EDWARDS v. STATE OF ARIZONA et al
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION in support of 9 Order granting Defendant's 4 Motion to Dismiss. Signed by Judge Timothy J. Kelly on 9/11/2020. (lctjk1)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
STEPHEN S. EDWARDS,
Civil Action No. 20-54 (TJK)
STATE OF ARIZONA et al.,
Stephen S. Edwards challenges the outcome of state-court proceedings related to the
foreclosure of his home, which was sold at a sheriff’s auction after an Arizona state court entered
a judgment foreclosing a lien on the property in 2018. He also asserts claims challenging his
designation as a vexatious litigant in that state-court action, which prohibited him from filing
further pleadings without leave of court. Proceeding pro se, he sues the State of Arizona and the
United States, alleging a violation of his civil rights, a conspiracy to deny him access to the
Arizona state courts, and abuse of Arizona’s foreclosure and vexatious-litigant laws.
The State of Arizona moved to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction under the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which limits federal courts from exercising appellate review over
state-court decisions, as well as on the grounds of sovereign immunity, failure to state a claim
under Rule 12(b)(6), judicial immunity, and improper venue. For the reasons explained below,
the Court will grant the motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine and sua sponte dismiss the complaint against the United States for lack of service.
Thus, the entire action will be dismissed.
Plaintiff’s homeowners’ association, the Lakewood Community Association (the
“Association”), filed a case in Maricopa County Superior Court against Plaintiff to foreclose on a
lien secured by Plaintiff’s home. ECF No. 4-1 at 7. In connection with the foreclosure
proceedings, the Association moved to declare Plaintiff a vexatious litigant. ECF No. 4-3 at 31.
The Maricopa County Superior Court held a hearing, at which Plaintiff did not appear, in
September 2018. Id. at 32–33. The court found that Plaintiff had been a party in forty-one
lawsuits and “consistently used litigation in this Court in order to harass and to publish
scandalous, nonsensical and completely baseless insults . . . for the sole purposes of increasing
his opponents’ litigation costs and harassing his opponents.” Id. at 43. Consequently, the court
recommended to the Presiding Judge for Maricopa County Superior Court that Plaintiff be
declared a vexatious litigant. Id. After review, the Presiding Judge did just that and prohibited
Plaintiff from filing further pleadings without seeking leave of court. Id. at 52–53; see also ECF
No. 1 (“Compl.”) ¶¶ 13, 26, 38.
The court granted summary judgment for the Association in January 2019, thereby
foreclosing on the lien. ECF No. 4-3 at 10–11; see also Compl. ¶¶ 13, 17, 26. The next month,
the court issued a writ of special execution, ordering the sheriff to sell the property. ECF No. 4-3
at 19. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff’s motion to extinguish the lien was denied, id. at 22–23, and
his home was sold in April 2019, id. at 25–27. In August 2019, the court denied Plaintiff’s
motion to quash the writ of special execution, explaining that Plaintiff had not challenged the
terms of the original judgment and had therefore waived any objection. Id. at 29.
Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, filed this suit in January 2020. He asserts what appear to be
various statutory and constitutional claims against the State of Arizona as a result of the
foreclosure on his home and the vexatious-litigant order. He also alleges violations of his civil
rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the United States.
To survive a Rule 12(b)(1) motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, a
plaintiff bears the burden of establishing that the Court has jurisdiction. Lujan v. Defs. of
Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). The Court must subject factual allegations to a higher level
of scrutiny in resolving a Rule 12(b)(1) motion than in resolving one under Rule 12(b)(6) for
failure to state a claim because it has an “affirmative obligation to ensure that it is acting within
the scope of its jurisdictional authority.” Al-Owhali v. Ashcroft, 279 F. Supp. 2d 13, 21 (D.D.C.
2003) (citation omitted). The Court need not limit itself to the complaint when assessing subject
matter jurisdiction; it “may consider relevant materials outside the pleadings to determine
whether it has jurisdiction.” Bank of Am., N.A. v. FDIC, 908 F. Supp. 2d 60, 78 (D.D.C. 2012).
While a pro se complaint must be construed liberally, pro se plaintiffs must still show that the
court has subject-matter jurisdiction. James v. United States, 48 F. Supp. 3d 58, 63 (D.D.C.
It is the plaintiff’s responsibility to serve a defendant within 90 days after a complaint is
filed, unless the defendant waives service. Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(m). If the plaintiff does not do so,
then absent a showing of good cause, the court “must dismiss the action without prejudice
against that defendant or order that service be made within a specified time.” Id. To serve the
United States, the plaintiff must serve both the Attorney General of the United States and the
United States attorney “for the district where the action is brought.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(i)(1)(A)–
(B); see also Warren v. Central Intelligence Agency, 210 F. Supp. 3d 199, 202 (D.D.C. 2016). A
party’s pro se status does not relieve it of the obligation to comply with the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure or this Court’s local rules. See Akers v. Liberty Mut. Grp., 274 F.R.D. 346, 349
The Court considers a plaintiff’s pro se complaint in light of all filings in the record.
Brown v. Whole Foods Mkt. Grp., Inc., 789 F.3d 146, 152 (D.C. Cir. 2015); see also Strumsky v.
Wash. Post Co., 842 F. Supp. 2d 215, 217 (D.D.C. 2012) (court may consider documents
referenced in complaint without converting motion to dismiss into motion for summary
Claims Against the State of Arizona (Counts I-V) 1
This Court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to hear Plaintiff’s claims against the State of
Arizona because those claims are requests to review state-court judgments in violation of the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine. The doctrine “prevents lower federal courts from hearing cases that
amount to the functional equivalent of an appeal from a state court.” Gray v. Poole, 275 F.3d
1113, 1119 (D.C. Cir. 2002); see Rooker v. Fid. Tr. Co., 263 U.S. 413, 416 (1923) (“The
jurisdiction possessed by the District Courts is strictly original.”); District of Columbia Court of
Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 476 (1983). It applies to cases that are “brought by statecourt losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the federal
district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review of those judgments.”
Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005).
Three criteria govern a Rooker-Feldman analysis. “First, ‘[t]he party against whom the
doctrine is invoked must have actually been a party to the prior state-court judgment.’” Bradley
v. DeWine, 55 F. Supp. 3d 31, 41 (D.D.C. 2014) (quoting Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 462
The Court construes Plaintiff to have asserted all counts—I, II, III, IV (erroneously titled Count
VI) and V—against the State of Arizona.
(2006)). Second, “the claim raised in the federal suit must have been actually raised or
inextricably intertwined with the state-court judgment.” Id. (quoting Lance, 546 U.S. at 462). A
claim is “inextricably intertwined” with a prior state-court judgment if “success on the federal
claim depends upon a determination that the state court wrongly decided the issues before it.”
Araya v. Bayly, 875 F. Supp. 2d 1, 3–4 (D.D.C. 2012) (citation omitted), aff’d, No. 12-7069,
2013 WL 500819 (D.C. Cir. Jan. 18, 2013); see also Jung v. Bank of Am., N.A., No. 18-962
(RC), 2018 WL 6680579, at *5 (D.D.C. Dec. 19, 2018). Third, “the federal claim must not be
parallel to the state-court claim.” Bradley, 55 F. Supp. 3d at 42 (quoting Lance, 546 U.S. at
462). A claim is parallel if the plaintiff brought the federal claim before a state court entered the
relevant judgment. Exxon, 544 U.S. at 293.
Plaintiff’s claims against the State of Arizona easily satisfy the first and third prongs of
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. The first is fulfilled because the plaintiff here was also the
plaintiff in “the prior state-court judgment[s].” Bradley, 55 F. Supp. 3d at 41; see ECF No. 4-3
at 8. The third is met because Plaintiff sued in January 2020, after the state court entered those
judgments. See ECF No. 1; ECF No. 4-3 at 10–11, 52–53.
The second prong is also satisfied as to the claims against the State of Arizona. These
claims were “actually raised” or “inextricably intertwined” with the state-court judgments
because, through them, Plaintiff asks this Court to determine that the state court wrongly decided
issues before it through the foreclosure judgment and vexatious-litigant order. In Count I,
Plaintiff claims that the judges of Maricopa County violated his Sixth- and FourteenthAmendment rights by finding him vexatious and denying him access to the courts and
courthouse. See Compl. ¶¶ 13–17. Along similar lines, in Count II, Plaintiff claims that the
Arizona state judges conspired to deny him that access. See Compl. ¶¶ 19–22. This Court lacks
jurisdiction over these claims because determining whether Plaintiff was erroneously declared
vexatious or improperly denied access to the state courts would require this Court to “review and
reject” findings in the state-court order regarding Plaintiff’s litigation conduct “in violation of the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine.” See Magritz v. Ozaukee County, 894 F. Supp. 2d 34, 39 (D.D.C.
The same goes for Count III of Plaintiff’s complaint. In Count III, the core of Plaintiff’s
claim appears to be that the State of Arizona violated his civil rights by “illegally and
wrongfully” assisting in the wrongful foreclosure of his home. Compl. ¶ 26(c). Again, the
second prong of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is satisfied because Plaintiff is effectively seeking
to collaterally attack the state court’s judgment ordering foreclosure. The doctrine does not
permit this sort of “end-run” around a state court’s determination. Williams v. Bank of New York
Mellon, 169 F. Supp. 3d 119, 125 (D.D.C. 2016).
Counts IV and V fare no better under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, despite Plaintiff’s
efforts to label them as general constitutional claims separate from the state-court judgments. In
Count IV, Plaintiff claims that the Arizona foreclosure law is unconstitutional because “lawyers
and Board members of these HOA communities are using it as a shakedown to get rid of people
out of the neighborhood.” Compl. ¶ 27. In Count V, Plaintiff alleges that Arizona judges are
“abusing the intent of” Arizona’s vexatious-litigant law, and that the law “is too ambiguous and
needs many modifications and clarity,” thus rendering it unconstitutional. See Compl. ¶¶ 36, 41.
Plaintiff’s allegations do not, however, amount in substance to a general, facial attack on
the law that could skirt application of Rooker-Feldman. Plaintiff pleads little in the way of facts
to support these counts, but the paragraphs that could be construed as factual assertions pertain to
the specific application of the law to Plaintiff. See Compl. ¶ 27 (“A $400.00 fine for building a
wall extension can turn into a $57,666.66 payoff for the Lawyers. The HOA Lawyers are not
releasing the LIEN even after receiving full payment.”); id. ¶ 39 (judges “ignored my filings”);
id. ¶ 41 (“Nobody should be declared vexatious for defending their home of 25 Years. Edwards
built this home in 1993.”); id. ¶ 42 (“Arizona Denied my Attorney’s notice of appearance in open
Court because of confusion of the Vexatious Law.”); id. ¶ 43 (“That because of the Actions of
Arizona The Plaintiff has lost his home of 25 years under nefarious means.”). Plaintiff does not
assert that the laws are unconstitutional in all circumstances. Because Plaintiff’s claims have “no
substance or independent core beyond [the law’s] application to him and his own injury,”
assessing them would improperly require the Court to review the state court’s judgment as to
Plaintiff. See Laverpool v. Taylor Bean & Whitaker Reo LLC, 229 F. Supp. 3d 5, 19 (D.D.C.
2017). Therefore, they are not facial attacks and fall under the umbrella of Rooker-Feldman.
For these reasons, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff’s claims against the State of Arizona
for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.
Claim Against the United States (Count III)
The Court must also dismiss Plaintiff’s claim against the United States because Plaintiff
did not effect service properly, and the deadline to do so has long since passed. Plaintiff filed the
complaint on January 9, 2020. ECF No. 1. Accordingly, service of the complaint on the United
States was due within 90 days, on April 8, 2020. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(m). Prior to that, in an
order dated March 12, 2020, the Court warned Plaintiff about that deadline and further advised
him that service must fulfill the multiple requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 4(i) for
serving the United States, i.e., Plaintiff must serve both the Attorney General of the United States
and “the United States attorney for the district where the action is brought.” Fed. R. Civ. P.
Plaintiff satisfied only one of those two requirements. On March 23, 2020, Plaintiff filed
proof of service on the Attorney General of the United States. ECF No. 8. But the docket does
not reflect any indication that he served the United States Attorney for the District of Columbia,
despite having had five months since the April 8, 2020, deadline to do so. Plaintiff has also not
demonstrated good cause for his omission, particularly in light of this Court’s order specifically
instructing him to satisfy the requirements of Rule 4(i). 2 Thus, pursuant to Rule 4(m), the Court
will also dismiss Plaintiff’s claim against the United States.
For all these reasons, the State of Arizona’s Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 4, will be
GRANTED, and the Court will dismiss the claim against the United States as well. Thus, the
entire action will be dismissed.
/s/ Timothy J. Kelly
TIMOTHY J. KELLY
United States District Judge
Date: September 11, 2020
Plaintiff did not request an extension of the service deadline, and the Court notes that Rule
4(i)(4), which requires a court to “allow a party a reasonable time to cure” service on an agency,
corporation, officer, or employee of the United States, does not apply here. Jones v. United
States, No. 4:09cv129, 2010 WL 11527093, at *1 n.1 (E.D. Va. July 14, 2010) (“Unlike service
pursuant to Rules 4(i)(2) and 4(i)(3) the Court is not required to extend the time to cure defects in
service pursuant to Rule 4(i)(1).”).
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