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Western Dental of Arizona Inc. v. City of Mesa

United States District Court, D. Arizona

October 11, 2017

Western Dental of Arizona Incorporated, Plaintiff,
v.
City of Mesa, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Honorable G. Murray Snow Judge

         Pending before the Court is the Complaint and Motion for Temporary Restraining Order of Plaintiff Western Dental of Arizona. (Docs. 1-2). For the following reasons, the Court denies the Motion and dismisses Plaintiff's Complaint.

         BACKGROUND

         Defendant City of Mesa seeks to acquire commercial property via eminent domain at 1161 E. Main Street in Mesa, Arizona. Plaintiff Western Dental of Arizona leases the property for an orthodontics practice. The acquisition is necessary for the Gilbert Road Light Rail Extension Project.

         Amber Campbell, an employee of Universal Field Services with responsibility to assist the City of Mesa with relocation assistance, first emailed Western Dental as early as December 2016 about the City's intention to acquire the property. Amber Campbell sent a 90-day notice via email on July 11, 2017 that Western Dental should vacate the property by October 11, 2017. The City of Mesa filed a Complaint in Eminent Domain against the property owner on July 21, 2017, and it added Western Dental as a party on August 10. Soon thereafter, Western Dental notified Amber Campbell that it needed an extension. On September 7, the Maricopa County Superior Court entered an Order of Immediate Possession. On September 11, the City of Mesa sent a 30-day notice to Western Dental.

         On September 26, the City of Mesa filed a Motion in Maricopa County Superior Court requesting aid to enforce the previous Order of Immediate Possession. In that dispute, Western Dental argued in part that the City of Mesa failed to give proper notice in compliance with Federal regulations concerning relocation assistance. The City of Mesa argued that it complied with those Federal regulations, and it further argued that the condemnation issue is separate from the issue of federal relocation benefits. On October 6, the Maricopa County Superior Court granted the Motion to enforce the Order of Immediate Possession, but it noted, “The [Maricopa County] Court finds that it does not have authority to (in effect) stay or enjoin the condemnation process based on the City of Mesa's alleged failure to comply with the administrative requirements for relocation assistance.” (Doc. 11-1, Exh. A). Plaintiff reads the statement as a refusal by the superior court to decide the issue based on its lack of jurisdiction. It is as easily read, however, as a determination that the relocation statutes and regulations do not provide the court with authority to delay a condemnation proceeding. In any event the superior court granted the writ of assistance.

         On October 10, Western Dental filed the Motion for Temporary Restraining Order in Federal Court to stop the City of Mesa from removing Western Dental from the property.

         DISCUSSION

         I. Jurisdiction

         The Court first considers whether it has jurisdiction to consider an issue recently decided in State Court.

         Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the federal district court is not the proper forum to seek reversal of an adverse decision of the state trial court. “If the decision was wrong, that did not make the judgment void, but merely left it open to reversal or modification in an appropriate and timely appellate proceeding. Unless and until so reversed or modified, it would be an effective and conclusive adjudication.” Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415 (1923). As the Ninth Circuit has noted, “federal district courts have no authority to review the final determinations of a state court in judicial proceedings.” In re Gruntz, 202 F.3d 1074, 1078 (9th Cir. 2000) (internal quotations omitted). Although the Supreme Court has clarified that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine occupies “narrow ground, ” it has also emphasized that the doctrine does apply to cases brought by those “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. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Co., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005).

         Western Dental brought this Motion to Federal Court because of the Maricopa County Superior Court determination that “it does not have authority” to enjoin the condemnation process based on Federal regulations for relocation assistance. (Doc. 11-1, Exh. A). Regardless of what the superior court meant by that statement, the proper channel to review that decision is in State Appellate Court, and not in Federal Court.

         II. Temporary Restraining Order for Uniform Relocation Assistance Claim

         Even if this Court had jurisdiction to review the State Court decision, Western Dental fails to show irreparable harm to ...


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