Virginia Lawyers Weekly//November 20, 2023
Virginia Lawyers Weekly//November 20, 2023//
Where a man sued his former spouse, judges, lawyers and an expert witness involved in a prior contested divorce case and child custody/visitation disputes, the action was dismissed because it would require the court to resolve whether the state-court cases were correctly decided.
This lawsuit arises out of two state court proceedings: (1) a contested divorce case that was affirmed by the Court of Appeals of Virginia, and whose petition for appeal was refused by the Supreme Court of Virginia and (2) a Fairfax County child custody and visitation proceeding in which Hassan Sultan alleges he prevailed but did not seek attorney’s fees.
Across his 89-page complaint, plaintiff makes claims against his ex-wife, Nosheen Malik; various judges, including those involved in these two state court actions; the attorneys who represented his ex-wife in these proceedings and the expert witness who provided testimony on his ex-wife’s behalf during the divorce proceeding. Before the court are multiple motions to dismiss.
The court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over this action because plaintiff essentially seeks to re-litigate the issues in his divorce and custody proceedings. The allegations in the complaint detail the state court proceedings, outline plaintiff’s belief as to why these colluded with each other to reach results unfavorable to plaintiff.
Although plaintiff does not style this action as an appeal of these state court proceedings, it “amounts to nothing more than an attempt to seek review of the state court’s decision[s] by a lower federal court.” Adjudicating plaintiff’s case would require the court to “pass upon the merits of th[e] state court decision” in the divorce and child custody proceedings.
Requests for declaratory relief under § 1983 are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine when, as here, they are functionally asking a federal court to review a state court final judgment. Here, the thrust of plaintiff’s complaint is that his state court cases were wrongly decided, and this action must be dismissed in its entirety under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
Although plaintiff alleges that commonwealth courts have “continuing jurisdiction” over his domestic relations matters, both the divorce and child custody proceedings have concluded and plaintiff identifies no pending cases. Even if somehow these matters continue to be live controversies (or the cases were somehow reopened and came to be pending once again), the court would lack subject matter jurisdiction under the Younger abstention doctrine.
The Younger abstention doctrine “expresses a strong federal policy against federal-court interference with pending state judicial proceedings absent extraordinary circumstances.” Younger “requires a federal court to abstain from interfering in state proceedings, even if federal subject matter jurisdiction exists, if the following three factors are present: (1) there is an ongoing state judicial proceeding brought prior to substantial progress in the federal proceeding; that (2) implicates important, substantial, or vital state interests; and (3) provides adequate opportunity to raise constitutional challenges.”
Here, this federal action filed in 2023 seeks to collaterally attack state court domestic relations proceedings arising from a 2019 divorce case and 2021 custody case. The underlying cases implicate the commonwealth’s substantial interest in domestic relations matters. And plaintiff would have adequate opportunities to raise his constitutional challenges in state court.
Defendants’ motions to dismiss granted.
Sultan v. Malik, Case No. 1:23-cv-00457, Oct. 30, 2023. EDVA at Alexandria (Nachmanoff). VLW 023-3-698. 5 pp.