United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division
Arletta J. Kurowski, Daniel D. Kurowski Hawk, Debra J. Kurowski, Donna M. Kurowski-Galvan, Plaintiffs,
Brian Kurowski, Estate of Norma J. Kurowski, Defendants.
REPORT OF MAGISTRATE JUDGE
F. McDonald, United States Magistrate Judge
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.
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. 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, https://publicindex.sccourts.org/Abbeville/
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”).
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 (“Norma”) that she was
Kenneth's legal surviving spouse (id.).
estate is being probated in the Abbeville County Probate
Court at case No. 2009-ES-01-00196 (“SC Probate
Case”) (id. at 5). 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). 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).
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).
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.”).
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 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,
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
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).
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. 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