Smith v. Brown et al
ORDER: IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Patton Defendants and Sandler Defendants' 39 Motion to Dismiss is GRANTED. Signed by Judge Nannette Jolivette Brown on 3/23/2017. (mmv)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF LOUISIANA
DONNA M. SMITH
CASE NO. 15-2784
THOMAS U. BROWN, et al.
In this litigation, Plaintiff Donna M. Smith (“Plaintiff”), who is proceeding pro se, seeks
damages, as well as injunctive relief, from an array of defendants, including her ex-husband,
Thomas Ussin Brown (“Brown”), under a number of legal theories connected to her state court
divorce proceedings from Brown. 1 Presently pending before the Court is Defendants Gordon
Patton (“Patton”) and the Law Office of Gordon Patton and Sharry I. Sandler (“Sandler”) and the
Law Office of Sharry I. Sandler’s (collectively “Movants”) “Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State
a Claim.”2 Having reviewed the motion, the memoranda in support and in opposition, the record,
and the applicable law, the Court will grant the motion.
In Plaintiff=s Complaint, she alleges that in December 2009, she was granted a divorce from
Brown.3 Afterward, Brown filed a petition for the partition of community property in Civil District
Court for the Parish of Orleans on April 12, 2012.4 On November 6, 2014, Plaintiff and Brown
Rec. Doc. 1.
Rec. Doc. 39.
Rec. Doc. 1 at 5B6.
Rec. Doc. 7-2 at 1.
entered into a written stipulation regarding the partition of their community property, which was
accepted and signed by Judge Regina Bartholomew Woods.5
Plaintiff alleges that, in the underlying state court divorce proceedings, Brown conspired
with his attorney, Chanel R. Debose (“Debose”), to fabricate evidence and commit perjury in order
to deprive Plaintiff of property.6 According to Plaintiff, Debose conspired with Plaintiff’s attorney
in the divorce proceeding, Sandler, to forge Plaintiff’s signature on the stipulated agreement.7
Plaintiff alleges that although she had previously refused to sign the agreement, on November 2,
2014, Sandler misrepresented to her that she was required to sign the agreement by the presiding
judge.8 As to Patton, Plaintiff appears to allege that he appeared pro hac vice for Sandler and also
colluded with opposing counsel to print Plaintiff’s name on the stipulated agreement.9 According
to Movants, Patton appeared on behalf of Sandler at one hearing on March 12, 2014, because
Sandler had recently given birth and could not attend the hearing.10
On December 10, 2014, a Community Property Consent Judgment was rendered in
Plaintiff and Brown’s divorce proceeding.11 Then, Plaintiff, acting without counsel, filed a second
action in state court to annul the final consent judgment in the divorce proceeding, alleging fraud
and ill practice on the part of Brown and duress, coercion, and misrepresentation by Plaintiff’s
Rec. Doc. 1 at 6.
Id. at 3.
Id. at 4.
Id. at 3.
Rec. Doc. 39-1 at 2.
See Brown v. Brown, 2015-1016 (La. App. 4 Cir. 2/24/16), 187 So.3d 538.
attorneys.12 On March 16, 2015, Debose filed peremptory exceptions of no cause of action and no
right of action on behalf of Brown, and those exceptions, as well as Plaintiff’s petition for
annulment of the stipulated agreement, came up for hearing on April 29, 2015.13
On June 2, 2015, Judge Monique E. Barial (“Judge Barial”) signed a judgment granting
Brown’s peremptory exceptions and holding that Plaintiff=s petition for annulment was rendered
moot.14 Plaintiff appealed Judge Barial’s decision granting Brown’s exceptions and denying as
moot Plaintiff’s petition for annulment of the consent judgment in her original divorce
proceeding.15 On February 24, 2016, the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal found that
Judge Barial did not err in granting Brown’s exception of no cause of action.16 However, “out of
an abundance of caution,” the court remanded the case to the trial court to allow Plaintiff to amend
her petition to state a cause of action if possible.17
Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint in federal court on July 20, 2015, claiming that Debose
and Brown concocted a scheme to utilize Judge Barial’s authority to deprive Plaintiff of her rights
and property.18 Plaintiff contends that she was deprived of due process in her original divorce
According to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, Plaintiff initially “collaterally filed a motion to annul the
consent judgment, which was not the proper procedure under La. C.C.P. art. 2004. She subsequently filed a new
petition to annul, and the matters were consolidated.” See Brown v. Brown, 2015-1016 (La. App. 4 Cir. 2/24/16), 187
So.3d 538 n. 1. Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 2004 states that a “final judgment obtained by fraud or ill
practices may be annulled” and that an “action to annul a judgment on these grounds must be brought within one year
of discovery by the plaintiff in the nullity action of the fraud or ill practices.”
Id. at 538.
Rec. Doc. 7-5 at 5.
See Brown v. Brown, 2015-1016 (La. App. 4 Cir. 2/24/16), 187 So.3d 538.
Id. at 542.
Rec. Doc. 1 at 6.
proceeding because of the collusion between the attorneys and in the second action to annul the
consent judgment because of Judge Barial’s refusal to hear from Plaintiff’s new attorney. 19
Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief from the state court judgments and damages.20
Movants filed the instant motion to dismiss on April 20, 2016. 21 Plaintiff filed an
opposition to the motion on August 9, 2016.22
II. Parties= Arguments
Movants’ Arguments in Support of the Motion to Dismiss
In their motion to dismiss, Movants argue that Plaintiff cannot state a claim against them
under federal law, as a claim for malicious prosecution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 would require
proving that, although Patton and Sandler were retained by a private individual, they were
nevertheless state actors.23 According to Movants, to make such a claim actionable, the private
actors would have needed to enter into an agreement with public actors to commit an illegal act,
and a plaintiff’s constitutional rights must have been violated, which would require allegations of
specific facts to show an agreement.24 Movants claim, however, that federal law clearly states that
a lawyer does not conspire with the state or state actors by simply using the legal system to bring
Id. at 7.
Id. at 8.
Rec. Doc. 39.
Rec. Doc. 55.
Rec. Doc. 39-1 at 5 (citing Allen v. Lowe, 2015 WL 1021695 (E.D. La. 2015)). Movants note that their
law and argument is adopted from the law and argument put forth by the Debose Defendants in their motion to dismiss.
See Rec. Doc. 7.
Rec. Doc. 39-1 at 5. (citing Tebo v. Tebo, 550 F.3d 492 (5th Cir. 2008); Priester v. Lowndes Cty., 354 F.3d
414, 421 (5th Cir. 2004)).
a claim against an opposing party.25 Thus, Movants argue, they did not transform into state actors
simply by relying on Louisiana’s legal system to pursue their client’s interests, and likewise did
not conspire with state actors by doing so.26
Next, Movants aver that Plaintiff’s claims are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine
because Plaintiff’s seeking of injunctive relief is an improper collateral attack on a final state court
judgment.27 Movants argue that all of the elements of a Rooker-Feldman claim are met.28 First,
Movants contend that Plaintiff was the “loser” in the state court proceeding.29 Movants claim that
the second element of the doctrine is also satisfied because Plaintiff complains of injuries caused
by the state court judgment, specifically that she was “aggrieved by bias and prejudice in the
process in state court proceedings.”30 Movants aver that the third element of Rooker-Feldman is
also satisfied because a final judgment was rendered in state court before the federal pleadings
commenced.31 Finally, Movants contend, the fourth element of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is
satisfied because Plaintiff is seeking review and rejection of the state court’s judgment, specifically
Id. (citing Dennis v. Sparks, 449 U.S. 24, 28 (1980) (holding that merely resorting to the courts and being
on the winning side of a lawsuit dose not make a party a coconspirator or a joint actor with government officials));
Richard v. Hoechst Celanese Chem. Grp., Inc. (355 F.3d 354, 353 (5th Cir. 2003) (holding that even if a judge reaches
a decision based on misinformation that counsel provides, the issuance of the decision does not imply that counsel
acted under the color of state law)).
Id. at 6 (citing Glotfelty v. Karas, 512 F. App’x 409 (5th Cir. 2013)).
Id. According to Movants, the doctrine applies only where: (1) the plaintiff is the loser of a proceeding in
state court; (2) the plaintiff complains of injuries caused by the state court judgment; (3) the judgment was rendered
before the federal proceedings commenced; and (4) the plaintiff seeks review and rejection of the state court judgment.
Id. (citing Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005)).
injunctive relief from the judgment.32 According to Movants, such a collateral attack is explicitly
barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.33
Movants next argue that Plaintiff’s claims for general and punitive damages are also barred
by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because they are “inextricably intertwined” with the state court
judgment.34 Movants allege that a lengthy line of Fifth Circuit decisions holds “that litigants may
not obtain review of state court actions by filing complaints about those actions in lower federal
courts cast in the form of civil rights suits.”35 Furthermore, they allege, that principle is not limited
to actions “which candidly seek review of the state court decree; it extends to others in which ‘the
constitutional claims presented [in federal court] are inextricably intertwined with the state court’s
grant or denial of relief.’”36
Movants cite Turner v. Chase, a Fifth Circuit case in which they represent that a plaintiff
sued all parties involved in her state court divorce proceeding, alleging that the parties, including
the judge, her ex-husband, and her ex-husband’s attorney, “conspired together to deprive her of
her constitutional rights.”37 Movants aver that, in that case, the plaintiff had asked a court in the
Eastern District of Louisiana to vacate a state court judgment of divorce and urged the court to
find all of the defendants liable for equitable relief, including punitive damages, for their alleged
Id. at 8.
Id. (citing Hale v. Harney, 786 F.2d 688, 691 (5th Cir. 1986)).
Id. (citing Hale, 786 F.2d at 691).
Id. (citing Hale, 786 F.2d at 691 (quoting Dist. of Columbia Ct. of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482
Id. (citing 334 F. App’x 657, 658 (5th Cir. 2009)).
collusion to violate her constitutional rights.38 According to Movants, the Fifth Circuit upheld the
district court’s decision to dismiss the plaintiff’s complaint based on Rooker-Feldman.39 Movants
urge the Court to follow the lead of Turner and dismiss the claims here that, as in Turner, seek
relief from a state court judgment while also asserting claims for damages against the parties to
Movants’ final argument is that dismissal is appropriate because Plaintiff’s claim is barred
by res judicata.41 According to Movants, Louisiana law provides that a second action is precluded
when all of the following are satisfied: “(1) the judgment is valid; (2) the judgment is final; (3) the
parties are the same; (4) the cause or causes of action asserted in the second suit existed at the time
of final judgment in the first litigation; (5) the cause or causes of action asserted in the second suit
arose out of the transaction or occurrence that was the subject matter of the first litigation.”42 Here,
they argue, the trial court’s June 2, 2015 judgment was valid because it was rendered by a court
with jurisdiction over both the subject matter and parties after proper notice was given. 43
Furthermore, Movants claim, the judgment was final.44
Next, Movants argue that the third element of claim preclusion is met because the parties
in this action are the same as those in the state court action.45 Here, Movants claim, they share an
Id. at 9 (citing Turner, 334 F. App’x at 659).
Id. at 10 (quoting Burguieres v. Pollingue, 2002-1385 (La. 2/25/03), 843 So. 2d 1049, 1053).
Id. at 11.
Id. (citing Everything on Wheels Subaru, Inc. v. Subaru S., Inc., 616 So. 2d 1234 (La. 1993)).
Id. (citing Beavers v. CitiMortgage, Inc., 2015 WL 2383810 (E.D. La. May 19, 2015); Berrigan v. Deutsch,
undisputed identity of interest with Plaintiff, a party to the state court proceeding whom they
represented.46 Moreover, Movants argue that Plaintiff should have brought any claims against her
counsel for fraud in inducement in state court.47 As Plaintiff’s counsel, Movants claim, their only
interest in the underlying proceeding was to represent Plaintiff’s interests, and they are therefore
“privies,” satisfying the third element of claim preclusion.48
Movants contend that the fourth and fifth elements of claim preclusion are also met here
because Plaintiff’s claims in this case ultimately rest on the proposition that the state court’s
judgments were invalid.49 According to Movants, these claims existed at the time that the June 2,
2015 judgment became final, and arise out of the same transaction and occurrence as the state court
proceedings, and are thus barred by the doctrine of res judicata.50
Plaintiff’s Arguments in Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss
In her opposition, Plaintiff asserts that the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal
remanded her case to the trial court with instructions on February 24, 2016, and asks the Court to
take judicial notice of the decision and to “adhere to the decision therein.”51 Plaintiff argues that
there are genuine issues of material fact precluding summary dismissal of her federal and state law
Kerrigan & Stiles, LLP, 2001-0612 (La. App. 4 Cir. 1/2/02)).
Id. at 12 (citing Meza v. Gen. Battery Corp., 908 F.2d 1262, 1266, 1272 (5th Cir. 1990)).
Id. (citing Beavers, 2015 WL 2383810, at *10).
Id. at 12–13.
Rec. Doc. 55 at 3.
claims against Movants.52 Plaintiff also asserts that an entry of default has been granted against
Patton. 53 Plaintiff argues that her Complaint sufficiently pleads a claim against Movants and
argues that she should be allowed to amend her Complaint if the Court decides otherwise.54
Plaintiff next argues that she was deprived of her constitutional rights under the First and
Fourteenth Amendments when Sandler accepted the judicial determination of the descriptive
property list prepared by Brown’s attorney without any evidence to support the calculations
contained in the list.55 Plaintiff avers that Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 863 requires
a reasonable inquiry into facts prior to the signing of pleadings by attorneys and that Sandler and
Patton did not abide by this rule.56 Because she has not had her day in court, Plaintiff argues that
dismissal is not warranted.57 Plaintiff also argues that she has stated a claim under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, because she has been deprived and denied of her home and money by all Defendants.58
Plaintiff contends that the Rooker-Feldman and res judicata doctrines are inapplicable in
these proceedings considering the ruling of the state court of appeal.59 Plaintiff avers that Sandler’s
acceptance of the descriptive property list without any evidence “appears to constitute a fraud,
breach of contract, trust, confidence, and fiduciary duties to her client.”60 Plaintiff also appears to
Id. at 3–4.
Id. at 7.
Id. at 8.
Id. at 8–9.
Id. at 10.
argue that assigning Patton to appear pro hac vice on behalf of Plaintiff violated the professional
code of conduct and ethics rules.61 Plaintiff also argues that Sandler, as a defendant in this case, is
violating Rule 7.1 by representing Patton, a defendant with “collaborative fault.” 62 Finally,
Plaintiff argues that Sandler was negligent in her representation of Plaintiff and that Plaintiff
sustained damages as a result of Sandler’s negligence.63
III. Law and Analysis
Legal Standard on a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction
“Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction,” and “possess only that power
authorized by Constitution and statute.”64 It is a “first principle of jurisdiction” that a federal court
must dismiss an action “whenever it appears that subject matter jurisdiction is lacking.” 65
Accordingly, a claim is “properly dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction when the
[C]ourt lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate” it.66 “When a Rule 12(b)(1)
motion is filed in conjunction with other Rule 12 motions, the court should consider the Rule
12(b)(1) jurisdictional attack before addressing any attack on the merits.”67 This practice “prevents
a court without jurisdiction from prematurely dismissing a case with prejudice.”68 When opposing
Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994) (citations omitted).
Smith v. Brown, No. 15-2784, 2016 WL 952255, at *6 (E.D. La. March 14, 2016) (Brown, J.) (citing 5B
Charles A. Wright, Arthur R. Miller, et al., Federal Practice & Procedure § 1530 (3d ed. 2014)).
In re FEMA Trailer, 668 F.3d at 286 (citations omitted).
Ramming v. U.S., 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001) (citations omitted).
In re FEMA Trailer Formaldehyde Prod. Liab. Litig. (Mississippi Plaintiffs), 668 F.3d 281, 286–87 (5th
a 12(b)(1) motion, as at all other times, the party asserting jurisdiction bears the burden to prove
that the Court has jurisdiction.69
The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
Federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction to review or modify the final decisions of
state courts unless there is a federal statute that specifically permits such a review.70 This “firmly
established” principle is known as the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.71 Application of the doctrine is
limited 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.”72 Federal authority to review a state court judgment lies
exclusively with the Supreme Court of the United States.73
Although Movants have styled the instant motion as a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for
failure to state a claim, Movants make numerous arguments in support of dismissing the claims
against them, including that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars review of those claims.74 Movants
argue that Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief from the state court judgment and that her claims seeking
Cir. 2012) (citations omitted).
Smith, 2016 WL 952255, at *6 (citing Ramming, 281 F.3d at 161).
Union Planters Bank Nat’l Ass’n, 369 F.3d 457, 462 (5th Cir. 2004).
Liedtke v. State Bar of Tex., 18 F.3d 315, 317 (5th Cir. 1994) (citing Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S.
413 (1923); D.C. Ct. of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983)).
Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005).
Id. at 292; Hale v. Harney, 786 F.2d 688, 691 (5th Cir. 1986) (“Judicial errors committed in state courts
are for correction in the state court systems, at the head of which stands the United States Supreme Court; such errors
are no business of ours.”).
See Rec. Doc. 39-1 at 6.
injunctive relief are barred from consideration by this Court under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.75
Movants further contend that Plaintiff’s claims for which she seeks general and punitive damages
are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because they are “inextricably intertwined” with the
state court judgment.76 Movants urge the Court to follow the lead of Turner v. Chase, a Fifth
Circuit case upholding an order dismissing a case under Rooker-Feldman in which a plaintiff sued
all parties involved in her state court divorce proceedings, alleging that the parties, including the
judge, her ex-husband, and her ex-husband’s attorney, “conspired together to deprive her of her
In the Complaint, Plaintiff brings federal and state law claims against Movants and seeks
both injunctive relief from the state court judgments and damages.78 Accordingly, the Court will
first consider whether it is barred pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine from considering
Plaintiff’s claims against Movants to the extent that she explicitly seeks injunctive relief from a
state court judgment and if so, whether, construing Plaintiff’s Complaint liberally, Plaintiff’s
claims, for which she also seeks damages, constitute independent claims beyond the scope of
Whether the Court is Barred from Considering Plaintiff’s Claims for which
she Seeks Injunctive Relief Pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
“The Supreme Court has definitively established, in what has become known as the
Id. at 8.
Id. (citing Hale v. Harney, 786 F.2d 688, 691 (5th Cir. 1986)).
Id. (citing 334 Fed. App’x 657 (2009)).
See Rec. Doc. 1 at 8. In the section of the Complaint entitled “Prayer for Relief,” Plaintiff explicitly prays
for injunctive relief from the state court judgments and also prays that all Defendants are held liable for damages
caused by their acts and omissions. The Court notes that Plaintiff does not tie her requests for relief to specific claims
and instead generally requests both injunctive relief and damages for her claims against Defendants.
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, that federal district courts, as courts of original jurisdiction, lack
appellate jurisdiction to review, modify, or nullify final orders of state courts.”79 As an initial
matter, the Court notes that in her Complaint, Plaintiff appears to seek injunctive relief from both
(1) the final community property consent judgment in Plaintiff’s original divorce proceedings; and
(2) Judge Barial’s decision to grant Brown’s peremptory exceptions in the second state action.80
The consent judgment in Plaintiff’s original state divorce proceeding appears to be final, as
evidenced by the fact that Plaintiff brought a second action to annul the consent judgment in her
original divorce proceeding pursuant to Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 2004.81 Article
2004 provides that a “final judgment obtained by fraud or ill practices may be annulled” and that
an action to annul a judgment on these grounds must be brought within one year of discovery of
the fraud or ill practices.82
However, it is unclear from the current record whether Judge Barial’s decision to grant
Brown’s peremptory exceptions is now final in the second action. Plaintiff argues that the RookerFeldman doctrine is inapplicable to this case, because the Louisiana Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal
remanded the second state action to the trial court.83 However, Plaintiff’s claims against Movants
challenge only the first state action, not the second. Plaintiff’s Complaint does not contain any
allegations that Movants were involved in the second state proceeding before Judge Barial to annul
Weekly v. Morrow, 204 F.3d 613, 615 (5th Cir. 2000) (emphasis added) (internal quotation marks and
See Rec. Doc. 1 at 3, 8.
See Brown v. Brown, 2015-1016 (La. App. 4 Cir. 2/24/16) 187 So.3d 538 n. 1.
La. Code Civ. P. art. 2004.
Rec. Doc. 55 at 9.
the consent judgment from the original divorce proceeding. Rather, Plaintiff’s Complaint solely
alleges claims related to Movants’ involvement in the original divorce proceeding and the final
consent judgment rendered in that proceeding.84 In fact, the record reflects that Patton and Sandler
no longer represented Plaintiff in the second proceeding to annul the consent judgment.85
Thus, the fact that Plaintiff brought a second proceeding in state court to annul the final
consent judgment and that a judgment may be pending in that proceeding is not relevant to the
Court’s analysis here. To the extent that Plaintiff brings claims against Movants for which she
seeks review and rejection of a final state court judgment rendered before the instant action began,
i.e. the consent judgment rendered in the state divorce proceeding, the Court is barred from
considering such claims for which Plaintiff seeks injunctive relief pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman
Whether Plaintiff’s Claims for which she Seeks Damages Constitute
Independent Claims beyond the Scope of Rooker-Feldman
In addition to seeking injunctive relief, Plaintiff also seeks relief in the form of damages
for her claims against Movants. Accordingly, construing Plaintiff’s Complaint liberally, the Court
will consider whether Plaintiff’s claims against Movants constitute independent claims beyond the
scope of Rooker-Feldman. Plaintiff alleges that Movants colluded with Brown’s attorney to forge
Plaintiff’s signature on the stipulated agreement in her state divorce proceeding.87 As noted by the
See Rec. Doc. 1 at 4.
See id. at 7. See also Brown, 187 So.3d 538.
See Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005) (holding that application of
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is limited to cases “brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by statecourt judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and
rejection of those judgments”).
Rec. Doc. 1 at 8.
Court supra, the record reflects that Movants were only involved in the original state divorce
proceeding, and Plaintiff’s factual allegations against Movants only relate to the original state
divorce proceeding—not to the decision later rendered by Judge Barial in the second state action.
Movants argue that Plaintiff’s claims against them do not constitute independent claims
and must be dismissed as “inextricably intertwined with the state court” judgment under RookerFeldman. 88 The Fifth Circuit in Truong v. Bank of America, N.A. warned that “‘inextricably
intertwined’ does not enlarge the core holding of Rooker or Feldman.”89 There, the Fifth Circuit
explained that the two hallmarks of the Rooker-Feldman inquiry are: (1) “what the federal court is
being asked to review and reject;” and (2) “the source of the federal plaintiff’s alleged injury.”90
As Truong recognized, the Supreme Court had cautioned that in light of the “narrow ground”
Rooker-Feldman occupies, “it does not prohibit a plaintiff from ‘present[ing] 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.’”91
However, in Truong, the Fifth Circuit also made a point to note that there is no “general
rule that any claim that relies on a fraud allegation is an ‘independent claim’ for Rooker-Feldman
purposes.”92 The Fifth Circuit cited a number of cases in which it had held that Rooker-Feldman
barred claims that judgments were fraudulently procured because the relief requested would
717 F.3d 377, 385 (5th Cir. 2013).
Id. at 382 (citing Exxon Mobil Corp., 544 U.S. at 284).
Id. (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp., 544 U.S. at 293).
Id. at 384 n.3.
necessarily include reversing a state court judgment.93 Truong also approvingly cited Turner v.
Chase,94 the case relied upon by Movants, as well as Turner v. Cade95 and Sookma v. Millard,96
all unpublished decisions in which the Fifth Circuit held that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred
claims that state court divorce decrees were procured through fraud because the federal plaintiffs
had sought to void the adverse state court judgments.97 In fact, Sookma involved a similar claim
that the plaintiff’s state court opponents and state judges conspired to deprive her of civil rights
through fraud.98 There, the Fifth Circuit found that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred review
because the plaintiff sought, in addition to damages, to enjoin the enforcement of a state divorce
decree.99 By contrast, in the older Fifth Circuit cases cited in Truong for the proposition that a
district court may have jurisdiction over “independent claims” that do not seek to merely overturn
the state court judgment, the plaintiffs, unlike Plaintiff in the instant litigation, did not bring a
direct attack on the judgment of a state court.100
Id. (citing Magor v. GMAC Mortg., L.L.C., 456 F. App’x 334, 336 (5th Cir. 2011) (holding that Rooker–
Feldman bars a claim that a state foreclosure judgment was procured through fraud because “reversal of the state
court's foreclosure judgment would be a necessary part of the relief requested”); United States v. Shepherd, 23 F.3d
923, 924–25 (5th Cir. 1994) (holding that Rooker–Feldman prohibits a district court from voiding state foreclosure
judgments, notwithstanding claims that the judgments were fraudulently procured)).
334 F. App’x 657, 659–60 (5th Cir. 2009).
354 F. App’x 108, 110–11 (5th Cir. 2009).
151 F. App’x 299, 300–01 (5th Cir. 2005).
See Truong, 717 F.3d at 384 n.3.
Sookma, 151 F. App’x at 300–01.
See, e.g., Drake v. St. Paul Travelers Ins. Co., 353 F. App’x 901, 905 (5th Cir. 2009) (“In his present
complaint, [Plaintiff] is not inviting the district court to review and reject the judgment of the Texas state courts.
Instead, [the plaintiff] is seeking damages for [a defendant’s] allegedly fraudulent statements. Thus, Rooker-Feldman
is inapplicable in this case.”); Illinois Cent. R. Co. v. Guy, 682 F.3d 381, 391 (5th Cir. 2012) (“The Rooker-Feldman
doctrine does not apply to this case because adjudicating [the plaintiff’s] claims did not require the district court to
review any final judgment rendered by a state court.”).
Here, Plaintiff’s Complaint explicitly seeks both injunctive relief from the state court
judgment and damages.101 The harm she alleges that she has suffered was a denial of her property
rights, namely those that she alleges she was deprived of by Patton and Sandler’s collusion with
Brown’s attorney to forge Plaintiff’s signature on the consent agreement in her divorce
proceeding.102 In fact, Plaintiff explicitly argues that Sandler and Brown’s attorney “intentionally
designed and implemented a fraudulent scheme to deprive her of her legal rights and interests” and
that the consent agreement forged by Sandler and Brown’s attorney violated Plaintiff’s
constitutional rights.103 Similar to the defendants in Sookma, Patton and Sandler are accused of
colluding with opposing counsel to deprive Plaintiff of due process, as well as producing fabricated
documents and manipulating evidence in order to influence the judge in the underlying divorce
As the Fifth Circuit has held, a plaintiff cannot circumvent the jurisdictional limit outlined
by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine by asserting claims not raised in the state court proceedings or
claims framed as original claims for relief.105 If a federal district court is confronted with issues
that are “inextricably intertwined” with a state judgment, the court is “in essence being called upon
to review the state-court decisions,” and federal review is prohibited.106 Therefore, the fact that
Plaintiff brings claims against Movants that were not raised in the underlying divorce proceeding
Rec. Doc. 1 at 3.
Id. at 4.
Id. at 4, 7.
Id. at 6.
U.S. v. Shepherd, 23 F.3d 923, 924 (5th Cir. 1994).
Id. (citing Feldman, 460 U.S. at 482 n. 16).
does not negate the fact that the relief she ultimately seeks is the voiding of the final consent
judgment in her state divorce proceeding.
The Court notes that Plaintiff alleges a range of claims against Movants that were not raised
in the original state proceeding, but each of these claims implicates the underlying state court
judgment, such that the “true thrust of these allegations is against the merits of the divorce
proceedings.”107 Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s claims against Movants for which
she seeks damages in addition to injunctive relief are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine
because they are “inextricably intertwined” with the underlying state divorce judgment and the
Court could not rule in Plaintiff’s favor without overturning the state court. 108 The fact that
Plaintiff seeks damages in addition to injunctive relief does not negate the fact that Plaintiff’s
claims against Movants ultimately constitute a collateral attack on the state court decree and that
Plaintiff ultimately seeks to overturn or void a state court judgment, relief that this Court lacks
subject matter jurisdiction to grant.109
Although the Court construes pro se complaints liberally, Plaintiff bears the burden of
Bell v. Valdez, 207 F.3d 657 (5th Cir. 2000) (quoting Wijas v. Nelson, 1994 WL 117988, at *1 (7th Cir.
See Shepherd, 23 F.3d at 924. See also Turner v. Chase, 334 F. App’x 657 (5th Cir. 2009) (per curiam)
(upholding district court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s civil rights action against ex-husband and attorneys involved in her
state-court divorce proceedings under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and agreeing that the action fell “squarely in the
category of cases covered by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine”); Turner v. Cade, 354 F. App’x 108 (5th Cir. 2009)
(upholding lower court’s dismissal of plaintiff’s civil rights action against ex-husband and lawyers involved in state
divorce proceeding under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and finding that the “sole cause of Appellant’s alleged injury
is the state court judgment, but Appellant attempts to classify her alleged injury as civil rights violations, which the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits”); Bell v. Valdez, 207 F.3d 657 (5th Cir. 2000) (per curiam) (finding that a district
court lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine to review a plaintiff’s civil rights action
against her ex-husband and judge in her divorce proceeding and noting that the “Rooker-Feldman doctrine has
frequently been used to dismiss civil rights complaints that . . . are in essence challenges to state court divorce decrees”)
(internal citation omitted).
See Shepherd, 23 F.3d at 924.
establishing federal jurisdiction,110 and she has failed to carry that burden here. Accordingly, the
Court finds that because Plaintiff seeks review and relief from the final state court judgment,
pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over her
claims against Movants.
Moreover, even if the Court were to find that it was not barred from considering Plaintiff’s
federal claims under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985(2),111 it would dismiss these claims pursuant to
Rule 12(b)(6), because Plaintiff has not shown state action as required under Section 1983 or
interference with the administration of justice in federal court as required under Section 1985(2).112
Once this Court dismisses the federal claims against Movants, for whichever of these aforesaid
reasons, it, in its discretion, would decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s
remaining state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367 and hereby dismisses those claims without
Finally, the Court notes that Plaintiff argues in her opposition that Patton is in default.113
However, the Court determined in a prior Order that an entry of default as to Patton was
Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158 (5th Cir. 2001).
The Court notes that it is difficult to determine which claims Plaintiff intends to bring against Movants,
as she simply states in her Complaint that her action is brought against “defendant parties” pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§
1983 and 1985(2). Out of an abundance of caution, the Court addresses both statutes here.
See Mylett v. Jeane, 879 F.2d 1272, 1275 (5th Cir. 1989) (holding that a private citizen may only be held
liable under Section 1983 where the plaintiff alleges “that the citizen conspired with or acted in concert with state
actors”). See also Priester v. Lowndes Cnty., 354 F.3d 414, 420 (5th Cir. 2004) (internal citation omitted) (holding
that in order to succeed in a Section 1983 suit against a private citizen, the plaintiff must allege an agreement between
the private and public defendants to commit an illegal act and that “[a]llegations that are merely conclusory, without
reference to specific facts, will not suffice”); Daigle v. Gulf State Utilities Co., Local Union No. 2286, 794 F.2d 974,
979 (5th Cir. 1986) (stating that a claim under § 1985(2) requires that there has been an interference with the federal
Rec. Doc. 55 at 5.
erroneously granted by the Clerk of Court due to an oversight.114 Thus, Patton is not in default.
The Court finds that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claims against
Movants pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, because Plaintiff seeks relief from the final
state court judgment in her divorce proceeding and Plaintiff’s claims against Movants for which
she also seeks damages are “inextricably intertwined” with that judgment.115 Moreover, even if
the Court were to consider Plaintiff’s claims against Movants, it would dismiss Plaintiff’s federal
claims against Movants pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) and decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction
over Plaintiff’s state law claims against Movants pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Patton Defendants and Sandler Defendants’ “Motion
to Dismiss”116 is GRANTED.
NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA, this 23rd day of March, 2017.
NANNETTE JOLIVETTE BROWN
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
See Rec. Doc. 59.
See Shepherd, 23 F.3d at 924.
Rec. Doc. 39.
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