Bovee v. Broom, No. 12-1582 (7th Cir. 2013)

Annotate this Case
Justia Opinion Summary

Bovee contends that his sister, Broom, violated the due process clause when, in her role as guidance counselor at his children’s school, she criticized his parenting methods and called him a “bad father.” Bovee claims that this alienated his children’s affections, violating his fundamental liberty interest in familial relations. The district court dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Seventh Circuit held that the dismissal should have been on the merits. “The suit is about words, and only words.” Bovee’s lawyer conceded that Broom has not taken any official act adverse to his interests. Defamation, words not accompanied by any other official action, does not violate the due process clause.

Download PDF
    In the United States Court of Appeals For the Seventh Circuit ____________________   No.  12-­ 1582   TERRY  BOVEE,   Plaintiff-­ Appellant,   v.   CLAUDIA  BROOM,   Defendant-­ Appellee.   ____________________   Appeal  from  the  United  States  District  Court   for  the  Southern  District  of  Illinois.   No.  10-­ cv-­ 946-­ DRH    David  R.  Herndon,  Chief  Judge.   ____________________   ARGUED  OCTOBER  4,  2013    DECIDED  OCTOBER  9,  2013   ____________________   Before   EASTERBROOK,   ROVNER,   and   WILLIAMS,   Circuit   Judges.   EASTERBROOK,   Circuit   Judge.   The   parties   to   this   suit   are   siblings.  Terry  Bovee  contends  that  his  sister  Claudia  Broom   violated  the  due  process  clause  of  the  fourteenth  amendment   when,   in   her   role   as   guidance   counselor   at   his   children s   school,  she  criticized  his  parenting  methods  and  called  him  a   bad   father.   According   to   the   complaint,   this   alienated   his   children s  affections,  violating  his  fundamental  liberty  inter-­ No.  12-­ 1582   2   est   in   familial   relations.   Acting   sua   sponte,   the   district   court   dismissed   the   complaint   for   lack   of   subject-­ matter   jurisdic-­ tion.  2011  U.S.  Dist.  LEXIS  145872  (S.D.  Ill.  Dec.  20,  2011),  re-­ consideration   denied,   2012   U.S.   Dist.   LEXIS   15314   (S.D.   Ill.   Feb.  8,  2012).   A   dismissal   for   lack   of   federal   jurisdiction   is   without   prejudice,   and   Broom   contends   that   the   order   therefore   is   not   final   and   cannot   be   appealed.   Yet   in   what   sense   is   the   order   not   final ?   It   does   not   invite   an   amendment   of   the   complaint;   instead   the   district   judge   said   that   the   case   does   not  belong  in  federal  court.   Sometimes   the   phrase   without   prejudice   invites   amendment,   and   then   an   appeal   would   be   premature if,   for   example,   the   district   judge   had   invited   the   parties   to   supply   additional   details   about   the   parties   citizenship   in   a   diversity   suit.   But   when   used   in   connection   with   a   conclu-­ sive  jurisdictional  ruling  it  means  that  the  suit  is  over  in  fed-­ eral  court  even  if  hostilities  could  be  renewed  in  state  court.   Further  litigation  in  a  district  court  would  be  blocked  by  the   doctrine   of   issue   preclusion,   because   the   question   whether   the  suit  comes  within  federal  jurisdiction  had  been  resolved.   See   Carr   v.   Tillery,   591   F.3d   909   (7th   Cir.   2010)   (discussing   different   meanings,   and   effects,   of   dismissal   without   preju-­ dice);   cf.   In   re   IFC   Credit   Corp.,   663   F.3d   315   (7th   Cir.   2011).   We   hear   appeals   from   jurisdictional   dismissals   all   the   time.   We   asked   Broom s   counsel   at   oral   argument   if   any   court   of   appeals  follows  the  rule  that  jurisdictional  dismissals  cannot   be   appealed.   Counsel   was   unaware   of   such   a   decision,   and   we  could  not  find  one.  Bovee s  appeal  is  proper.   The   district   court   seems   to   have   assumed   that   any   com-­ plaint  that  fails  to  state  a  claim  on  which  relief  may  be  grant-­ 3   No.  12-­ 1582   ed  also  falls  outside  federal  subject-­ matter  jurisdiction.  Long   ago,   in   Bell   v.   Hood,   327   U.S.   678   (1946),   the   Supreme   Court   explained  why  that  is  not  so.  If  failure  on  the  merits  equated   to   a   lack   of   jurisdiction,   only   plaintiffs   could   get   effective   judgments.  Whenever  defendants  prevailed,  the  court  would   dismiss  on  jurisdictional  grounds  and  the  plaintiff  could  try   again  in  some  other  court;  defendants  would  lose  the  protec-­ tion  of  their  victories.   Jurisdiction  is  established  when  the  complaint  narrates  a   claim  that  arises  under  federal  law  (28  U.S.C.  §1331)  or  that   satisfies   the   requirements   of   the   diversity   jurisdiction   (28   U.S.C.   §1332).   Bovee s   claim   arises   under   federal   law,   42   U.S.C.   §1983,   because   the   defendant   acted   under   color   of   state   law   (the   events   complained   of   happened   during   Broom s  public  employment)  and  the  plaintiff  asserts  a  vio-­ lation  of  rights  secured  by  federal  law  (in  this  case,  the  Con-­ stitution).  The  complaint  alleges  that  plaintiff  suffered  injury   and  seeks  money  damages;  standing  to  sue  and  justiciability   cannot  be  doubted.   The  Supreme  Court  has  held  that  a  constitutional  theory   can  be  so  feeble  that  it  falls  outside  federal  jurisdiction  even   though   all   formal   aspects   of   a   federal   claim   appear   to   have   been  satisfied.  See,  e.g.,  Hagans  v.  Lavine,  415  U.S.  528  (1974);   Goosby   v.   Osser,   409   U.S.   512   (1973).   A   complaint   may   be   dismissed  when  the  claim  is   essentially  fictitious,   wholly   insubstantial,   obviously   frivolous,   [or]   obviously   without   merit.  The  limiting  words   wholly  and   obviously  have  co-­ gent  legal  significance.  Hagans,  415  U.S.  at  537  (internal  cita-­ tions   omitted).   The   district   court   did   not   cite   Hagans   or   its   predecessors  and  did  not  find  that  Bovee s  claim  is  essential-­ ly  fictitious.  Maybe  it  could  have,  but  it  didn t,  and  the  claim   No.  12-­ 1582   4   therefore   should   have   been   resolved   on   the   merits   rather   than  tossed  for  lack  of  jurisdiction.   The  complaint  does  not  state  a  claim  on  which  relief  may   be  granted  and  therefore  should  have  been  dismissed  under   Fed.   R.   Civ.   P.   12(b)(6).   Bovee   contends   that   his   sister   de-­ famed  him.  The  suit  is  about  words,  and  only  words;  at  oral   argument,  Bovee s  lawyer  conceded  that  Broom  has  not  tak-­ en  any  official  act  adverse  to  his  interests.  She  told  his  chil-­ dren  that  she  thinks  their  father  a  bad  parent  and  left  them   to  make  their  own  decisions.  That s  simple  defamation.  And   Paul   v.   Davis,   424   U.S.   693   (1976),   holds   that   defamation words   not   accompanied   by   any   other   official   action does   not  violate  the  due  process  clause.   Bovee,   whose   briefs   do   not   attempt   to   distinguish   Paul,   appears  to  believe  that,  if  defamation  causes  an  intra-­ family   injury,  then  an  injured  parent  has  a  constitutional  claim.  He   does  not  have  any  support  for  this  proposition,  which  Chris-­ tensen   v.   Boone   County,   483   F.3d   454,   464   (7th   Cir.   2007),   re-­ jects.   Broom   relied   on   Christensen;   Bovee   has   ignored   our   holding  (though  he  does  cite  a  different,  and  irrelevant,  pas-­ sage  in  Christensen).  That  is  not  responsible  litigation;  a  law-­ yer  looks  undignified  with  his  head  in  the  sand.  See  Gonza-­ lez-­ Servin  v.  Ford  Motor  Co.,  662  F.3d  931  (7th  Cir.  2011).  The   belief   that   ostriches   stick   their   heads   in   the   sand   to   avoid   seeing  danger  is  a  canard.  Lawyers  shouldn t  do  it  either.   Paul   and   Christensen   are   dispositive.   Siblings   dissatis-­ fied   with   each   other s   methods   of   child   rearing   must   find   a   means   other   than   federal   litigation   to   address   their   differ-­ ences.  The  judgment  of  the  district  court  is  modified  to  be  on   the   merits,   dismissing   this   suit   with   prejudice.   As   so   modi-­ fied,  the  judgment  is  affirmed.