United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
ALLISON D. BURROUGHS, DISTRICT JUDGE.
reasons stated below, the Court dismisses this action without
Mandysia Tyree Armand Albert, appearing pro se, has
filed petition for a writ of habeas corpus under 28 U.S.C.
§ 2254 (“§ 2254”). Albert states she is
bringing the petition as the next friend and parent of her
minor son JDA,  who is approximately fifteen months old.
According to Albert, JDA has been in the care and custody of
the Commonwealth's Department of Children and Families
(“DCF”) for over a year after DCF brought a Care
and Protection Petition under M.G.L. ch. 119, § 24 in
Suffolk County Juvenile Court. Albert fiercely rejects
DCF's finding of neglect and the Juvenile Court's
decision to allow DCF to keep JDA in foster care. Albert
represents that her parental rights have not been terminated
and that the case is still pending in the Juvenile Court. She
asks that JDA be released to her custody.
petition has not been served pending the Court's
preliminary review of the pleading. See Rule 4 of
the Rules Governing Habeas Corpus Cases Under Section 2254
(“If it plainly appears from the petition and any
attached exhibits that the petitioner is not entitled to
relief in the district court, the judge must dismiss the
petition . . . .”).
§ 2254, a federal district court “shall entertain
an application for a writ of habeas corpus in behalf of a
person in custody pursuant to the judgment of a
State court only on the ground that he is in custody
in violation of the Constitution or laws or treaties of the
United States.” 28 U.S.C. § 2254(a) (emphases
added). The “in custody” requirement of §
2254 is jurisdictional. See Maleng v. Cook, 490 U.S.
488, 490-91 (1989) (per curiam). The Supreme Court has
expressly held that children in foster care “are not in
the ‘custody' of the State” for purposes of
§ 2254. See Lehman v. Lycoming County Children's
Servs., 458 U.S. 502, 510 (1982). Thus, JDA is not
“in custody” within the meaning of § 2254,
and the court is without habeas jurisdiction.
Albert cannot represent JDA; he must be represented by
counsel. Although federal law permits persons to represent
themselves in federal court, see 28 U.S.C. §
1654, this provision does not allow unlicensed laypersons to
represent co-plaintiffs or any other individuals. The
principle is unaltered even when, by operation of Rule 17(c)
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a minor or
incompetent person must be represented by a next friend,
guardian ad litem, or other fiduciary. See,
e.g., Berrios v. New York City Hous. Auth.,
564 F.3d 130, 134 (2d Cir. 2009). Similarly, the federal law
permitting a habeas petition to be signed by a person acting
on behalf of the petitioner, see 28 U.S.C. §
2242, does not allow a non-attorney to represent a habeas
petitioner, see, e.g., Cartner v. Davis,
988 F.Supp.2d 33, 37 (D.D.C. 2013) (holding that non-attorney
“next friend” could not litigate habeas action
for the incapacitated petitioner), aff'd, 2014
WL 4629099 (D.C. Cir. July 11, 2014).
even if the Court were to treat Albert's pleading as a
non-habeas civil action for violations of her own rights
(rather than those of JDA), the Court would abstain from
exercising jurisdiction over the case. “Abstention is a
devise designed to facilitate the side-by-side operation of
federal and state courts, balancing their respective
interests in the spirit of comity.” Coggeshall v.
Mass. Bd. of Registration of Psychologists, 604 F.3d
658, 664 (1st Cir. 2010). “Except in the most
extraordinary cases, a federal court must presume that state
courts, consistent with the imperatives of the Supremacy
Clause, see U.S. Const. art. VI, are fully competent
to adjudicate federal constitutional and statutory claims
properly presented by the parties.” Casa Marie,
Inc. v. Super. Ct., 988 F.2d 252, 262 (1st Cir.1993)
(footnote omitted). Under the doctrine of Younger
abstention, see Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37
(1971), “a federal court must abstain from hearing a
case if doing so would ‘needlessly inject' the
federal court into ongoing state proceedings.”
Coggeshall, 604 F.3d at 664 (quoting Brooks v.
N.H. Supreme Ct., 80 F.3d 633, 637 (1st Cir. 1996)).
Although Younger concerned a criminal prosecution,
it has been extended to civil litigation brought by the state
to vindicate its policies, including child welfare and
custody proceedings. See Moore v. Sims, 442 U.S.
415, 434-35 (1979).
the Court would “needlessly inject” itself in the
pending state court care and custody proceeding if it were to
examine Albert's claims that JDA should be released into
her custody. Therefore, to the extent that Albert states any
viable claim for relief, the doctrine of Younger
abstention requires the Court to abstain from exercising
jurisdiction over the matter.
this action is dismissed without prejudice.