645 F.3d 1014 (8th Cir. 2011), 10-2405, Edwards v. City of Jonesboro

Docket Nº:10-2405.
Citation:645 F.3d 1014
Opinion Judge:COLLOTON, Circuit Judge.
Party Name:Harvey EDWARDS, Appellant, v. CITY OF JONESBORO, a Municipal Corporation; Harold Perrin, Mayor; Jim Hargis; Ann Williams; Chris Moore; Darrel Dover; Tim McCall; Mitch Johnson; John Street; Charles Frierson; Gene Vance; Mikel Fears; Rennell Woods; Chris Gibson, City Council, Appellees.
Attorney:Hunter Jackson Hanshaw, argued, Jonesboro, AR, for appellant. Clyde Burt Newell, argued, Hot Springs, AR, for appellees.
Judge Panel:Before COLLOTON, GRUENDER, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.
Case Date:July 14, 2011
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit

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645 F.3d 1014 (8th Cir. 2011)

Harvey EDWARDS, Appellant,

v.

CITY OF JONESBORO, a Municipal Corporation; Harold Perrin, Mayor; Jim Hargis; Ann Williams; Chris Moore; Darrel Dover; Tim McCall; Mitch Johnson; John Street; Charles Frierson; Gene Vance; Mikel Fears; Rennell Woods; Chris Gibson, City Council, Appellees.

No. 10-2405.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit.

July 14, 2011

Submitted: Jan. 12, 2011.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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Hunter Jackson Hanshaw, argued, Jonesboro, AR, for appellant.

Clyde Burt Newell, argued, Hot Springs, AR, for appellees.

Before COLLOTON, GRUENDER, and SHEPHERD, Circuit Judges.

COLLOTON, Circuit Judge.

Harvey Edwards sued the City of Jonesboro, its mayor, and the members of its city council, alleging that methane gas from a city landfill invaded a tract of land owned by Edwards and so reduced its value as to amount to a taking of the property by the City. He sought just compensation under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, other compensatory damages, punitive damages, and injunctive relief. The district court 1 dismissed Edwards's claims, and we affirm.

I.

According to the complaint, Edwards acquired a thirty-acre tract of land in Craighead County, Arkansas, in 1977, with the intention of developing or selling it. Several parties expressed interest in buying the land. In 1999, however, an environmental services firm performed an assessment of the site on behalf of a prospective buyer, and discovered high levels of methane, a combustible gas. The firm recommended no construction on the land until the methane problem was remedied. Two more assessments, one in 2002 and one in 2005, found that the high levels of methane persisted, and both recommended against building on the land. As a result, at least two prospective buyers cancelled contracts to buy the land from Edwards; one was a " firm contract" to buy the land for $550,000.

In 2005, Edwards sued the City of Jonesboro, its then-mayor, and the then-members of its city council in Arkansas state court. The City had operated a landfill adjacent to Edwards's land since 1978, and Edwards alleged that the decomposition of waste in the landfill created methane that migrated onto his land. Edwards asserted state-law claims of inverse condemnation, trespass, nuisance, negligence and negligence per se, strict liability, violations of two Arkansas statutes, and a violation of the Arkansas Constitution. Edwards

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also alleged violations of his rights under the First and Fifth Amendments to the United States Constitution, as applied to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment. In a third amended complaint, however, Edwards included a " reservation of rights" that purported to reserve all federal rights and remedies for a later suit in federal court.

Edwards's suit was tried before an Arkansas circuit court judge, who found that the invasion of methane from the City's landfill resulted in a taking of Edwards's land. The court ordered the City to pay Edwards the value of the land at the time of the taking, which the court determined to be $387,500, as well as $18,901.60 for property taxes paid by Edwards from the time of the taking. The court declined to award prejudgment interest, because the time of the taking was difficult to determine, and because there was a serious dispute as to the value of the property. Edwards attempted to appeal, but he failed to lodge the record with the clerk of the Arkansas Supreme Court within the time allowed by rule, and the appeal was rejected as untimely.

On September 28, 2009, Edwards filed this action in federal district court against the City of Jonesboro, its mayor, and the members of its city council. He asserted, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claims of inverse condemnation, trespass, nuisance, negligence and negligence per se, and strict liability, in violation of his rights under the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. He also claimed that the City took his property without paying just compensation, in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. The district court granted the defendants' motion to dismiss Edwards's complaint, holding that Edwards's claims were barred by issue preclusion and, in the alternative, that the court lacked jurisdiction under the Rooker - Feldman doctrine. See D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 476, 103 S.Ct. 1303, 75 L.Ed.2d 206 (1983); Rooker v. Fid. Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 416, 44 S.Ct. 149, 68 L.Ed. 362 (1923).

II.

A.

Edwards first disputes the district court's conclusion that the Rooker - Feldman doctrine bars his claims. The decisions in Rooker and Feldman establish that with the exception of habeas corpus proceedings, the inferior federal courts lack subject-matter jurisdiction over appeals from state-court judgments. Jurisdiction over such appeals is granted exclusively to the Supreme Court by 28 U.S.C. § 1257. Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 292, 125 S.Ct. 1517, 161 L.Ed.2d 454 (2005). We review de novo a district court's determination that it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction under Rooker - Feldman . Minch Family LLLP v. Buffalo-Red River Watershed Dist., 628 F.3d 960, 965 (8th Cir.2010).

There is a question whether we must consider the Rooker - Feldman doctrine at the threshold when resolution of that issue would affect the disposition of the appeal. If Rooker - Feldman applies, then the district court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction. With a few limited exceptions, federal courts must address Article II subject-matter jurisdiction before reaching the merits of a claim or another non-jurisdictional question such as issue preclusion. Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, 93-97, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 140 L.Ed.2d 210 (1998). Whether this rule also applies to statutory jurisdiction, however, is a matter of some dispute. Steel Co. noted that the limitations of statutory and Article III jurisdiction have similar

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purposes, id. at 101, 118 S.Ct. 1003, but the Court also acknowledged that a federal court may reach a merits question before deciding a question of statutory standing. Id. at 96-97 & n. 2, 118 S.Ct. 1003. The courts of appeals disagree about whether a federal court may bypass Rooker - Feldman, a question of statutory jurisdiction, to reach an easier question of preclusion or the merits. Compare Alyshah v. United States, 241 Fed.Appx. 665, 668 n. 3 (11th Cir.2007) (stating that Steel Co. prevents federal courts from assuming that Rooker - Feldman does not apply in order to reach the merits), Shell v. Meconi, 123 Fed.Appx. 866, 867-68 (10th Cir.2005) (same), Nguyen v. Phillips, 69...

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