Andrade v. City of Hammond

Decision Date25 August 2021
Docket NumberNo. 20-1541,20-1541
Citation9 F.4th 947
Parties Jose ANDRADE, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. CITY OF HAMMOND, INDIANA, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
CourtU.S. Court of Appeals — Seventh Circuit

Patrick B. McEuen, Attorney, McEuen Law Office, Portage, IN, for Plaintiff - Appellant

David C. Jensen, John M. McCrum, Robert J. Feldt, Attorneys, Eichhorn & Eichhorn, LLP, Hammond, IN, for Defendants - Appellees Hammond Board of Public Works and Safety, Thomas McDermott, City of Hammond, Indiana

Darren A. Craig, Stephanie Virginia McGowan, Anthony W. Overholt, Attorneys, Frost Brown Todd, LLC, Indianapolis, IN, for Defendants - Appellees Kristina C. Kantar, Kelly Kearney, Kurt Koch

Before Sykes, Chief Judge, and Flaum and Kanne, Circuit Judges.

Kanne, Circuit Judge.

Appellate review of state-court judgments is reserved exclusively to the United States Supreme Court. The Rooker - Feldman doctrine provides the jurisdictional bar that prevents lower federal courts from improperly exercising such review. Federal cases involving claims that are "independent" from a state-court judgment, however, obviously fall outside of Rooker - Feldman ’s purview.

In this case, Plaintiff Jose Andrade sued the City of Hammond, the Hammond Board of Public Works and Safety, and several Hammond employees for violating his due process rights when making an administrative determination regarding his rental property. Although the administrative determination was later affirmed by Indiana courts, Andrade's claims concern Defendants’ actions separate from any state-court judgment. Thus, Rooker - Feldman does not bar federal-court jurisdiction. We accordingly reverse the contrary decision of the district court and remand this case for further proceedings.

I. BACKGROUND

Jose Andrade owns an apartment building in Hammond, Indiana. In March 2013, the City inspected the building and issued a notice to Andrade stating that the building was unsafe and in violation of Indiana law. I.C. § 36-7-8-4. The notice led to an evidentiary hearing conducted by the Hammond Board of Public Works and Safety ("the Board"). The Board issued an order in favor of the City, but the Lake Superior Court reversed the order on appeal because Andrade had not been given proper notice of the hearing.

A year later, the City re-inspected the building and issued a new notice of violation based on unsafe conditions. The Board scheduled a hearing on this second notice of violation for January 2017. This time, Andrade received proper notice, and before the hearing, he served the City's Chief of Inspection a subpoena duces tecum requesting that he bring to the hearing all "regulations, ordinances, and/or statutes" that the Chief relied upon while testifying during the first hearing. The City did not comply with the subpoena.

At the hearing, the City and Andrade disputed the safety of the property, and the City's Building Commissioner and Chief of Inspections both testified to the unsafe conditions identified in the City's notice of violation.

The Board ultimately found that the building was unsafe under Indiana law and ordered Andrade to remedy the unsafe conditions by making repairs or vacating four of the five apartment units.

Andrade sought judicial review of the Board's decision in state court according to Indiana law. He argued that the Board did not afford him a fair hearing, partly because the City failed to comply with the subpoena, and that the Board, in his view, exceeded its statutory authority by making a zoning determination. In the end, the Lake Superior Court affirmed the Board, the Indiana Court of Appeals affirmed the Lake Superior Court, and the Indiana Supreme Court and United States Supreme Court both declined to review the case.

In November 2019, after exhausting the state appellate process, Andrade filed a new complaint in federal court under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 against the City, the Board, and various other city officials. The complaint alleges, among other things, that the defendants violated and conspired to violate Andrade's due-process rights by making "intentional false representations of opinion testimony" before the Board, "fail[ing] to comply with a lawfully-issued subpoena without justification," and pursuing an "unannounced policy to deny subsidized residential units in more desirable neighborhoods of Hammond."

The defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker - Feldman doctrine. The district court agreed and dismissed Andrade's complaint. Andrade timely appealed.

II. ANALYSIS

We review de novo the district court's decision that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction under the Rooker - Feldman doctrine. Brokaw v. Weaver , 305 F.3d 660, 664 (7th Cir. 2002) (citing Remer v. Burlington Area Sch. Dist. , 205 F.3d 990, 996 (7th Cir. 2000) ).

"The Rooker - Feldman doctrine precludes federal courts from deciding cases ‘brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments.’ " Hemmer v. Ind. State Bd. of Animal Health , 532 F.3d 610, 613 (7th Cir. 2008) (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp. , 544 U.S. 280, 284, 125 S.Ct. 1517, 161 L.Ed.2d 454 (2005) ); see also Rooker v. Fidelity Tr. Co. , 263 U.S. 413, 44 S.Ct. 149, 68 L.Ed. 362 (1923) ; D.C. Ct. of Appeals v. Feldman , 460 U.S. 462, 103 S.Ct. 1303, 75 L.Ed.2d 206 (1983). "The rationale for the doctrine is that no matter how wrong a state court judgment may be under federal law, only the Supreme Court of the United States has jurisdiction to review it." Sykes v. Cook Cnty. Cir. Ct. Prob. Div. , 837 F.3d 736, 742 (7th Cir. 2016) (citing Brown v. Bowman , 668 F.3d 437, 442 (7th Cir. 2012) ); 28 U.S.C. § 1257 ("Final judgments or decrees rendered by the highest court of a State ... may be reviewed by the Supreme Court ....").

Only a narrow segment of cases falls outside the jurisdiction of the lower federal courts under Rooker - Feldman . Exxon Mobil , 544 U.S. at 291–92, 125 S.Ct. 1517. Preclusion, comity, and other abstention doctrines will more often come into play to "allow federal courts to stay or dismiss proceedings in deference to state-court actions." Id. at 284, 125 S.Ct. 1517 ; see also GASH Assocs. v. Village of Rosemont , 995 F.2d 726, 728 (7th Cir. 1993).

To determine whether the Rooker - Feldman doctrine bars jurisdiction, we apply a two-step analysis. First, we consider whether a plaintiff's federal claims are "independent" or, instead, whether they "either ‘directly’ challenge a state court judgment or are ‘inextricably intertwined with one.’ " Swartz v. Heartland Equine Rescue , 940 F.3d 387, 391 (7th Cir. 2019). If they are "independent" claims, the Rooker - Feldman doctrine does not preclude federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over them. But if they "directly" challenge or are "inextricably intertwined" with a state-court judgment, then we move on to step two.

At step two, we determine "whether the plaintiff had a reasonable opportunity to raise the issue in state court proceedings." Jakupovic v. Curran , 850 F.3d 898, 902 (7th Cir. 2017). Only if the plaintiff did have such an opportunity does Rooker - Feldman strip federal courts of jurisdiction.

Here, there is no question that Andrade is a "state court loser[ ]" who filed this action "after the state proceedings ended." Exxon Mobil , 544 U.S. at 281, 291, 125 S.Ct. 1517.

That said, Andrade's claims fall outside of Rooker - Feldman ’s purview at step one of the analysis. It is clear on the face of the complaint that Andrade's claims are not "direct challenges to any state court order, so to be implicated by Rooker - Feldman they must be ‘inextricably intertwined’ with a state court judgment." Swartz , 940 F.3d at 391 (quoting Jakupovic , 850 F.3d at 902 ).

For a federal claim to be inextricably intertwined with a state-court judgment, " ‘there must be no way for the injury complained of by [the] plaintiff to be separated from [the] state court judgment." Jakupovic , 850 F.3d at 903 (quoting Sykes , 837 F.3d at 742 ). In Swartz , for example, the plaintiffs’ federal claims challenged the seizure of their animals, an injury that came about after the state court determined that there was probable cause to believe that there was animal neglect and directed that the animals be seized. 940 F.3d at 389–90. We found that the claims were inextricably intertwined because "the Swartzes’ alleged injury was directly caused by the state court's orders." Id. at 392.

In contrast, Andrade's federal claims are not inextricably intertwined with a state-court judgment because the defendants’ challenged conduct—for example, defying a subpoena and providing false testimony before the Board—occurred before any judicial involvement. The complaint alleges, at most, "an independent prior injury that the state court failed to remedy" and not an injury "caused by the state court judgment." Sykes , 837 F.3d at 742. His federal claims could exist even without any state-court judgment. And for that reason, the "the injur[ies] complained of by [Andrade can] be separated from [the] state court judgment." Jakupovic , 850 F.3d at 903 (quoting Sykes , 837 F.3d at 742 ).1 The Rooker - Feldman doctrine accordingly does not apply, and federal courts may exercise jurisdiction over Andrade's case.

Whether the case may ultimately fail for other reasons—such as on preclusion grounds—will be for the district court to determine. Exxon Mobil , 544 U.S. at 293, 125 S.Ct. 1517. It has jurisdiction to make that determination.

III. CONCLUSION

We REVERSE the district court's decision that it lacked jurisdiction to hear Andrade's case, and we REMAND this matter for further proceedings.

Sykes, Chief Judge, concurring.

I join the court's opinion. As my colleagues explain, Andrade's alleged injuries stem from the demolish-or-repair order...

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