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Johnson v. St. Louis County Public Health & Human Services

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

November 1, 2019

Aimee Johnson and Brandon Jorgenson, Plaintiffs,
v.
St. Louis County Public Health & Human Services et al., Defendants.

          Aimee Johnson and Brandon Jorgenson, Pro Se Plaintiffs.

          Nora C. Sandstad, St. Louis County Attorney's Office, for Defendants St. Louis County Public Health & Human Services, Sarah Anderson, Hannah Jo Checketts, and Kelly Jane Thompson.

          Kathryn Iverson Landrum, Minnesota Attorney General's Office, for Defendant Joan Mahle.

          Mark A. Solheim and Pat O'Neill, III, Larson King, LLP for Defendants Laura Yoki, Lon Yoki, and Gayle Koop.

          ORDER ON OBJECTIONS TO REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court are Plaintiffs' Objections (“Objections”) [Doc. No. 124] to the August 28, 2019 Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) [Doc. No. 123] filed by Magistrate Judge Leo I. Brisbois. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs' Objections are overruled, the magistrate judge's R&R is affirmed and adopted in full, and Plaintiff's Amended Complaint [Doc. No. 10] is DISMISSED in its entirety without prejudice.

         I.BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Aimee Johnson and Brandon Jorgenson seek reinstatement of their parental rights over their two minor children, as well as punitive damages for purported fraud, misrepresentations, and violations of their constitutional rights that allegedly occurred during or in relation to a Minnesota state court proceeding in which Plaintiffs' parental rights were terminated. (Id. at 4.) As the magistrate judge noted, the details of Plaintiffs' complaint are less than clear. However, the exhibits attached to or necessarily embraced by the pleadings, as well as public records, [1] demonstrate that the underlying proceeding at issue was entitled In the Matter of the Welfare of the Children of Aimee Renee Johnson & Brandon John Jorgenson (“In re the Welfare of Children of Johnson & Jorgenson”), Case Nos. 69DU-JV-16-519 & 69DU-JV-17-357 (Cty. of St. Louis Dist. Ct.); (See Solheim Decl. Ex. 1 [Doc. No. 24-1].)

         The magistrate judge's R&R accurately summarizes the procedural and factual history of the underlying state case. (See R&R [Doc. No. 123] at 3-4.) Accordingly, the Court only briefly discusses that background here. In late 2013, St. Louis County Public Health and Human Services began investigating Plaintiff Jorgenson after Plaintiff Johnson reported that she had concerns that he was abusing their two children. See Petition for Termination of Parental Rights, In re the Welfare of Children of Johnson & Jorgenson, Case No. 69DU-JV-17-357 (Cty. Of St. Louis Dist. Ct. May 4, 2017). Eventually, after additional investigation, the children were placed in foster care. Id.

         On May 4, 2017, the St. Louis County Department of Public Health and Human Services filed a Petition for the Termination of Parental Rights as to Plaintiffs and their two children. See id.; (see also Landrum Decl. Ex. B [Doc. No. 31-1] at 12 (full copy of the petition for termination of parental rights).) On January 16, 2018, the case went to trial; both Plaintiffs were present and represented. See Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order for Termination of Parental Rights at 1, In re the Welfare of Children of Johnson & Jorgenson, Case Nos. 69DU-JV-16-519 & 69DU-JV-17-357 (Cty. Of St. Louis Dist. Ct. Feb. 16, 2018). After morning testimony, Plaintiffs met with their attorneys and subsequently informed the district court that they wished to voluntarily terminate their parental rights. (Id. at 1-2.) The district court accepted Plaintiffs' voluntary consents to termination, awarded guardianship of the two children to the Minnesota Commissioner of Human Services, and closed the state court case. (Id. at 1-2.) Shortly thereafter, Plaintiffs moved to withdraw their respective consents to termination; the district court denied those motions on February 7, 2018. (Id.)

         On March 30, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Reconsider and Reopen their parental rights termination case. See Order at 1, In re the Welfare of Children of Johnson & Jorgenson, Case Nos. 69DU-JV-16-519 & 69DU-JV-17-357 (Cty. Of St. Louis Dist. Ct. Apr. 9. 2018). The district court denied that motion, noting that Plaintiffs had failed to appeal the termination of their parental rights in a timely manner and that they had provided no new information that would otherwise permit the district court to relieve them from the prior order. (Id.at 1-2.)

         Plaintiffs commenced this suit on January 15, 2019 (see Compl. [Doc. No. 1], ) seeking vacation of the state court's order terminating their parental rights, as well as punitive damages stemming from purportedly false statements and violations of their constitutional rights made during the underlying proceeding, (see Am. Compl. [Doc. No. 10] at 6.) Plaintiffs also filed a lengthy catalogue of exhibits in support of their claims. Defendants-St. Louis County's Public Health and Human Services Department, several social workers, the children's guardian ad litem, and the Plaintiffs' children's foster parents-filed motions to dismiss Plaintiffs' amended complaint on various grounds. (See, e.g., Doc. Nos. 21, 27, and 59.) In response, Plaintiffs filed numerous motions generally aimed at either opposing the Defendants' motions to dismiss or at vacating the state court's termination of their parental rights. (See, e.g., Doc. Nos. 82, 98, 101, and 110.)

         The magistrate judge took the various motions (Doc. Nos. 21, 27, 59, 82, 98, 101, and 110) under advisement without a hearing. (See Min. Entry [Doc. No. 81] (noting that Doc. Nos. 21, 27, and 59 would be taken under advisement); Order re: Motions [Doc. No. 112] at 2-3 (noting that Doc. Nos. 82, 98, 101, and 110 would be considered at the same time as the other motions, and barring submission of any other motions until the pending motions were decided).)

         On August 28, 2019, the magistrate judge filed his R&R. (See R&R [Doc. No. 123].) He recommended that the Court find that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiffs' case under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, or in the alternative, the domestic relations exception to federal subject matter jurisdiction. (See R&R [Doc. No. 123] at 12.) Accordingly, the magistrate judge recommended granting in part Defendant Joan Mahle's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 27] and Defendants St. Louis County, Sarah Anderson, Hannah Jo Checketts, and Kelly Jane Thompson's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 59] and dismissing Plaintiffs' claims without prejudice, but denying in part each motion to the extent they seek dismissal with prejudice because absent subject matter jurisdiction, dismissal cannot be given res judicata effect. (R&R [Doc. No. 123] at 13.) Judge Brisbois also recommended that Defendants Lon Yoki, Laura Yoki, and Gayle Koop's Motion to Dismiss [Doc. No. 21] be denied as moot. (R&R [Doc. No. 12] at 13.) ...


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