Federal court lacks jurisdiction over domestic relations dispute, judge rules

RICHMOND, Va. — Where the only discernible claim in a pro se complaint was for alimony and child support, the federal courts are divested “of power to issue divorce, alimony, and child custody decrees,”  a federal judge in West Virginia has ruled.

Senior U.S. District Judge Norman K. Moon dismissed the lawsuit.

Marilyn Seay Propst, proceeding pro se, commenced the action against the State of West Virginia, the State of Georgia, Dominion Property Resources and four individuals by filing a complaint as well as an application to proceed in forma pauperis.

Here is the judge’s ruling:

Having studied the complaint and additional exhibits, the court cannot discern what rights plaintiff alleges to be violated, or how that violation would have occurred. Even after giving the complaint the liberal reading which pro se filings are afforded, the court would have to invent facts itself to support a plausible claim.

Moreover, as to plaintiff’s claims against the State of Georgia and the State of West Virginia, “it is established that an unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another State.” There are three exceptions to that constitutional bar. None appear implicated on the face of the complaint. This presents an additional bar to plaintiff’s claim as to the state defendants.

Plaintiff separately alleges that she is owed $90,000 in alimony and child support stemming from a 1995 divorce. One of the fragmented exhibits filed by plaintiff appears to indicate that she was not awarded financial support at the time of the divorce. There are no alleged facts on which the court can base a finding that the plaintiff has stated a federal claim against any of the private defendants.

Moreover the domestic relations exception “divests the federal courts of power to issue divorce, alimony, and child custody decrees.” Because the only claim in the complaint that is supported by any discernible fact allegations is a claim for the award of alimony and child support, and plaintiff’s complaint does not raise any federal question under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, the court lacks jurisdiction over this case and must dismiss the complaint.

Plaintiff’s motion to proceed in forma pauperis granted. Plaintiff’s complaint dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim.

The case is Propst v. The State of West Virginia, Case No. 3:23-cv-00054, Oct. 18, 2023. WDVA at Charlottesville (Moon).


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