Sophocleus, et al v. Dept. Transportation, et al
OPINION. Signed by Honorable Myron H. Thompson on 3/12/2009. (dmn)
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA, EASTERN DIVISION JOHN AND THERESA SOPHOCLEUS, Plaintiffs, v. ALABAMA DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, et al., Defendants. ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) ) OPINION Plaintiffs John and Theresa Sophocleus bring this lawsuit against defendants Margie Champion Todd Hopper, Paul Bowlin, Jimmy Butts, and DeJarvis Leonard.1 Sophocleuses claim that the defendants, who The are
CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:00cv652-MHT (WO)
employees of the Alabama Department of Transportation, took their home for private use from January through August 1999, in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth 1. This court has dismissed claims against some defendants initially named in the complaint: the Alabama Department of Transportation (dismissed Feb. 18, 2003); Mack Roberts and Rhonda Ashworth (Mar. 10, 2003); and Reese & Howell (Feb. 22, 2006). The Sophocleuses' claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 have also been dismissed (Feb. 22, 2006).
enforced through 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
They also claim
that, during this period, the defendants committed the state torts of trespass, invasion of privacy, and
Jurisdiction over the federal claim is proper
under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343; jurisdiction for the state-law claims is proper under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). This case is before the court on the defendants' motions granted. for summary judgment. The motions will be
I. SUMMARY-JUDGMENT STANDARD Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).
The court's role at the summary-judgment stage is not to weigh the evidence or to determine the truth of the matter, but rather to determine only whether a genuine 2
issue exists for trial.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, In doing so, the court
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).
must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of that party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v.
Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).
II. PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND FACTS This case arises out of the State of Alabama's plan to build a road that required taking the Sophocleuses' property. 2 in On May 19, 1998, the State filed a petition court to condemn tracts the of Sophocleuses' land. The
condemnation petition alleged that the acquisition of this property was in the public interest and necessary for public use as a right-of-way for the construction and maintenance of a public road. On August 3, the
2. The factual background in this case has been recited in greater detail in Sophocleus v. Alabama Dep't of Transp., 305 F. Supp.2d 1238 (M.D. Ala. 2004) (Thompson, J.). 3
awarded the Sophocleuses $ 85,000 for their property. On September 7, the Sophocleuses appealed the probate court's order to state-circuit court, and the parties began discovery in preparation for a de novo trial
under 1975 Ala. Code § 18-1A-283. On December 7, 1998, during the discovery period for the condemnation suit, the State filed a separate suit in state court seeking to evict the Sophocleuses from the property. John 21, In response filed that use to in his build the to an the house the the eviction on
petition, December Department rather January
Sophocleus alleging to it
Transportation as road. an office At the
intended razing trial
witnesses testifying on behalf of the Transportation Department stated, in contrast, that the property had to be razed immediately as part of the road project. That same day, the court issued a writ of possession, evicting the Sophocleuses and granting possession of 4
the property to the State.
The Sophocleuses did not
appeal and surrendered possession one week later. On August 11, 1999, the Sophocleuses filed an
"Amended Appeal" to the condemnation action--which was still in discovery--asserting that the State's claimed public use was untrue. They argued that the house was
still standing and that the Transportation Department had thus misled the court in January by stating that the Sophocleuses' property must be razed immediately. In support of their argument that the property was not needed other for the road construction, were they claimed to that on
their property, despite the supposed immediate public need for it. alleged, in Additionally, John Sophocleus had already his eviction-proceeding affidavit, that
Transportation Department officials intended to use his house for work purposes and not for actually building the road. The parties settled the case the day before the condemnation proceeding was 5 scheduled for a de novo
trial in state circuit court.
The Sophocleuses agreed
to the condemnation, and the State agreed to pay them $ 145,000. accepted the On September 23, 1999, the state court parties' settlement; found that the
allegations of the condemnation petition were true; and entered an order of condemnation. The Sophocleuses'
house was razed in November 1999, and Highway 280 now occupies the land where the house used to be. The Sophocleuses filed this federal lawsuit on May 19, 2000. They alleged that they were forced out of
their home by the defendants from January to August 1999 so that contractors could use the house as private living quarters and an office. They alleged, as
evidence of private use, that they and others had gone past the house in the evening and seen the TV on, heard loud music, seen private vehicles being worked on in the shop, and seen people playing football or riding four-wheelers in the front yard. They claimed that
this private use of their property, which was taken for public use, violated their 6 Fifth and Fourteenth
Amendment rights as well as certain rights under state law. The Sophocleuses' suit then began its federal-court saga. On January 26, 2004, pursuant to the Rooker-
Feldman doctrine (which derives its name from Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923), and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983)), this court found that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction dismissed the to hear the Sophocleuses' v. claims Dep't and of
Transp., 305 F. Supp.2d 1238, 1251 (M.D. Ala. 2004) (Thompson, J.). The Court of Appeals for the Eleventh
Circuit affirmed, Sophocleus v. Alabama, 116 F. App'x 246 (11th Cir. Aug. 2, 2004). The Sophocleuses
petitioned for a writ of certiorari, and the Supreme Court granted the petition and vacated the appellatecourt judgment for reconsideration in light of Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280 (2005), its then-recent decision clarifying the
Sophocleus v. Ala. Dep't of 7
Transp., 546 U.S. 801 (2005). then remanded the case to
The Eleventh Circuit court for further
Sophocleus v. Ala. Dep't of Transp., 170
F. App'x 608 (11th Cir. 2005). As this case now stands, only four defendants
remain: DeJarvis Leonard, Margie Champion Todd Hopper, Paul Bowlin, and Jimmy Butts, all of whom are employees of the Transportation Department and are being sued in their individual capacities.
III. DISCUSSION The most basic statement of the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine is that "appellate jurisdiction to reverse or modify a state-court judgment is lodged, initially by § 25 of the Judiciary Act of 1789, 1 Stat. 85, and now by 28 U.S.C. § 1257, exclusively in th[e Supreme
Federal district courts ... are empowered to Exxon
exercise original, not appellate, jurisdiction."
Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280,
Despite this uncontroversial statement,
the Supreme Court in Exxon expressed concern that the doctrine was ballooning past its original narrow
boundaries and depriving lower federal courts of their proper concurrent jurisdiction. Id. The Court
therefore announced a return to the original "narrow ground" of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. This court must now apply the Id. at 284. post-Exxon
doctrine to the Sophocleuses' claims.
A. Rooker-Feldman 1. Foundation of the doctrine In Rooker, a party to a lawsuit--after losing in a state supreme court and failing to obtain Supreme Court review--filed an action in federal district court
3. As explained in Noel v. Hall, 341 F.3d 1148, 1155 (9th Cir. 1993), two exceptions to this rule are provided by statute. First, a federal district court may hear petitions for habeas corpus from prisoners claiming that the state court erred in applying federal law. 28 U.S.C. § 2254. Second, federal bankruptcy courts have the power to challenge or discharge state-court judgments. See, e.g., 11 U.S.C. §§ 727, 1141, 1328. 9
seeking to declare the state judgment null and void. 263 U.S. at 414-15. The Court construed the federal
court action as an improper attempt to obtain appellate review of the state decision in a lower federal court. Id. at 416. It held that only the Supreme Court may
entertain a proceeding to reverse or modify a statecourt judgment, and it thus concluded that the federal district court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. Id. at 415-16. In Feldman, the plaintiff petitioned the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, the equivalent of the District of Columbia's supreme court, to waive a bar admission rule that prevented his admission to the D.C. bar. his 460 U.S. at 467-73. waiver requests, He to the When the D.C. court denied plaintiff a sued in federal the the
Constitution, as well as a declaration that the rule he wished waived was itself unconstitutional. n.3, 472-73. Id. at 469
The Supreme Court held that the former 10
claim impermissibly sought direct federal-court review of the state-court judgment. In the latter claim,
however, the court did have jurisdiction because the plaintiffs sought review of the constitutionality of a "rule promulgated in a non-judicial proceeding." at 486 (emphasis added). Id.
The nature of the proceeding
made all the difference: lower courts are barred from reviewing only state judicial decisions. Feldman's greatest impact has come from a puzzling phrase in the opinion, in which the Court noted that the plaintiff's claim against the bar rule as applied to him was "inextricably intertwined with the District of Columbia Court of Appeals' decisions, in judicial proceedings, to deny the respondents' petitions." at 486-87 (emphasis added). With this phrase, Id. the
Court appeared to extend the Rooker-Feldman doctrine to prohibit lower federal-court jurisdiction not just if the federal decision would override the state judgment, but also if the state and federal claims are somehow "inextricably intertwined." 11 The Circuit Courts of
Appeals phrase, See
their four B.
interpretation approaches Note, The
Feldman Doctrine: What Does It Mean To Be Inextricably Intertwined?, 56 Duke L.J. 643, 661-674 (2006). Some
of these approaches to the phrase dramatically expanded the contours of the doctrine, Hoblock v. Albany County Bd. of Elections, 422 F.3d 77, 86 (2d Cir. 2005), and are now impermissible after Exxon.
2. Expansion of the doctrine since Feldman on the basis of "inextricably intertwined" The broadest interpretation of "inextricably functionally
equivalent to res judicata. State Office of Court
In Moccio v. New York 95 F.3d 195,
199-200 (2d Cir. 1996), for example, this phrase meant that, "[i]f the precise claims raised in a state court proceeding proceeding, are raised in the subsequent will federal bar the
Id. at 198-99.
As will be described in the
next section, Exxon barred this approach. Another method has some overlap with issue
preclusion, but it is narrower and more nuanced than the res-judicata approach. Under this interpretation,
used by the Eleventh Circuit prior to Exxon, federal courts had no jurisdiction under Rooker-Feldman "if the federal state claim succeeds only to the the extent that the it."
Goodman ex rel. Goodman v. Sipos, 259 F.3d 1327, 1332 (11th Cir. 2001).4 its prior This court used that formulation in on the Sophocleuses' at 1246 claims. the the this
decision 305 F.
Sophocleus , Sophocleuses conclusions
relief of the
4. Several of the courts using this approach cite its source, Justice Marshall's concurrence in Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1 (1987): "[I]t is appropriate, as a first step, that the federal claim is inextricably intertwined with the state-court judgment if the federal claim succeeds only to the extent that the state court wrongly decided the issues before it." Id. at 25. 13
interpretation, precluded from
undermine the basis for the state-court decision, even if the claim does not attack the state-court judgment itself. This approach, too, was ultimately rejected by
the Court in Exxon. The third in method the of applying Circuit Rooker-Feldman, case of GASH
Associates v. Village of Rosemont, 995 F.2d 726 (7th Cir. two. 1993), Its is considerably narrower than the by first the
Supreme Court in Exxon, 544 U.S. at 293, poses one decisive question: "[I]s the federal plaintiff seeking to set aside a state judgment, or does he present some independent claim, albeit one that denies a legal
conclusion that a state court has reached in a case to which he was a party?" The final method to GASH, 995 F.2d at 728. of interpreting is Noel the v. "inextricably Circuit's 341 F.3d
Exxon which 14
1148, 1164 (9th Cir. 2003), derived from both GASH and a close tracking of the Supreme Court's approach in Feldman. First, the court determines whether a claim
constitutes a "forbidden de facto appeal" attempting to override the state-court judgment. facto appeal arises when the Id. at 1158. federal A de
"complains of a legal wrong allegedly committed by the state court, and seeks relief from the judgment of that court," id. at 1163. And as such, a de facto appeal is
identical to what the GASH test also prohibits. The Noel test departs from GASH by adding a slight additional step. Only if a de facto appeal is present
may the court consider that the plaintiff "may not seek to litigate an issue that is `inextricably intertwined' with the state court decision from which the forbidden de facto appeal is brought." Id. at 1158. This method
serves to prevent a federal plaintiff "from making an end-run around the rule against de facto appeals,"
Kougasian v. TMSL, 359 F.3d 1136, 1142 (9th Cir. 2004). This version of "inextricably 15 intertwined," however,
Feldman, it is only relevant in the rare cases where it is necessary to determine if the court has jurisdiction to hear a claim after another claim has already been found itself to be a forbidden "[a]s de a facto appeal. As Noel the
`inextricably intertwined' test of Feldman is likely to apply primarily in cases in which the state court both promulgates and applies the rule at issue--that is, to the category of cases in which the lower court has acted in both a legislative and a judicial capacity." 341 F.3d at 1158.
3. Exxon's impact on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine In Exxon, the unanimous Supreme Court denounced the expansion of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and expressly limited the doctrine by "confin[ing it] to cases of the kind from which the doctrine acquired its name." U.S. at 284. Cases are 16 therefore subject to 544 the
doctrine if: "[(1)] brought by state-court losers [(2)] complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments [(3)] rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and [(4)] inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments." Id. The first and
third elements are more procedural, while the second and fourth are more substantive in their opposition to the state-court judgment. See Hoblock, 422 F.3d at 85.
Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 466 (2006), decided less than one year after Exxon, clarified the first element by holding that the doctrine does not bar "actions by non-parties to the earlier state-court judgment simply because, for purposes of preclusion law, they could be considered in privity with a party to the judgment." Id. at 466. its narrow holding, Exxon rejects the two
broadest methods previously used by the lower courts to apply Rooker-Feldman via the phrase "inextricably
intertwined." beating is the
The interpretation that took the worst approach functionally 17 conflating the
doctrine with res judicata by defining "inextricably intertwined" claims as those that had already been
argued in state court.
At first glance, this approach
seems rational, as "both sets of principles define the respect one court owes to an earlier judgment." 995 F.2d at 728. GASH,
But the Supreme Court explicitly
threw out this interpretation, stating plainly that if a federal plaintiff presents a claim that does not seek to overturn a and state-court state under case law judgment, determines of "there whether is the
jurisdiction defendant Id. at
preclusion." failed to
understand, Lance made it even simpler: "Rooker-Feldman is not simply preclusion by another name." 466. After the res-judicata approach, the broadest preExxon interpretation of "inextricably intertwined" 546 U.S. at
found no jurisdiction "if the federal claim succeeds only to the extent that the state court wrongly decided the issues before it." Goodman, 18 259 F.3d at 1332
added). of the
interpretation statement that,
some independent claim, albeit one that denies a legal conclusion that a state court has reached in a case to which he was a party ..., then there is jurisdiction and state law determines whether the defendant prevails under principles of preclusion.'" 544 U.S. at 293
(emphasis added) (quoting GASH, 995 F.2d at 728). While the meaning of "legal conclusion" is not
entirely clear, "it suggests that a plaintiff who seeks in federal in court state a result opposed not, to for the that one he
alone, run afoul of Rooker-Feldman." at 87. federal "legal
Hoblock, 422 F.3d
The distinction is subtle, but it means that a court may hear claims if the about state a state-court courts have
previously rejected that claim or if it would undermine the state-court from judgment--in hearing contrast that to would its utter a
state-court judgment. This difference can be elucidated by considering that Feldman. the In that case, the Court not a
constitutional challenge to a bar rule, even though the court's judgment that the rule was correctly applied to the plaintiffs would be severely undermined if the rule itself were found to be unconstitutional. Ultimately,
whether the federal court may challenge a particular legal conclusion is properly an issue of preclusion, not jurisdiction. By rejecting these two methods of applying the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, Exxon so thoroughly cut back the that thicket Justice went surrounding Stevens, so far the in as Rooker-Feldman dissent in doctrine Lance the v.
opinion as having "finally interred" a doctrine that has "produced nothing but mischief for 23 years." U.S. at 468. 546
But the doctrine, narrower though it may
be, is not through with us yet. 20
4. How to interpret "inextricably intertwined" after Exxon While doctrine, Exxon the clearly Supreme limited Court's the Rooker-Feldman to resolve
differing interpretations among the circuits, 544 U.S. at 291, did not fare as well as might have been wished. Beyond the rejection of two methods of interpretation, as described above, the Court declined to clarify the meaning of "inextricably intertwined," the phrase
responsible for "much of the confusion regarding the Rooker-Feldman doctrine." Bolden v. City of Topeka, Exxon uses the
441 F.3d 1129, 1140 (10th Cir. 2006).
phrase three times but does so only to note that it appeared in Feldman and in the erroneous decision
below, 544 U.S. at 286 & n.1; to the frustration of lower courts, Exxon "quotes Feldman's use of the phrase but does not otherwise explicate or employ it."
Hoblock, 422 F.3d at 86.
But, because the Rooker-
Feldman doctrine did not apply in Exxon on procedural grounds--the plaintiff was not a lower court loser, nor 21
had the state suit come to judgment, see Exxon 544 U.S. at 293--perhaps the Court saw no need to clarify the meaning of "inextricably intertwined," which has more resonance for Exxon's two substantive requirements than for the two purely procedural ones. The consequence of the Court's ignoring the phrase means that, after Exxon, lower courts do not know if they still must apply "inextricably applied" or how to do so. This court's analysis of the issue has no
binding precedent to follow; as described previously, the Eleventh Circuit's pre-Exxon interpretation of the phrase cannot stand, nor has the Eleventh Circuit
issued any published decisions since Exxon expressly addressing has whether the phrase and, "inextricably if so, how.5 applied" But, by
reviewing decisions of other circuits, this court has 5. The Eleventh Circuit has recently applied the Rooker-Felder doctrine in two appeals, Nicholson v. Shafe, ___ F.3d ____, 2009 WL 385579 (11th Cir. 2009); Casale v. Tillman, ___ F.3d ____, 2009 WL 368301 (11th Cir. 2009), but in neither did the appellate court, either expressly or implicitly, address the issue of the continued viability of the phrase "inextricably applied." 22
that the kerfuffle over "inextricably intertwined" has, in fact, largely been quieted. While there are variations, the most common
approach among the circuits seems to be variants of the Seventh Circuit's pre-Exxon opinion in GASH Associates v. Village of Rosemont, 995 F.2d 726 (7th Cir. 1993). As such, they reject the notion that "inextricably
intertwined" has any meaning beyond the four elements enumerated in Exxon. In Hoblock, for example, the
Second Circuit described Exxon as "par[ing] back the Rooker -Feldman doctrine to its core" by limiting
"inextricably intertwined" claims to those that meet Exxon ' s four requirements. that 422 F.3d at 85. This
intertwined' has no independent content. It is simply a descriptive label attached to claims that Id. meet the
requirements outlined in Exxon Mobil."
Davani v. Va. Dep't of Transp., 434 F.3d 712, 719 (4th Cir. 2006) ("Feldman's `inextricably 23 intertwined'
language does not create an additional legal test ... but merely states a conclusion: if the state-court
loser seeks redress in the federal district court for the injury caused by the by the state-court definition, state-court decision, his
McCormick v. Braverman, 451 F.3d 382, 394-95 (6th Cir. 2006) ("[T]he phrase `inextricably intertwined' only
describes the conclusion that a claim asserts an injury whose source is the state court judgment."); Bolden v. City of Topeka, 441 F.3d 1129, 1141 (10th Cir. 2006) ("[T]he term is not being used to expand the scope of the Rooker bar beyond challenges to state-court
judgments."); TruServ Corp. v. Flegles, Inc., 419 F.3d 584, 591 (7th Cir. 2005) (claim was not "inextricably intertwined" because the injury did not arise from the prior state court lawsuit and because the federal court would not need to set aside a state-court judgment in order to find for the plaintiff).
In short, the alpha and omega for the doctrine is that the case must be "[(1)] brought by state-court losers [(2)] complaining judgments of injuries rendered caused before by the
district court proceedings commenced and [(4)] inviting district court review and rejection of those
Exxon, 544 U.S. at 284.
5. Application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine to the Sophocleuses' claims All that remains is to apply the Rooker-Feldman doctrine here. This for case involves and two the state-court other for
condemnation and valuation--resulting from the parties' settlements. The Sophocleuses concede that the state
court correctly evicted them from their property and do not challenge or discuss the eviction judgment. condemnation proceeding, the state court In the a
judgment condemning the Sophocleuses' property for the public uses and purposes stated in the petition for 25
condemnation. challenge the
While the Sophocleuses do not directly judgment, since they do not seek the
return of their land, it is implicated in that their claims rest on whether the land was actually put to public use. Nevertheless, requirements from because Exxon for the the key substantive of the the
Sophocleuses' federal suit is not barred under RookerFeldman based on the state-condemnation judgment,
Exxon, 544 U.S. at 291-292.
The Sophocleuses' claims
easily meet the two procedural requirements, since the federal action is brought by a state-court loser and the state-court judgment was rendered before the
district-court proceedings began.6 do not invite this federal
But the Sophocleuses to `review' and
`reject' the state judgment.
Indeed, they invite this
court to honor the state judgment, and then some, that 6. The Sophocleuses technically settled, rather than lost, but the settlement involved the entry of an adverse judgment in the condemnation case. 26
defendants used their property for non-public purposes. This court could grant the Sophocleuses full relief
without disturbing either of the state-court eviction and condemnation judgments. Moreover, even if their federal litigation could be viewed as at odds with the state ligation because they seek additional relief (and particularly, as appears here, relief Court that has and was made that denied clear state prevail in state this should court), court the has
jurisdiction whether they
See Exxon, 544 U.S. at 293 ("If a federal some independent claim, albeit
one that denies a legal conclusion that a state court has reached in a case to which he was a party ..., then there is jurisdiction and state law determines whether the defendant prevails (quoting Shafe, ___ under 995 ____, principles F.2d ____, at of 728); WL
preclusion.'") Nicholson v.
GASH, F.3d 27
385579, *6 (11th Cir. 2009) ("Rooker-Feldman does not prohibit a `district jurisdiction litigate in court simply federal from because court a exercising a party matter
subject-matter attempts to
previously litigated in state court.'") (quoting Exxon, 544 U.S. at 293); Hoblock, 422 F.3d at 87 ("a plaintiff who seeks in federal court a result opposed to the one he achieved in state court does not, for that reason alone, run afoul of Rooker-Feldman"). Accordingly, heeding the Supreme Court's admonition in Exxon that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is "limited" and occupies "narrow ground," 544 U.S. at 284, 291, this court concludes that the doctrine does not apply in this case and that this court therefore has subjectmatter claims. jurisdiction to consider the Sophocleuses'
B. Preclusion Since this court has jurisdiction to hear the
Sophocleuses' claims, it must now consider the question 28
of whether such claims are precluded by the state-court proceedings. Because using precise legal terminology is critical when discussing the preclusive adopts effects the of former Court's
definitional framework set out in Migra v. Warren City School Dist. Bd. of Educ., 465 U.S. 75, 77 n.1 (1984): "The preclusive effects of former adjudication ... are referred to collectively ... as the doctrine of res judicata. Res judicata is often analyzed further to
consist of two preclusion concepts: issue preclusion and claim preclusion. Issue preclusion refers to the
effect of a judgment in foreclosing relitigation of a matter effect that is has been litigated to as and decided. or This
Claim preclusion refers to the effect of a in foreclosing litigation of a matter that
never has been litigated, because of a determination that it should have been advanced in an earlier suit. Claim preclusion therefore 29 encompasses the law of
also Gjellum v. Birmingham, 829 F.2d 1056, 1059 (11th Cir. 1987) (adopting Migra definitions of res judicata, issue preclusion, and claim preclusion). Because the
prior judgment at issue was an Alabama-court judgment, this court must apply Alabama's law of preclusion. See
McDonald v. Hillsborough County School Bd., 821 F.2d 1563, 1565 (11th Cir. 1987); Kachler v. Taylor, 849 F. Supp. 1503, 1515-16 (M.D. Ala. 1994) (Thompson, J.). Under Alabama law, the essential elements of res judicata are: "`(1) a prior judgment on the merits, (2) rendered by a court of competent jurisdiction, (3) with substantial identity of the parties, and (4) with the same cause of action presented in both suits.' v. Allenstein, 514 So.2d 858 (Ala. 1987). ... Hughes If all
of these elements are met, any claim that was or could have been adjudicated N.A.A.C.P. in v. the Hunt, previous 891 F.2d action 1555, is 1560
(11th Cir. 1990). sets of persons.
Identity of parties concerns two The first 30 set comprises "those
The second set of persons to whom res
judicata applies comprises "those persons who are or were in privity with the parties to the original suit." Id. were Privity exists "where the by nonparty's the party interests in the
Privity also exists "where a
party to the original suit is `so closely aligned to a nonparty's interest Id. as at to be his (quoting virtual United
Merchants & Mfrs. v. Sanders, 508 So.2d 689, 692 (Ala. 1987)). The Sophocleuses have not challenged the first
three elements listed above for claim preclusion, so the question of res judicata hangs on the fourth.
Causes of action are considered identical if the legal theories and claims arise out of the same nucleus of operative fact. Pleming v. Universal-Rundle Corp., 142
F.3d 1354, 1356 (11th Cir. 1998); NAACF v. Hunt, 891 F.2d 1555, 1561 (11th Cir. 31 1990). A court, then,
examines "the factual issues that must be resolved in the second suit and compares them with the issues
explored in the first case." 1357. Here, in the state-court
Pleming, 142 F.3d at
the Sophocleuses alleged improper non-public use of the property in their and thus amended are appeal and pretrial it
again here, as the basis for their claims in federal court. 7 In fact, they made the allegation twice: first
in John Sophocleus's affidavit in the eviction action, and then again in the amended appeal of the
7. The Sophocleuses attempt to avoid a finding that they have already raised this claim by trivializing their amendment and by arguing that Alabama law prohibits them from amending their complaint. In their own brief, for example, they mock their amended complaint by stating "[w]hy this document was filed is, simply, inexplicable. It is absolutely meaningless." Pls.' Resp. to State Defs.' Br. for Summary Judgment (Doc. No. 122) at 7 n.1. Their contention that they could not lawfully appeal is also without merit, as Alabama law provides for amendment of pleadings in an appeal of a condemnation proceeding, even where those amendments include the allegation of new facts. Cloverleaf Land Co. v. State, 163 So.2d 602, 604 (Ala. 1964). 32
preclusion bar this federal case.9
Although this action is not barred by the RookerFeldman doctrine, it is barred by the doctrine of res judicata. The motions for summary judgment will
8. This court reached essentially the same conclusion in its decision on this case prior to its remand, Sophocleus, 305 F. Supp.2d at 1246, 1250-51, and nothing suggests that the facts have changed in the meanwhile. 9. To invoke collateral estoppel or issue preclusion properly, a party must show three prerequisites: "(1) the issue at stake must be identical to the one alleged in the prior litigation; (2) the issue must have been actually litigated in the prior litigation; and (3) the determination of the issue in the prior litigation must have been a critical and necessary part of the judgment in that earlier action. In addition, the party against whom the earlier decision is asserted must have had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the earlier proceeding." Nobles v. Rural Cmty. Ins. Servs., 303 F.Supp.2d 1292 (M.D. Ala. 2004) (Thompson, J.), aff'd, 116 Fed.Appx. 253 (11th Cir. 2004) (table). These requirements are met here as well, for the issue in the earlier state-court proceedings and the issue in the current federal proceeding are one and the same: whether the State of Alabama intended to, and did, put the Sophocleuses' property to improper non-public use. 33
therefore be granted. entered.
An appropriate judgment will be
DONE, this the 12th day of March, 2009.
/s/ Myron H. Thompson UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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