.S.C. § 1332).
On a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1)*fn1 for lack
of subject matter jurisdiction, it is the Court's duty to resolve
disputed jurisdictional facts. See Cargill International S.A. v. M/T
Pavel Dybenko, 991 F.2d 1012, 1019 (2d Cir. 1993); see also Ruhrgas, 526
U.S. at 583; Lyndonville Savings, 211 F.3d at 700. The Court may fulfill
its duty by reference to evidence outside the pleadings. See Phifer v.
City of New York, 289 F.3d 49, 55 (2d Cir. 2002). Furthermore, in
resolving a challenge to subject matter jurisdiction, the Court does not
draw inferences in favor of the plaintiff. See Newsom-Lang v. Warren
International, 129 F. Supp.2d 662, 663-64 (S.D.N.Y. 2001).
Out of concern for federal-state comity, Congress enacted the
anti-injunction statute, 28 U.S.C. § 2283, which provides that:
A court of the United States may not grant an injunction
to stay proceedings in a State court except as expressly
authorized by Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid
of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its
See also Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). Furthermore, the Supreme
Court is the exclusive forum for appellate review of state court
decisions concerning federal laws. See 28 U.S.C. § 1257; Rooker v.
Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 416 (1923); District of Columbia v.
Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482-83 (1983). The Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars
direct review in the lower federal courts of a state court decision, even
if the state decision is based on an erroneous reading or
federal law. See ASARCO Inc. v. Kadish, 490 U.S. 605, 522 (1989); Moccio
v. New York State Office of Court Adm'n, 95 F.3d 195, 197 (2d Cir.
1996); see also Harris v. New York State Dept of Health, 202 F. Supp.2d 143
The Second Circuit recently visited these rules and principles in its
Phifer decision. It instructed that where the precise claims were raised
in state court and in a subsequent federal proceeding, Rooker-Feldman
applies to bar the federal proceeding. If the claims were never presented
at the state proceeding, they are not inextricably intertwined" with it
and thus not barred by Rooker-Feldman. Phifer, 289 F.3d at 55-56 (citing
Moccio, 95 F.3d at 198).
In addition, under the doctrine of abstention, federal courts should
abstain from granting injunctive relief to restrain pending state
judicial proceeding in civil actions if such injunction would disturb
federal-state comity and the state forum provides an adequate forum for
the claim. See Younger, 401 U.S. at 44-46.
A party may not evade these rules and principles of federalism by
recasting his claims pending in state court as a civil rights action
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Murray v. Administration of Childrens
Services, No. 98 Civ. 7356, 1999 WL 33869, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 25,
1999). In Murray, the court considered a complaint for damages, as well
as declaratory and injunctive relief, arising out of the defendant's
seizure of the plaintiff's daughter and commencement of child protective
custody proceedings. The plaintiff's claims for damages were barred by
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because they sought "reversal of a state
court judgment simply by recasting [the] complaint in the form of a civil
rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983." Id. at *1 (internal
quotations and citations omitted). In that case, the plaintiff's claims
constituted "a direct challenge to the validity of one or more of the
Family Court's interlocutory orders" to seize and place the child in
foster care. Id. at *2.
Further, because the state proceeding involved the important,
traditional state interest of family relations and was adequate to
resolve the plaintiff's claims for injunctive and declaratory relief, the
doctrine of abstention applied. Because plaintiff did not profer any
facts or evidence beyond conclusory pleadings that the state proceedings
were brought in bad faith to harass her, nor that there were "exceptional
circumstances" beyond the "not uncommon" situation of loss of custody,
the Murray court dismissed the claims for injunctive and declaratory
relief. Id. at *1.
Here, the Court's initial review of the Complaint immediately alerted
it to the jurisdictional issue. Defendants, too, filed motions to dismiss
on that ground. The Court granted Alleyne an opportunity show why this
case does not run afoul of Rooker-Feldman and abstention doctrines. The
Court informed Alleyne that neither the Complaint nor oral argument at
the September Conference demonstrated that the Court may take
jurisdiction, and granted Alleyne an opportunity to file an opposition
brief to Defendants' motions to dismiss. Alleyne, instead, sought to
voluntarily dismiss the case under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41.
The Complaint seeks to use the protections of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 to
stop the State Proceeding. Section 1983 adds to the jurisdiction of
federal courts by empowering them to "step in where state courts were
unable or unwillinq to protect federal rights." Allen v. McCurry,
449 U.S. 90, 99-101 (1980). Nevertheless, the relief sought
Alleyne seeks to adjudicate custody determinations in this Court as well
as the State Court. Section 1983 cannot be used for that purpose. See
Murray, 1999 WL at *1-2. Alleyne did not plead or introduce any factual
allegations in the instant case that distinguish it from those
adjudicated in the State Proceeding. Thus, because the Complaint
represents a direct challenge to decisions made in the State Proceeding,
this Court lacks jurisdiction over Alleyne's claims for damages. See
Phifer, 289 F.3d at 55-56; Murray, 1999 WL at *2.
Further, because the Family Court is capable of adjudicating federal
and constitutional claims, the Court abstains from taking jurisdiction
over Alleyne's claims for injunctive relief against the State Proceeding
and for a writ of mandamus returning custody to him. See Younger, 401
U.S. at 44-46; Murray, 1999 WL at *1. As the Court lacks jurisdiction
over the matter, it will not award costs or fees.
For the foregoing reasons, it is hereby
ORDERED that the complaint is dismissed for lack of jurisdiction; and
it is finally
ORDERED that the Clerk of Court close this case.