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Phillips v. Redkey Town Board

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

October 22, 2019



          William C. Lee, Judge U.S. District Court

         This matter is before the Court on a motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Redkey Town Board on August 14, 2019 (ECF 11). Plaintiff James Phillips responded to the motion by filing two documents with the Court-the first on August 15, 2019 (ECF 16) and the second on August 22, 2019 (ECF 17). The Court deems those documents to be Phillips' response in opposition to the motion to dismiss. Defendant chose not to file a reply brief and so the matter is ripe for resolution. For the reasons explained below, the motion to dismiss filed by Defendant Redkey Town Board is GRANTED and this case is DISMISSED with prejudice.

         Plaintiff James L. Phillips is HEREBY SANCTIONED for repeatedly filing frivolous and vexatious lawsuits in this Court. The Court imposes sanctions against James L. Phillips as set forth below.

         The Clerk of the Court is instructed to distribute a copy of this Opinion and Order to all the Judges and Magistrate Judges in this District.


         Phillips is proceeding pro se. A trial court must liberally construe a pro se plaintiff's pleadings. Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); see also Hart v., Inc., 191 F.Supp.3d 809, 816 (N.D. Ill. 2016), aff'd, 845 F.3d 802 (7th Cir. 2017) (“Because Plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the Court construes his complaint ‘liberally' and holds it to a ‘less stringent standard than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'”) (quoting Perez v. Fenoglio, 792 F.3d 768, 776 (7th Cir. 2015)).

         The Redkey Town Board bases its motion to dismiss on Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). The Court concludes that this case must be dismissed for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction and so reviews the motion under Rule 12(b)(1). A Rule 12(b)(1) motion challenges jurisdiction in federal court, and the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the elements necessary for jurisdiction. Scanlan v. Eisenberg, 669 F.3d 838, 841-42 (7th Cir. 2012). When ruling on a 12(b)(1) motion, a court may look beyond the complaint's allegations and consider any evidence that has been submitted on the issue of jurisdiction. Ezekiel v. Michel, 66 F.3d 894, 897 (7th Cir. 1995). The Plaintiff has the burden to establish jurisdiction by competent proof. Sapperstein v. Hager, 188 F.3d 852, 855-56 (7th Cir. 1999). In this case, the Court has examined Phillips's Complaint and attached document. Phillips fails to even allege, let alone establish, a basis for subject matter jurisdiction in this Court and the case must be dismissed.

         Also, to the extent Phillips' cause of action challenges a 14-year-old state court case, as also discussed below, this Court would not have jurisdiction over the matter as a result of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, this Court has no subject matter jurisdiction to review the judgment of a state court. This doctrine derives from two Supreme Court decisions, Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923) and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983), and “precludes lower federal court jurisdiction over claims seeking review of state court judgments.” Clark v. Hale, 2013 WL 4787916, at *1 (N.D. Ind. Sept. 9, 2013) (quoting Remer v. Burlington Area School Dist., 205 F.3d 990, 996 (7th Cir. 2000)). As another district court explained, “cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments” are not reviewable in federal court. Harrison v. Moultrie Cty., Illinois, 2019 WL 2171886, at *1 (7th Cir. May 20, 2019) (citing Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005)). “In civil litigation only the Supreme Court of the United States may review the final decision of a state court. 28 U.S.C. § 1257. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine requires district courts to dismiss, for lack of jurisdiction, any request for federal review of a state court's decision[.]” Cobbs v. Chiapete, 2019 WL 2157417, at *1 (7th Cir. May 17, 2019). “For the most part, litigants who feel that a state court proceeding has violated their federal rights must assert those rights in state court and then appeal that decision through the state court system and, as appropriate, to the United States Supreme Court.” Carter v. Reich, 2019 WL 2103425, at *2 (W.D. Wis. May 14, 2019).


         1. Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.

         In his Complaint, James Phillips states his cause of action as follows: “I went to County Court House to put railroad land on my property. The Redkey Town Board stole my land on other side of road.” Complaint, (ECF 1), p. 2 (verbatim). That is the entirety of Phillips' recitation of his cause of action. In his prayer for relief, Phillips makes the following request: “Pay me and give me back my land.” Id., p. 3. As the Defendant points out, “[i]nterestingly, Plaintiff indicated in . . . his Complaint that he has never sued anyone for these exact same claims.” Defendant's Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss (ECF 12), p. 2. This is an important point. Not only does Phillips' Complaint fail to invoke this Court's subject-matter jurisdiction, but he has tried to sue the Town of Redkey or its Board or Town Council-and even its Fire Chief-several times before, alleging the same claim: that the Town of Redkey stole part of his land.

         In the case of Phillips v. Town of Redkey, No. 1:17-CV-224, another case that this Court dismissed with prejudice, Phillips stated his cause of action, in its entirety, as follows: “The Redkey Town Board took my land across Railroad St. They are tearing up my apple trees and stealing my land on other side of street.” Phillips, No. 1:17-CV-224, Complaint, p. 2. And these two cases are not the only ones Phillips has filed in this Court asserting exactly the same claim. Defendant Redkey Town Board points out as follows:

Plaintiff alleges in his Complaint that the defendant “stole my land.” . . . Plaintiff has filed at least four lawsuits against the defendant or defendant's employees or agents in the last three years. See Phillips v. Miller, 1:17-CV-19 (N.D. Ind. [filed] May 17, 2017); Phillips v. Midstates Concrete, 1:16-CV-296 (N.D. Ind. [filed] Oct. 7, 2016); Phillips v. Redkey Town Board, 1:17-CV-[224] (N.D. Ind. [filed] May 22, 2017); Phillips v. Young, et al., 1:16-CV-176 (N.D. Ind. [filed] May 23, 2016). Each of those cases resulted in dismissals pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) or 12(b)(6).

Defendant's Brief in Support (ECF 12), pp. 1-2.[1] In fact, Phillips has attempted to sue the Town of Redkey for this same claim as far back as 2010. In the case of Phillips v. Redkey Town Board, No. 1:10-CV-160, Phillips tried to sue the Town for the same claim asserted in this case and the others cited above. See 1:10-CV-160, Complaint (ECF 1), p. 2. Not only that, but the documents attached to Phillips' Complaint in that 2010 case reveal that his dispute with the Town of Redkey over property he claims was wrongfully taken from him was litigated 10 years ago in the Jay County Superior Court in Phillips v. Redkey Town Board, et al., Cause No. 38D01-0906-CC-135. Id., pp. 9-17. (Phillips voluntarily dismissed his 2010 federal lawsuit against Redkey five days after the Town filed a motion to dismiss the case. 1:10-CV-160, Motion to Voluntarily Dismiss (ECF 11).)

         Phillips also attached documents to his Complaint in the present case, which reference another (and even older) state court case. Complaint, pp. 4-8. That additional state court case is Lewellen, et al. v. Consolidated Rail Corporation, Inc., filed in the Montgomery County Circuit Court as case number 54C01-9406-CP-0187. The documents Phillips provided include a copy of a court order entered in by the state court in January of 2005. Id. The documents do not mention Phillips and he does not explain in his Complaint what relevance they have to the present case. It doesn't matter, though, because if the basis for his alleged cause of action in this case is claim that a state court entered an order or judgment that somehow harmed him or that was incorrect, then this Court's subject-matter jurisdiction is not invoked, although the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is. As the Court explained above, “[t]he Rooker-Feldman doctrine requires district courts to dismiss, for lack of jurisdiction, any request for federal review of a state court's decision[.]” Cobbs v. Chiapete, 2019 WL 2157417, at *1.

         Getting back to the Town's motion to dismiss, it is well taken and will be granted for the same reasons explained to Phillips in detail in this Court's orders of August 15, 2017, and October 2, 2017, in Phillips v. Redkey Town Board, 1:17-CV-224. This Court took pains to explain to Phillips in those two orders why his claim was not legally viable and did not invoke this court's jurisdiction. The Court also cautioned Phillips that if he persisted in filing frivolous cases and motions he would be subject to sanctions. Undeterred, Phillips filed this lawsuit, attempting to reassert the same claims against the Defendant that he has tried to assert and failed at many times over many years in both state and federal court. The Court need not repeat its discussion or reasoning from its previous orders-history ...

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