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Julander v. Lee

United States District Court, D. Utah

March 6, 2018

WALLACE LEE, in his official capacity as Judge, 6th District Sevier Co., and in his individual capacity, Defendant.



         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss. Plaintiff failed to respond to the Motion and the time for doing so has expired. For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant the Motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, brings this action against Wallace Lee, a Utah state court judge. Plaintiff complains of certain orders Judge Lee issued during Plaintiff's pending divorce and custody proceedings.[1] Plaintiff alleges that these orders were issued based on false information and without giving him the opportunity to respond. Plaintiff also alleged that Judge Lee should have recused himself based on his relationship with the former presiding judge, Judge Bagley, against whom Plaintiff has also brought suit.[2] Through his Complaint, Plaintiff requests a modification of the state court's custody decree and he reserves the right to seek monetary and punitive damages.


         Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure empowers a court to dismiss a complaint for “lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.” The burden of establishing subject-matter jurisdiction is on the party asserting jurisdiction.[3] “Rule 12(b)(1) motions can take the form of either a ‘facial' or a ‘factual' attack on the court's subject matter jurisdiction.”[4] “A facial attack looks only to the factual allegations of the complaint in challenging the court's jurisdiction.”[5]With a facial attack, the Court applies “the same standards under Rule 12(b)(1) that are applicable to a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action.”[6]

         In considering a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under Rule 12(b)(6), all well-pleaded factual allegations, as distinguished from conclusory allegations, are accepted as true and viewed in the light most favorable to Plaintiff as the nonmoving party.[7] Plaintiff must provide “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face, ”[8] which requires “more than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully harmed-me accusation.”[9] “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions' or ‘a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.' Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders ‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further factual enhancement.'”[10]

         “The court's function on a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is not to weigh potential evidence that the parties might present at trial, but to assess whether the plaintiff's complaint alone is legally sufficient to state a claim for which relief may be granted.”[11] As the Court stated in Iqbal,

only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss. Determining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense. But where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged-but it has not shown-that the pleader is entitled to relief.[12]

         In considering a motion to dismiss, a district court not only considers the complaint, “but also the attached exhibits, ”[13] “documents incorporated into the complaint by reference, and matters of which a court may take judicial notice.”[14] The Court “may consider documents referred to in the complaint if the documents are central to the plaintiff's claim and the parties do not dispute the documents' authenticity.”[15]



         Defendant argues that Plaintiff's claims are barred by the Younger[16] abstention doctrine. “The Supreme Court has established three factors to be relevant to our decision as to whether abstention is required under Younger.”[17] The Court considers whether: “(1) there is an ongoing state criminal, civil, or administrative proceeding, (2) the state court provides an adequate forum to hear the claims raised in the federal complaint, and (3) the state proceedings involve important state interests, matters which traditionally look to state law for their resolution or implicate separately articulated state policies.”[18] “Once these three conditions are met, Younger abstention is non-discretionary and, absent extraordinary circumstances, a district court is required to abstain.”[19]

         Here, there is an ongoing state court proceeding involving the same subject matter. The state court provides Plaintiff an adequate forum to hear the claims raised here. Finally, that state proceeding involves important state interests related to family law. Therefore, the Court lacks jurisdiction to hear Plaintiff's claims to the extent they seek to inject this Court into the ongoing divorce and custody proceedings. Defendant requests that Plaintiff's claims be dismissed with prejudice. However, Younger abstention dismissals are considered to be without prejudice.[20]


         Defendant further argues that the Court lacks jurisdiction under the domestic relations exception. “It is well-established that federal courts lack jurisdiction over ‘[t]he whole subject of the domestic relations of husband and wife, [and] parent and child.'”[21] For substantially the same reasons that the Court must abstain under Younger, the ...

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