United States District Court, D. Colorado
ORDER RE: MOTIONS TO DISMISS
S. Krieger Chief United States District Judge
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 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. 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).
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.
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); (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). 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.
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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. (#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