PBCBA BAR BULLETINS pbcba_bulletin_january 2019 - Page 8
BANKRUPTCY C o r n e r
Rooker-Feldman Requires Finality in State Court
JASON S. RIGOLI
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars federal
courts from reviewing and reversing
state court civil judgments because only
the United States Supreme Court has
jurisdiction to review such judgments.
Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413
(1923) and District of Columbia Court of
Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983). See
also 28 U.S.C. § 1257.
The Eleventh Circuit recently
issued an opinion on the application of
Rooker-Feldman in Bertam, et al., v. HSBC
Mortgage Services, Inc. (In re Bertram), --
Fed.Appx. --, 2018 WL 5797725 (11th Cir. Nov.
5, 2018). Citing to its earlier opinions, the
Eleventh Circuit stated:
The Rooker-Feldman [doctrine] bars
litigation in federal court of claims that
were actually raised in the state court
and those “inextricably intertwined”
with the state court judgment. Casale v.
Tillman, 558 F.3d 1258, 1260 (11th Cir. 2009).
“A claim is inextricably intertwined if it
would effectively nullify the state court
judgment, or it succeeds only to the extent
that the state court wrongly decided the
issues.” Id. (internal quotation marks
and citation omitted). The doctrine does
not apply, however, where “the plaintiff
had no reasonable opportunity to raise
his federal claim in state proceedings.”
Powell v. Powell, 80 F.3d 464, 467 (11th Cir.
1996) (internal quotation marks omitted).
We have explained that “[a] claim about
conduct occurring after a state court
decision cannot be either the same claim
or one ‘inextricably intertwined’ with that
state court decision, and thus cannot be
barred under Rooker-Feldman.” Target
Media Partners v. Specialty Mktg. Corp., 881
F.3d 1279, 1286 (11th Cir. 2018).
The Supreme Court has cautioned that
the scope of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine
is narrow and “confined to cases of the
kind from which the doctrine acquired
its name: 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.” Exxon Mobil Corp.,
544 U.S. at 284, 125 S.Ct. 1517. The doctrine
is inapplicable if the federal action was
commenced before the state proceedings
ended. Nicholson v. Shafe, 558 F.3d 1266,
1274-75 (11th Cir. 2009). State proceedings
end, for purposes of the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine when: (1) “the highest state court
in which review is available has affirmed
the judgment below and nothing is left
to be resolved,” (2) “the state action has
reached a point where neither party seeks
further action,” or (3) “the state court
proceedings have finally resolved all the
federal questions in the litigation, but state
law or purely factual questions (whether
great or small) remain to be litigated.” Id. at
1275 (internal quotation marks omitted). As
to the second scenario, a state proceeding
ends when the losing party allows the
time for appeal to expire. Id. Conversely,
state proceedings remain pending when
“the losing party ... does not allow the time
for appeal to expire (but instead, files an
appeal).” Id. It follows that state proceedings
have not ended if an appeal from the state
court judgment remains pending at the
time that the plaintiff files the federal case.
In this circumstance, if the state appellate
court affirms the lower court’s judgment
after the federal case is filed, the federal
court retains jurisdiction. Id. at 1279 n.13.
Bertram, at *4.
So, if the federal action is
commenced prior to the state court
judgment becoming “final” the losing party
can get a “federal court review” of the case.
And, even where stay relief is granted, and
a final judgment is subsequently entered by
the state court the federal court will not lose
its jurisdiction to continue to prosecute its
action. Bertram, at *4 (citing Nicholson v.
Shafe, 558 F.3d 1266, 1274-75 (11th Cir. 2009)).
This article is submitted by Jason S. Rigoli, Esq., Furr
Cohen, 2255 Glades Road, Suite 301E, Boca Raton, FL
33431, jr[email protected]