Evans v. Cordray

Decision Date26 March 2012
Docket NumberCASE NO.2:09-cv-587
PartiesCHARLES R. EVANS, Plaintiff v. RICHARD CORDRAY, ET AL. Defendants
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of Ohio




This case, originally filed July 9, 2009, is now before the Court pursuant to an order of remand by the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit (Doc. 23, 5/27/11), which l-eversed this Court's previous orders (Docs. 11 and 19) granting the Defendants' motions to dismiss (Docs. 5, 6). Defendants had argued that the Supreme Court's Rooker-Feldman doctrine1 applied to Plaintiff Evans' Complaint and operated to deprive a federal district court of subject-matter jurisdiction. On consideration, this Court concluded that the Complaint was seeking "injunctive relief to prohibit Richard Cordray,2 in his official capacity as Attorney General of the State of Ohio, and the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas from applying Ohio's vexatious litigator statute, Ohio Revised Code § 2323.52, toPlaintiff in his pending divorce case" (Doc. 11, p. 1) and that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did indeed apply to deprive this Court of subject-matter jurisdiction (Doc. 11, p. 2, and Doc. 19, p. 4).

In its ruling on Evan's appeal, the Sixth Circuit described the relevant factual and procedural background of the case as follows:

Charles Evans was involved in a divorce proceeding in the Franklin County, Ohio Court of Common Pleas, Domestic Relations Division. In a separate state-court action, he filed an abuse-of-process claim against his estranged spouse, and she filed a counterclaim asserting that he was a "vexatious litigator" pursuant to Ohio Revised Code § 2323.52. The latter court rejected Evans's abuse-of-process claim; held that Evans was a vexatious litigator; and entered an order pursuant to § 2323.52, prohibiting Evans from instituting or continuing actions in the Ohio state courts without first obtaining leave. Subsequently, the domestic-relations court denied two of Evans's motions to continue in his divorce case because Evans failed to seek leave in accordance with the § 2323.52 order.
Evans then filed this suit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of Ohio against Ohio Attorney General Richard Cor dray and the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, claiming that § 2323.52 is unconstitutional as applied to him and other litigants in Ohio domestic-relations cases because it allegedly deprives them of the fundamental right of access to the courts in violation of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution. The district court granted the Ohio Attorney General's motion to dismiss,3and also denied Evans's motion for reconsideration concluding that the court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

Evans v. Cordray, 424 Fed. Appx. 537, 537-38, 2011 WL 2149547 at *l-2 (6th Cir. 2011). Considering the defendants actually named in the case and the relief soughtby Evans' Complaint, the appellate court then pointed out that, here, "Evans is not seeking relief from the state domestic court's decisions to deny him leave to proceed" (Id. at 540, *3), nor is he contesting "the state court's determination that he is a vexatious litigator." Id. at 541, *4. Continuing and relying primarily on analysis in its own prior decision in Hood v. Keller. 341 F.3d 593 (6th Cir. 2003), and the Seventh Circuit's earlier decision in Buckley v. Illinois Judicial Inquiry Bd., 997 F.2d 224 (7th Cir. 1993), the appellate opinion concludes that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not properly apply to bar the district court's subject-matter jurisdiction in this case. See also Frieger v. Ferrv. 471 F.3d 637 (6th Cir. 2006).

Specifically, the Evans opinion holds:

Because the source of Evans's injury is neither the Ohio domestic court's decision to deny his motions to continue, nor the state court's determination that he is a vexatious litigator, but rather the alleged unconstitutionality of § 2323.52 as applied in divorce proceedings, we hold that the district court was not deprived of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

424 Fed. Appx. at 541, 2011 WL 2149547 *4-5. Jurisdiction was returned to this Court by an order stating that, "[f]or these reasons, we reverse the judgment of the district court and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion." Ibid, (Doc. 23, 5/27/2011).

In resuming proceedings on the case in accordance with the above order, this Court is mindful of two additional rules now applicable because of the prior proceedings both here and in the appellate court.

Under the doctrine of law of the case, findings made at one point in the litigation become the law of the case for subsequent stages of that same litigation. United States v. Bell, 988 F.2d 247, 250 (1st Cir.1993). A complementary theory, the mandate rule, requires lower courts to adhere to the commands of a superior court. Id. at 251. Accordingly,
[u]pon remand of a case for further proceedings after a decision by the appellate court, the trial court must 'proceed in accordance with the mandate and the law of the case as established on appeal.' The trial court must 'implement both the letter and the spirit of the mandate, taking into account the appellate court's opinion and the circumstances it embraces.'

United States v. Kikumura, 947 F.2d 72, 76 (3d Cir.1991) (Citations omitted). United States v. Moored. 38 F.3d 1419, 1421 (6th Cir. 1994); see also, Westside Mothers v. Olszewski. 454 F.3d 532, 538 (6th Cir. 2006). In the particular circumstances of this case, however, because both this Court's earlier rulings and that of the Sixth Circuit on appeal concerned only the threshold question of subject-matter jurisdiction, or the lack of it under Rooker-Feldman, the merits of any other issues legitimately raised by the Defendants' initial motions to dismiss or in subsequent filings here remain to be considered on this remand. Until the circuit court's reversal on appeal of the initial judgments here, this Court believed it lacked subect-matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rooker-Feldman.

Proceeding with such consideration, the Court notes that, although other persons and entities are mentioned in various documents now part of the record in this case, there were, and remain, only two named parties-defendant against whom the "preliminary and permanent injunctive and declaratory relief" sought by Plaintiff might be awarded: the Attorney General of Ohio4 and the Franklin County Court ofCommon Pleas. Comp., Doc. 2. Further, the Court notes that Plaintiff relies on 28 U.S.C. §1331 and 42 U.S.C. §1983 as his claimed bases for this Court's jurisdiction to award such relief against the two Defendants in the case. Doc. 2.

In support of his motion to dismiss the Defendant Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, the Franklin County Prosecutor argues both that the Eleventh Amendment bars Plaintiff's suit against such a state entity and that, in any case, under the law of Ohio, a Court of Common Pleas is not sui juris, that is, it is not an entity against which a plaintiffs claims can be pursued in court. Doc. 5, pp. 4-5. This Court finds the prosecutor is correct in both arguments.

.... Eleventh Amendment immunity bars all suits, whether for injunctive or monetary relief, against the state and its departments. Pennhurst State School & Hospital u. Haider man, 465 U.S. 89, 100-01, 104 S.Ct. 900, 907-08, 79 L.Ed.2d 67 (1984) (emphasis supplied).

Cox v. Kentucky Dept. of Transp., 53 F.3d 146, 152, n.2 (6th Cir. 1995).5 Further, the capacity to sue or be sued in the United States District Courts is governed by Rule 17, Fed.R.Civ.P. Because a "state court" is not one of the entities expressly identified in the Rule, it must fall under the remainder provision in Rule 17(b): "In all other cases capacity to sue or be sued shall be determined by the law of the state in which the district court is held...." Thus, this Court must look to the law of the State of Ohio to determine whether the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas is an entity capable at all of being made a defendant in this case; and Ohio's highest court has made it clear that, under the law of Ohio, such a state court cannot.

Unlike a board of education, a court ' * * * is not sui juris. "A court is defined to be a place in which justice is judicially administered. It is the exercise of judicial power, by the proper officer or officers, at a time and place appointed by law." Todd v. United States (1895), 158 U.S. 278, 284, 15 S.Ct. 889, 891, 39 L.Ed. 982. 'Absent express statutory authority, a court can neither sue nor be sued in its own right.5State ex rel. Cleveland Municipal Court v. Cleveland City Council (1973), 34 Ohio St.2d 120, 121, 296 N.E.2d 544, 546.

Malone v. Court of Common Pleas of Cuyahoga County, 45 Ohio St.2d 245, 248, 344 N.E.2d 126, 128 (1976). The law of Ohio on this point has consistently been recognized and followed in lower federal court decisions. See, e.g., Stewart v. Lucas Co. Juvenile Ct., Case No. 3:08 CV 1603, 2009 WL 3242053 at *5 (N.D. Ohio, Oct. 2, 2009), and the cases there cited.

Further, Plaintiff cannot successfully argue that there is "express statutory authority" for him to sue such a "court" defendant contained in either of the jurisdictional statutes on which he relies here. Title 28 U.S.C. §1331 contains no language that could be so construed, and Title 42 U.S.C. §1983 has expressly been held not to constitute such an authorization.

.... [I]t is not proper to make a court a defendant. Courts are not persons within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and, if they were, the action would be barred by the Eleventh Amendment, anyway. See Will v. Michigan Department of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989); Harris v. Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District, 787 F.2d 427, 429 (8th Cir.), cert, denied, 479 U.S. 851,

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