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Miles v. Miles

United States District Court, D. Colorado

December 5, 2018

ROBERT MILES, Plaintiff,


          Marcia S. Krieger Chief United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Motions to Dismiss submitted by Defendants Rachael Lattimer (#39), Shirley Miles (#40), and Judges Ingrid S. Bakke and Andrew R. Macdonald (#41). The Court also has reviewed Plaintiff Robert Miles' Responses[1] to such motions (#44, #48, #58), and Defendants' Replies (#47, #56). I. Jurisdiction Each of the Defendants moves to dismiss all asserted claims - at least in part - for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.[2] The Court properly exercises its jurisdiction to determine whether it has subject matter jurisdiction to determine the merits of Mr. Miles' 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. Relevant Facts

         This action arises out of Mr. Miles' dissatisfaction with the outcome of dissolution of marriage proceedings. The current operative pleading is his Amended Complaint. (#5.) In it, he asserts claims against Ms. Miles (his ex-wife), Ms. Lattimer (his ex-wife's attorney in the dissolution proceedings), and Judges Bakke and MacDonald, who are state district court judges that presided in such matter.[3]

         The Amended Complaint identifies a number of incidents that give rise to Mr. Miles' claims: (1) an incident in the spring of 2018 in which Mr. Miles was held in contempt for failing to pay amounts due under the dissolution order and was jailed for several days (#5, at pp. 30-31[4]); (2) the purported failure of the state court to properly value of certain antiques and other assets for distribution of marital assets (#5, at pp. 34-35); (3) Judge Bakke's finding that a motion addressing that valuation and distribution issue was frivolous and consequently awarding attorney's fees (#5, at pp. 29, 36); and (4) the property division between Mr. Miles and Ms. Miles, especially including their respective pension and a severance packages (#1, at pp. 2-3; #44, at pp. 3-4[5]). The relief

sought in the Amended Complaint is “correct[ion]” of “the cash distribution per the full disclosure of assets, ” and imposition of “charges against the defendants.” (#5, at p. 7.) In a subsequent filing, Mr. Miles also requests that the Court “[i]ssue order, decree ordering the state court to nullify their [sic] orders of Nov 21, 2018 [sic] concerning funds and return the funds to the plaintiff.” (#58, at p. 74.) He further asks for “punitive (monetary)” damages. (#58, at p. 74.) Construing the Amended Complaint most favorably to Mr. Miles, his claims can be loosely grouped in two categories. The first grouping is based on Mr. Miles' assertion that the state family court erred when it distributed the marital assets. The second - and somewhat less explicit - grouping appears to arise from a handful of days that he spent in jail as a result of being held in contempt by the state court. Construed liberally, this might be characterized as a claim brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983 for violation of Mr. Miles' rights under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution.

         III. Analysis

         As to the first grouping of claims - pertaining to error and need for modification of determinations made by the state court in the dissolution of marriage action - the question of subject matter jurisdiction is dispositive.

         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, 514 (2006) (quotation omitted). Thus, federal courts always have an independent obligation - no matter the stage of litigation - to consider whether they have subject matter jurisdiction over the matters before them. Gad, 787 F.3d at 1035.

         Challenges to subject-matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) generally take one of two forms: facial attacks or factual attacks. Ruiz v. McDonnell, 299 F.3d 1173, 1180 (10th Cir. 2002). A facial attack is based upon a complaint's allegations as to subject-matter jurisdiction. Thus, in reviewing a facial attack, a court is limited to allegations in the complaint, which must be accepted as true. In contrast, a factual attack involves a challenge as to jurisdiction based on facts beyond those alleged in the complaint. With a factual attack, a court has wide discretion to allow documentary and even testimonial evidence to resolve disputed jurisdictional facts. Sizova v. Nat'l Inst. of Standards & Tech., 282 F.3d 1320, 1324 (10th Cir. 2002).

         Ordinarily, federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction to consider issues arising in marriage dissolution matters. “[T]he domestic relations exception... divests the federal courts of power to issue divorce, alimony, and child custody decrees.” Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 703 (1992); accord Leathers v. Leathers, 856 F.3d 729, 756 (10th Cir. 2017) (citing Akenbrandt). The Tenth Circuit has interpreted this doctrine to encompass an attempt by a litigant to reopen, reissue, correct, or modify an existing domestic relations decree, such as a divorce, marriage dissolution or child custody order. Leathers, 856 F.3d at 756; see also Hunt v. Lamb, 427 F.3d 725, 727 (10th Cir. 2005).

         There is no dispute that this action concerns rulings made by state judges in Mr. Miles' marriage dissolution proceeding. Thus, to the extent that he seeks review or modification of those rulings or relief for the actions by the Defendants in that case, this Court cannot preside. Mr. Miles' remedy is in the state court system.

         Mr. Miles argues that he is pursuing independent federal constitutional and state law claims against Ms. Miles, Ms. Lattimer, and/or Judges Bakke and MacDonald's.[6] (#48, at p. 7; #58, at pp. 43, 52.) That does not change the outcome. The labeling of claims makes no difference; it is the relief that Mr. Miles seeks that is determinative.

Stating a claim in terms of contract or tort does not determine whether it falls outside the domestic relations exception. The proper inquiry focuses on the type of determination the federal court must make in order to resolve the claim. If the federal court is called upon to decide those issues regularly decided in state court domestic relations actions such as divorce, alimony, child custody, or ...

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