Does the Rooker-Feldman doctrine play in at all to the situation of "obtaining a declaratory judgment" (Fed. Rule 57) in a federal court? Say in my state court case there had been possible fraud upon the court perpetrated by the judge or my lawyer. I wish to file a request for declaratory judgment that the judge and/or lawyer committed this fraud. I do not want the fed court to review the merits of my case, or reverse the sentence, I just want a declaratory judgment made. Are there any limitations to this type of action, aside from the merits of the complaint itself?
I read the following: "Where a state proceeding is judicial in nature – i.e., it “investigates, declares and enforces liabilities as they stand on present or past facts and under laws supposed already to exist” – it may fall under Rooker-Feldman." Feldman, 460 U.S at 477,
Hi. Thank you for your excellent answer. You seem very knowledgeable about federal law.
Per your information I will attempt to file my motion to vacate my state judgment in its proper venue, which is the Colorado US District Court, instead of the district court in Tennessee. I am however yet reluctant to file my motion in the county court which issued the judgment as I am almost positive I will not receive a fair hearing. That will happen only if my filing with the fed court fails on jurisdictional grounds.
My present challenge is that the 10th circuit allows for a very narrow "exception" to the Rooker-Feldman bar; namely, that a "non-party" must be the movant...meanwhile I was the party in my state case and it is I myself who intend to file.
The 10th circuit's "non-party" exception might be pursuant to Justice Ginsberg's comment in the US Supreme Court case Exxon-Mobile v. Saudi Basic Industries in which she stated: " but the doctrine (of Rooker-Feldman) has no application to a federal suit brought by a nonparty to the state suit"; or, it might be in relation to the third prong requirement for collateral estoppel which is that the Plaintiff in their state case had been allowed a "full and fair hearing".
Other 10th circuit cases seem to signify that the "nonparty" exception to Rooker-Feldman is but subcategory to that class of litigants who had not been allowed to present their case at all. The "full and fair hearing" requirement seems to have been put by the 10th circuit into the black and white context of "did present case" or "didn't present case" , with the latter exempt from all Rooker-Feldman restrictions.
Also I came across another 10th circuit case... http://ca10.washburnlaw.edu/cases/2011/05/10-6213.pdf... where the appeals court affirmed that a "default" judgment did not qualify for collateral estoppel; meanwhile the case mentioned nothing about Rooker-Feldman.
In my own instance, my lawyer, when asked by the judge to call forth his witnesses, said... "we are not going to present a case". He did this without my permission and against my wishes. I wasn't allowed to say a word, or present my evidence, or witnesses. By all accounts mine was a "default" judgment.
Anyway...I was wondering how all this figures together. How do the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and collateral estoppel interrelate? Are they independent entities or, co-relational? With their "nonparty" exception do you imagine the 10th circuit in coming to that conclusion had referenced Exxon-Mobil, the requirements for collateral estoppel, or both? How would you suggest I attack this? Thank you.
Hi. I thought I would share with you some more information, namely, some 10th Circuit precedents that I've come across in regards XXXXX XXXXX doctrine and the 10th Circuit's take on it.
Generally, the 10th Circuit's exception to the rule is when the Plaintiff in the federal action had not been a party in the state action. The case most often referenced is the 10th Circuit's own Johnson v. Rodrigues (2000). However, what does Johnson cite as precedent for its "nonparty" exception? It's precedent is the following; Johnson states:
We are convinced that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not bar a federal action when the plaintiff, as here, lacked a reasonable opportunity to litigate claims in the state court. See Dale v. Moore, 121 F.3d 624, 626 (11th Cir. 1997) ("The Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies as long as the party had a reasonable opportunity to raise his federal claims in the state court proceedings. If the party had no reasonable opportunity, this court considers that the federal claim was not inextricably intertwined with the state court's judgment.") (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); Ernst v. Child & Youth Services of Chester County, 108 F.3d 486, 492 (3d Cir. 1997) (same); Moccio v. New York State Office of Court Admin., 95 F.3d 195, 199, 202 (2d Cir. 1996) (same); Guess v. Bd. of Med. Exam'rs of North Carolina, 967 F.2d 998, 1004 (4th Cir. 1992) (similar).
These Circuit Court cases appear in turn to have genesis in aXXXXXcase Johnson v. De Grandy.
It seems clear at least to myself that it is not a nonparty per se which incorporates the exception, but that the exception addresses more generally those Plaintiffs who were not allowed ANY opportunity to speak in their state court case, of which "nonparties" are but a type. The Supreme Court case of Johnson v. De Grandy suggests this first and foremost. The 10th Circuit appears then to have taken "no reasonable opportunity" to its extreme and interpreted it as "no opportunity". Let it be noted that in my own court case I was disallowed not only from presenting a case but also my lawyer misled us in regards XXXXX XXXXX stating, that I couldn't appeal until many years afterward all the while I had a two-month window of appeal right after judgment. I couldn't appeal because I didn't know that I could appeal because of this misinformation given us by my lawyer!
Anyway, here are some of the aforementioned 10th Circuit references...
From Mo's Express LLC v. All States Shuttle (2006)
Although it acknowledged that Mo's Express is the only Plaintiff in this case that was also party to Trans Shuttle, the district court found that the Plaintiffs' claims had been "fully presented" in the state court proceedings "by the shuttle operators who were named in the state action." Id. at 14
This Court has repeatedly held that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine "should not be applied against non-parties" to the state-court judgment. Johnson v. Rodrigues (Orozco), 226 F.3d 1103, 1109 (10th Cir. 2000) (citing Johnson v. De Grandy, 512 U.S. 997, 1005 (1994)); Johnson v. Riddle, 305 F.3d 1107, 1116 (10th Cir. 2002) (calling this rule "well settled"). Rooker-Feldman, after all, bars federal district courts from exercising appellate jurisdiction over state-court judgments, and "a person would generally have no basis (or right) to appeal a judgment to which that person was not a party." Kenmen Eng'g, 314 F.3d at 480. The Supreme Court appeared to endorse this view in Exxon Mobil, characterizing its decision in De Grandy as holding that "the doctrine has no application to a federal suit brought by a nonparty to the state suit." Exxon Mobil,XXXXX at 1523.
In Lance, the Court explicitly held that Rooker-Feldman does not apply against nonparties to the prior judgment in state court. Lance,XXXXX at 1202.
From Johnson v. Rodrigues (Orozco) (2000):As Johnson v. De Grandy teaches, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine should not be applied against non-parties. Other circuits have thus construed Johnson. See Gross v. Weingarten, 217 F.3d 208, 218 n. 6 (4th Cir. 2000) (citing Johnson, 512 U.S. at 1005-06, 114 S.Ct. 2647, and holding that "Rooker-Feldman does not apply, however, when the person asserting the claim in the federal suit was not a party to the state proceeding"); Bennett v. Yoshina, 140 F.3d 1218, 1224 (9th Cir. 1998) (citing Johnson, 512 U.S. at 1005-06, 114 S.Ct. 2647, and holding that "since the new plaintiffs were not parties to the state suit, their suit is not barred by the Rooker/Feldman doctrine"); Kamilewicz v. Bank of Boston Corp., 100 F.3d 1348, 1351 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing Johnson, 512 U.S. at 1005-06, 114 S.Ct. 2647, and holding that "[w]e, too, have held that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not affect suits by or against persons who were not parties to the initial case"); Roe v. Alabama, 43 F.3d 574, 580 (11th Cir. 1995) (citing Johnson, 512 U.S. at 1005-06, 114 S.Ct. 2647, and holding that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not bar the action because "the plaintiffs in this case [were] not, by the admission of all parties, parties to [the state action]. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply to such circumstances"); see also E.B. v. Verniero, 119 F.3d 1077, 1092 (3d Cir. 1997) ("Rooker-Feldman does not bar individual constitutional claims by persons not parties to the earlier state court litigation."); United States v. Owens, 54 F.3d 271, 274 (6th Cir. 1995) ("The Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply to bar a suit in federal court brought by a party that was not a party in the preceding action in state court").
We are convinced that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not bar a federal action when the plaintiff, as here, lacked a reasonable opportunity to litigate claims in the state court. See Dale v. Moore, 121 F.3d 624, 626 (11th Cir. 1997) ("The Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies as long as the party had a reasonable opportunity to raise his federal claims in the state court proceedings. If the party had no reasonable opportunity, this court considers that the federal claim was not inextricably intertwined with the state court's judgment.") (citation and internal quotation marks omitted); Ernst v. Child & Youth Services of Chester County, 108 F.3d 486, 492 (3d Cir. 1997) (same); Moccio v. New York State Office of Court Admin., 95 F.3d 195, 199, 202 (2d Cir. 1996) (same); Guess v. Bd. of Med. Exam'rs of North Carolina, 967 F.2d 998, 1004 (4th Cir. 1992) (similar). A person would ordinarily lack a reasonable opportunity to litigate claims in an action in which the person was not a party. See Owens, 54 F.3d at 274 ("A person who was not a party in the state court action did not have an opportunity to litigate its claims. That person must be allowed to bring an action in federal court to attempt to vindicate its perceived rights...."); Roe, 43 F.3d at 580 ("Because the plaintiffs are not parties to [the state court action], the plaintiffs had no opportunity to raise their constitutional claims in [state court] ...").
From Kenmen Engineering v. City of Union (2002)
Footnote 12: Moccio v. N.Y. State Office of Ct. Admin., 95 F.3d 195, 199 (2d Cir.1996) ( “[W]here the claims were never presented in the state court proceedings and the plaintiff did not have an opportunity to present the claims in those proceedings, the claims are not ‘inextricably intertwined’ and therefore not barred by Rooker–Feldman.”)
From Smith et. al vs. Colorado Supreme Court (2008)
Finally, Smith quotes Johnson v. Rodrigues (Orozco), 226 F.3d 1103, 1110 (10th Cir. 2000), for the proposition that “the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not bar a federal action, when the plaintiff . . . lacked a reasonable opportunity to litigate claims in the state court.” We have previously rejected this very interpretation of Johnson. See Kenmen Eng’g v. City of Union, 314 F.3d 468, 478 (10th Cir. 2002), abrogated in part on other grounds by Exxon Mobil Corp., 544 U.S. 280, and by Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459 (2006). As we pointed out in Kenmen, the plaintiff in Johnson was not a party to the original state-court action; Johnson did not recognize a general “full and fair opportunity” requirement in the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Id.at 478–79. We reaffirmed that Rooker-Feldman applies “regardless of whether the state-court proceeding afforded the federal-court plaintiff a full and fair opportunity to litigate her claims.” Id.at 478. “[C]onsideration of whether a federal-court plaintiff lacked an opportunity to previously litigate her claims in a state-court proceeding is only relevant insofar as it informs the analysis of whether the federal-court plaintiff is a ‘non-party’ . . . .” Id.at n.9.
In Wilkes v. Wyoming Dept. of Employment Div. of Labor Standards, 314 F.3d 501 (10th Cir. 2002), the court explained:
"Under res judicata, or claim preclusion, a final judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have been raised in the prior action." Satsky, 7 F.3d at 1467
Also I came across these case references from OTHER Circuits:
"The doctrine [of res judicata] is bottomed on the ground that the party to be affected ... has had an opportunity to litigate the same matter in a former action in a court of competent jurisdiction.... The opportunity to be heard is an essential requisite of due process...." Hedlund v. Miner, 395 Ill. 217, 69 N.E.2d 862, 868 (1946) (no res judicata without notice and opportunity to be heard); Commercial National Bank of Peoria, Adm'r, v. Bruno, 75 Ill.2d 343, 27 Ill.Dec. 351, 389 N.E.2d 163, 167, (1979) (same, citing Hedlund).
One District Court in the 11th Circuit took similar stance to the 10th Circuit. Their quote crystalizes the matter nicely. Citing the Federal Practice and Procedure they stated that "Generally, Rooker-Feldman will act as a bar to jurisdiction unless “there was literally no effective opportunity to present the federal question to the state court.” C.A. Wright, et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 4469.1 (2004). For all practical purposes this would characterize a nonparty, but technically it doesn't have to be a nonparty.
All in all the Tenth Circuit would appear to have oversimplied the matter and labeled a Plaintiff who had been unable to present his case as well unable to appeal as "a nonparty", and for the simple reason that a party would have by rights a near impossible chance of meeting the criteria while a non-party would of necessity meet the criteria.
Oops, I think that in my attempt to provide more information for you I just answered my own question! Am I on the right track here? And, if so, is there anything you might add?
Hi. Thanks again for your great info about the Rooker Feldman doctrine. I think anyway that I am going to take my chances submitting it to the federal court. The worst they can say is no.
I have a question then in regards XXXXX XXXXX which I plan to file in the fed court. My court case was of course a state case in which I was the Defendant and the other party was the Plaintiff. However in the fed motion I'm assuming that I would be the Plaintiff and the Plaintiff the Defendant. In my motion and with reference to the state court case I refer to myself as the "Defendant," which I was. Were I to refer to myself as "plaintiff" that could get very confusing. Is my reference the correct one?
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