United States District Court, D. Arizona
S. Willett, United States Magistrate Judge
Court has reviewed the Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 14) filed by
Defendants Hon. Boyd T. Johnson and Arizona Attorney General
Mark Brnovich (the “State Defendants”),
Plaintiffs' Response (Doc. 16), and Defendants' Reply
(Doc. 21). For the reasons set forth herein, the Court
concludes that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over
Plaintiffs' Complaint (Doc. 1). The State Defendants'
Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 14) will be granted. The remaining
pending Motions (Docs. 2, 11) will be denied as moot.
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, a case
presumably lies outside the jurisdiction of the federal
courts unless proven otherwise. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life
Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). The Court is
obligated to determine sua sponte whether it has subject
matter jurisdiction. See Valdez v. Allstate Ins.
Co., 372 F.3d 1115, 1116 (9th Cir. 2004); see
also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3) (“If the court
determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter
jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action.”). A
defendant may move to dismiss an action for lack of subject
matter jurisdiction pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a federal district
court has no authority to review the final determinations of
a state court in judicial proceedings. Dist. of Columbia
Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 476 (1983);
Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415-16
(1923). “The purpose of the doctrine is to protect
state judgments from collateral federal attack. Because
district courts lack power to hear direct appeals from state
court decisions, they must decline jurisdiction whenever they
are ‘in essence called upon to review the state court
decision.'” Doe & Assocs. Law Offices v.
Napolitano, 252 F.3d 1026, 1030 (9th Cir. 2001) (quoting
Feldman, 460 U.S. at 482 n.16).
federal action constitutes such a de facto appeal
where ‘claims raised in the federal court action are
‘inextricably intertwined' with the state
court's decision such that the adjudication of the
federal claims would undercut the state ruling or require the
district court to interpret the application of state laws or
procedural rules.'” Reusser v. Wachovia Bank,
N.A., 525 F.3d 855, 859 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting
Bianchi v. Rylaarsdam, 334 F.3d 895, 898 (9th Cir.
2003)) (emphasis in original). “Where the district
court must hold that the state court was wrong in order to
find in favor of the plaintiff, the issues presented to both
courts are inextricably intertwined” and the action is
properly dismissed under the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine. Doe & Assocs., 252 F.3d at 1030. In
addition, “[i]f the injury alleged resulted from the
state court judgment itself, Rooker-Feldman directs
that the lower federal courts lack jurisdiction.”
Bianchi, 334 F.3d at 900; see also GASH
Associates v. Village of Rosemont, Ill., 995 F.2d 726,
728 (7th Cir. 1993) (holding that Rooker-Feldman
barred the action “because the plaintiffs' injury
stemmed from the state judgment-an erroneous judgment,
perhaps, entered after procedures said to be
unconstitutional, but a judgment nonetheless.”).
summarize, under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a
plaintiff may not initiate a federal district court action
that: (i) directly challenges a state court holding or
decision; or (ii) indirectly challenges a state court holding
or decision by raising claims in federal court that are
inextricably intertwined with the state court judgment, even
if the claim is that the state court's actions were
unconstitutional. See Feldman, 460 U.S. at 486. Only
the Supreme Court may entertain a direct appeal from a state
court judgment. Id.
2011, Plaintiffs filed an action in Pinal County Superior
Court (Case No. 1100-CV-201102200). (Doc. 2 at 7). In a March
27, 2012 Order, the Pinal County Superior Court issued
judgment in favor of the defendants in that
case. (Doc. 14 at 39-40). On August 16, 2013,
Plaintiffs filed a Motion to Vacate the judgment, which the
Superior Court denied on August 22, 2013. (Id. at
42-49). The Arizona Court of Appeals declined to accept
jurisdiction of Plaintiffs' appeal of the Superior
Court's ruling. (Id. at 53). The Arizona Supreme
Court denied Plaintiffs' Petition for Review.
(Id. at 51). On March 10, 2014, the Arizona Court of
Appeals issued its mandate. (Id.). In a Notice/Order
dated March 25, 2014 and filed on March 27, 2014, the
Superior Court stated: “The Court of Appeals having
issued its Mandate denying special action jurisdiction, IT IS
ORDERED closing this case and all future hearings are
vacated.” (Id. at 58).
September 21, 2016, Plaintiff filed a “Complaint and
Request for Permanent Preventive Injunction and Summary
Judgment” (Doc. 1). The Complaint is brought
“pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for deprivation of
14th Amendment rights to procedural due process . . . .
against judicial officers[.]” (Doc. 1 at 5). The named
defendants are: (i) Lando Voyles, Pinal County Attorney; (ii)
Boyd T. Johnson, retired Pinal County Superior Court judge;
(iii) Bradley M. Soos, Pinal County Superior Court judge pro
tem; (iv) Mark Brnovich, Arizona Attorney General; and (v)
Loretta Lynch, former United States Attorney General.
(Id. at 2-3). On October 31, 2016, Plaintiffs
voluntarily dismissed without prejudice Defendants Lynch and
Soos. (Doc. 5). On January 12, 2017, the Clerk of Court
docketed a letter from Plaintiffs indicating that
“[t]he successor to M. Lando Voyles as County Attorney
for Pinal County is Kent Volkmer.” (Doc. 23).
Complaint, Plaintiffs state that the “March 25, 2014
court order prohibiting any future hearings precludes asking
that court for any reopening of the case or request that Rule
62 to followed [sic] properly.” (Doc. 1 at 7).
Plaintiffs contend that the “combination of closed and
vacated hearings, denies procedural due process to the
Plaintiffs.” (Id. at 6). Plaintiffs request
the Court to issue a “permanent injunction ordering the
Defendants to stop violating the Plaintiffs'
14th Amendment rights of procedural Due Process by
issuing the existing adjudication and final order of the case
without delay.” (Id. at 8).
Court finds that Plaintiffs' Complaint is, in effect, an
appeal from the Pinal County Superior Court's March 2014
order “closing” the case and vacating “all
future hearings.” (Doc. 14 at 58). The Court further
finds that it cannot grant the relief Plaintiffs seek without
“undoing” the state court's decision.
Bianchi, 334 F.3d at 900 (explaining that
“[w]here the only redress [sought is] an undoing of the
prior state court judgment, ” subject matter
jurisdiction is “clearly barred under
Rooker-Feldman.”). Like in
Bianchi, it is immaterial that Plaintiffs frame
their federal Complaint as a constitutional challenge to the
state courts' decisions, rather than as a direct appeal
of those decisions. See Id. at 900 n.4 (under the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, “[i]t is immaterial
that [the plaintiff] frames his federal complaint as a
constitutional challenge to the state courts' decisions,
rather than as a direct appeal of those decisions”).
Rooker-Feldman doctrine requires this case be
dismissed without prejudice. Id. at 900, 902
(“The integrity of the judicial process depends on
federal courts respecting final state court judgments and
rebuffing de facto appeals of those judgments to federal
court.”); Frigard v. United States, 862 F.2d
201, 204 (9th Cir. 1988) (“Ordinarily, a case dismissed
for lack of subject matter jurisdiction should be dismissed
without prejudice so that a plaintiff may reassert his claims
in a competent court.”). Because the Court finds that
it lacks subject matter jurisdiction under the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the Court does not address
the State Defendants' other arguments in their Motion to
Dismiss (Doc. 14). The Court will deny as moot the relief
requested in Plaintiffs' September 21, 2016 filing (Doc.
2). The Court will also deny as moot Defendant Voyles'
Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 11) for failure to state a claim.
See Moore v. Maricopa County Sheriff's Office,657 F.3d 890, 895 (9th Cir. 2011) (stating that “[a]
federal court cannot assume subject-matter jurisdiction to
reach the merits of a case” and explaining that where a
district court determines that it does not have subject
matter jurisdiction, “it is not possible for the
district court” to have dismissed alternatively for
failure to state a claim); Herrera-Castanola v.
Holder, 528 F. App'x 721, 722 (9th Cir. 2013)