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Turner v. Crawford Square Apartments III

May 31, 2006

DEANNA TURNER, APPELLANT
v.
CRAWFORD SQUARE APARTMENTS III, L.P.; MCCORMACK BARON MANAGEMENT SERVICES, INC.



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (D.C. Civ. No. 04-cv-01243) Honorable Gary L. Lancaster, District Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Greenberg, Circuit Judge.

PRECEDENTIAL

Submitted under Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) March 6, 2006

BEFORE: ROTH and GREENBERG, Circuit Judges, and BUCKWALTER, District Judge*fn1

OPINION OF THE COURT

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes on before the court on appeal by plaintiff Deanna Turner from an order of the district court entered March 22, 2005, granting summary judgment in favor of Crawford Square Apartments III, L.P. ("Crawford Square") and McCormack Baron Management Services, Inc. ("McCormack Baron") (sometimes together called "defendants"). The district court concluded that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred Turner's complaint alleging violations of Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (the "Fair Housing Act" or "FHA").

On appeal, we first consider whether the district court erred in concluding that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred Turner's action, particularly in light of the Supreme Court's recent opinion in Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 125 S.Ct. 1517 (2005), decided after the district court decided this case. As we shall explain, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine in certain limited circumstances deprives a district court of jurisdiction following a state-court adjudication in a related case. In Exxon Mobil the Court clarified the scope of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and made clear that courts have applied it beyond its appropriate boundaries. If we conclude that application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not bar Turner's action, we then must determine whether application of principles of res judicata bars this action.*fn2 For the reasons set forth below, we find that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is not applicable in this case, but we will affirm the grant of summary judgment on res judicata grounds.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In December 1999, Turner and her two children moved into a rental housing development in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, owned by defendant-appellee Crawford Square and managed by defendant-appellee McCormack Baron.*fn3 Turner asserts that she has been "fully and permanently disabled" since August 2000 when "her nervous system broke down," and "a hole had formed at the base of her spine," rendering her unable to work. App. at 172. In December 2000, Turner was delinquent in her rent and sought an accommodation from McCormack Baron allowing her to pay her rent late "until she could again obtain a regular source of income." App. at 172. According to Turner, McCormack Baron did not accommodate her or refer her to local social services agencies that could provide information on rental assistance programs, but, instead, commenced an eviction action in the state courts against her. In point of fact, however, Crawford Square not McCormack Baron filed the eviction action which the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County ultimately entertained.*fn4

While the eviction action was pending in state court, Turner continued to pay her rent late. In August 2001, Turner learned of her eligibility for the federal section 8 rental assistance program.*fn5

Consequently, she applied for a section 8 voucher, and shortly thereafter was notified that she would be issued section 8 vouchers to subsidize future rent. At around the same time, Turner also learned of an emergency shelter assistance program that the Urban League of Pittsburgh administered through which she believed she could obtain assistance to pay the back rent she still owed.

In October 2001, Turner proffered a section 8 voucher to McCormack Baron and notified it that she had an upcoming appointment with the Urban League to discuss assistance in paying past-due rent. Turner claims that McCormack Baron asserted that it would not accept her voucher because she had been habitually late in making rental payments.

Contemporaneously with the state court proceedings, Turner filed a petition in bankruptcy which delayed the state proceedings until June 2003.*fn6 At that time Turner filed a counterclaim against Crawford Square and a separate petition seeking an injunction prohibiting her eviction in the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County. Turner's state counterclaim and petition together alleged that Crawford Square: (1) wrongfully failed "to refer [Turner] to the social services which would have prevented [her] inability to pay the rent due," app. at 25; (2) engaged in a "wrongful and discriminatory refusal to accept a [section 8] voucher for federally-subsidized rent issued to [Turner]," app. at 25; (3) failed to consider a reasonable accommodation that would have allowed her to pay her rent late; (4) violated the notice of termination ...


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