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Brockington v. Brown

United States District Court, D. Montana, Missoula Division

April 18, 2019

DARIN BROCKINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
DEBORAH BROWN, in her individual capacity, NANCY SMITH, in her individual capacity, KATHERINE R. MAXWELL, in her individual capacity, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Dana L. Christensen, Chief Judge

         Plaintiff Darin Brockington alleges five separate causes of action in his Complaint against Defendants Deborah Brown, Nancy Smith, and Katherine Maxwell. (Doc. 1.) These claims involve accusations that his ex-wife Brown, together with her attorney Maxwell, and the court appointed guardian ad litem Smith, conspired to deprive Brockington of his constitutional right to parent and breached the terms of the parenting plan. He raises these claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985-86, and 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332, 1343. Defendants each move separately to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docs. 6; 8; 10.) Because the Court agrees that Brockington has not stated any plausible claim to relief, the Court dismisses the Complaint in its entirety. The Court will address each claim separately below.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         A complaint must include a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the [plaintiff] is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiffs obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 545 (2007). To withstand a motion to dismiss, a complaint's "factual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 555. It must plead facts sufficient "to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face." Id. at 570.

         "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Pleadings that are no more than "legal conclusions," or "[t]hreadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements" are not entitled to the assumption of truth. Id. at 633.

         BACKGROUND

         The Complaint arises from a contentious divorce between Brockington and Brown. Their marriage dissolved in 2007 when their only child, A.E.B. was 7 years old. (Doc. 1 at 2.) The following year, the Eleventh Judicial District Court in Flathead County entered a parenting plan, granting Brown primary custody, and granting Brockington parenting time with A.E.B. "any time he was in Montana, for a period not to exceed ten days." (Id. at 23.) Additionally, the parenting plan provided Brockington with parenting time during the summers of 2008, 2009, and 2010 to vary in length from 43 to 49 days. (Id.) The parenting plan did not address any summer visits after the year of 2010, but Brown and Brockington continued the practice until the summer of 2016. (Id.)

         The allegations in the Complaint began in 2014, when Brown filed a motion with the district court attempting to modify the terms of the parenting plan. (Id.) Brown sought to limit Brockington's parenting time to just those visits in the State of Montana. (Id.) The district court granted Brockington's motion to dismiss because Brown did not seek to informally resolve the dispute, according to the terms of the parenting plan. (Id.)

         Brown and Brockington then met with Smith, a court appointed guardian ad litem, to resolve the disagreement concerning summer visitation. (Id.) They were unable to do so. (Id.) Smith then filed a report with the district court, recommending that Brockington's visits be limited to Montana, that his overall time with A.E.B. be reduced to one or two weeks, and to remove the plan's requirement of a mandatory phone call. (Id. at 3-4.) Brown then filed a motion asking the district court to adopt Smith's recommendation. (Id. at 4.) After being served with the motion, Brockington, who is a member of the armed forces and was serving abroad at that time, successfully moved to stay the proceedings under the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act ("SCRA"). (Id.) Following this, Smith filed a motion asking the district court to amend the parenting plan in the interim. (Id.) The district court never acted on that motion. (Id.)

         In 2015, preparing to return to the states, Brockington asked Brown to plan for A.E.B. to visit him in Virginia for one month. (Id.) Brown did not do so. (Id.) On the advice of her attorney, Maxwell, Brown did not believe that the parenting plan was still valid. (Id. at 4-5.) Brown also consulted with Smith. (Id. at 5.) A.E.B. did not visit Brockington the summer of 2015, which Brockington claims is a violation of his constitutionally protected right to parent. (Id.)

         DISCUSSION

         I. Deprivation of Civil Rights

          First, Brockington alleges that Smith "engaged in a pattern and practice of unlawful behavior" to deprive him of his "fundamental rights to due process, equal protection under the law, and freedom of association protections for his parent-child relationship from undue governmental interference" under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. (Doc. 1 at 5.) Smith argues that she is entitled to absolute judicial-immunity for work performed in her capacity as guardian ad litem, and that Brockington has failed to state a claim. (Doc. 7 at 4-7, 8-10.)

         The Court agrees that Brockington has not stated a claim. Brockington alleges that Smith "engaged in a pattern and practice of unlawful behavior" to deprive Brockington of various civil rights. This is a legal conclusion that is not entitled to the presumption of truth. To support this claim, Brockington alleges only that Smith unsuccessfully mediated a parenting dispute, made a recommendation to the district court regarding a parenting arrangement, filed a motion with the district court to amend the parenting plan while the stay was in effect, and consulted with Brown about summer visitation. While Brockington is not required to state a probable claim, he must do more than allege the mere possibility that Smith engaged in conduct designed to deprive him of his constitutional rights. From these allegations, the Court can infer no evidence of conduct designed to ...


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