United States District Court, D. Arizona
S. Willett United States Magistrate Judge
before the Court is Defendant Presto Auto Loans, Inc.'s
(“Presto”) Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 21).
For the reasons explained herein, the Court concludes that
this action filed by Plaintiff Engen Nurumbi
(“Nurumbi”) is in effect an appeal of a judgment
entered in the Superior Court of Arizona. The Court further
concludes that this action must be dismissed without
prejudice for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction. Accordingly Presto's Motion (Doc. 21)
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.”).
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 901; 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.
2017, Presto filed an action in Maricopa County Superior
Court (Case No. CV2017-007277) against Nurumbi. (Doc. 22-1 at
8-13). Presto alleged that it had a perfected lien on
Nurumbi's motor vehicle and was entitled to immediate
possession of the motor vehicle. (Id. at 8). Presto
subsequently filed a First Amended Complaint. (Id.
at 30-37). Nurumbi, who was self-represented, filed a
“Response to First Amended Complaint and Application
for Remedy without Notice and Counter-Claim.” (Doc.
22-2 at 2-15). Nurumbi raised two counterclaims.
(Id. at 4). In the first counterclaim, Nurumbi
alleged that Presto violated the Truth In Lending Act and
Regulation Z. (Id.). Nurumbi's second
counterclaim alleged that Presto violated the Consumer
Financial Protection Act of 2010. (Id.).
filed a Motion for Partial Summary Judgment, which sought
judgment on Plaintiff's counterclaims. (Id. at
24-28). The trial court denied the Motion. (Doc. 22-3 at
2-5). Presto thereafter filed a full Motion for Summary
Judgment, which the trial court granted. (Id. at
7-10, 31-35). The trial court also denied Plaintiff's
request to transfer the state court case to federal court.
(Id. at 34-35). The trial court entered judgment in
favor of Presto on December 12, 2018. (Id. at
January 4, 2019, Nurumbi initiated this federal action. (Doc.
1). Nurumbi's two-count Complaint contains the same
claims that Nurumbi raised as counterclaims in the state
court case. (Id. at 9-11). The Complaint alleges
that the alleged violation of the Truth In Lending Act
“could not be effectively litigated in [the state
court] case.” (Id. at 5, ¶ 17). Nurumbi
asserts that the state court entered judgment against him
“because he was unable to come forward with evidence to
controvert the Plaintiff's prima facie showing of its
entitlement to summary judgment . . . due to . . . his
difficulties incurred in representing himself due to being
hospitalized several months resulting from acute septic
Lupus.” (Id. at 6, ¶¶ 20-21).
pending Motion for Summary Judgment, Presto alleges that this
“action is a thinly veiled attempt by [Nurumbi] to take
a second bite at the apple and circumvent a judgment entered
against him in Arizona state court in an action involving
substantially identical claims and issues.” (Doc. 21 at
1). Presto argues that the Court should enter summary
judgment in its favor pursuant to the doctrines of claims
preclusion and issue preclsion. (Id. at 4-13).
Nurumbi opposes Presto's Motion, contending that the
state court judgment “does not and cannot comport with
the Due Process mandates of the 14thAmendment and
therefore it cannot be considered for purposed [sic] of
res judicata or collateral estopple
[sic].” (Doc. 32 at 12).
Court finds that Nurumbi's Complaint is, in effect, an
appeal from the state court's judgment. 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 Nurumbi attempts to frame his 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, ...