Bowen v. Keys

Decision Date23 July 2020
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 3:20-CV-296-DPJ-FKB
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Mississippi

Plaintiff Latoya Bowen sued seven defendants over events related to her child-custody dispute with Defendant Tremaine L. Keys, the father of her minor daughter. The case is before the Court on the motions to dismiss filed by Defendants Keys; Corey D. Gibson; and David Shoemake, Simpson County CPS/DHS, and Simpson County Chancery Court (collectively, the Simpson County defendants).1

In addition to these motions, Bowen filed a document entitled "Writ of Replevin" and a document styled "Motion of Default Judgment/Void Judgment/Award to Plaintiff." That prompted two motions from Defendants asking the Court to strike her submissions or alternatively for clarification. For the following reasons, the motions to dismiss [13, 14] filed by Keys and Gibson are granted in part and denied in part; the Simpson County Defendants' motion to dismiss [23] is granted; Bowen's request for a writ of replevin [25] is denied; her motion of default judgment [28] is terminated; and the motions to strike [33, 34] are denied as moot.

I. Facts and Procedural History

The facts as asserted in the Complaint are a little messy. According to Bowen, the dispute started in July 2017 when Keys told the Simpson County CPS/DHS that she was neglecting and abusing their minor daughter. The claims were resolved after Bowen completed a five-week parenting class, and CPS/DHS apparently concluded "that the claims made against . . . Bowen were not enough to remove the minor from [her] custody." Compl. [1] at 8.

CPS/DHS then received a second call about Bowen in August 2017. That claim included allegations that Bowen's teenaged nephew sexually assaulted her daughter. Following a shelter hearing, the daughter was temporarily removed from Bowen's custody. But before a follow-up hearing could be held in Simpson County Youth Court, Keys "filed a petition for custody . . . with the Simpson County Chancery Court." Id. Defendant Gibson represented Keys in that proceeding. One month later, the youth-court hearing occurred, and CPS/DPS personnel allegedly stated "that the results of the rape allegations were unsubstantiated and inconclusive," but "suggested that the shelter in place order remain with . . . Keys since his attorney . . . Gibson had already filed a petition for custody." Id. at 9.

In October 2017, the matter returned to chancery court where Defendant Chancery Court Judge David Shoemake held a custody hearing and appointed a guardian ad litem. In December 2017, the guardian ad litem "stated . . . that . . . Bowen could be allowed visitation with the minor," whom she "had not seen . . . since September 12, 2017." Id. at 10. In February 2018, an order of temporary custody in Keys's favor was entered in Simpson County Chancery Court.

Bowen's next allegations jump ahead two years. On February 11, 2020, "a contempt of court hearing was held in the Chancery Court of Covington County, Mississippi." Id. at 11. Bowen says she "appointed . . . Shoemake as trustee" by mailing him "a private registered bond .. . made out to . . . Shoemake . . . , authorized by . . . Bowen in the amount of $100,000." Id. According to Bowen, Judge Shoemake neither "respond[ed nor] return[ed] the bond[] or the remaining amount after covering court costs and fees associated with the plaintiff's case." Id.

Next, on March 13, 2020, Bowen obtained a written statement from her daughter stating that "she wanted to live with her mother." Id. The following week, Bowen "took some documents/contract to the Sheriff of Simpson County." Id. at 12. The sheriff "called the chancery judge and was instructed to tell the plaintiff that if the minor's father came back to pick up the minor, to call the sheriff." Id.

Apparently, "the documents [Bowen] filed in court" led Keys's attorney, Defendant Gibson, to prepare and present to Judge Shoemake "a writ of habeas corpus" that ultimately resulted in Judge Shoemake signing "an order for the Simpson County Sheriff's Department to locate [Bowen] and remove the minor from the care of her mother [and] return[ her] to the defendant, Tremaine L. Keys." Id. Bowen describes the removal of her daughter from her custody, which happened on April 13, 2020, as a kidnapping. Id. at 13.

Bowen filed this lawsuit against Keys, Gibson, the Simpson County defendants, the Simpson County Sheriff Department, and the Simpson County Youth Court on April 28, 2020. She identifies federal question as the basis for subject-matter jurisdiction, referencing the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution and the following federal statutes: an unspecified section of Title 15 of the United States Code; 18 U.S.C. §§ 241-42; 41 U.S.C. §§ 6503, 7101-09; and 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985-86. Id. at 4-5. In addition to $5,000,000 in "punitive damages[ and] pain and suffering," Bowen "requests that the court(s) return/grant full legal, sole, and physical custody of [the] minor child . . . back to her." Id. at 14.She also "request[s] that the court[] order[s] counseling for herself, the minor child, and . . . Keys so that all 3 may begin to heal so they can move forward." Id.

II. Standards

The moving defendants seek dismissal under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). A motion under Rule 12(b)(1) raises the defense of "lack of subject-matter jurisdiction." Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1). As such, "[w]hen a Rule 12(b)(1) motion is filed in conjunction with other Rule 12 motions, the court should consider the Rule 12(b)(1) jurisdictional attack before addressing any attack on the merits." Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001). "The burden of proof for a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss is on the party asserting jurisdiction. Accordingly, the plaintiff constantly bears the burden of proof that jurisdiction does in fact exist." Id. (citation omitted). "'[A] claim is properly dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction when the court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate' the claim." Sureshot Golf Ventures, Inc. v. Topgolf Int'l, Inc., 754 F. App'x 235, 239 (5th Cir. 2018) (quoting In re FEMA Trailer Formaldehyde Prod. Liab. Litig., 668 F.3d 281, 286 (5th Cir. 2012)).

When considering a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the "court accepts 'all well-pleaded facts as true, viewing them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.'" Martin K. Eby Constr. Co. v. Dall. Area Rapid Transit, 369 F.3d 464, 467 (5th Cir. 2004) (quoting Jones v. Greninger, 188 F.3d 322, 324 (5th Cir. 1999) (per curiam)). But "the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions. Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). To overcome a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a plaintiff must plead "enoughfacts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. "Factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level, on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id. at 555 (citations and footnote omitted).

III. Analysis
A. Subject-Matter Jurisdiction

The Court's analysis begins with subject-matter jurisdiction. Bowen asserts federal-question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, which provides that "[t]he district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."2 And though her Complaint references various federal statutes and constitutional provisions, Defendants say she failed to allege any violations of those laws. See Gibson Mot. [13] ¶ 3; accord Keys Mot. [14] ¶ 3.

"The well-pleaded-complaint rule has long governed whether a case 'arises under' federal law for purposes of § 1331." Holmes Grp., Inc. v. Vornado Air Circulation Sys., Inc., 535 U.S. 826, 830 (2002). "Under this rule, a claim arises under federal law 'when the plaintiff's statement of his own cause of action shows that it is based upon [federal law] or th[e] Constitution.'" Gilbert v. Donahoe, 751 F.3d 303, 311 (5th Cir. 2014) (quoting Beneficial Nat'l Bank v. Anderson, 539 U.S. 1, 6 (2003)). In applying the well-pleaded-complaint rule,

"[j]urisdiction . . . is not defeated . . . by the possibility that the averments might fail to state a cause of action on which petitioners could actually recover." [Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 682 (1946).] Rather, the district court has jurisdiction if "the right of the petitioners to recover under their complaint will be sustained if the Constitution and laws of the United States are given one construction and will be defeated if they are given another," id.[] at 685, . . . unless the claim "clearlyappears to be immaterial and made solely for the purpose of obtaining jurisdiction or where such a claim is wholly insubstantial and frivolous." Id.[] at 682-[]83 . . . . Dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction because of the inadequacy of the federal claim is proper only when the claim is "so insubstantial, implausible, foreclosed by prior decisions of [the Supreme] Court, or otherwise completely devoid of merit as to not involve a federal controversy." Oneida Indian Nation of N.Y. v. C[ty.] of Oneida, 414 U.S. 661, 666 (1974) . . . .

Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 89 (1998).

Defendants correctly argue that Bowen has cited several federal statutes that are either irrelevant or offer no private right of action. For example, Title 15 of the United States Code regulates commerce and trade. Assuming some section of that title created a private cause of action, there is no factual nexus...

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