Mitchell v. Scottsdale, City of

Filing 23

ORDER granting 11 Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. The Clerk of Court shall enter judgment and dismiss the case with prejudice. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that all other pending motions before this Court are denied as moot. See document for further details. Signed by Senior Judge James A Teilborg on 10/2/15. (EJA)

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1 WO 2 3 4 5 6 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 7 FOR THE DISTRICT OF ARIZONA 8 9 Howard Lee Mitchell, Plaintiff, 10 11 ORDER v. 12 No. CV-15-00637-PHX-JAT Scottsdale, City of, 13 Defendant. 14 15 Pending before the Court is Defendant City of Scottsdale’s Motion to Dismiss 16 Plaintiff Howard Mitchell’s Amended Complaint. (Doc. 6). The Court now rules on the 17 motion. 18 I. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND 19 On May 6, 2013, the City of Scottsdale (“City”) filed a complaint in Scottsdale 20 Municipal Court against Howard Mitchell (“Mitchell”) and on May 10, 2013, moved to 21 terminate Mitchell’s possessory rights in nearly thirty animals. (Doc. 11 at 2). The 22 Municipal Court held a probable cause hearing over several non-consecutive dates 23 spanning from June through October. Id. On October 30, 2013, the Municipal Court 24 ordered that Mitchell’s animals be seized and taken to the Arizona Humane Society. Id. 25 On appeal, the Superior Court remanded the case on September 18, 2014 for further 26 proceedings. Id. The Arizona Court of Appeals granted the City’s Petition for Special 27 Action and found for the City on December 4, 2014. Id. The Arizona Supreme Court 28 denied review. Id. 1 2 II. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1) MOTION TO DISMISS 3 The City alleges several reasons why the complaint should be dismissed. One of 4 the reasons for dismissal raised by the City is jurisdictional; thus, it falls under Federal 5 Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”) 12(b)(1). Claims raised under Rule 12(b)(1) should be 6 addressed before other reasons for dismissal filed under Rule 12(b). See Wright and 7 Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure: Civil 2d § 1350, 209–10 (1990) (“[W]hen the 8 motion [to dismiss] is based on more than one ground, the court should consider the Rule 9 12(b)(1) challenge first since if it must dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter 10 jurisdiction, the accompanying defenses and objections become moot and do not need to 11 be determined.”) 12 The first reason for dismissal raised by the City is a lack of subject matter 13 jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. (Doc. 11. at 9). Thus, the Court will 14 address this reason for dismissal of the amended complaint. 15 The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents federal district courts from having subject 16 matter jurisdiction over “cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries 17 caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings 18 commenced.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). 19 In recent years, the Supreme Court has narrowed the application of the Rooker-Feldman 20 doctrine. See Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 464 (2006) (“[O]ur cases since Feldman 21 have tended to emphasize the narrowness of the Rooker-Feldman rule.”); see also Exxon 22 Mobil Corp., 544 U.S. at 292 (Rooker-Feldman does not apply to parallel state and 23 federal litigation); Verizon Md., Inc. v. Pub. Serv. Comm’n of Md., 535 U.S. 635, 644 n. 3 24 (2002) (Rooker-Feldman “has no application to judicial review of executive action, 25 including determinations made by a state administrative agency”). Despite the Supreme 26 Court’s scaling back of the doctrine, Rooker-Feldman still “remains a viable 27 jurisdictional bar.” Reusser v. Wachovia Bank, N.A., 525 F.3d 855, 860 n.6 (9th Cir. 28 2008). -2- 1 There are two general situations where Rooker-Feldman applies: (1) where a state 2 court loser explicitly asks a federal district court to exercise appellate review of the state- 3 court judgment, and (2) where a state court loser’s federal claim constitutes a de facto 4 appeal from a state court judgment. Id. at 858–59 (citing Kougasian v. TMSL, Inc., 359 5 F.3d 1136, 1139 (9th Cir. 2004)). The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has held that: 6 A federal claim constitutes a de facto appeal where “claims raised in the federal court action are ‘inextricably intertwined’ with the state court’s decision such that adjudication of the federal claims would undercut the state court’s ruling or require the district court to interpret the application of state laws or procedural rules.” 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 Id. at 859 (quoting Bianchi v. Rylaarsdam, 334 F.3d 895, 898 (9th Cir. 2003)). If either of these two situations apply, the federal court must dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Bianchi, 334 F.3d at 898. The City argues that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars this Court from having subject matter jurisdiction over Mitchell’s complaint. (Doc. 11 at 9). The City contends the first Rooker-Feldman bar applies, as Mitchell’s complaint constitutes a direct appeal from a state court judgment. (Doc. 11 at 9–10). In support of its argument, the City observes that Mitchell’s Amended Complaint opens with what appears to be a request for a direct appeal of the state court’s decision. (Doc. 11 at 9). For example, Mitchell asserts in his Amended Complaint that the “present Federal District Court is the next higher in the hierarchy of appeal for relief from the municipal court verdict.” (Doc. 6 at 1). Mitchell also “submit[s] a motion/request for relief by the overturning of the findings of the AZ Appeals Court and AZ Supreme Court.” (Doc. 1 at 6). The City is correct in stating that the relief Mitchell requests constitutes an appeal of state court decisions. Mitchell asks that the Court order the City to return the animals and property seized pursuant to a state court judgment. If the Court were to grant the relief Mitchell seeks, it would necessarily involve overturning the state court judgment that deprived him of his animals and property in the first place. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine forbids federal courts from taking such action. The proper avenue for Mitchell’s appeal of a state court judgment lies in the state court system and ultimately in the United -3- 1 States Supreme Court. Therefore, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear this 2 case. 3 III. 4 Accordingly, CONCLUSION 5 IT IS ORDERED that the City’s Motion to Dismiss Mitchell’s Amended 6 Complaint (Doc. 6) is GRANTED. The Clerk of Court shall enter judgment and dismiss 7 the case with prejudice. 8 9 10 IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that all other pending motions before this Court are denied as moot. Dated this 2nd day of October, 2015. 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 -4-

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