United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Hammond Division
OPINION AND ORDER
T. MOODY JUDGE.
amended complaint, pro se plaintiff Adrian Rangel
alleges unfair treatment in connection with a child support
order issued in Tippecanoe County, Indiana, by a state court.
(DE # 36.) Plaintiff phrases his claims in terms of
“due process” and “equal protection,
” and he seeks both injunctive relief and compensatory
damages in the amount of $3, 000, 000. (Id.)
defendants in this case are Steven P. Meyer, a county judge;
Matthew D. Boulac, a county commissioner; and Valerie Church,
a county prosecutor. Defendants have moved to dismiss on
numerous bases (DE # 48), but the court first focuses on
defendants' argument that this court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine
(discussed in more detail below), as it must be considered
first and is dispositive. Wright v. Tackett, 39 F.3d
155, 157-58 (7th Cir. 1994) (analysis of jurisdictional
principals implicated by Rooker-Feldman doctrine
must precede other substantive matters, such as immunity).
question of subject matter jurisdiction falls under Rule
12(b)(1). A Rule 12(b)(1) motion can present either a facial
or factual challenge to subject matter jurisdiction. Apex
Digital, Inc. v. Sears, Roebucks & Co., 572 F.3d 440
(7th Cir. 2009). A facial attack, like this one, is a
challenge to the sufficiency of the pleading itself.
Id. When such a challenge has been presented, the
court takes all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and
draws all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.
Long v. Shorebank Dev. Corp., 182 F.3d 548, 554 (7th
heart of this dispute is the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine, which derives its name from two decisions of the
United States Supreme Court, Rooker v. Fidelity Trust
Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923), and District of Columbia
Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983). The
doctrine precludes lower federal court jurisdiction over
claims seeking review of state court judgments. Brokaw v.
Weaver, 305 F.3d 660, 664 (7th Cir. 2002). The doctrine
“is not limited to just those claims alleging that the
state court judgment itself caused the federal
plaintiff's injury; the doctrine also precludes federal
jurisdiction over claims ‘inextricably intertwined'
with a state court determination.” Remer v.
Burlington Area Sch. Dist., 205 F.3d 990, 996 (7th Cir
2000) (quoting Feldman, 460 U.S. at 483-84 n.16). As
the Seventh Circuit has noted, “it can be difficult to
discern which claims are and which claims are not
‘inextricably intertwined' with a state
judgment.” Id. The pivotal inquiry in applying
the doctrine is whether the federal plaintiff seeks to set
aside a state court judgment or whether he is presenting an
independent claim. Id.
case, defendants argue that by bringing this suit complaining
about a state court child support order, plaintiff is
inviting a lower federal court to examine and pass judgment
upon a state court ruling. Plaintiff argues that the doctrine
is inapplicable because he does not seek to overturn the
state court judgment; instead he seeks damages for injuries
caused by constitutional violations that occurred during the
course of state court proceedings.
Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals has made clear that
plaintiff's argument is meritless. Though a complaint may
technically assert a “constitutional violation”
seeking damages, the problem still remains that the plaintiff
cannot prevail on the complaint unless a finding is made, by
a lower federal court, that the state court erred in some
respect in issuing the order which caused the monetary
damage. Such review of a state court judgment is something
Rooker-Feldman does not permit. Exxon Mobil
Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 283
(2005) (Rooker-Feldman prohibits federal court from
exercising jurisdiction over “cases brought by
state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by
state-court judgments rendered before the district court
proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and
rejection of those judgments”).
Rooker-Feldman's application is particularly
obvious where, as here, it is not simply damages being
sought, but also injunctive relief directed at the state
court itself. Notably, a state court judgment may not be
attacked in a complaint filed in federal district court
even if the procedures allegedly employed at the
state court level were unconstitutional. GASH Assoc. v.
Village of Rosemont, 995 F.2d 726, 729 (1993)
(“Rooker-Feldman . . . bar[s] . . . litigation
. . . where the plaintiff's injury stem[s] from the state
judgment-an erroneous judgment, perhaps, entered after
procedures said to be unconstitutional, but a judgment
Seventh Circuit has applied this principle to numerous
complaints filed in federal district court which sought to
challenge state court child support orders. See, e.g.,
Dixon v. Rick, No. 19-1138, 2019 WL 5446009, at *1 (7th
Cir. Oct. 24, 2019) (Rooker-Feldman barred complaint
alleging constitutional violations related to child support
order); Syph v. Arce, 772 Fed.Appx. 356, 357 (7th
Cir. 2019) (“Syph thus cannot sidestep
Rooker-Feldman by arguing that the state court
denied him due process” in course of child support
proceedings); Gorzelanczyk v. Baldassone, 29
Fed.Appx. 402, 403 (7th Cir. 2002) (“[E]ven though
Gorzelanczyk labels his lawsuit as a § 1983 action
alleging due process violations, his real injury is the child
support order, not any alleged denial of due
process[.]”); see also T.W. v. Brophy, 124
F.3d 893, 898 (7th Cir. 1997) (applying
Rooker-Feldman to child custody decision). The same
principle applies here, and Rooker-Feldman bars
worth noting that, even if this court had jurisdiction over
this case, two additional roadblocks would stand in
plaintiff's way. First, the Seventh Circuit has applied
the “domestic relations exception” to federal
jurisdiction to cases involving child support orders, holding
that the exception bars suits like this one. See, e.g.,
Dixon, 781 Fed.Appx. at 561. Second, defendants would
likely enjoy immunity from this lawsuit. Stump v.
Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-64 (1978) (judicial
immunity); Imbler v. Pachtman, 424 U.S. 409, 420
(1976) (prosecutorial immunity).
foregoing reasons, defendants' motion to dismiss (DE #
48) is GRANTED and this case is
DISMISSED. All other pending ...