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Bauersachs v. Massing

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

May 1, 2019




         Mark and Marcieli Bauersachs (“Plaintiffs”) assert various claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of their due process rights by Associate Justices of the Massachusetts Appeals Court Gregory I. Massing, John C. Englander, and Eric Neyman (“Defendants”). [ECF No. 1 (“Complaint” or “Compl.”)]. Defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) on the grounds that the Court lacks jurisdiction to hear the claims under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and that any claims for damages are barred by the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. [ECF No. 11]. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion to dismiss [ECF No. 11] is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The following facts are drawn from the Complaint, which the Court construes liberally, “treating all well-pleaded facts as true and indulging all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.”[1] Aversa v. United States, 99 F.3d 1200, 1210 (1st Cir. 1996). As it may on a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1), the Court has also considered documents outside the pleadings, such as exhibits and affidavits attached to the motion to dismiss, Gonzalez v. United States, 284 F.3d 281, 288 (1st Cir. 2002), and takes judicial notice of the relevant state court proceedings.[2]

         Plaintiffs were defendants in two no-fault summary process eviction actions that were consolidated and resolved through a jury trial held in the Salem session of the Massachusetts Housing Court (“Housing Court”) on October 23, 2017. [Compl. ¶ 1]. On October 24, 2017, the Housing Court entered judgment against Plaintiffs. [Id. ¶ 2]. Plaintiffs filed post-trial motions on October 31, 2017 and filed a notice of appeal on November 2, 2017. [ECF No. 12-1 at 3; Compl. ¶ 2]. The Housing Court denied Plaintiffs' post-trial motions on November 16, 2017. [ECF No. 12-1 at 3]. On November 20, 2018, a panel of the Massachusetts Appeals Court (“Appeals Court”), dismissed the appeal without a hearing because “the tenants did not file a timely notice of appeal.” [Compl. ¶ 3; ECF No. 12-1 at 3]. Defendants were the Associates Justices who comprised that Appeals Court panel. [Compl. ¶ 3].

         Plaintiffs filed the instant Complaint on February 15, 2019 alleging that the dismissal of their appeal violated their constitutionally-guaranteed due process rights and seeking injunctive and declaratory relief. See [Compl. ¶¶ 3, 7]. Defendants moved to dismiss the claims against them on April 11, 2019 after requesting and receiving an extension of time to answer or otherwise respond to the Complaint. [ECF Nos. 5, 7, 11]. Plaintiffs did not object to the extension but responded on March 29, 2019 by filing a counter-motion for a temporary restraining order (“TRO”) requesting that the Court enjoin dismissal of the underlying appeal pending the outcome of this action. [ECF No. 9]. The Court denied as moot the request for a TRO on April 10, 2019 as the appeal had already been dismissed and the case already closed by the Appeals Court.[3] [ECF No. 10]. On April 25, 2019, Plaintiffs opposed the motion to dismiss. [ECF No. 13].


         A. Legal Standard

         “When considering a motion to dismiss under subsection 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Court should apply a standard of review ‘similar to that accorded a dismissal for failure to state a claim' under subsection 12(b)(6).” Rodriguez v. Mass. Parole Bd., No. 16-cv-11113-ADB, 2017 WL 706597, at *2 (D. Mass. Feb. 22, 2017) (citing Menge v. N. Am. Specialty Ins. Co., 905 F.Supp.2d 414, 416 (D.R.I. 2012)). A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) “is appropriate only when the facts adumbrated in the plaintiff's complaint, taken at face value, fail to bring the case within the court's subject-matter jurisdiction.” Gordo-González v. United States, 873 F.3d 32, 35 (1st Cir. 2017). Where subject-matter jurisdiction is challenged, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving jurisdiction. Johansen v. United States, 506 F.3d 65, 68 (1st Cir. 2007).

         B. Discussion

         1. Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

         Defendants have moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) on the ground that the Court lacks jurisdiction to hear the claims under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. [ECF No. 12 at 4-5]. Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, federal district courts lack jurisdiction over “federal complaints . . . [that] essentially invite[] federal courts of first instance to review and reverse unfavorable state-court judgments.” Federación de Maestros de P.R. v. Junta de Relaciones del Trabajo de P.R., 410 F.3d 17, 20 (1st Cir. 2005) (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 283 (2005)). “[T]he proper forum for challenging an unlawful state court ruling is the United States Supreme Court, on appeal of the highest state court's final judgment.” Davison v. Gov't of P.R.-P.R. Firefighters Corps., 471 F.3d 220, 223 (1st Cir. 2006).

         The Rooker-Feldman doctrine “applies only when ‘the losing party in state court filed suit in federal court after the state proceedings ended, complaining of an injury caused by the state-court judgment and seeking review and rejection of that judgment.'” Riley v. Decoulos (In re Am. Bridge Prods., Inc.), 599 F.3d 1, 4 (1st Cir. 2010) (quoting Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 291). Application of the doctrine does not depend on what issues were actually litigated in the state court; rather, “it is enough that granting [plaintiff the relief] he seeks would effectively overturn the state court's decision.” Maymó-Meléndez v. Álvarez-Ramírez, 364 F.3d 27, 33 (1st Cir. 2004).

         “It is a condition precedent to the application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine that, at the time the federal-court suit is commenced, the state-court proceedings have ended.” Coggeshall v. Mass. Bd. of Reg. of Psychologists, 604 F.3d 658, 663-64 (1st Cir. 2010) (citing Federaciónde Maestros de P.R., 410 F.3d at 24-29). The First Circuit has identified ...

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