Banks v. Slay, No. 4:13CV02158 ERW.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
Writing for the CourtE. RICHARD WEBBER
Citation9 F.Supp.3d 1069
PartiesMichael J. BANKS and Antonia Rush–Banks, Plaintiffs, v. Francis G. SLAY, et al., Defendants.
Decision Date25 March 2014
Docket NumberNo. 4:13CV02158 ERW.

9 F.Supp.3d 1069

Michael J. BANKS and Antonia Rush–Banks, Plaintiffs,
v.
Francis G. SLAY, et al., Defendants.

No. 4:13CV02158 ERW.

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division.

Signed March 25, 2014


Motion granted.

[9 F.Supp.3d 1070]

Kenneth M. Romines, Kenneth M. Romines, Attorney at Law, Robert Herman, Schwartz and Herman, St. Louis, MO, for Plaintiffs.

Daniel J. Emerson, St. Louis City Counselor, Robert J. Isaacson, Attorney General of Missouri, St. Louis, MO, for Defendants.


MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
E. RICHARD WEBBER, Senior District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Defendants Slay, Green and Jones' Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 13] and Defendants[ Slay, Gray, Irwin, Turner, and Switzer's] Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 18]. On March 6, 2014, the Court held a Hearing, and the parties addressed these pending motions.

I. BACKGROUND

This case arises out of the alleged violation of Plaintiff Michael Banks' Fourth Amendment rights under the United

[9 F.Supp.3d 1071]

States Constitution. Specifically, Plaintiffs Michael Banks and Antonia Rush–Banks contend Reginald Williams, a police officer for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department (SLMPD), unlawfully searched and seized Plaintiff Michael Banks in 2002, leading to criminal charges and subsequent acquittal by a jury. In 2005, Plaintiffs filed a state suit, Banks I, against Williams, the SLMPD Board of Commissioners (Board), and Ryan Cousins, another SLMPD officer. In 2008, Plaintiffs dismissed, without prejudice, the claims against the Board, and in 2009, they dismissed, with prejudice, the claims against Cousins. Plaintiffs then filed a Second Amended Petition against Williams in his personal and official capacities. The Petition asserted a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for unconstitutional search and seizure, and common law claims of malicious prosecution, conversion, and loss of consortium. Williams failed to file an answer, and on April 27, 2009, the trial court entered a default judgment against him.

On April 6, 2012, Plaintiffs filed another state court suit, Banks II, against: Francis Slay, in his capacities as Mayor of the City of St. Louis (City) and ex-officio member of the Board; Darlene Green, City Comptroller; then-City Treasurer Larry C. Williams, who has subsequently been substituted by his successor, Tishaura Jones; and Board member Bettye Battle–Turner. In Banks II, Plaintiffs sought a writ of mandamus directing these officials to satisfy the default judgment entered against Williams in Banks I. The circuit court erroneously issued a summons, rather than a preliminary writ as required by Missouri Supreme Court Rule 94.04.1

The Banks II defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim on which relief may be granted, and the trial court granted their motion on November 5, 2012. Plaintiffs filed a motion for leave to amend their Petition, and the trial court denied the motion on November 29, 2012.

Plaintiffs appealed the Banks II order of dismissal to the Missouri Court of Appeals, Eastern District, arguing the trial court erred by concluding the underlying default judgment against Williams was not a direct judgment against the City or the Board. On October 8, 2013, the Court of Appeals issued an opinion, holding it could not “conclude ... that any legal authority exists to require the City or the Board to pay the default judgment entered solely against Officer Williams.” Banks v. Slay, 410 S.W.3d 767, 771 (Mo.App.E.D.2013). In so holding, the Court of Appeals discussed Brandon v. Holt, which “explicit[ly]” stated “that a judgment against a public servant ‘in his official capacity’ imposes liability on the entity that he represents provided, of course, the public entity received notice and an opportunity to respond.”

[9 F.Supp.3d 1072]

469 U.S. 464, 471–72, 105 S.Ct. 873, 83 L.Ed.2d 878 (1985). The Court of Appeals distinguished Brandon, and stated it “c[ould] not conclude the City or the Board had the opportunity to be heard with respect to the default judgment against Officer Williams.” Banks, 410 S.W.3d at 771. The court took note of the circuit court's procedural error, and concluded, “Rather than perpetuate a procedural process that is not authorized by Rule 94 and is disfavored by the Supreme Court of Missouri, instead of stating that the judgment is affirmed, this court denies the writ without prejudice to seeking an original writ in the Supreme Court of Missouri.” Id.

Plaintiffs then filed the instant suit in this Court, naming as Defendants: (1) Francis Slay, in his official capacities as Mayor of the City and ex-officio member of the Board; (2) Darlene Green in her official capacity as Comptroller of the City; (3) Tishaura Jones, in her official capacity as Treasurer of the City; and (4) Richard Gray, Thomas Irwin, Bettye Battle–Turner, and Erwin Switzer, in their capacities as members of the Board. The Complaint seeks a writ of mandamus ordering Defendants to satisfy the Banks I default judgment, and a declaration that the judgment against Williams is tantamount to a direct judgment against Defendants.

II. DISCUSSION

In their Motion, Defendants Slay, Green, and Jones assert this case should be dismissed for three reasons. First, they contend Plaintiffs' claims are barred by the common law doctrine of res judicata. Second, they argue, in light of the state court proceedings regarding this matter, the Rooker–Feldman doctrine divests this Court of subject matter jurisdiction. Finally, they maintain the instant lawsuit is barred by the five-year statute of limitations applicable to § 1983 claims brought in Missouri. Defendants Slay, Gray, Irwin, Turner, and Switzer argue only that the Rooker–Feldman doctrine applies, and the Court should, therefore, dismiss this case. For reasons discussed infra, the Court concludes it lacks subject matter jurisdiction due to the Rooker–Feldman doctrine.2 Thus, the Court need

[9 F.Supp.3d 1073]

not decide whether res judicata or the five-year statute of limitations applies.3

Under the Rooker–Feldman doctrine, only the United States Supreme Court has jurisdiction to review decisions of state courts. Friends of Lake View Sch. District v. Beebe, 578 F.3d 753, 758 (8th Cir.2009); 28 U.S.C. § 1257. Therefore, federal district courts generally lack subject matter jurisdiction over attempted appeals from state courts. Id.; District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 476, 103 S.Ct. 1303, 75 L.Ed.2d 206 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 416, 44 S.Ct. 149, 68 L.Ed. 362 (1923). Generally, the Rooker–Feldman doctrine “is confined to cases ... brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284, 125 S.Ct. 1517, 161 L.Ed.2d 454 (2005). It “does not bar federal claims brought in federal court when a state court previously presented with the same claims declined to reach their merits.” Simes v. Huckabee, 354 F.3d 823, 830 (8th Cir.2004).

Aside from “straightforward” appeals of state decisions, however, the Rooker–Feldman doctrine forecloses “more indirect attempts by federal plaintiffs to undermine state court decisions.” Lemonds v. St. Louis County, 222 F.3d 488, 493 (8th Cir.2000). “Thus, a corollary to the basic rule against reviewing judgments prohibits federal district courts from exercising jurisdiction over general constitutional claims that are ‘inextricably intertwined’ with specific claims already adjudicated in state court.” Id. at 492–93; Simes, 354 F.3d at 827. A federal claim is inextricably intertwined with a state decision “if a federal claim would succeed only to the extent that the state court wrongly decided the issues before it.” Simes, 354 F.3d at 827 (internal quotations omitted). “A state court need only indicate it has considered, reached the merits, and rejected the federal claims in order for [Rooker–Feldman] to apply.” Id. at 830.

Plaintiffs make several arguments against application of the Rooker–Feldman doctrine. The Court addresses each, in turn.

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A. The State Proceedings Were “ Complete” at the Commencement of the Federal Case

First, Plaintiffs argue the Rooker–Feldman doctrine applies only when the federal suit commences after the state proceedings have ended. They note, in Banks II, the Court of Appeals gave leave to file an original writ in the Supreme Court of Missouri. In light of this fact, Plaintiffs maintain the state court proceedings were not complete when they filed their federal Complaint, and the Rooker–Feldman doctrine does not apply.

Plaintiffs correctly observe the Rooker–Feldman doctrine applies only when the state court proceedings are “complete” at the time the federal suit commences. Dornheim v. Sholes, 430 F.3d 919, 923–24 (8th Cir.2005); Exxon Mobil Corp., 544 U.S. at 292–93, 125 S.Ct. 1517. However, Plaintiffs erroneously contend the state court proceedings are incomplete. Such an outcome would do violence to the notion of “den[ying]” the writ with leave to seek an “original” writ in the Supreme Court of Missouri. Banks, 410 S.W.3d at 771. In other words, due, in part, to the unique nature of mandamus actions, and, in part, to the unusual procedural history of the instant case, Plaintiffs would have to institute a new mandamus action should they decide to pursue this case at the state level. Accordingly, the Court finds the state proceedings were “complete” at the time the Court of Appeals denied the writ, which occurred before the commencement of the federal action.4

Nor is the Court persuaded by Plaintiffs' reference to Mothershed v. Justices of the Supreme Court, 410 F.3d 602 (9th Cir.2005).5 In Mothershed, an attorney sought a writ of mandamus in the Oklahoma Supreme Court to halt state bar disciplinary proceedings against him. Id. at 604 n. 1. The Ninth Circuit, in a footnote, found “state proceedings ended...

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