The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRODY
Plaintiffs brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 for an alleged violation of their constitutional right to equal protection. I hold that plaintiffs' case is in essence a disguised appeal from state court and therefore dismiss it in accordance with the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
Plaintiffs are former City of Philadelphia police officers who were separated from the police department between 1991 and 1992 after incurring permanent partial disabilities resulting from injuries on the job. The City informed plaintiffs upon retirement that they were not entitled to compensation for accrued, unused vacation time, despite the fact that an arbitrator had held otherwise during the grievance arbitration of a different disabled police officer in [1989.]
(Am. Compl. P 58.) In accordance with the collective bargaining agreement between the City of Philadelphia and the Fraternal Order of Police ("FOP"), the FOP brought a grievance arbitration proceeding in 1993 on behalf of plaintiffs and other permanently partially disabled police officers. (Am. Compl. P 59.)
The arbitrator found that plaintiffs were not entitled to compensation for accrued, unused vacation time under the collective bargaining agreement, despite the previous arbitrator's contrary decision. (Am. Compl. P 59.) Plaintiffs appealed to the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, which upheld the arbitrator's decision as "rationally derived from the [collective bargaining] agreement . . . ." Fraternal Order of Police Lodae No. 5 v. City of Philadelphia, No. 1944 (Ct. C.P. Phila. County, Jan. 21, 1994) (quoting Pa. State Police v. Pa. State Troopers' Ass'n, 159 Pa. Commw. 489, 633 A.2d 1278, 1287 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 1993), rev'd, 656 A.2d 83 (Pa. 1995)).
Plaintiffs missed the deadline for further appeal to the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania and were denied permission to file an appeal nunc pro tunc. (Am. Compl. P 60.) Plaintiffs then filed this suit in federal court for an alleged violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
Plaintiffs allege that they have been denied equal protection because their "public employer disobey[ed] an arbitration award in such a way that result[ed] in discriminatory treatment between similarly situated employees." (Pls.' Opp'n to Def.s' Mot. to Dismiss Am. Compl. at 15 n.4.) In other words, plaintiffs allege that the City violated the Equal Protection Clause when it paid one disabled police officer, as it was required to do by an adverse arbitration ruling, and then refused to compensate these plaintiffs on a similar request, forcing them to bring their own grievance arbitration proceeding.
Plaintiffs' allegations fail to recognize the significance of one crucial step in this case's procedural history -- plaintiffs' shift from state to federal court. That shift implicates the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, thereby raising questions regarding my jurisdiction to hear this case. I must consider such jurisdictional questions sua sponte before reaching the merits of plaintiffs' claim. Mt. Healthy City School Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 278, 50 L. Ed. 2d 471, 97 S. Ct. 568 (1977).
A. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
Federal district courts lack subject matter jurisdiction to review final state court adjudications or to evaluate constitutional claims that are "inextricably intertwined" with final state court adjudications. District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 483 n.16, 75 L. Ed. 2d 206, 103 S. Ct. 1303 (1983). While federal district courts may hear "general challenges" to state rules, a complaint which is "in essence" an appeal ...