United States District Court, D. Connecticut
JOHN W. CUMMING, Plaintiff,
ROBERT FIELDER, Defendant.
RULING GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS THE AMENDED
VANESSA L. BRYANT UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
case involves Defendant Robert Fielder's representation
of Stephen Cumming regarding a child custody dispute in
Connecticut Court. The Court assumes the parties'
familiarity with the facts as detailed in Plaintiff John
Cumming's Complaint [Dkt. 1] and Amended Complaint [Dkt.
20]. Defendant moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint on
February 28, 2018 and Plaintiff did not file an opposition.
[Dkt. 21.] For the reasons set forth below, this case is
DISMISSED with prejudice.
The Court Lacks Subject-Matter Jurisdiction Over This
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.” Gunn v.
Minton, 568 U.S. 251, 256 (2013). Subject matter
jurisdiction is not waivable, and a lack of subject matter
jurisdiction may be raised at any time, by a party or the
court sua sponte. See Gonzalez v. Thaler, 565 U.S.
134, 141 (2012); see also Sebelius v. Auburn Reg'l
Med. Ctr., 568 U.S. 145, 153 (2013) (“Objections
to a tribunal's jurisdiction can be raised at any time,
even by a party that once conceded the tribunal's
subject-matter jurisdiction over the controversy.”). If
a court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, it must dismiss
the action. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3). A
“district court must take all uncontroverted facts in
the complaint [ ] as true, and draw all reasonable inferences
in favor of the party asserting jurisdiction.”
Tandon v. Captain's Cove Marina of Bridgeport,
Inc., 752 F.3d 239, 243 (2d Cir. 2014). However,
“where jurisdictional facts are placed in dispute, the
court has the power and obligation to decide issues of fact
by reference to evidence outside the pleadings.”
Id. “In that case, the party asserting subject
matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving by a
preponderance of the evidence that it exists.”
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, federal district courts
may not exercise subject matter jurisdiction over suits that
are, in substance, appeals from state court judgments.
Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 414-15
(1923); District of Columbia Court of Appeals v.
Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983); Gonzalez v. Ocwen Home
Loan Servicing, 74 F.Supp.3d 504, 513 (D. Conn. 2015)
(stating the Rooker-Feldman doctrine depends on
“the causal relationship between the state-court
judgment and the injury of which the party complains in
federal court, ” not the similarity between the claims)
(quoting McKithen v. Brown, 481 F.3d 89, 97-98 (2d
Cir. 2007)). The doctrine is limited to “cases brought
by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by
state-court judgments rendered before the district court
proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and
rejection of those judgments.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v.
Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005).
Cumming alleges Defendant failed to adequately represent
Stephen Cumming in his child custody proceedings, and alleges
Stephen Cumming has suffered injury due to his inability to
afford the child support and custody-related expenses he now
owes under the Connecticut Superior Court's decision.
However, Plaintiff had the opportunity to raise concerns
about his ability to pay child support or to afford
custody-related expenses in Connecticut Superior Court, and
was in fact required to notify the Connecticut Superior Court
of his financial status. See Conn. P.B. §§
25-30, 25a-15 (requiring parties to a child custody
proceeding to provide the court with a sworn statement of
current income, expenses, assets and liabilities);
JD-FM-6-long; JD-FM-6-short (available at
(financial affidavits to alert the Connecticut Superior Court
of a party's financial status).
claims are “inextricably intertwined” with the
propriety of his custody obligation, which has already been
decided by the Connecticut Superior Court. Accordingly, the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents the Court from
exercising subject matter jurisdiction over this case.
See Mitchell v. Fishbein, 377 F.3d 157, 165 (2d Cir.
2004); Holland v. New York, 63 Fed.Appx. 532, 533
(2d Cir. 2003) (affirming district court's dismissal for
lack of subject matter jurisdiction of case involving
allegations arising from contested divorce suit); Weiss
v. Weiss, 375 F.Supp.2d at 18 (ruling the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred the district court
from considering ex-wife's tort claims).
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not bar the Court from
entertaining this attempted challenge to a state court
judgment, the Court would be barred from evaluating Stephen
Cumming's custody obligation under the domestic relations
doctrine. The domestic relations doctrine “divests the
federal courts of power to issue divorce, alimony, and child
custody decrees.” Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504
U.S. 689, 703 (1992). The doctrine recognizes that
“state courts are more eminently suited to work of this
type than are federal courts, which lack the close
association with state and local government organizations
dedicated to handling issues that arise out of conflicts over
divorce, alimony, and child custody decrees.”
Id. at 704.
repeated reference to Stephen Cumming's child custody
obligations strongly suggests that his claims either seek
reversal of state court rulings or are better addressed in
state court. See Weiss v. Weiss, 375 F.Supp.2d 10,
15 (D. Conn. 2005) (stating that the decision for federal
courts to disclaim jurisdiction in domestic relations cases
“is statutory, not constitutional, in nature” and
“rests on the history of the diversity jurisdiction
statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332, as well as ‘sound
policy considerations' ”); U.S. Life Ins. Co.
v. Marshall, No. 3:13-CV-00380 (VLB), 2014 WL 2040389,
at *5 (D. Conn. May 16, 2014) (acknowledging that
“federal courts ‘should further abstain from
exercising jurisdiction over cases on the verge of being
matrimonial in nature”) (quoting Hamilton v.
Hamilton-Grinols, 363 Fed.Appx. 767, 769 (2d Cir.
2010)). The Court is precluded from exercising jurisdiction
under both the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and the domestic
relations exception. See Hamilton, 363 Fed.Appx. at
The Amended Complaint Fails to Remedy the Deficiencies of
the Initial Complaint
addition, the Amended Complaint fails to remedy the
deficiencies in the initial Complaint. As explained in the
Court's prior Memorandum of Decision dismissing the
Complaint [Dkt. 18], Plaintiff cannot establish standing
without alleging that he suffered a concrete and
particularized injury personal to himself as a result of the
alleged breach of contract in order to assert standing.
explained in the Court's prior decision, an individual
who is neither a party to an agreement nor an intended
beneficiary of the agreement lacks prudential standing to sue
under the agreement. Beckford v. Bayview Loan Serv.,
LLC, 2017 WL 2588084, at *7 (D. Conn. June 14, 2017)
(finding a mortgage borrower lacked standing to challenge the
assignment and securitization of the mortgage); FCM Grp.,
Inc. v. Miller, 300 Conn. 774, 797 (2011) (finding a
contractor who contracted with a homeowner could not sue the
homeowner's wife for breach of that contract, and relying
on the fact that the contract did not mention the wife and
was not signed by the wife); Gateway Co. v. DiNoia,
232 Conn. 223, 231 (1995) (emphasis in original) (holding a
non-party to a contract may only maintain a breach of
contract claim if the parties to the contract “intended
to create a direct obligation from one party to the
[contract] to the third party”).
rule remains consistent in the context of an agreement
creating an attorney-client relationship. An attorney's
“allegiance is to his client, not to the person who
happens to be paying for his services, ” even if the
attorney also keeps the person providing payment
“informed about the progress of the case.”
Novella v. Hartford Acc. & Indem. Co., 163 Conn.
552, 573 (1972) (finding an attorney for insureds owed a duty
to the insureds, not the insurer, even though the insurer
paid for the attorney's representation); see also
Higgins v. Karp, 239 Conn. 802, 810 (1997) (recognizing
the “well settled” principle that “an
attorney's allegiance is to his client, not to the person
who happens to be paying for his services, ” which was
first recognized outside the insurance context and is not
exclusive to it); Krawczyk v. Stingle, 208 Conn.
239, 244 (1988) (“As a general rule, attorneys are not
liable to persons other than their clients for the negligent
rendering of services.”); Simpson v. United
States, 224 F.Supp.3d 180, 185 (D. Conn. 2016) (VLB)
(finding “[o]nly the client . . . has a legal or
equitable right, title or interest in the subject matter of
the controversy, namely the efficacy of the professional
services rendered” in the context of a medical
malpractice claim). “An attorney-client relationship is
established when the advice and assistance of the attorney is
sought and received in matters pertinent to his
profession.” DiStefano v. Milardo, 276 Conn.
416, 422 (2005). “The burden of establishing an
attorney-client relationship is on the party claiming the
existence of such a relationship” and may be evidenced
by “a retainer agreement or a contract.”
exception allows a non-client to hold an attorney liable for
claims regarding services rendered when the “plaintiff
can demonstrate that he or she was the intended or
foreseeable beneficiary of the attorney's
services.” Krawczyk, 208 Conn. at 244 (finding
an attorney for a decedent who was charged with arranging for
timely execution of estate planning documents had no duty to
the intended beneficiaries of the estate, and the attorney
could not be liable to them for alleged negligent delay in
execution of the estate planning documents). Unless the
“primary or direct purpose of the transaction was to
benefit the third party, ” public policy militates
against recognizing a non-party to a contract's right to
sue under that contract. Id. at 245-45. Public
policy concerns include ...