United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division
JAMES L. PHILLIPS, Plaintiff,
REDKEY TOWN BOARD, Defendant.
OPINION AND ORDER DISMISSING CASE AND IMPOSING
SANCTIONS AGAINST PLAINTIFF
William C. Lee, Judge U.S. District Court
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.
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.
Clerk of the Court is instructed to distribute a copy of this
Opinion and Order to all the Judges and Magistrate Judges in
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. Amazon.com, 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)).
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.
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).
Defendant's Motion to Dismiss.
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.
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- (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.
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).)
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.
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