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]