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Mittal v. County of Clark

United States District Court, D. Nevada

March 30, 2017

RAJA MITTAL, Plaintiff,
COUNTY OF CLARK, et al ., Defendants.


          Kent J. Dawson United States District Judge.

         Presently before the Court are Defendants' Motions to Dismiss (#52/104). Plaintiff filed a response in opposition (#73/106) to which Defendants replied (#76/108). Also before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Strike (#94) to which Plaintiff filed a response in opposition #(95).[1] Also before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Seal (#85). The motion to seal is granted.

         I. Background

         X.X. is the minor son of Plaintiff Raja Mittal and his ex-wife Kristin Brown. Mittal and Brown separated two years after the birth of X.X. and officially divorced in 2009. As part of the divorce decree, Brown was granted primary physical custody of X.X. while Mittal was allowed visitation for two days a week.

         Plaintiff claims that X.X. had always shown the signs of physical and sexual abuse, but it was not until X.X. began to complain, that Plaintiff was able to make the connection between these signs and their alleged cause. In September of 2011, Plaintiff alleges X.X. began to mention things to him that indicated he was being sexually abused by his maternal grandfather, Richard Brown. Plaintiff then reported his suspicions to the police and filed a petition with the family court to have his son removed from Brown's custody. However, Plaintiff's attempt to gain custody of X.X. was ultimately unsuccessful.

         In June of 2013, Defendant Teresa Tibbs informed Mittal that Defendant Child Protective Services would be granting custody of X.X. to Brown, and not Plaintiff. In his amended complaint (#48), Plaintiff alleges a lengthy series of events that he believes caused Brown, rather than himself, to obtain custody of their son. His theory is that Defendants conspired to influence and mislead the juvenile court into granting custody of X.X. to Brown by lying and withholding evidence from the court. Plaintiff believes that Defendants favored Brown and wanted to place X.X. in his mother's custody, contrary to the best interests of the child. Mittal now asks this court for a declaratory judgment invalidating the orders of the state court and granting him custody of X.X., and prays for damages allegedly caused by: violations of 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, and 1986; and other causes of action based on state law.

         II. Standard for a Motion to Dismiss

         In considering a motion to dismiss, “all well-pleaded allegations of material fact are taken as true and construed in a light most favorable to the non-moving party.” Wyler Summit Partnership v. Turner Broadcasting System, Inc., 135 F.3d 658, 661 (9th Cir. 1998) (citation omitted). Consequently, there is a strong presumption against dismissing an action for failure to state a claim. See Gilligan v. Jamco Dev. Corp., 108 F.3d 246, 249 (9th Cir. 1997) (citation omitted).

         “To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). Plausibility, in the context of a motion to dismiss, means that the plaintiff has pleaded facts which allow “the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id.

         The Iqbal evaluation illustrates a two prong analysis. First, the Court identifies “the allegations in the complaint that are not entitled to the assumption of truth, ” that is, those allegations which are legal conclusions, bare assertions, or merely conclusory. Id. at 1949-51. Second, the Court considers the factual allegations “to determine if they plausibly suggest an entitlement to relief.” Id. at 1951. If the allegations state plausible claims for relief, such claims survive the motion to dismiss. Id. at 1950.

         III. Analysis

         A. Jurisdictional Review

         Plaintiff's 72-page first amended complaint does not set forth a short and plain statement as required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8. It is apparent, however, from the amended complaint and Plaintiff's briefs that Plaintiff challenges orders issued by state court judges relating to the custody of his son, particularly those based in a child dependency proceeding in juvenile court and initiated by CPS. A federal district court does not have jurisdiction to review errors in state court decisions in civil cases. Dist. of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 476 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415 (1923). “The district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction either to conduct a direct review of a state court judgment or to scrutinize the state court's application of various rules and procedures pertaining to the state case.” Samuel v. Michaud, 980 F.Supp. 1381, 1411-12 (D. Idaho 1996), aff'd, 129 F.3d 127 (9th Cir. 1997). See also Branson v. Nott, 62 F.3d 287, 291-92 (9th Cir. 1995) (finding no subject matter jurisdiction over section 1983 claim seeking, inter alia, implicit reversal of state trial court action); MacKay v. Pfeil, 827 F.2d 540, 544-45 (9th Cir. 1987) (attacking state court judgment because substantive defense improper under Rooker-Feldman). Even if the federal district court action alleges the state court's action was unconstitutional or violated the plaintiff's civil rights, the rule does not change. Feldman, 460 U.S. at 486.

         Moreover, claims raised in federal district court need not have been argued in the state judicial proceedings to be barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Id. at 483-84 & n.16. If federal claims are “inextricably intertwined” with a state court judgment, the federal court may not hear them. Id. “[T]he federal claim is ‘inextricably intertwined' with the state court judgment if the federal claim succeeds only to the extent that the state court wrongly decided the issues before it.” Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 25 (1987) (Marshall, J., concurring). In sum, “a state court's application of its rules and procedures is unreviewable by a federal district court. The federal ...

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