United States District Court, D. Idaho
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Lynn Winmill U.S. District Court Judge.
before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss. The
motion is fully briefed and at issue. For the reasons stated
below, the Court will grant the motion.
are parents seeking to regain custody of their children. They
claim that their federal constitutional rights were violated
when the state of Idaho was granted temporary custody of
their minor children in a child protection proceeding
currently pending in Ada County Magistrate Court. They ask
this Court to (1) dismiss those proceedings, (2) enjoin the
Ada County Magistrate Judge from granting custody of
plaintiffs' children to the State, and (3) order the
State to return the children to plaintiffs' custody. The
defendants respond by asking this Court to abstain from
taking jurisdiction and to dismiss this action
Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 43-54 (1971), the
Supreme Court reaffirmed the long-standing principle that
federal courts sitting in equity cannot, absent exceptional
circumstances, enjoin pending state criminal proceedings. The
“exceptional circumstances” that would counsel
against abstaining include those cases where the “state
proceeding is motivated by a desire to harass or is conducted
in bad faith, or where the challenged statute is flagrantly
and patently violative of express constitutional prohibitions
in every clause . . .” Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S.
415, 424 (1979). The Ninth Circuit has developed a five-prong
test that compels abstention
only when the state proceedings: (1) are ongoing, (2) are
quasi-criminal enforcement actions or involve a state's
interest in enforcing the orders and judgments of its courts,
(3) implicate an important state interest, and (4) allow
litigants to raise federal challenges. If these
‘threshold elements' are met, [the court] then
consider[s] [(5)] whether the federal action would have the
practical effect of enjoining the state proceedings and
whether an exception to Younger applies.”
ReadyLink Healthcare, Inc. v. State Compensation Ins.
Fund, 754 F.3d 754, 758 (9th Cir. 2014). If
all five factors are met, the court “must
abstain[.]” Id. at 758.
all five prongs are met. First, the state court proceedings
are ongoing, according to the plaintiffs' complaint.
See Complaint (Dkt. No. 1) at ¶ 3. Second, the
Supreme Court has held that state court proceedings initiated
by the state to protect children are quasi-criminal for
abstention purposes. Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S. 415,
423 (1979). Third, “family relations are a traditional
area of state concern.” Id. At 423. Fourth,
plaintiffs have not shown that they are barred from raising
their federal challenges in the state court proceedings.
Sanchez, 2018 WL 3956427 (N.D. Cal. 2018) (stating
that “[i]f the constitutional claims in the case have
independent merit, the state courts are competent to hear
them.”). Fifth, action from this Court would have the
effect of enjoining the state court proceedings, and there is
no evidence that the state court action is designed to
harass, was brought in bad faith, or is being pursued under
state statutes that are “flagrantly and patently
violative of express constitutional prohibitions in every
clause . . .” Moore, 442 U.S. at 424.
Court recognizes that in Cook v. Harding, 879 F.3d
1035 (9th Cir. 2018), the Circuit refused to
abstain in a civil dispute between two private parties each
claiming parental rights over triplets born in a surrogacy
arrangement. The plaintiff Cook had entered into a surrogacy
arrangement to carry the child of C.M. When Cook learned that
she was carrying triplets, a disagreement arose over whether
there should be a “selective reduction of the
fetuses.” Id. at 1038. Cook filed a complaint
in state court against C.M. to declare unconstitutional a
state law recognizing the validity of surrogacy contracts,
and C.M. filed a state court action to enforce the contract.
Cook then filed an action in federal district court that was
dismissed by the district court on the ground of
Younger abstention. The Circuit reversed that part
of the ruling, holding that the state court action was not a
quasi-criminal proceeding brought by the state but merely a
civil contract dispute between two private parties.
Id. at 1040. Abstention would be appropriate,
Cook noted, if the facts were closer to those in
Moore where the state court action was initiated by
the state to determine custody following allegations of child
abuse, but because those facts were not present in
Cook, the district court erred in abstaining.
present case is like Moore, not Cook Here,
the state court action was initiated by the state to
determine child custody - it is not a civil contract dispute
between two private parties - and is hence a quasi-criminal
proceeding under Moore. The other requirements for
abstention are all satisfied, as discussed above. There is no
evidence that the state court action is designed to harass,
was brought in bad faith, or is being pursued under state
statutes that are “flagrantly and patently violative of
express constitutional prohibitions in every clause . .
.” Moore, 442 U.S. at 424.
Younger is a narrow doctrine and applies only in
exceptional circumstances, this Court believes this case to
fall within the that category. The Court will therefore apply
Younger abstention and grant the motion to dismiss.