103 F.3d 1346 (7th Cir. 1997), 95-3997, Van Harken v. City of Chicago

Docket Nº:95-3997.
Citation:103 F.3d 1346
Party Name:Ada VAN HARKEN, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendant-Appellee.
Case Date:January 06, 1997
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit

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103 F.3d 1346 (7th Cir. 1997)

Ada VAN HARKEN, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants,


CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 95-3997.

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.

January 6, 1997

Argued Oct. 28, 1996.

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Dana A. Alden (argued), Alden & Associates, Oak Brook, IL, for plaintiffs-appellants.

Lawrence Rosenthal, Thomas Bamonte (argued), Susan S. Sher, Office of Corp. Counsel, Appeals Division, Chicago, IL, for defendant-appellee.

Before POSNER, Chief Judge, and EASTERBROOK and RIPPLE, Circuit Judges.

POSNER, Chief Judge.

In 1990 the City of Chicago adopted a new system for the adjudication of parking violations. Chi. Munic. Code ch. 9-100. That system is challenged in this class action on behalf of persons who, either having been adjudged liable for a parking violation in contested proceedings under the new procedures and paid their fines or having received a parking ticket and still having time to contest it, claim that the new procedures violate the due process clauses of the United States and Illinois constitutions. The district judge dismissed the suit for failure to state a claim under either constitution. 906 F.Supp. 1182 (N.D.Ill.1995). The City argues that we cannot even reach the merits of the appeal because the suit is a collateral attack on the judgments in the plaintiffs' parking cases, and thus violates the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, on which see, e.g., Young v. Murphy, 90 F.3d 1225, 1230 (7th Cir.1996). The argument depends upon the undefended assumption that the doctrine applies to administrative as well as judicial decisions. All the circuits to have considered the assumption in a published opinion have rejected it, Narey v. Dean, 32 F.3d 1521, 1525-26 (11th Cir.1994);

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Scott v. Flowers, 910 F.2d 201, 208 (5th Cir.1990); Ivy Club v. Edwards, 943 F.2d 270, 284 (3d Cir.1991), and we are not disposed to create an intercircuit conflict on the question.

The basis of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine (see Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 416, 44 S.Ct. 149, 150, 68 L.Ed. 362 (1923); District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 476, 103 S.Ct. 1303, 1311-12, 75 L.Ed.2d 206 (1983)) is that only the U.S. Supreme Court has been authorized by Congress to review decisions by state courts. 28 U.S.C. § 1257. The only decisions reviewable under this statute are final decisions "by the highest court of a State in which a decision could be had," 28 U.S.C. § 1257(a), but of course it does not follow that decisions by a lower state court are reviewable in federal courts. No statute authorizes such review, and it would be grotesque to allow a disappointed state court litigant to pursue his appeal in federal rather than state court. Worldwide Church of God v. McNair, 805 F.2d 888, 893 n. 3 (9th Cir.1986); Texaco Inc. v. Pennzoil Co., 784 F.2d 1133, 1142-43 (2d Cir.1986), rev'd on other grounds, 481 U.S. 1, 107 S.Ct. 1519, 95 L.Ed.2d 1 (1987); Hale v. Harney, 786 F.2d 688, 691 (5th Cir.1986). It might appear by parity of reasoning that a party to a state administrative proceeding is not authorized to bypass the appellate remedy that the state has provided in its own courts by filing an action in federal district court instead. Countless cases, however, allow people who lose in state administrative proceedings to seek relief in federal district court under civil rights legislation such as 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and Patsy v. Board of Regents, 457 U.S. 496, 102 S.Ct. 2557, 73 L.Ed.2d 172 (1982), expressly rejected a requirement of exhausting administrative remedies before suing under that section. We cannot believe that these cases were decided as they were simply because the defendants failed to argue Rooker-Feldman. If the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is to be extended to administrative judgments, it will have to be done by the Court that created it.

The City's Rooker-Feldman argument fails on a second ground as well, though here we must be careful to distinguish between the different kinds of relief sought by the suit. Centifanti v. Nix, 865 F.2d 1422, 1429 (3d Cir.1989). Insofar as the plaintiffs merely seek a declaration that the procedures under which the parking charges against them were, or in the case of those members of the class whose cases have not yet been heard will be, adjudicated are constitutionally inadequate, they are not barred by Rooker-Feldman because they are not challenging the judgment in any parking case. Buckley v. Illinois Judicial Inquiry Board, 997 F.2d 224, 227 (7th Cir.1993); see also Nesses v. Shepard, 68 F.3d 1003, 1005 (7th Cir.1995); Dubinka v. Judges of Superior Court, 23 F.3d 218, 222 (9th Cir.1994); Centifanti v. Nix, supra, 865 F.2d at 1429. But insofar as they are seeking refunds of the parking fines imposed upon them, they are barred. The Feldman decision illustrates the distinction. It allowed the plaintiffs in that case to challenge the constitutionality of the rule under which they had been denied admission to the bar, 460 U.S. at 487-88, 103 S.Ct. at 1317-18, while refusing to allow them to challenge the denial itself. If they prevailed on their challenge to the rule, they might or might not be able to get a new hearing on the denial of their applications for admission, and to that extent the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not prevent a form of collateral attack upon--or, better perhaps, an oblique swipe at--a state court judgment by a suit brought in a federal district court. Our case is the same so far as the declaratory relief sought by the plaintiffs is concerned, and no more is necessary to support jurisdiction.

We come then to the merits. In Illinois before 1987 and in a majority of the states to this day, parking violations were and are technically criminal violations even when the maximum punishment is a modest fine; and the violator was and in the other states is entitled to the usual safeguards of the criminal process. A number of states, however, have decriminalized parking violations and substituted a civil penalty system. See, e.g., Gardner v. City of Columbus, 841 F.2d 1272, 1274 (6th Cir.1988); 1992 Cal.Adv.Legis.Serv. see ch. 1244, § 1 (Deering). (Gardner upheld Ohio's system against a challenge similar to that mounted by the plaintiffs in the present case.) Illinois joined these

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states in 1987 by authorizing its municipalities to adopt such systems if they wanted. 625 ILCS p 5/11-208.3. Chicago took up the invitation, as we said, in 1990. Under the system, the parking ticket the police officer writes is prima facie evidence of a violation. The owner of the car can either pay the fine written on the ticket (which cannot exceed $100) or challenge the ticket either in writing or in person. These challenges are adjudicated not by regular judges or other employees of the City or State but by private lawyers whom the City hires as part-time hearing officers. The police officer who wrote the ticket is not expected to participate in the hearing, other than through the ticket itself, which is treated as the equivalent of an affidavit. Ordinarily, the only live participant in the hearing besides the hearing officer will be the respondent, that is, the recipient of the ticket. A manual that the City...

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