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Grohs v. Grohs

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

October 17, 2017




         Kelly Smith Grohs removed her family court case to this court after the Connecticut Superior Court awarded sole custody of her children to her former husband, William Grohs. See Pet. Removal, Doc. No. 1. After examining the petition for removal, I conclude that the case was improperly removed, and that any claims stated in Ms. Grohs' petition would be barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and the domestic relations exception to subject-matter jurisdiction. Therefore, I order Ms. Grohs' case remanded to Connecticut Superior Court.

         I. Standard of Review

         Pursuant to the federal removal statute, “any civil action brought in a State court of which the district courts of the United States have original jurisdiction, may be removed by the defendant . . . to the district court of the United States for the district and division embracing the place where such action is pending.” 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a). Thus, whether a civil action may be removed from state court turns on whether “the district court has original jurisdiction, ” Aetna Health v. Kirshner, 415 F.Supp.2d 109, 112 (D. Conn. 2006), as determined “by looking to the complaint as it existed at the time the petition for removal was filed.” Moscovitch v. Danbury Hosp., 25 F.Supp.2d 74, 79 (D. Conn. 1998).

         “The burden of establishing the existence of federal subject matter jurisdiction rests on the removing party, ” Kirshner, 415 F.Supp. at 112, and “courts may raise jurisdictional defects in removal cases sua sponte.” Stark v. Tyron, 171 F.Supp.3d 35, 39 (D. Conn. 2016) (citing Barbara v. N.Y. Stock Exch., 99 F.3d 49, 53 (2d Cir. 1996)). “If it appears before final judgment that a case was not properly removed, because it was not within the original jurisdiction of the United States district courts, the district court must remand it to the state court from which it was removed.” Franchise Tax Bd. v. Constr. Laborers Vacation Tr., 463 U.S. 1, 8 (1983).

         II. Background

         Kelly Smith Grohs and William J. Grohs were divorced on July 26, 2011. See Judgment of Dissolution, Grohs v. Grohs, No. UWY-FA10-4022991-S, Doc. No. 169.00 (Conn. Super. Ct. July 26, 2011). In connection with their divorce, they entered into a Parenting Agreement that was “attached []to and made a part []of” the Dissolution of Marriage Settlement Agreement.[1] See Ex. L to Pet. Removal, Doc. No. 1-11, at 3. Ms. Grohs alleges that Mr. Grohs subsequently violated the terms of the Parenting Agreement and conspired with judges of the Connecticut Superior Court to obtain sole custody of the children. See Pet. Removal, Doc. No. 1, at 5-6.

         On September 25, 2017, after the Superior Court awarded sole custody of the children to Mr. Grohs, Ms. Grohs removed the family court action to this court under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1441(a) & 1443. She asserts a slew of bases for federal jurisdiction, including 18 U.S.C. §§ 228 (the Child Support and Recovery Act) and 1346 (the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act); 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 (Federal question jurisdiction), 1361 (Action to compel an officer of the United States to perform his duty), 1391 (Venue), 1491 (the Tucker Act), 1651 (the All Writs Act), 1738A (Full faith and credit given to child custody determinations), & 2283 (the Anti-Injunction Act); 29 U.S.C. § 701 (the Rehabilitation Act); 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 (the Civil Rights Act of 1866), 12133, & 12188 (the Americans with Disabilities Act); Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 5.1, 15, & 65; the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Fourteenth, and Nineteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution; and Article I, Section 10, Clause 1, Article IV, Section 2, Clause 1, and Article VI of the United States Constitution. In addition, Ms. Grohs has moved to proceed in forma pauperis and to appoint counsel. See Docs. 2 & 3.

         On October 6, 2017, Mr. Grohs appeared through counsel and moved to remand the case to state court on grounds of untimely removal and lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under the domestic relations exception or the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See Mot. Remand, Doc. No. 10; Mem. Supp. Mot. Remand, Doc. No. 11. He also seeks attorneys' fees and costs incurred as a result of the removal. Ms. Grohs filed several motions in response, see Docs. Nos. 13-20, including, on October 13, 2017, an objection to Mr. Grohs' motion to remand. See Doc. No. 18.

         III. Discussion

         Because allegations by pro se parties are “h[e]ld to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, ” Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972) (per curiam), I am “required to read [Ms. Grohs'] pro se submissions liberally.” See Newman & Cahn, LLP v. Sharp, 288 F.Supp.2d 115, 116 (E.D.N.Y. 2005) (citing Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980)). Even affording Ms. Grohs' “pro se petition for removal the close and sympathetic reading to which it is entitled, ” however, I conclude that “it reveals no basis for the exercise of subject matter jurisdiction over the underlying suit.” See Vill. of Milbrook v. Forrest, 903 F.Supp. 599, 600 (S.D.N.Y. 1995). For the reasons set forth below, I grand Mr. Grohs' motion to remand, and order that the case be remanded to Connecticut Superior Court.

         A. Removal

         Ms. Grohs asserts two statutory bases for removal of the case from state court: (1) section 1441(a), removal on the basis of federal question jurisdiction; and (2) section 1443, removal on the basis of civil rights violations. Neither statute entitles her to remove the case to this court.

         1. Se ...

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