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LUMUMBA v. POINDEXTER

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania


July 27, 2004.

ALI ABU LUMUMBA and SHAKIA SHABA LUMUMBA
v.
DANA POINDEXTER.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAN DuBOIS, District Judge

ORDER

AND NOW, this 27th day of July, 2004, upon consideration of Defendant Poindexter's Motions for Summary Judgment (Document Nos. 61 and 62, filed August 25, 2003), and plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Summary Judgment (Document No. 63, filed September 8, 2003), it appearing from the Motion papers that pro se plaintiff seeks custody of Shakia Shaba Lumumba, a.k.a., Latanya Clark, contending that she was his daughter, whereas the said child was removed from plaintiff's custody by Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia dated July 15, 1998, and it appearing to the Court that pro se plaintiff seeks a reversal of that Order, and it further appearing that defendant, Dana Poindexter, acted at all times with respect to Shakia Shaba Lumumba in accordance with an Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia dated July 15, 1998, and good cause appearing, IT IS ORDERED that Defendant Poindexter's Motions for Summary Judgment (Document Nos. 61 and 62) are GRANTED, and JUDGMENT IS ENTERED in FAVOR of defendant, Dana Poindexter, and AGAINST pro se plaintiffs, Ali Abu Lumumba and Shakia Shaba Lumumba.*fn1

The granting of the Motion for Summary Judgment is based on the following: 1. This Court Lacks Jurisdiction Over Plaintiffs' Claims Under the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

  Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, this Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over, inter alia, constitutional claims that are inextricably intertwined with a decision in a state judicial proceeding or claims that have been litigated in state court. The Third Circuit recently summarized the Rooker-Feldman doctrine in Exxon Mobil Corp. et al. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 364 F.3d 102, 104 (3d Cir. 2004):

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine, derived from two Supreme Court cases — Rooker v. Fidelity Trust, 263 U.S. 413, 416 (1923) and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983) — prevents lower federal courts from `sit[ting] in direct review of the decisions of a state tribunal.' Because Congress has conferred jurisdiction to review a state court's decision only on the Supreme Court, lower federal courts lack the power to decide claims in which `the relief requested . . . requires determining that the state court's decision is wrong or . . . void[ing] the state court's ruling. As we recently explained, `a claim is barred by Rooker-Feldman under two circumstances: first, if the claim was `actually litigated' in state court prior to the filing of the federal action or, second, if the claim is `inextricably intertwined with [the] state adjudication.
Id. at 3 (citations omitted); see also, ITT Corp. et al v. Intelnet Int'l Corp et al., 366 F.3d 205, 2004).

  Plaintiff, Ali Abu Lumumba alleges that defendant Dana Poindexter, an agent of the Department of Human Services ("DHS"), illegally removed his daughter, Shakia Shaba Lumumba, from his home at 2724 West Master Street, Philadelphia, on July 15, 1998. Specifically, plaintiff alleges that defendant Poindexter personally entered his home and removed his daughter, and that defendant did so in a manner which was "wilfully, knowing, intentional, outrageous and done fraudulently with full knowledge."

  Defendant Poindexter has presented evidence that she took custody of Shakia Shaba Lumumba on July 15, 1998 pursuant to an Order of Judge James Murray Lynn of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County dated July 15, 1998, in which DHS was directed to "pick up above named child [Shakia Shaba Lumumba] today with police assist" and to "place child who is already committed to department."

  On March 27, 2000, pro se plaintiff filed a petition for custody of Shakia Shaba Lumumba. On May 2, 2000, at a Court Review Hearing before Judge Lynn, the court granted the request of DHS that Shirley Clark, maternal grandmother of Shakia Shaba Lumumba, be awarded physical custody of Shakia Shaba Lumumba as the relative providing care that was best suited to the welfare of the child. By agreement of the parties appearing at that time — a DHS social worker, a child advocate, counsel for DHS and Mr. Lumumba — Shakia Shaba Lumumba continued to be committed to DHS while physical custody remained with Shirley Clark. Mr. Lumumba was given liberal unsupervised visits as agreed upon between Ms. Clark and Mr. Lumumba.*fn2 The record does not disclose any further proceedings with respect to the custody of Shakia Shaba Lumumba.

  It is clear that the pending civil action is inextricably intertwined with the state adjudication. Moreover, what pro se plaintiff seeks in this case is a reversal of the dependency and custody order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. To grant the relief plaintiff seeks would be the functional equivalent of an appeal from the state court ruling. This Court does not have jurisdiction to entertain such a claim under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

  2. Defendant Poindexter is Entitled to Qualified Immunity

  Government officials performing discretionary functions, generally are "shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory and constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818 (1982). This is referred to as the doctrine of qualified immunity.

  For a court evaluating a claim of qualified immunity, the first inquiry is whether a constitutional right would have been violated on the facts alleged; second, assuming the violation is established, the Court must determine whether the right was clearly established "in light of the specific context of the case." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 200 (2001). The relevant, dispositive inquiry in determining whether a right is clearly established, is whether it would be clear to a reasonable person that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted. Id. at 202.

  In addressing the first inquiry of the qualified immunity analysis, the Court must determine whether a constitutional right was violated. Under all of the evidence presented in this case, the Court concludes that there were no violations of a constitutional right.

  Secondly, even if the Court were to assume arguendo that defendant Poindexter violated a constitutional right, she acted pursuant to an Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County. The Court concludes that, under clearly established law, an official in the position of defendant Poindexter would not be placed on notice that his conduct was clearly unlawful. Thus, defendant Poindexter is entitled to qualified immunity.

  3. Other Grounds for Granting Summary Judgment Asserted by Defendant Poindexter.

  Defendant Poindexter asserted the following additional grounds for granting summary judgment:

  1. Pro Se plaintiff, Ali Abu Lumumba, a non-lawyer, may not represent his children in federal proceedings. See Collinsgru v. Palmyra Bd. of Educ., 161 F.3d 225, 231 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing Osei-Afriyie v. Medical College of Pa., 937 F.2d 876, 883 (3d Cir. 1991));

  2. Pro Se plaintiff presented no evidence in support of his claim that the custody decision violated the Fourth Amendment's proscription against unreasonable searches and seizures. See Williams v. Borough of West Chester, Pa., 891 F.2d 458, 464 (3d Cir. 1989);

  3. Pro se plaintiff cannot establish an Eighth Amendment violation because he is not a prisoner convicted of a crime. See Ingraham v. Wright, 430 U.S. 651, 671 n. 40 (1977);

  4. Pro se plaintiff failed to present evidence entitling him to relief under the Fourteenth Amendment, as he has not demonstrated that the procedures used by the state to effect any deprivation of his liberty interest as a natural parent in the care, custody and management of his child, was constitutionally inadequate. See Mathews v. Eldridge, 424 U.S. 319, 349 (1976); and,

  5. There is no evidence of any intentional torts committed by defendant Poindexter. The only evidence presented on this issue was that she removed the child pursuant to a court order.

  Because of the Court's decisions with respect to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and qualified immunity, the Court does not deem it necessary to address the additional grounds asserted in the Motions for Summary Judgment.


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