UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
January 22, 2009
AKUMA-EZE: AKUMA, PLAINTIFF,
U.S. BANK, N.C., UDREN LAW OFFICE, SHERIFF CHARLES H. BILLINGHAM, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Noel L. Hillman, U.S.D.J.
Plaintiff, Akuma-Eze: Akuma, filed a "writ of injunction (ex parte)" against defendants. Defendant U.S. Bank, NC ("U.S. Bank" or "Bank") filed a "reply" to plaintiff's "motion" for ex parte writ of injunction. In his writ, plaintiff alleges that his home was sold at a sheriff's sale in violation of his constitutional rights.
Plaintiff currently resides at the Ancora Psychiatric Hospital*fn1 and is proceeding pro se in this matter. Although plaintiff's "writ of injunction" is not clear as to the allegations that plaintiff is making or the relief that he seeks, the Court construes plaintiff's filing as a complaint seeking injunctive relief. See Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 107 (1976) ("[A] pro se complaint, however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers."). Plaintiff appears to raise several claims: (1) that defendants did not provide plaintiff with notice and opportunity to be heard; (2) that defendants lack standing to sell his home; (3) that defendants violated his due process rights; (4) that defendants are in collusion; (5) that defendants have "unclean hands;" and (6) that defendants violated his right to guarantees of equal protection.
Plaintiff appears to seek an Order enjoining defendants from either foreclosing or selling his home at a sheriff's sale. In its reply, U.S. Bank states that plaintiff resided at certain real property identified as 4619 Roosevelt Avenue, Pennsauken, NJ which property was the subject of a mortgage foreclosure action filed in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Camden County, as U.S. Bank, N.A. v. Akuma E. Akuma, et al., No. F-5223-07. U.S. Bank alleges that plaintiff defaulted on his mortgage and that a judgment in foreclosure was entered on June 3, 2008. The Bank states that the property was sold back to U.S. Bank at sheriff's sale on July 30, 2008, and that on the next day, July 31, 2008, the Bank was served with plaintiff's pleading.
U.S. Bank argues that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars this Court from exercising jurisdiction over this case. Although filed as a "reply," the Bank appears to move this Court to dismiss this case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.*fn2 If the subject matter jurisdiction of the Court is challenged, the plaintiff bears the burden of persuasion. See Hedges v. U.S., 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991)). In addition, "... the district court may not presume the truthfulness of plaintiff's allegations, but rather must 'evaluat[e] for itself the merits of [the] jurisdictional claims.'" Id. (citing Mortensen v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir. 1977)).
A. Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
The Rooker-Feldman abstention doctrine bars lower federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over a case that is the functional equivalent of an appeal from a state court judgment. Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923); District of Columbia Ct. of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983); FOCUS v. Allegheny County Ct. of Common Pleas, 75 F.3d 834, 840 (3d Cir. 1996); see also Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 291-92 (2005) (explaining that in the Rooker and Feldman cases, plaintiffs in both cases, alleging federal-question jurisdiction, called upon the district court to overturn an injurious state-court judgment, but because § 1257, as long interpreted, vests authority to review a state court's judgment solely in the Supreme Court, the District Courts in Rooker and Feldman lacked subject-matter jurisdiction).
"A case is the functional equivalent of an appeal from a state court judgment in two instances: (1) when the claim was actually litigated before the state court; or (2) when the claim is inextricably intertwined with the state adjudication." Marran v. Marran, 376 F.3d 143, 149 (3d Cir. 2004) (commenting that almost any claim that is actually litigated will also meet the inextricably intertwined test)(citing ITT Corporation v. Intelnet International Corporation, 366 F.3d 205, 210 (3d Cir. 2004)). "A claim is inextricably intertwined with the state court adjudication when 'federal relief can only be predicated upon a conviction that the state court was wrong.'" Id. at 150 (citing Parkview Assoc. v. City of Lebanon, 225 F.3d 321, 325 (3d Cir. 2000)). The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is to be interpreted narrowly and excludes only those matters that would require review of a state court judgment. See Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 464 (2006) (explaining that Rooker-Feldman is "a narrow doctrine," confined to "cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments.").
Here, plaintiff's foreclosure action was actually litigated in state court, and to the extent that the relief requested by plaintiff seeks to have this Court review that proceeding, this Court does not have jurisdiction. See Marran, 376 F.3d at 149. As for plaintiff's federal claims for due process and equal protection violations, assuming they could have been raised in the state court action, it appears that the claims would be "inextricably intertwined" with the state court action to the extent that plaintiff is requesting that this Court overturn the judgment in foreclosure due to lack of notice. Id.; see also Rosenfeld v. Egy, No. 01-10730, 2003 WL 222119, at *5 (D.Mass. 2003) (finding that court lacked jurisdiction under Rooker-Feldman where plaintiff did not present federal claim in state court and that claim was inextricably intertwined with the state court judgment because claim was based on argument that the state court should not have issued a restraining order).*fn3 It has also not been stated whether an appeal of the state court decision has been filed.*fn4
Based on the pleading filed by the plaintiff, it appears that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars this Court from exercising jurisdiction over plaintiff's claims.
B. Injunctive Relief
If plaintiff is seeking to enjoin the sheriff from conducting a sheriff's sale of his property, this claim is moot.
39 (2nd Cir. 2007) (finding plaintiff's claims litigated in state court barred by res judicata and not the Rooker-Feldman doctrine).
See Gray v. Pagano, 287 Fed.Appx. 155, 158 (3d Cir. 2008). The sheriff's sale was conducted almost five months ago and plaintiff appears to request no other injunctive relief. Id. (finding plaintiffs' claim to enjoin the sheriff and/or sheriff's department from conducting a sheriff sale to be moot because it was eight months past the scheduled sale of the property and plaintiffs requested no other form of relief). Therefore, no case or controversy exists as the basis for invoking subject matter jurisdiction under Article III of the Federal Constitution. Id. (citing Rendell v. Rumsfeld, 484 F.3d 236, 240-41 (3d Cir. 2007)).
For the foregoing reasons, plaintiff's "complaint" is dismissed without prejudice and leave will be granted to permit plaintiff to file an amended complaint within 45 days alleging a proper basis for subject matter jurisdiction.*fn5