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Lewis v. Guardian Loan Com.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 20, 2019

CYNTHIA LEWIS, Plaintiff,
v.
GUARDIAN LOAN COMPANY, WELLS FARGO BANK, N.A., WELLS FARGO HOME MORTGAGE, INC., INDYMAC BANK FSB, BANK OF AMERICA, N.A., LASALLE NATIONAL BANK AS TRUSTEE FOR WELLS FARGO HOME EQUITY TRUST 2004-1, U.S. BANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION, AS TRUSTEE SUCCESSOR IN INTEREST TO BANA AS TRUSTEE FOR WELLS FARGO HOME EQUITY TRUST MORTGAGE PASS THROUGH CERTIFICATES, SERIES 2004-1, Defendants.

          ORDER OF DISMISSAL

          CHARLES S. HAIGHT, JR. Senior United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's "Motion for Emergency Preliminary Injunction" [Doc. 21]. However, the Court is barred from considering such a motion because it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this matter. In general, "[a] party seeking a preliminary injunction must ordinarily establish (1) 'irreparable harm'; (2) 'either (a) a likelihood of success on the merits, or (b) sufficiently serious questions going to the merits of its claims to make them fair ground for litigation, plus a balance of the hardships tipping decidedly in favor of the moving party'; and (3) 'that a preliminary injunction is in the public interest.'" New York ex rel. Schneiderman v. Actavis PLC, 787 F.3d 638, 650 (2d Cir. 2015) (quoting Oneida Nation of New York v. Cuomo, 645 F.3d 154, 164 (2d Cir. 2011)). However, upon examination of the Complaint, the Court is unable to assume jurisdiction to consider this motion because the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars her claims as a matter of law. See, e.g., Gentner v. Shulman, 55 F.3d 87, 90 (2d Cir. 1995) (vacating district court's order denying preliminary injunction and remanding case with instructions to dismiss because "district court should have refused to assume jurisdiction under either the Rooker-Feldman doctrine or the Younger abstention doctrine").

         A challenge under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is a challenge for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, Gentner, 55 F.3d at 89, so may be raised at any time by either party or sua sponte by the court, Transatlantic Marine Claims Agency, Inc. v. Ace Shipping Corp., 109 F.3d 105, 107-08 (2d Cir.1997). "Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, federal district courts lack jurisdiction over cases that essentially amount to appeals of state court judgments." Vossbrinck v. Accredited Home Lenders, Inc., 773 F.3d 423, 426 (2d Cir. 2014). Specifically, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine "directs federal courts to abstain from considering claims when . . . (1) the plaintiff lost in state court, (2) the plaintiff complains of injuries caused by the state court judgment, (3) the plaintiff invites district court review [and rejection] of that judgment, and (4) the state court judgment was entered before the plaintiff's federal suit commenced." McKithen v. Brown, 626 F.3d 143, 154 (2d Cir. 2010) (citing Hoblock v. Albany Cty. Bd. of Elections, 422 F.3d 77, 85 (2d Cir. 2005)).

         In the present case, as argued by Defendant Bank of America in its motion to dismiss [Doc. 8], Plaintiff's allegations are inextricably intertwined with the prior state court judgment of strict foreclosure, such that her federal claim would succeed only if the state court wrongly decided the issues.[1] See Wells Fargo Bank v. Lewis, No. FBT-CV07-5006088-S (Conn. Super. Ct. 2006). Here, all four of the Rooker-Feldman factors are present. First, Plaintiff lost in the foreclosure action in the Connecticut Superior Court and strict foreclosure was entered against her. Second, Plaintiff alleges she has been injured by the Connecticut court's adjudication in the foreclosure action because each claim in her present Complaint relates to allegations that challenge the mortgage on 1020 Old Town Road, Trumbull, Connecticut, the assignments of that mortgage, and the securitization of the loan of $205, 000 granted to Plaintiff and secured by the mortgage.[2] Third, the judgment of strict foreclosure entered in state court on April 3, 2018, predates this action. Fourth, allowing Plaintiff to proceed with this action would require the Court to re-adjudicate issues already litigated and resolved in Connecticut Superior Court (e.g., the note and mortgage are valid and enforceable, the Plaintiff defaulted, and the Bank has standing to foreclose and is entitled to judgment of strict foreclosure).

         Plaintiff's response to refute application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is the conclusory allegation that the final judgment in the foreclosure proceeding was "procured by extrinsic fraud upon the Court." Doc. 12, ¶ 3. She also asserts that Defendant Bank of America's counsel's "attempts to invoke . . [this] affirmative defense . . . for claim preclusion purposes [are] scandalous." Id., ¶ 4. Lastly, she deems the state court judgment to be "extraneous and inconsequential to this case." Id.[3] None of these statements, however, provides grounds to escape application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. The Second Circuit has held that "[w]here a party asks the federal court to grant him title to his property because the foreclosure judgment was obtained fraudulently, Rooker-Feldman bars [that party's] claim." Vossbrinck, 773 F.3d at 427. See also Gonzalez v. Ocwen Home Loan Servicing, 74 F.Supp.3d 504, 513 (D. Conn. 2015) ("Even where a plaintiff alleges that a state court judgment was procured by fraud, Rooker-Feldman will divest the federal court of jurisdiction.") (collecting cases)), aff'd sub nom. Gonzalez v. Deutsche Bank Nat. Tr. Co., 632 Fed.Appx. 32 (2d Cir. 2016).

         Furthermore, "[i]n the particular context of state court judgments of foreclosure, 'Courts in this Circuit have consistently held that any attack on a judgment of foreclosure is clearly barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.'" Gonzalez, 74 F.Supp.3d at 514 (quoting Gunn v. Ambac Assur. Corp., No. 11 Civ. 5497(PAC)(JLC), 2012 WL 2401649, at *12 (S.D.N.Y. June 26, 2012) (collecting cases)).

         Upon review of the record in this case, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars Plaintiff's action in this Court. Accordingly, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to resolve Plaintiff's requests for relief, including her "Emergency Motion" [Doc. 21].[4] The Court must dismiss Plaintiff's action in total. See 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."). See also Gentner, 55 F.3d 88 (remanding case for dismissal due to Rooker-Feldman bar).

         Alternatively, to the extent Plaintiff's complaint can be liberally construed to allege injury stemming from the same transaction but not directly caused by the foreclosure judgment - i.e., so that her claims are not all barred by Rooker-Feldman - these claims would still be subject to dismissal on the ground of claim preclusion. See Gonzalez, 632 Fed.Appx. at 34. See also Marcel Fashions Grp., Inc. v. Lucky Brand Dungarees, Inc., 779 F.3d 102, 107-08 (2d Cir. 2015) ("Under claim preclusion, a final judgment forecloses successive litigation of the very same claim, whether or not relitigation of the claim raises the same issues as the earlier suit. The doctrine precludes not only litigation of claims raised and adjudicated in a prior litigation between the parties (and their privies), but also of claims that might have been raised in the prior litigation but were not.") (emphasis in original; citations and internal quotation marks omitted); O'Connor v. Pierson, 568 F.3d 64, 69 (2d Cir. 2009) (stating that, under Connecticut law, "[c]laim preclusion prevents the pursuit of any claims relating to the cause of action which were actually made or might have been made") (internal quotation marks omitted)). Plaintiff had a full and fair opportunity to litigate her claims in Wells Fargo Bank v. Lewis, No. FBT-CV07-5006088-S (Conn. Super. Ct. 2006). Therefore, to the extent the claims are not barred by Rooker-Feldman, they must nevertheless be dismissed as precluded.[5]

         Plaintiff's Complaint is DISMISSED. The Clerk is directed to terminate all pending motions and close the file.

---------

Notes:

[1] Public records reflect that a judgment of strict foreclosure was entered in Wells Fargo Bank v. Lewis, No. FBT-CV07-5006088-S, on April 3, 2018, by Judge Hartmere and then modified and re-entered on May 14, 2019, by Judge Bruno. Plaintiff commenced the present action immediately thereafter on May 14, 2019. Plaintiff had previously filed a notice of removal to federal district court on March 8, 2019. However, District Judge Shea remanded to state court on March 13, 2019, having found that Plaintiff had improperly attempted to remove the foreclosure action to federal court because there was no federal subject matter jurisdiction. No. 3:19-CV-341 (MPS), Doc. 13 ("[A] case may not be removed to federal court on the basis of a federal defense, including the defense of pre-emption, even if the defense is anticipated in the plaintiff's complaint, and even if both parties concede that the federal defense is the only question truly at issue.") (quoting Caterpillar Inc. v. Williams, 482 U.S. 386, 392 (1987)).

[2] In addition, Plaintiff pleads numerous injuries related to the outcome of the state action, including, inter alia, "actual damages" and "emotional distress." Doc. 1 (Complaint), at 45.

[3] In any event, it is well settled that a plaintiff may not rely on a legal theory not raised in state court to escape the Rooker-Feldman bar. See, e.g., Pharr v. Evergreen Garden, Inc., 123 Fed.Appx. 420, 423 n.2 (2d Cir. 2005). "[T]he applicability of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine turns not on the similarity between a party's state-court and federal-court claims . . . but rather on the causal relationship between the state-court judgment and the injury of which the party complains in federal court." McKithen v. Brown, 481 F.3d 89, 97-98 (2d Cir. 2007), cert. denied, 552 U.S. 1179 (2008). Plaintiff has brought this action in district court by asserting claims such as violation of the Federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO), 18 U.S.C. § 1962, et seq.; Connecticut's RICO Act, Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53-395, et seq.; Connecticut's Unfair Trade Practices Act ("CUTPA"), Conn. Gen. Stat. § 42-110, et seq.; the Federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692k, et seq.; and the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA), 15 U.S.C. § 1681a, et seq. She also brings state law claims for fraudulent concealment and unjust enrichment. However, it is well settled that a federal plaintiff may not escape application of the Rooker-Feldman bar by relying on legal theories not raised in state court. Pharr, 123 Fed.Appx. at 423 n.2. Each claim is a collateral attack upon the state judgment of strict ...


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