Seventh Circuit Applies Probate Matters/Domestic-Relations Exception to Federal Jurisdiction to Bar Suit Against Guardian of Incompetent Mother
Per Struck v. Cook County Public Guardian, --- F.3d ----, 2007 WL 4145845 (7th Cir. Nov. 26, 2007):
The plaintiff appeals from the dismissal of his suit, which the district court held was outside its jurisdiction. The complaint alleged that an Illinois state court had appointed a guardian for the plaintiff's mother because she was incompetent to manage her own affairs, and that the plaintiff had asked the court to revoke the guardianship because the guardian was abusing his mother, refusing to let him visit her, and denying him access to her records, mail, and assets. Turned down by the state court, he brought this suit in federal district court against the Cook County Public Guardian, the public official who had designated the guardian of the plaintiff's mother. The suit charges violations of both the plaintiff's and his mother's federal constitutional rights.
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[T]he plaintiff does have a claim on his own behalf-that the guardian is preventing him from seeing his mother and by doing so is depriving him of liberty protected by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, liberty that he argues includes the right of an adult child to associate with his parent. Whether the argument has merit has split the circuits, as explained in Robertson v. Hecksel, 420 F.3d 1254, 1258-60 (11th Cir.2005), but remains an open question in this circuit. Jones v. Brennan, 465 F.3d 304, 308 (7th Cir.2006); Russ v. Watts, 414 F.3d 783, 790 (7th Cir.2005). We need not try to answer it in this case. For the preliminary question is whether the suit is barred by the doctrine that excepts from federal jurisdiction certain probate and domestic-relations cases, such as will contests, custody battles, and suits for divorce; and we think it is barred.
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The res-the plaintiff's mother-is in the control of the guardian appointed by the state court, and decisions concerning the plaintiff's right of access to his mother and to her assets, her records, and her mail are at the heart of the guardian's responsibilities and are supervised by the court that appointed him. [O]ur plaintiff is seeking to remove into the federal court the res over which a state court is exercising control. That is the sort of maneuver that the probate/domestic-relations exception is intended to prevent. The dismissal of the plaintiff's federal suit is therefore AFFIRMED.