Vos v. Gough Family Trust et al
Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Plaintiff's request to proceed in forma pauperis. This action is dismissed as the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. An appeal from this decision could not be taken in good faith. Judge John R. Adams on 12/15/15. (K,C)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF OHIO
DONALD L. VOS,
THE GOUGH FAMILY TRUST, et al.,
CASE NO. 4:15 CV 2239
JUDGE JOHN R. ADAMS
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION
On November 2, 2015, Plaintiff pro se Donald L. Vos filed this in forma pauperis action
against the following Defendants: The Gough Family Trust, Jefferson Gough, Attorney K. Brett
Apple, Judge Scott Washam, Chesapeak Exploration, L.L.C., and Jane Doe Beneficiary of
Gough Family Trust. While the Complaint is unclear, Plaintiff apparently seeks to challenge a
decision of the Columbiana County Court of Common Pleas in a forcible entry and detainer
action.1 He asserts the decision is a product of a conspiracy among the Defendants, and violates
Plaintiff’s constitutional rights and Ohio law.
Although pro se pleadings are liberally construed, Boag v. MacDougall, 454 U.S. 364,
365 (1982) (per curiam), the district court is required to dismiss an action under 28 U.S.C. §
1915(e) if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, or if it lacks an arguable basis
in law or fact.2 Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319 (1989); Hill v. Lappin, 630 F.3d 468, 470 (6th
See, ECF No. 3 in the instant case, wherein Plaintiff requests a stay of Judge Washam’s
judgment against him in forcible entry and detainer.
An in forma pauperis claim may be dismissed sua sponte, without prior notice to the
plaintiff and without service of process on the defendant, if the court explicitly states that
A cause of action fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted when it lacks
“plausibility in the complaint.” Bell At. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 564 (2007). A
pleading must contain a “short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 677-78 (2009). The factual allegations in the
pleading must be sufficient to raise the right to relief above the speculative level on the
assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The
plaintiff is not required to include detailed factual allegations, but must provide more than “an
unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me accusation.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (2009). A
pleading that offers legal conclusions or a simple recitation of the elements of a cause of action
will not meet this pleading standard. Id.
Principles requiring generous construction of pro se pleadings are not without limits.
Beaudett v. City of Hampton, 775 F.2d 1274, 1277 (4th Cir. 1985). A complaint must contain
either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements of some viable legal
theory to satisfy federal notice pleading requirements. See Schied v. Fanny Farmer Candy
Shops, Inc., 859 F.2d 434, 437 (6th Cir. 1988). District courts are not required to conjure up
questions never squarely presented to them or to construct full blown claims from sentence
fragments. Beaudette, 775 F.2d at 1278. To do so would "require ...[the courts] to explore
exhaustively all potential claims of a pro se plaintiff, ... [and] would...transform the district court
from its legitimate advisory role to the improper role of an advocate seeking out the strongest
arguments and most successful strategies for a party." Id.
Even construing the Complaint liberally in a light most favorable to the Plaintiff, Brand v.
Motley, 526 F.3d 921, 924 (6th Cir. 2008), it does not contain allegations reasonably suggesting
it is invoking section 1915(e) [formerly 28 U.S.C. § 1915(d)] and is dismissing the claim
for one of the reasons set forth in the statute. Chase Manhattan Mortg. Corp. v. Smith,
507 F.3d 910, 915 (6th Cir. 2007); Gibson v. R.G. Smith Co., 915 F.2d 260, 261 (6th Cir.
1990); Harris v. Johnson, 784 F.2d 222, 224 (6th Cir. 1986).
he might have a valid claim for relief. Federal courts do not have jurisdiction to overturn state
court decisions even if the request to reverse the state court judgment is based on an allegation
that the state court’s action was unconstitutional. Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus.
Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 292 (2005). Federal appellate review of state court judgments can only
occur in the United States Supreme Court, by appeal or by writ of certiorari. Id. Under this
principle, generally referred to as the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine, a party losing in state court is
barred from seeking what in substance would be appellate review of the state judgment in a
United States District Court based on the party’s claim that the state judgment itself violates
federal rights. Berry v. Schmitt, 688 F.3d 290, 298-99 (6th Cir. 2012).
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is based on two United States Supreme Court decisions
interpreting 28 U.S.C. § 1257(a).3 See District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460
U.S. 462 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923). This statute was enacted to
prevent “end-runs around state court judgments” by requiring litigants seeking review of that
judgment to file a writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. The doctrine is based
on the negative inference that, if appellate court review of state judgments is vested in the United
States Supreme Court, then such review may not occur in the lower federal courts. Exxon Mobil
Corp., 544 U.S. at 283-84; Kovacic v. Cuyahoga County Dep't of Children and Family Services,
606 F.3d 301, 308-311 (6th Cir. 2010); Lawrence v. Welch, 531 F.3d 364, 369 (6th Cir. 2008).
28 U.S.C. § 1257(a) provides:
Final judgments or decrees rendered by the highest court of a State
in which a decision could be had, may be reviewed by the Supreme
Court by writ of certiorari where the validity of a treaty or statute
of the United States is drawn in question or where the validity of a
statute of any State is drawn in question on the ground of its being
repugnant to the Constitution, treaties, or laws of the United States,
or where any title, right, privilege, or immunity is specially set up
or claimed under the Constitution or the treaties or statutes of, or
any commission held or authority exercised under, the United
To determine whether Rooker–Feldman bars a claim, the Court must look to the “source
of the injury the plaintiff alleges in the federal complaint.” McCormick v. Braverman, 451 F.3d
382, 393 (6th Cir.2006); see Berry, 688 F.3d at 299; Kovacic, 606 F.3d at 310. If the source of
the plaintiff's injury is the state-court judgment itself, then the Rooker–Feldman doctrine bars the
federal claim. McCormick, 451 F.3d at 393. “If there is some other source of injury, such as a
third party's actions, then the plaintiff asserts an independent claim.” Id.; see Lawrence, 531 F.3d
at 368–69. In conducting this inquiry, the court should also consider the plaintiff’s requested
relief. Evans v. Cordray, No. 09–3998, 2011 WL 2149547, at *1 (6th Cir. May 27, 2011).
Plaintiff seeks to directly attack the state court’s decision in his case. Any review of the
federal claims asserted in this context would require the court to review the specific issues
addressed in the state court proceedings. This Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to conduct
such a review or grant the relief requested. Feldman, 460 U.S. at 483-84 n. 16; Catz, 142 F.3d
Accordingly, the request to proceed in forma pauperis is granted, and this action is
dismissed under section 1915(e). The Court certifies, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3), that an
appeal from this decision could not be taken in good faith.
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Date: December 15, 2015
/s/ John R. Adams
JOHN R. ADAMS
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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