United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Greenville Division
Timothy M. Cain United States District Judge
proceeding pro se, filed this civil action pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, 1986, alleging
violations of their Constitutional rights. (ECF No. 15). In
accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Local Civil
Rule 73.02, D.S.C., this matter was referred to a magistrate
judge for pretrial handling. Before the court is the
magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation
(“Report”), recommending that the court dismiss
this case without prejudice. (ECF No. 27). Plaintiffs were
advised of their right to file objections to the Report.
Id. at 6. Plaintiffs filed objections to the Report
(ECF No. 31), and moved for leave to amend their Complaint
(ECF No. 32).
recommendations set forth in the Report have no presumptive
weight, and this court remains responsible for making a final
determination in this matter. See Mathews v. Weber,
423 U.S. 261, 270-71 (1976). The court is charged with making
a de novo determination of those portions of the
Report to which a specific objection is made, and the court
may accept, reject, modify, in whole or in part, the
recommendation of the magistrate judge or recommit the matter
with instructions. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). However, the
court need not conduct a de novo review when a party
makes only “general and conclusory objections that do
not direct the court to a specific error in the
magistrate's proposed findings and
recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d
44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982). In the absence of a timely filed,
specific objection, the magistrate judge's conclusions
are reviewed only for clear error. See Diamond v.
Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315
(4th Cir. 2005).
Plaintiffs are proceeding pro se, this court is
charged with construing their pleadings liberally in order to
allow for the development of a potentially meritorious case.
See Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980) (internal
citations omitted); Gordon v. Leeke, 574 F.2d 1147,
1151 (4th Cir. 1978). However, this does not mean that the
court can ignore the Plaintiffs' failure to allege facts
that set forth a claim currently cognizable in a federal
district court. See Weller v. Dep't of Soc.
Servs., 901 F.2d 387, 391 (4th Cir. 1990).
magistrate judge provided a detailed account of the facts in
his Report, which the court incorporates herein. Briefly,
Plaintiffs allege that the South Carolina Department of
Social Services (“DSS”) and certain DSS employees
wrongfully removed their children, L.B. and S.S., from their
home. (ECF No. 15 at 2-3). Plaintiffs contend that DSS
employee Porcha Moore, a named defendant, met with Plaintiffs
and proposed a “safety plan” for the children and
became verbally abusive when Plaintiffs refused to consent.
Id. at 3. On June 5, 2018, and June 14, 2018,
Plaintiffs contacted law enforcement in an effort to take
custody of the children, but they were unsuccessful.
Id. at 3 - 4. Plaintiffs state that the officers
refused to help because the officers were “under the
impression that the children had been removed by DSS due to
the Safety Plan.” Id. at 4. Furthermore,
Plaintiffs allege that Defendant Porcha Moore interrogated
two of the minor children and arranged mental health
treatment for them against Plaintiffs' wishes.
Id. at 5. Plaintiffs state that they emailed DSS
numerous times regarding Defendant Moore's actions, but
these emails went unanswered. Id. at 4-5.
filed an action in Laurens County Family Court seeking return
of the children. Id. at 4. A hearing was held on
June 19, 2018, before Judge Zimmerman. Id. at 7.
Plaintiffs contend that the hearing was unfair because Judge
Zimmerman barred Plaintiff Thomas from the courtroom, did not
hear their complaints against Defendants Moore and DSS,
issued a no contact order against Plaintiff Thomas, and
denied Plaintiffs' request for custody of the children.
Id. Plaintiffs allege that Judge Zimmerman ordered
Plaintiffs to submit to drug screenings despite there being
“no indication given during the proceedings that any
drug use may have been in any way connected to allegations of
abuse or neglect.” Id. at 8. According to
Plaintiffs, there never was a finding of abuse or neglect at
the hearing. Id.
argue that Judge Zimmerman's order is void on its face
and should be nullified. Id. at 9 - 10. Plaintiffs
filed a motion to vacate Judge Zimmerman's order, which
was denied. Id. at 10. Plaintiffs contend that Judge
Turner improperly denied their motion without giving them a
fair hearing, id. at 10, and denied them a final,
appealable order. Id. at 15.
addition to the facts surrounding the custody disputes
regarding L.B. and S.S., Plaintiffs allege that Defendant
Whaley, a supervisor with DSS, committed perjury and
conspired to prevent Plaintiff Thomas from obtaining custody
of his child, S.M.T. Id. at 15. Plaintiffs assert
that several fabricated statements were made during the
Thomas's hearing regarding custody of S.M.T. and that
several people in attendance knew such statements to be
perjured. Id. at 16.
seek the following relief: (1) emergency injunctive relief
requiring defendants to return custody of L.B., S.S., and
S.M.T. to Plaintiffs; (2) a declaration by the court that
S.S. and L.B. were kidnapped from Plaintiff Harvley; (3)
compensatory damages of ten million dollars; (4) punitive
damages in the amount of fifty million dollars; (5) an award
of costs to Plaintiffs; (6) any other relief the court deems
appropriate. Id. at 17.
Report, the magistrate judge determined that Plaintiffs'
claims are barred by the
Rooker-Feldmandoctrine because Plaintiffs seek to have
this court review an order by the state family court. (ECF
No. 27 at 4). Plaintiffs objected to this determination,
stating that they do not seek to have the District Court
“intervene to alter or overrule” the decisions of
the state court but seek “primarily that the District
Court award damages sought for the state's infringement
on Plaintiffs' federal Constitutional rights.” (ECF
No. 31). However, the court agrees with the magistrate judge
that the crux of Plaintiffs' case challenges the validity
of the state court's orders and seeks to vacate or
overrule the state court's decisions. While Plaintiffs do
not expressly ask for such in their request for relief, the
relief requested requires a declaration that the state
court's orders were invalid or improper. Specifically,
Plaintiffs seek for this court to declare that the children
were “not lawfully retained from Ms. Harvley's
custody, care and control, ” (ECF No. 15 at 17), a
declaration of which would, at its very core, contradict the
state court's ruling in favor of removal. It is not
within the power of this court to question that decision.
Cf. In re Genesys Data Tech., Inc., 204 F.3d 124,
127 (4th Cir. 2000) (stating that pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§1738, all federal courts must give full faith and
credit to valid state court judgments). Additionally, while
Plaintiffs are correct that they seek various forms of
monetary damages in this case, as a basis for the monetary
damages, Plaintiffs ask this court to declare that the
children were “unlawfully retained, ” which would
constitute a finding that the removal of the children was
court notes that Plaintiffs indicated that they were filing a
motion for leave to amend the Complaint to “dispel any
future inferences that alteration of state court proceedings
is sought in this lawsuit.” (ECF No. 31). Plaintiffs
filed their motion (ECF No. 32) and attached a proposed
Amended Complaint (ECF No. 32-1). This proposed Amended
Complaint no longer lists Patricia Agger or Pam Bryant as
defendants, adds two deputies with the Greenville County
Sherriff's Office as defendants, and abandons the request
for an emergency injunction. (ECF No. 32-1). None of the
proposed amendments to the Complaint cure the deficiencies
addressed by both the magistrate judge and this court. At the
core of Plaintiffs' proposed second amended complaint,
Plaintiffs still claim that Judge Zimmerman's removal
order was “void on its face, ” that Judge Turner
improperly denied their motion to vacate, and that the
children were “not lawfully retained from [Plaintiff]
Harvley's custody, care and control.” (ECF No.
32-1). Accordingly, the court denies Plaintiffs' motion
to for leave to amend the complaint because the proposed
amendments are ...