United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
OPINION AND ORDER
THERESA L. SPRINGMANN CHIEF JUDGE
January 12, 2018, Plaintiffs Victor Wakley, Julie Wakley, and
Devon Wakley, proceeding pro se, filed a Complaint [ECF No.
1] against Defendants W. Randall Kammeyer, Krista Kammeyer
Motter, Steve Bremer, JP Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, and
Jennifer L. DeGroote. The Plaintiffs allege that the
Defendants have engaged in patterns and practices of
committing fraud against the Plaintiffs, and conspired to
violate their rights under various amendments to the
Constitution. The Complaint states three causes of action:
fraud (Count 1), conversion (Count 2), and a 42 U.S.C. §
1983 action based on a conspiracy to violate the 5th, 8th,
and 14th Amendments of the Constitution (Count 3).
Defendants responded in three groups. First, Defendant
Jennifer L. DeGroote, a magistrate in the Allen Superior
Court, filed a Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Jurisdiction and
Failure to State a Claim [ECF No. 11]. The Plaintiffs
responded [ECF No. 31] in opposition. Defendant DeGroote
filed a timely reply [ECF No. 45]. Second, Defendants JP
Morgan Chase and Jamie Dimon filed a Motion to Dismiss [ECF
No. 25]. On the same day, the third group, Defendants W.
Randall Kammeyer, Krista Kammeyer Motter, and Steve Bremer,
filed a substantially similar Motion to Dismiss [ECF No. 27].
The Plaintiffs filed substantially similar responses [ECF
Nos. 48, 49] in opposition to both of these Motions to
Dismiss. The Bank Defendants filed a timely reply. [ECF No.
50]. All the Defendants argue that, under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine deprives this Court of subject matter jurisdiction
over the Plaintiff's Complaint because the requested
relief would require the Court to disrupt a final judgment of
the state court. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion
to Dismiss is GRANTED and the case is DISMISSED for LACK OF
Steve Bremer appraised property for individuals seeking a
mortgage from Plaintiff Victor Wakley's company.
(See Pls.' Compl., 3-4, ECF No. 1). On August
21, 2000, Steve Bremer procured a Default Judgment
Order [ECF No. 26-2] against Victor Wakley,
signed by Defendant DeGroot. On November 28, 2017, Defendant
W. Randall Kammeyer filed a Verified Motion for Proceedings
Supplemental, on behalf of Steve Bremer, against Victor
Wakley and Chase Bank, seeking Summons and Interrogatories to
Garnishee Defendant Depository Financial Institution.
Defendant JP Morgan Chase answered the requested
interrogatories, identifying four accounts in Victor
Wakley's name, noting Julie Wakley and Devon Wakley as
joint account holders. On December 12, 2017, Julie Wakley and
Devon Wakley filed separate Exemption Claims and Requests for
Hearing, as joint account holders. On the same day,
Magistrate Brian D. Cook set an exemption hearing for
December 18, 2017. On December 19, 2017, noting that only the
plaintiff had appeared by counsel, Magistrate Thomas P. Boyer
denied the Exemption request. Later that day, Julie Wakley
and Devon Wakley again filed separate, second Exemption
Claims and Requests for Hearing [ECF No. 26-8], as joint
account holders. On December 27, 2017, Defendant Magistrate
Jennifer DeGroote denied Julie Wakley's Second Request
for Exemption Hearing, as she “had provided no
reasoning to the Court for good cause in filing a second
request for exemption following her failure to appear.”
On January 2, 2018, Magistrate Cook entered a Banking
Institution Garnishment Order for $8, 026.05 against Victor
Wakley and Chase Bank. [ECF No. 26-10].
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, lower federal courts
lack jurisdiction to review the decisions of state courts in
civil cases. See Gilbert v. Ill. Bd. of Educ., 591
F.3d 896, 900 (7th Cir. 2010) (first citing Exxon Mobil
Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 283-84
(2005); then citing Johnson v. Orr, 551 F.3d 564,
568 (7th Cir. 2008)). The doctrine “prevents a
state-court loser from bringing suit in federal court in
order effectively to set aside the state-court judgment,
” and applies “even though the state court
judgment might be erroneous or even unconstitutional.”
Gilbert, 591 F.3d at 900 (citations and quotation
marks omitted). The doctrine “bars federal claims in
two instances. The first involves a plaintiff's request
of a federal district court to overturn an adverse state
court judgment. The second, and more difficult instance,
involves federal claims that were not raised in state court
or do not on their face require review of a state court's
decision.” Brown v. Bowman, 668 F.3d 437, 442
(7th Cir. 2012) (citing Taylor v. Fed. Nat'l
Mortg. Ass'n, 374 F.3d 529, 532-33 (7th Cir. 2004)).
In the second case, “Rooker- Feldman will act
as a jurisdictional bar if those claims are
‘inextricably intertwined' with a state court
judgment.” Id. (quoting Taylor, 374
F.3d at 533). Although the Seventh Circuit has described the
inextricably intertwined inquiry as “a somewhat
metaphysical concept, ” a district court must determine
whether it “is in essence being called upon to review
the state-court decision.” Taylor, 374 F.3d at
533 (quotation marks omitted). “In order to determine
the applicability of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine,
the fundamental and appropriate question to ask is whether
the injury alleged by the federal plaintiff resulted from the
state court judgment itself or is distinct from that
judgment.” Garry v. Geils, 82 F.3d 1362, 1365
(7th Cir. 1996).
The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine Bars the Plaintiff's
Conversion and Conspiracy Claims
the removal of funds ordered by the state court is the only
alleged injury in the Plaintiffs' conversion and
conspiracy claims, those claims are barred by the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine. The Plaintiffs'
substantive, factual allegations in support of their
conversion and conspiracy claims are that the Defendants
“neglected to ‘serve' either Julie Wakley or
Devon Wakley with the requisite ‘Notice' and
‘Opportunity' to be heard regarding the conversion
of their funds, ” (Compl. at 10), and that “the
Defendants have converted three accounts that were the
exclusive ownership of Julie Wakley and Devon Wakley”
(id. at 11). The state court ordered Chase Bank to
pay over to the clerk of the court an amount not exceeding
the total amount owing, because “[n]either Defendant
nor any other depositor claiming an interest in the aforesaid
account(s) has claimed that any portion of the funds in said
account(s) is exempt from garnishment.” (Banking
Institution Garnishment Order, ¶¶ 3, 5, ECF No.
28-10.) Thus, the only injuries alleged by the Plaintiffs in
Counts 2 and 3 require review of the state court judgment.
The Plaintiffs are asking this Court to overturn the state
court's judgment, “an action [it] ha[s] no
jurisdiction to take.” See Mains v. Citibank,
N.A., 852 F.3d 669, 674-75 (7th Cir. 2017); cf.
Iqbal v. Patel, 780 F.3d 728, 730-31 (7th Cir. 2015)
(finding that “[t]he reason a litigant gives for
contesting the state court's decision cannot endow a
federal district court with authority . . .”).
their Complaint, the Plaintiffs additionally cite
Trustees of the Teamsters Union, Local No. 142 v.
Brown, No. 2:10 cv 249, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15426
(N.D. Ind. Feb. 8, 2012), as support for their claims. While
this case does support the contention that Julie and Devon
Wakley may have had valid exemption claims, that contention
is not the issue before this Court. This Court must determine
whether “it is in essence being called upon to review
the state-court decision, ” not how valid the
Plaintiffs' claims were in the state court.
Taylor, 374 F.3d at 533 (quotation marks omitted).
Plaintiffs make two arguments that Rooker-Feldman
should not apply. First, the Plaintiffs argue that the notice
provided of the exemption hearing was inadequate.
(See Mem. in Opp. to Mot. to Dismiss, 4, ECF No.
31.) However, when the Plaintiffs learned that the exemption
hearing would take place does not alter the character of the
Plaintiffs' injury. See Crestview Vill. Apartments v.
U.S. Dep't. of Housing and Urban Dev., 383 F.3d 552,
556 (7th Cir. 2004) (finding suit barred by
Rooker-Feldman when the injury alleged was complete
only after the state court entered the order) (citing
Garry v. Geils, 82 F.3d 1362, 1368 (7th Cir. 1996)).
“Litigants who believe that a state judicial proceeding
has violated their constitutional rights must appeal that
decision through their state courts and then to the Supreme
Court.” See Nationscredit Home Equity Servs. Corp.
v. City of Chi., 135 F.Supp.2d 905, 911 (N.D. Ill. 2001)
(collecting cases) (citing Centres, Inc. v. Town of
Brookfield, Wis., 148 F.3d 699, 702 (7th Cir.1998));
see also Iqbal, 780 F.3d at 729 (“The
Rooker-Feldman doctrine is concerned not with
why a state court's judgment might be mistaken .
. . but with which federal court is authorized to
intervene.”) (emphasis in original); Ritter v.
Ross, 922 F.2d 750, 755 (7th Cir. 1993) (holding that,
when the state court judgment is an essential part of the
federal claim, Rooker-Feldman applies, even if the
federal plaintiff complains of notice issues). Because the
Plaintiffs' injury is the state court judgment itself,
the issues of the notice regarding that judgment do not give
this Court jurisdiction.
the Plaintiffs argue that, while the garnishment ordered
payment from Victor Wakley's funds, the state court
lacked jurisdiction over Julie or Devon Wakley, and that
therefore those Plaintiffs had no redress. As part of its
analysis under Rooker-Feldman, this Court must
determine “whether the plaintiff did not have a
reasonable opportunity to raise the issue in state court
proceedings.” Taylor, 374 F.3d at 533-34
(internal quotation marks omitted). In the context of
Rooker-Feldman, claims are not barred if the state
court imposed an insurmountable obstacle to adjudication or
if a state law prevented the plaintiff from raising it in
state court. See Brokaw v. Weaver, 305 F.3d 660,
667-68 (7th Cir. 2002) (citing Long v. Shorebank Dev.
Corp., 182 F.3d 548, 556 (7th Cir. 1999)). Here, the
state court determined it had jurisdiction over the relevant
accounts, and the Plaintiffs had an opportunity to raise the
issue in state court-an opportunity of which they availed
themselves by filing Exemption Claims and Requests for
Hearing. (See ECF Nos. 28-5, 28-8.); see also
Schmitt v. Schmitt, 324 F.3d 484, 487 (7th Cir. 2003)
(“[A] state court is perfectly capable of answering
questions of jurisdiction.”). “The plaintiff has
the obligation to establish jurisdiction by competent
proof.” Sapperstein v. Hager, 188 F.3d 852,
855-56 (7th Cir. 1999) (citing Commodity Trend Serv.,
Inc. v. Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n, 149 F.3d
679, 685 (7th Cir. 1998)).
This Court Lacks Jurisdiction Over Plaintiff Victor
Wakley's Fraud Claim
Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars Plaintiffs'
conversion and conspiracy claims, the only remaining claim is
the Plaintiffs' claim of fraud. However, this Court has no
jurisdiction over the Plaintiffs' fraud claim. Federal
courts are of limited jurisdiction and may adjudicate claims
if (1) the Complaint alleges a violation of a federal statute
or of the Plaintiff's constitutional rights, or (2) if
the Complaint meets diversity requirements, which require
that the Plaintiff and Defendant are citizens of different
states and that the Plaintiff seeks damages in excess of $75,
000. 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332. The Plaintiffs'
fraud claim does not allege a violation of a federal statute