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Masi v. Luzerne County Children and Youth Services

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

May 3, 2018

JERRY JOHN MASI, Plaintiff,
v.
LUZERNE COUNTY CHILDREN AND YOUTH SERVICES, Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          JOSEPH F. SAPORITO, JR. UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This federal civil rights action was commenced upon the filing of a pro se complaint by the plaintiff, Jerry John Masi, on April 16, 2018. (Doc. 1). Masi has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis in this action.

         I. Background

         The complaint names a single defendant, Luzerne County Children and Youth Services (“Luzerne CYS”). Although it is not a model of clarity, the gravamen of Masi's complaint is that Luzerne CYS played a role in his loss of primary physical custody over his nine-year-old son, apparently to the child's birth mother, on or about November 16, 2017. When Masi sought assistance from CYS in securing his son's return, he was refused.

         At the same time, the birth mother and her family took actions that resulted in Masi's eviction or displacement from his residence. Masi seeks an injunction ordering that his custody over his son be restored, and an award of $100 million in damages. A copy of a state court order attached to Masi's complaint indicates that the state court custody proceedings remained ongoing at the time of the filing of this federal civil action.[1]

         Under these circumstances, we find it appropriate to recommend sua sponte dismissal of the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1).

         II. Legal Standard

         A Rule 12(b)(1) motion[2] is the proper mechanism for raising the issue of whether Eleventh Amendment immunity bars the exercise of federal jurisdiction. Blanciak v. Allegheny Ludlum Corp., 77 F.3d 690, 694 n.2 (3d Cir. 1996) (citing Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 98-100 (1984)). The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the existence of subject matter jurisdiction when challenged under Rule 12(b)(1). See Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991). A defendant may challenge the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in one of two fashions: it may attack the complaint on its face or it may attack the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, relying on evidence beyond the pleadings. See Gould Elecs. Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000); Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977). Where a defendant attacks a complaint as deficient on its face, “the court must consider the allegations of the complaint as true.” Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891. “In deciding a Rule 12(b)(1) facial attack, the court may only consider the allegations contained in the complaint and the exhibits attached to the complaint; matters of public record such as court records, letter decisions of government agencies and published reports of administrative bodies; and ‘undisputably authentic' documents which the plaintiff has identified as a basis of his claims and which the defendant has attached as exhibits to his motion to dismiss.” Medici v. Pocono Mountain Sch. Dist., No. 09-CV-2344, 2010 WL 1006917, at *2 (M.D. Pa. Mar. 16, 2010). However, when a motion to dismiss attacks the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, “no presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiff's allegations, ” and “the trial court is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case.” Mortensen, 549 F.2d at 891. This case falls into the former category.

         III. Discussion

         The sole defendant named in the complaint is Luzerne CYS. Masi seeks both injunctive relief and damages from the defendant.

         A. Injunctive Relief

         Masi seeks an injunctive order directing Luzerne CYS to return primary physical custody over his son to him. We find that Younger abstention principles dictate dismissal of the complaint with respect to Masi's claims for prospective injunctive relief. See generally Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971).

         As the Third Circuit has explained:

The doctrine of Younger abstention reflects a strong federal policy against federal-court interference with pending state judicial proceedings absent extraordinary circumstances. Accordingly, in certain circumstances, district courts must abstain from exercising jurisdiction over a particular claim where resolution of that claim in federal court would offend principles of comity by interfering with an ongoing state proceeding. Younger abstention is appropriate when: (1) there are ongoing state proceedings that are judicial in nature; (2) the state ...

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