United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division
Leslie Jay Shayne, a/k/a Les Shayne, a citizen and resident of South Carolina, Pro Se, and on behalf of Charlotte Shayne, his 96 year old incapacitated mother, as her court appointed guardian and conservator S.C., Plaintiff,
Sondra Lampl, a citizen and resident of the State of New Jersey, Defendant.
REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE
F. McDonald United States Magistrate Judge
plaintiff, proceeding pro se, seeks a declaratory
judgment against the defendant (doc. 1). Pursuant to the
provisions of 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule
73.02(B)(2)(e), D.S.C., this magistrate judge is authorized
to review all pretrial matters in this case and submit
findings and recommendations to the district court.
plaintiff's complaint spans twenty-seven pages, with more
than one hundred and fifty pages of exhibits (docs. 1-1-18).
The complaint involves the care of 95-year old Charlotte
Shayne (“C. Shayne”), the plaintiff's mother,
who is incapacitated (doc. 1). The exhibits to the complaint
include various orders and filings from the South Carolina
Probate Court, the New Jersey Probate Court, proposed briefs
to the New Jersey Appellate Court, as well as affidavits and
some medical records for C. Shayne (doc. 1-1-1-18). In the
present matter, the plaintiff alleges jurisdiction based upon
diversity (the plaintiff is from South Carolina and the
defendant is from New Jersey) and federal question
jurisdiction based upon the Full Faith and Credit Clause of
the United States Constitution (doc. 1 at 9).
body of the complaint, the plaintiff alleges that after C.
Shayne's husband passed, C. Shayne moved to New Jersey
(doc. 1 at 2). During her time in New Jersey, the plaintiff
alleges that the defendant has been C. Shayne's caretaker
(doc. 1 at 2, 11). At some point, the plaintiff alleges that
the defendant sought to move C. Shayne to a nursing home from
a 24/7 care facility (doc. 1 at 2-4). Due to this, the
plaintiff contends that in February, 2017, he sought
emergency temporary guardianship of C. Shayne due to the
defendant's alleged outrageous spending of C.
Shayne's wealth and C. Shayne's deteriorating health
(doc. 1 at 3). The probate court in South Carolina issued a
temporary and then a final order (“SC Order”)
granting the plaintiff guardianship and conservatorship over
C. Shayne-basing jurisdiction on the substantial ties
doctrine (doc. 1 at 4-5). Despite the S.C. Order that the
plaintiff alleges was registered with New Jersey, when the
plaintiff went to New Jersey to bring C. Shayne to South
Carolina, he was prevented from moving her and the S.C. Order
was given no effect (doc. 1 at 5-6).
plaintiff alleges that after the S.C. Order was issued the
defendant sought guardianship of C. Shayne in the New Jersey
Probate Court (doc. 1 at 6). The plaintiff alleges that the
judge in New Jersey was biased against him and continually
denied his motions (doc. 1 at 7, 16-19). The plaintiff
alleges that the New Jersey Probate Court then issued an
order appointing the defendant as C. Shayne's guardian
(“NJ Order”) (doc. 1 at 20-21).
plaintiff's complaint seeks only one cause of action:
declaratory judgment (doc. 1 at 26 (“FOR A FIRST AND
ONLY CAUSE OF ACTION (DECLARATORY JUDGMENT” (as in
original complaint)). Plaintiff contends that there is a
justiciable controversy between the S.C. order and the N.J.
order and alleges that the two orders are incapable of
reconciliation (doc. 1 at 26). For his relief, the plaintiff
asks this Court to declare that the S.C. Order is in full
force and effect and that the N.J. Order is vacated and null
and void and that this court issue a pick-up order so the
plaintiff may pick up his mother in New Jersey (doc. 1 at
plaintiff is a pro se litigant and his pleadings are
accorded liberal construction and held to a less stringent
standard than formal pleadings drafted by attorneys. See
Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007) (per
curiam). The requirement of liberal construction,
however, does not mean that the Court can ignore a clear
failure in the pleading to allege facts which set forth a
claim cognizable in a federal district court. See Weller
v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir.
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure recognize that courts must
have the authority to control litigation before them.”
Ballard v. Carlson, 882 F.2d 93, 95 (4th Cir. 1989)
(citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b)). Federal courts are courts of
limited jurisdiction, “constrained to exercise only the
authority conferred by Article III of the Constitution and
affirmatively granted by federal statute.” In re
Bulldog Trucking, Inc., 147 F.3d 347, 352 (4th Cir.
1998). Since federal courts have limited subject matter
jurisdiction, there is no presumption that the court has
jurisdiction. Pinkley, Inc. v. City of Frederick,
191 F.3d 394, 399 (4th Cir. 1999) (citing Lehigh Mining
& Mfg. Co. v. Kelly, 160 U.S. 337 (1895)).
Accordingly, a federal court is required, sua
sponte, to determine if a valid basis for its
jurisdiction exists, “and to dismiss the action if no
such ground appears.” Bulldog Trucking, 147
F.3d at 352; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3)
(“If the court determines at any time that it lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the
plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201
seeking declaratory relief (doc. 1). The plaintiff's
request that this Court issue a declaratory judgment that the
N.J. Order should be vacated and found null and void is
subject to summary dismissal because, under the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, this Court is without
jurisdiction to issue such a declaration. Weathers v.
Pou, No. 2:09-cv-270-JFA-RSC, 2009 WL 1139984, at *2
(D.S.C. Apr. 27, 2009).
Rooker-Feldman doctrine is jurisdictional and may be
raised by the Court sua sponte. Am. Reliable
Ins. Co. v. Stillwell, 336 F.3d 311, 316 (4th Cir.
2003). “[T]he Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies . . .
when the loser in state court files suit in federal district
court seeking redress for an injury allegedly caused by the
state court's decision itself.” Davani v.
Virginia Dep't of Transp., 434 F.3d 712, 713 (4th
Cir. 2006). Here, the plaintiff asserts his claim with this
Court because he feels that he was injured by the N.J. Order,
and he asks this Court to overturn the N.J. Order (doc. 1 at
26-27). It is well-settled, however, that the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies to bar the exercise
of federal jurisdiction even when a challenge to state court
decisions or rulings concerns federal constitutional issues;
instead, only the United States Supreme Court may review
those state-court decisions. See D.C. Ct. of Appeals v.
Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 476-82 (1983) (a federal district
court lacks authority to review final determinations of state
or local courts because such review can be conducted only by
the Supreme Court of the United States under 28 U.S.C. §
1257); Davani, 434 F.3d at 719 (explaining how the
expansive interpretation of the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine was limited by Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic
Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280 (2005)); see also Dukes
v. Stone, C.A. No. 3:08-cv-505-PMD-JRM, 2009 WL 398079,
at *4 (D.S.C. Feb. 17, 2009) (explaining that only the United
States Supreme Court is empowered with appellate authority to
reverse or modify a state court judgment).
doctrine applies even if the state court litigation has not
reached a state's highest court. See Worldwide Church
of God v. McNair, 805 F.2d 888, 892-93 & nn.3-4 (9th
Cir. 1986); see also 28 U.S.C. § 1738
(providing that a federal court must accord full faith and
credit to a state court judgment); Robart Wood & Wire
Prods. Corp. v. Namaco Indus., 797 F.2d 176, 178 (4th
Cir. 1986); Anderson v. Colorado, 793 F.2d 262, 263
(10th Cir. 1986) (“It is well settled that federal
district courts are without authority to review state court
judgments where the relief sought is in the nature of
appellate review.”); Hagerty v. Succession of
Clement, 749 F.2d 217, 219-20 (5th Cir. 1984)
(collecting cases). To rule in favor of the plaintiff in the
present action would, necessarily, require this Court to
overrule, or otherwise find invalid, the N.J. Order. Cf.
In re Genesys Data Tech., Inc., 204 F.3d 124, 127 (4th
Cir. 2000) (noting that pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1738 all
federal courts must give full faith and credit to valid state
court judgments). Such a result is prohibited under the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, even though the plaintiff
seeks declaratory relief. Rooker v. Fidelity Trust
Co., 263 U.S. 413, 414-15 (2006) (noting that the
district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to issue a
declaration that a state court judgment was null and void as
the power to so review a state court judgment lied with the