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United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 28, 2004.


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



AND NOW, this 28th day of July, 2004, upon consideration of pro se plaintiff Ali Abu Lumumba's Praecipe to Proceed In Forma Pauperis with Affidavit for Filing Without Costs (Document No. 1, filed November 5, 2003), IT IS ORDERED as follows:

  1. Leave to proceed In Forma Pauperis is GRANTED pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915; and,

  2. Plaintiff's claims are DISMISSED AS LEGALLY FRIVOLOUS pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(b)(i) on the ground that the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over this case under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because the claims are inextricably intertwined with custody and related decisions in a state judicial proceeding, and the relief sought by plaintiff is a reversal of orders issued by the Common Pleas Court of Philadelphia County covering custody, dependency and related issues involving Tiye Amina Lumumba, a/k/a "Tiye Lumumba," a/k/a "Baby Girl Clark."




  The Complaint in this case was filed on November 5, 2003, and identified Tiye Amina Lumumba, a/k/a "Tiye Lumumba," a/k/a "Baby Girl Clark," as the only party. At or about the same time, two additional Complaints involving the same minor, identical in all material respects excepting only the identification of the parties, were filed-Civil Action No. 03-5837 and Civil Action No. 03-6065. In Civil Action No. 03-5837, Ali Abu Lumumba was identified as plaintiff, and the City of Philadelphia, Bethanna Children Agency ("Bethanna"), Rachel Nafziger, LFW, and Christine Trago, FCSW, were identified as defendants; in Civil Action No. 03-6065, Tiye A. Lumumba, a minor, Nicol Y. Gant and Ali A. Lumumba were identified as plaintiffs, and Bethanna, Christine Trago and Rachel Nafziger were identified as defendants.

  The Complaint is a compendium of general statements and documents issued in state court custody and dependency proceedings involving minor plaintiff. In the Complaint, it is alleged that, in removing the child from plaintiff's custody, Bethanna committed the following acts: conspiracy to obstruct justice, abuse of power and misconduct, withholding information, violation of the First Amendment, and wrongful use of civil process.

  According to the Complaint, the Department of Human Services obtained a restraining order when they learned that Ms. Clark gave birth to a baby girl, Tiye, on 4/2/02, and that both Ms. Clark and Tiye tested positive for cocaine. The Complaint also states that when Tiye was ready for discharge from the hospital on April 9, 2002, Ms. Clark was unable to provide a verifiable address and there were no family members available as a placement resource or willing to care for Tiye. As a result, on April 9, 2002, Tiye was placed in a therapeutic foster home through Bethanna.

  Attached to the Complaint is a copy of a Post-Adjudication Hearing and Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County dated July 29, 2003. In that Order, the Court directed that placement of the child was to continue with the Department of Human Services ("DHS"), and provided that commitment to DHS "stands." Supervised visits by plaintiff and the child's mother were to be based on the agreement of the parties. The Common Pleas Court further found in the Order dated July 29, 2003, that DHS "has made reasonable efforts to reunify the child with his/her family," or to make and finalize an alternate permanent placement." Other documents appended to the Complaint state that "Tiye's father, Ali Lumumba, was unable to care for Tiye due to inadequate housing conditions," and that "reunification [with Mr. Lumumba] is not possible because he has not fully complied with the FSP [Family Service Plan] and ISP [Individual Service Plan] goals and objectives. Mr. Lumumba has not participated in parenting classes to address Tiye's numerous medical conditions and he has not visited Tiye on a regular basis."


  A. The Court Lacks Jurisdiction Over Plaintiff's 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).

  It is apparent that plaintiff's Complaint is inextricably intertwined with the state court custody and dependency adjudications. Moreover, what plaintiff seeks in this case is a reversal of the dependency and custody orders 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 rulings. This Court does not have jurisdiction to entertain such a claim under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

  B. Other issues

  The Complaint in this case presents numerous additional issues, including the following:

  1. The case was improperly instituted on behalf of a minor. If the Court were to add the minor's parent, Ali Abu Lumumba, as a party-plaintiff, the problem would not be cured because Mr. Lumumba, a non-lawyer, may not represent his children in federal court. 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. The Complaint fails to allege sufficient facts to state a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and,

  3. Government officials or other state actors 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. It appears that the individual defendants in this case were acting pursuant to court orders. Thus, if they are state actors, they might be entitled to qualified immunity.

  Because of the Court's decision with respect to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the Court does not deem it appropriate to address the above additional issues or any other issues.


  For the foregoing reasons, plaintiffs' claims are dismissed as legally frivolous pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) on the ground that the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over the case.


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