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Kurowski v. Kurowski

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division

June 4, 2019

Arletta J. Kurowski, Daniel D. Kurowski Hawk, Debra J. Kurowski, Donna M. Kurowski-Galvan, Plaintiffs,
Brian Kurowski, Estate of Norma J. Kurowski, Defendants.


          Kevin F. McDonald, United States Magistrate Judge

         The plaintiffs, proceeding pro se, filed the instant action seeking damages from the defendants based upon §§ 1983; 1985 (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.


         This case, filed by four pro se plaintiffs, appears to arise out of a dispute over the probate of the estate of Kenneth Kurowski (“Kenneth”) (doc. 1). As an initial matter, the court takes judicial notice of several actions filed by the plaintiffs challenging the probate of Kenneth's estate, including a case before the Oneida Judiciary, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin, the South Carolina Probate Court, and an appeal from the South Carolina Probate Court in the Abbeville County Court of Common Pleas.[1] See Kurowski v. Kurowski, et al., C/A Nos. 18-AC-004; 18-AC-005; 18-AC-006, (Oneida Judiciary); Kurowski v. Kurowski, et al., C/A No. 19-C-274 (E.D. Wis.); Hawk v. Kurowski, et al., C/A No. 2018-CP-01-00069, Abbeville County Public Index, PublicIndex/PISearch.aspx (enter 2018-CP-01-00069) (last visited June 3, 2019), appeal pending C/A No. 2018-001067 (S.C. Ct. App.) (“SC State Court Case”); In re Kenneth Kurowski, C/A No. 2009-ES-01-00096 (S.C. Probate Ct.) (“SC Probate Case”).

         The plaintiffs in the instant action are attacking the administration/probate of Kenneth's estate, arguing that the completion of the death certificate and the probate of the estate have violated their rights and the Anti-Bigamy Act (doc. 1). The plaintiffs contend that federal question jurisdiction exists based upon §§ 1983 and 1985; the violations of their Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights; and the Morrill Anti-Bigamy Act (id. at 3-5). The plaintiffs allege that the defendants have conspired to seize the personal estate property from them, prevented due process of law, falsified Kenneth's death certificate, and allowed perjured testimony by Norma Kurowski[2] (“Norma”) that she was Kenneth's legal surviving spouse (id.).

         Kenneth's estate is being probated in the Abbeville County Probate Court at case No. 2009-ES-01-00196 (“SC Probate Case”) (id. at 5).[3] Upon Kenneth's death, the plaintiffs allege Brian Kurowski (“Brian”) falsified the death certificate and/or provided false information to the coroner in filling out the death certificate by indicating that defendant Norma was Kenneth's surviving spouse (id. at 5-6). The plaintiffs also contend that Brian provided a false vital record-a criminal act-to the coroner in the form of Norma and Kenneth's purported marriage certificate (id.). The plaintiffs contend that the defendants, along with Probate Judge C. Mark Sumner and Circuit Court Judge Judge Frank R. Addy, Jr., have blocked attempts to correct Kenneth's death certificate even though they know that Arletta Kurowski (“Arletta”) is Kenneth's legal surviving spouse (id. at 6-7).[4] The plaintiffs also contend that Judge Sumner allowed Norma's perjured testimony that she was Kenneth's surviving spouse despite Arletta's presence and testimony to the contrary (id. at 7). The plaintiffs also contend that the defendants, the deputy coroner, and Judge Sumner conspired to use the improper death certificate in order to have Norma appointed as the personal representative of Kenneth's estate (id. at 8). For relief, the plaintiffs request that the court issue an order requiring the defendants and/or coroner to correct Kenneth's death certificate to name Arletta as the surviving spouse, along with a plethora of actual and punitive damages for the plaintiffs' inheritance (id. at 10).


         The plaintiffs are pro se litigants and their 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. 1990).

         “The 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 action.”).


         The plaintiffs filed this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 seeking damages for various constitutional violations in the administration of Kenneth's estate (doc. 1). The plaintiffs' request that this Court require amendment to Kenneth's death certificate and order money damages because of the inappropriate probate of Kenneth's estate are subject to summary dismissal because, under both the Rooker-Feldman doctrine[5] and the Probate exception, this Court is without jurisdiction to interfere in state probate proceedings. Weathers v. Pou, C/A No. 2:09-270-JFA-RSC, 2009 WL 1139984, at *2 (D.S.C. Apr. 27, 2009).

         The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine The 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 plaintiffs assert their claims with this Court because they are dissatisfied with the proceedings in the South Carolina State Court and seek, in essence, an order from this court overturning the South Carolina State Court Case and the S.C. Probate Case, and an order that in effect indicates that the parties can disregard the pending appeal before the South Carolina Court of Appeals (see generally doc. 1). 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. 3:08-505-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).

         The 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).

         Indeed, the plaintiffs have not manufactured jurisdiction of this court to circumvent Rooker-Feldman by pleading that they seek damages for an alleged conspiracy between the defendants, the deputy coroner, Judge Addy, and Judge Sumner. Even liberally construing the alleged conspiracy, to rule in favor of the plaintiffs in the present action would necessarily require this Court to overrule, or otherwise find invalid, the South Carolina State Court Order dismissing the plaintiffs' appeal of the S.C. Probate Case.[6] 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). Further, the plaintiffs' request that the court require the amendment of Kenneth's death certificate also implicates the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because the plaintiffs seek to have Arletta named as Kenneth's surviving spouse in order to force a share of his estate be given to Arletta, rather than Norma, thus overturning the administration of the estate proceeding in the S.C. Probate Case. Such a result is prohibited under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See Auto-Owners Ins. Co. v. Tuggle,289 F.Supp.2d 1061, 1067 ...

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