881 F.3d 1279 (11th Cir. 2018), 16-10141, Target Media Partners v. Specialty Marketing Corp.

Docket Nº:16-10141
Citation:881 F.3d 1279
Opinion Judge:MARCUS, Circuit Judge
Party Name:TARGET MEDIA PARTNERS, Ed Leader, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. SPECIALTY MARKETING CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee.
Attorney:Joel E. Dillard, Donald Randolph James, Jr., Baxley Dillard McKnight James & McElroy, Birmingham, AL, for Plaintiffs-Appellants. Thomas James Knight, Hubbard & Knight, Anniston, AL, for Defendant-Appellee.
Judge Panel:Before MARCUS and NEWSOM, Circuit Judges, and BUCKLEW, District Judge. NEWSOM, Circuit Judge, concurring:
Case Date:February 05, 2018
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit
SUMMARY

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine can not bar a federal suit regarding events occurring long after the entry of a state court decision. Long after a state court lawsuit had been completed between Specialty Marketing and Target Media, Specialty Marketing mailed out a letter including the state court events and trial testimony. Target Media filed a defamation action against Specialty Marketing, seeking... (see full summary)

 
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Page 1279

881 F.3d 1279 (11th Cir. 2018)

TARGET MEDIA PARTNERS, Ed Leader, Plaintiffs-Appellants,

v.

SPECIALTY MARKETING CORPORATION, Defendant-Appellee.

No. 16-10141

United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit

February 5, 2018

Page 1280

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 1281

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Alabama, D.C. Docket No. 1:14-cv-00865-KOB

         Joel E. Dillard, Donald Randolph James, Jr., Baxley Dillard McKnight James & McElroy, Birmingham, AL, for Plaintiffs-Appellants.

         Thomas James Knight, Hubbard & Knight, Anniston, AL, for Defendant-Appellee.

         Before MARCUS and NEWSOM, Circuit Judges, and BUCKLEW,[*] District Judge.

         OPINION

         MARCUS, Circuit Judge

         Target Media Partners (" Target Media" ) appeals the dismissal of its defamation suit. The essential issue raised is whether the Rooker


Feldman doctrine can bar a federal suit regarding events occurring long after the entry of a state court decision. We hold that Rooker
Feldman cannot bar such a claim.

         The Rooker


Feldman doctrine eliminates federal court jurisdiction over those cases that are essentially an appeal by a state court loser seeking to relitigate a claim that has already been decided in a state court. The doctrine is designed to ensure that the inferior federal courts do not impermissibly review decisions of the state courts— a role reserved to the United States Supreme Court. However, the Rooker

Feldman jurisdictional bar is a narrow one. In invoking the limitation on review of state court decisions, the federal courts must also ensure that litigants whose claims are properly within the cognizance of the courts are not denied a hearing.

         The parties before us today previously litigated a breach-of-contract suit in Alabama’s state courts. Target Media then commenced a lawsuit in federal district court raising a defamation claim concerning a letter sent after the completion of the Alabama case. That letter discussed, in some detail, the state trial and verdict. The federal district court concluded that Target Media’s federal suit was " inextricably intertwined" with the previous state court suit and, therefore, dismissed the federal claim as being jurisdictionally barred under the Rooker


Feldman doctrine.

         After thorough review, however, we conclude that the claim brought in federal court was not " inextricably intertwined" with the Alabama case, the claim was not barred by the Rooker


Feldman doctrine, and the district court has jurisdiction to entertain it. The federal suit did not seek— indeed could not have sought— to relitigate claims decided by a state court.

          I.

          A.

         Target Media and Specialty Marketing both publish magazines directed at the truck driving industry. These publications are made available free of charge at various locations. The magazines include advertisements of interest to members of the truck driving industry. Target Media Partners Operating Co., LLC v. Specialty Mktg. Corp., 177 So.3d 843, 848 (Ala. 2013). In addition to publishing magazines, Target Media distributes publications to locations concentrated in the southeastern United States.

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          In 2002, Target Media and Specialty Marketing entered into a contract whereby Target Media agreed to widely distribute Truck Market News, the publication of Specialty Marketing. The contract provided for Specialty Marketing to take care of printing and furnishing copies of Truck Market News to various distribution points. Target Media would provide distribution of Truck Market News twice a month, including " [h]and [d]elivery and display" along with " [d]ocumentation that includes proof of delivery, returned (non-picked up) magazines, ... and photos upon request." Id. at 849. The contract tallied 275 individual locations to which Truck Market News would be delivered for a monthly contractual fee finalized at $9,750. Id. at 849-50. The contract additionally provided that the " price also includes distribution in our racks." Id. at 849.

         Specialty Marketing printed between 36,000 and 42,000 copies of Truck Market News each month. Id. at 850. Under the arrangement intended by the contract, Target Media’s drivers were required to deliver copies of Truck Market News to various stops along their routes; these copies would be used to stock magazine display racks. Id. at 850-51. However, at a meeting in early 2007, one of Target Media’s delivery drivers provided the owners of Specialty Marketing descriptions as well as photographs suggesting that Truck Market News was not being distributed as planned. Id. at 852-53.

         In 2007, Specialty Marketing sued Target Media and other related parties in Alabama state court for, among other things, breach of contract, promissory fraud, and fraudulent misrepresentation. Id. at 853. A number of former Target Media employees testified at the subsequent jury trial that during the period under the contract, Target Media engaged in a practice of discarding rather than distributing many brand new copies of Truck Market News.

Id. at 851-52. Witnesses and photographic evidence indicated that still-wrapped and bundled copies of Truck Market News were disposed of when, at the direction of the company, Target Media magazines were given priority in loading, and insufficient room was left on delivery vehicles for other publications. Id. at 851. Additional copies were disposed of at intended places of delivery because company instructions on the placement of publications in display racks left room only for Target Media publications. Id. The former employees also testified that records meant to be provided under the distribution agreement— reports showing how many copies of Truck Market News were remaining on display from a previous issue when new issues were delivered— were falsified at the direction of Target Media in order to make unavailable figures " look good." Id. at 851-52. One of Specialty Marketing’s owners calculated that the company had paid around $430,000 under the delivery contract and incurred over $900,000 in printing costs for magazines that were mostly abandoned. Id. at 853.

         In May 2010, trial verdicts were returned against Target Media awarding Specialty Marketing compensatory and punitive damages totaling approximately $2.36 million for breach of contract, promissory fraud, and fraudulent misrepresentation. Id. at 854. The jury also returned a verdict against Specialty Marketing on a breach-of-contract counterclaim, awarding damages of $48,800. Id. The Supreme Court of Alabama upheld the verdicts in September 2013 and the Supreme Court denied certiorari. Id. at 847; Target Media Partners Operating Co., LLC v. Specialty Mktg. Corp., __ U.S. __, 135 S.Ct. 1702, 191 L.Ed.2d 676 (2015).

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          Around March 21, 2014, long after the state court lawsuit had been completed, Specialty Marketing mailed materials to advertising agencies that worked with Target Media. Included in the mailed packages was the following letter: TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN:

For your information I am sending you the following:

1) Circuit Judge Howell’s Order of May 11, 2010 showing jury verdict against Target Media and Ed Leader for Breach of Contract, Promissory fraud and Fraud totaling over $2.4 Million.

(1a) Is the Alabama Supreme Court Ruling of April 19, 2013, affirming all of these counts against these Defendants. With interest, the amount now owed to me is $3.4 Million.

2) Glennis Ford’s sworn testimony of her instructions to commit fraud.

3) Rodney Deen’s sworn testimony of his throwing away of hundred [sic ] of thousands of brand new undelivered books every month as instructed by Target Media Partners.

4) Gary Freeman’s sworn testimony of his work to get the books off the loading dock where he worked at the Gypsum Plant near the Target Media warehouse.

5) Gordon Adams’ trial testimony of the fraud he was made to commit in order to keep his job with Target Media.

6) Ed Leader’s trial testimony showing his knowledge and participation in the actions that resulted in the jury verdict that has been upheld by the Alabama Supreme Court.

7) Gary Poe’s two pages of sworn testimony about the tons of brand new books left at the Gypsum Plant by Target Media Partners.

8) Wallace Adams’ trial testimony of his forced participation in the fraud that resulted in the $2.4 Million jury verdict against Ed Leader and Target Media.

9) A CD disc of 258 pictures of the brand new books being thrown away without being delivered, most of the books are Target Media books with ads sold by Target Media Partners and their ad agency.

It is my belief that you and everyone else that has any business or personal dealings with Target Media Partners, their owners and officers, need to know of this documented, trail [sic ]...

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