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Alfaro v. County of Arapahoe

United States District Court, D. Colorado

September 25, 2018



          Marcia S. Krieger, Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on the Magistrate Judge's sua sponte Recommendation that the Court dismiss the instant case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction (#23), issued after issuance of an Order to Show Cause why the matter should not be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction (#4) and consideration of Plaintiff's response thereto (#18). The Court has also reviewed Plaintiff Danielle Alfaro's Response thereto (#31), which the Court deems to be an Objection to the Recommendation.

         I. Jurisdiction

         The Magistrate Judge's Recommendation is that this action be dismissed due to lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Court properly exercises its jurisdiction to determine whether it has that jurisdiction to determine the merits of Ms. Alfaro's claims. Weber v. Mobil Oil Corp., 506 F.3d 1311, 1313-14 (10th Cir. 2007); Pritchett v. Office Depot, Inc., 420 F.3d 1090, 1094 (10th Cir. 2005).

         II. Procedural History

         Plaintiff Danielle Alfaro (“Ms. Alfaro”) initiated this action by filing her pro se Complaint on March 29, 2018. (#1).[1] As Defendants in this action, she named the County of Arapahoe, the City of Centennial, Colorado, as well as six John Does (collectively, “Defendants”).

         In her original Complaint, Ms. Alfaro asserts claims against Defendants pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 for various purported constitutional violations. See generally (#1). Upon review of Plaintiff's 51-page Complaint, the basis for Plaintiff's claims appears to be grievances with determinations made by and conduct of Colorado state Judge Bonnie McLean in Ms. Alfaro's domestic relations case in Colorado state court. Indeed, every one of Ms. Alfaro's claims attack either Judge McLean's conduct or Judge McLean's rulings. Ms. Alfaro has since filed two Amended Complaints, and each adds new claims further attacking the conduct of Judge McLean. See (#6; #17). In each Complaint, Ms. Alfaro requests to enjoin Judge McClean's orders with regard to divorce and child custody matters and monetary relief. See (#1; #6; #17). Plaintiff has also sought mandamus relief in the form of “immediate summary judgment and injunctive relief by dismissing, reversing, vacating, and/or quashing all biased, prejudicial, and/or void judgments issued at any time during the proceedings of the Arapahoe County Court[.]” (#7 at 3).

         Questioning this Court's subject matter jurisdiction to address Ms. Alfaro's claims, the Magistrate Judge issued an Order to Show Cause. It set forth authority addressing limitations in the scope of this Court's subject matter jurisdiction with regard to domestic relations matters governed by state law and the application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Ms. Alfaro responded that she seeks no award of divorce, alimony or child custody in this action. Instead, she seeks to vindicate her “constitutional rights”.

         The Magistrate Judge ruled that notwithstanding Ms. Alfaro's characterization of her claims, the relief that she seeks is essentially a determination of her rights in a state domestic relations case. In essence, Ms. Alfaro seeks appellate type review of determinations made by the state court. In her Objection, Ms. Alfaro renews her previous arguments but does not object to the procedural facts or characterizations made in the Recommendation.

         III. Standard of Review

         When a magistrate judge issues a recommendation on a dispositive matter, the parties may file specific, written objections within fourteen days after being served with a copy of the recommendation. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b). The district court reviews de novo determination those portions of the recommendation to which a timely and specific objection is made. See U.S. v. One Parcel of Real Prop. Known as: 2121 E. 30th St., 73 F.3d 1057, 1060 (10th Cir. 1996). The issues to be determined are legal in nature - whether the Court has subject matter jurisdiction to determine the claims asserted, and if so, whether the Court should abstain from doing so.

         IV. Analysis

         As observed by the Magistrate Judge, federal courts are courts of limited subject matter jurisdiction. Gad v. Kan. State Univ., 787 F.3d 1032, 1035 (10th Cir. 2015); Radil v. Sanborn W. Camps, Inc., 384 F.3d 1220, 1225 (10th Cir. 2004). Subject matter jurisdiction is a constitutional prerequisite to hearing a case, and “because it involves a court's power to hear a case, [it] can never be forfeited or waived.” Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 501 (2006). Thus, federal courts always have an independent obligation - no matter the stage of litigation - to sua sponte consider whether a they have subject matter jurisdiction over the matters before them. Gad, 787 F.3d at 1035.

         A. Domestic Relations Exception to Federal Subject ...

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