United States District Court, D. Maryland
L. Russell, III United States District Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Tia DeShanna Greene's
Complaint, filed on November 21, 2017 against the State of
Maryland, United States Department of Justice, and the United
States Attorney's Office (ECF No. 1) and accompanied by a
Motion to Proceed in Forma Pauperis (ECF No. 2). The Motion
is ripe for disposition, and no hearing is necessary.
See Local Rule 105.6 (D.Md. 2016). For the reasons
outlined below, the Court will grant Greene's Motion
because her financial affidavit indicates she is indigent,
but the Court will dismiss the case sua sponte after
reviewing the allegations in the Complaint.
action arises out of various state court proceedings
involving Greene and her former domestic partner. Greene
asserts that, on May 17, 2013, she “was maimed in an
act of violence by [David Joyner, ] my domestic partner and
Child's father.” (Compl. at 1, ECF No. 1-1). Greene
unsuccessfully sought a permanent protection order against
Joyner in state court. (Id.). In July 2014, a
Maryland state court granted sole custody of Greene and
Joyner's child to Joyner. (Id. at 2). In
connection with these proceedings, Greene was ordered to pay
child support. (Id.). Greene alleges that she was
“wrongfully imprisoned” in 2015; however, neither
the basis of her imprisonment nor the reason she believes the
imprisonment was “wrongful” are apparent from the
this year, Greene filed a civil action in this Court against
Joyner, his attorney, and various Maryland agencies,
including the Circuit Court of Baltimore County, Maryland,
which handled the state child custody and support
proceedings. Greene v. Joyner, No. JFM-17-0688
(D.Md. March 13, 2017) (complaint). This action was dismissed
for several reasons, including the domestic relations
exception to federal subject matter jurisdiction,
Maryland's immunity from suit under the Eleventh
Amendment, and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
Greene v. Joyner, No. JFM-17-0688, slip op. (D.Md.
closed March 30, 2017).
instant complaint is disjointed and unclear. To the best of
this Court's reading, Greene alleges that the state
failed to protect her from domestic violence by Joyner,
failed to have “due regard . . . for [her] known
physical and mental disabilities” or accord her due
process in connection with the child custody and support
proceedings, and “breached public trust and duty”
when unidentified state employees failed to intervene in the
state proceedings. (Compl. at 2-3). The claims against the
United States are less specific and seem largely based on the
federal government's failure to intervene in her state
court proceedings. (Id.). Additionally, Greene
levels several broad criticisms at the state and federal
government that do not appear to amount to a legal claim.
(See, e.g., id. at 2 (asserting generic
failure of government to protect all women and children from
domestic violence); id. at 3 (“Majority of
Executive Directors of all U.S. Agencies are or were lawyers
who enforce legislation or helped pass laws allowing them to
exercise unchecked influence over the majority to create
subjects for and to empower the legal industry; designed by
legal professionals indeed!”)).
requests that this Court enter a domestic violence protection
order in her favor, grant her “Federal Protection from
the State of Maryland ordered Violence with sole custody of
minor child, ” vacate the state's child custody and
support orders, order the “transfer and delegation of
Authority and Power of child custody decision making and
protection from Domestic Violence order to a competent
Judicial body dedicated to only hearing domestic cases - the
Civil Justice and Freedom Court, ” and issue a
“writ of mandamus ordering an administrative review by
MD court of Appeal” of the state proceedings. (Compl.
at 2, 4).
filed the complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1), which
permits an indigent litigant to commence an action in this
Court without prepaying the filing fee. To guard against
possible abuses of this privilege, the statute requires
dismissal of any claim that is frivolous or malicious, or
fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted. 28
U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i) and (ii). This Court is
mindful of its obligation to liberally construe
self-represented pleadings, such as Greene's complaint.
See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). In
evaluating such a complaint, the factual allegations are
assumed to be true. Id. at 93 (citing Bell
Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)).
Nonetheless, liberal construction does not mean that a
district court can ignore a clear failure in this pleading to
allege facts which set forth a cognizable claim. See
Weller v. Dep't of Soc. Servs., 901 F.2d 387 (4th
Cir. 1990); see also Beaudett v. City of Hampton,
775 F.2d 1274, 1278 (4th Cir. 1985) (stating a district court
may not “conjure up questions never squarely
is well established that before a federal court can decide
the merits of a claim, the claim must invoke the jurisdiction
of the court.” Miller v. Brown, 462 F.3d 312,
316 (4th Cir. 2006). A district court has “an
independent obligation to determine whether subject-matter
jurisdiction exists, even when no party challenges it.”
Hertz Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 94 (2010).
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(3),
“the court must dismiss the action” if it
determines that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction. See
also Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 506-07
(2006). Federal jurisdiction is available only when a
“federal question” is presented or the parties
are of diverse citizenship and the amount in controversy
exceeds $75, 000.00. See U.S. Const. Art. 3 §
2; 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332 (2012). There is no
presumption that jurisdiction is vested in the court, see
Pinkley, Inc. v. City of Frederick, 191 F.3d 394. 399
(4th Cir. 1999), and the burden of establishing subject
matter jurisdiction rests on the party invoking the
jurisdiction of the court. See Adams v. Bain, 697
F.2d 1213, 1219 (4th Cir. 1982).
Greene asserts that this Court has jurisdiction because it
presents a federal question, this Court does not have
original subject-matter jurisdiction over matters concerning
child custody or support. See Wasserman v.
Wasserman, 671 F.2d 832, 834 (4th Cir. 1982). Even
though diversity of the parties' citizenship is not
alleged here as a basis for jurisdiction, it bears noting
that this Court cannot review a child support case even where
the moving party establishes diversity jurisdiction.
Id. (diversity jurisdiction does not include power
to grant divorces, determine alimony or support obligations,
or decide child custody rights).
the Rooker-Feldman [abstention] doctrine, a
‘party losing in state court is barred from seeking
what in substance would be appellate review of the state
judgment in a United States district court.'”
Am. Reliable Ins. v. Stillwell, 336 F.3d 311, 316
(4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Johnson v. De Grandy, 512
U.S. 997, 1005-06 (1994)). The Rooker-Feldman
doctrine is jurisdictional and, as such, this Court is free
to raise it sua sponte. See Jordahl v. Democratic Party
of Va., 122 F.3d 192, 197 n.5 (4th Cir. 1997).
complaint plainly implicates the domestic relations
exception, as it concerns child custody and support
proceedings and domestic violence protection orders.
Moreover, as indicated by Greene's requested relief of
ordering state appellate review, vacating the state circuit
court decisions, and awarding her custody of her child, this
action is nothing more than a challenge of the state
court's decisions that treats this Court as a state
appellate court; thus, it is barred by the