Unpublished Disposition, 902 F.2d 38 (9th Cir. 1989)

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U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit - 902 F.2d 38 (9th Cir. 1989)

Gordon W. CALHOON, Plaintiff-Appellant,v.SUPERIOR COURT, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

No. 89-55460.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

April 26, 1990.

Before TANG, NELSON, and O'SCANNLAIN, Circuit Judges.


Gordon W. Calhoon appeals pro se the district court's order dismissing without prejudice his action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985, 1986, and 1988. The district court abstained from assuming jurisdiction over the case. Calhoon contends that the district court erred in finding that his action centered on a domestic relations dispute rather than on a property settlement agreement. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We review for an abuse of discretion the district court's decision to abstain, see Coats v. Woods, 819 F.2d 236, 237 (9th Cir.), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 802 (1987), and affirm.

On January 10, 1989, Calhoon filed this action in the federal district court for the Central District of California. Calhoon sought damages, an order setting aside orders issued by state courts in Florida and California awarding custody of Calhoon's minor child to his former wife, and an order awarding him custody of the child. The district court, adopting the findings of the magistrate, abstained from exercising jurisdiction on the grounds that at the heart of Calhoon's claim was an attempt to regain custody of his minor child.

It is well-established that federal courts should abstain from adjudicating domestic relations cases, including those involving the custody of children. See Peterson v. Babbitt, 708 F.2d 465, 466 (9th Cir. 1983) (per curiam). Even if the case raises constitutional issues, abstention is proper if the case, at its core, is a child custody dispute. See Coats, 819 F.2d at 237.

The strong state interest in domestic relations matters, the superior competence of state courts in settling family disputes because regulation and supervision of domestic relations within their borders is entrusted to the states, and the possibility of incompatible federal and state court decrees in cases of continuing judicial supervision by the state makes federal abstention in these cases appropriate.

Peterson, 708 F.2d at 466.

Calhoon claims that the dispute in this case revolves around the alleged unconstitutional alteration of the settlement agreement between him and his former wife. We disagree with his characterization of the case.

Although Calhoon alleges several constitutional violations by the defendants, his allegations primarily attack the validity of decisions rendered by state courts awarding custody of his minor child to his former wife. Calhoon would have this court set aside these state court decisions and award him custody of his child. Under these circumstances, the district court did not abuse its discretion in abstaining from taking jurisdiction over this case. See Coats, 819 F.2d at 237.1 

Appellees have requested sanctions against Calhoon for bringing a frivolous appeal. We have discretion to impose sanctions against an appealing party when the result of the appeal is obvious and the arguments of error are wholly without merit. See 28 U.S.C. § 1912; Fed. R. App. P. 38; Grimes v. Commissioner, 806 F.2d 1451, 1454 (9th Cir. 1986) (per curiam). We exercise our discretion here and decline to impose sanctions against Calhoon.



The panel unanimously finds this case suitable for disposition without oral argument. Fed. R. App. P. 34(a); 9th Cir.R. 34-4


This disposition is not appropriate for publication and may not be cited to or by the courts of this circuit except as provided by 9th Cir.R. 36-3


Calhoon contends that the district court did not allow him ten days to object to the magistrate's recommendations as provided under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) (1). The district court entered its order of dismissal two days after receiving the magistrate's report

Upon a timely objection to a magistrate's findings, a litigant is entitled to have the district court conduct a de novo review of those findings. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) (1). Here, Calhoon arguably was prejudiced by the court's failure to observe the ten-day rule because we review the court's decision to abstain under the more deferential abuse of discretion standard. After reviewing Calhoon's lengthy appellate brief, however, we do not discern any argument Calhoon could offer which would convince us that the district court erred, even under de novo review. We find, therefore, that the court's failure to observe the ten-day rule does not constitute reversible error.