of the claim. As
previously discussed, a federal claim is inextricably intertwined with a
prior state adjudication if the relief requested in the federal action
would "effectively void the state court's ruling[.]" Gulla, 146 F.3d at
171. The matters are inextricably intertwined "[w]here federal relief can
only be predicated upon a conviction that the state court was wrong."
Parkview, 225 F.3d at 325 (citations omitted). Additionally, "[a] federal
district court has jurisdiction over general constitutional challenges if
these claims are not inextricably intertwined with the claims asserted in
state court." FOCUS, 75 F.3d at 840.
Plaintiff's Complaint requests that this Court declare Section 415
unconstitutional and "order and direct defendants to grant plaintiff and
all class members a new hearing and the opportunity to oppose the
assignment of a new Workers' Compensation Judge." Pl.'s Compl. ¶
28(d). Such a finding would be inextricably intertwined with the state
court's holding as it could "only be predicated upon a conviction that
the state court was wrong[,]" Parkview, 225 F.3d at 325 (citations
omitted), in direct contravention of Rooker-Feldman. If this Court were
to invalidate Section 415, it would be impossible to reconcile that
decision with the Commonwealth Court's upholding of the statute.
Further, granting Plaintiff a new hearing would completely fly in the
face of the Commonwealth Court's conclusion, after two appeals, that no
new hearing was warranted. Plaintiff's claim clearly is inextricably
intertwined with the Commonwealth Court's decision upholding the
constitutionality of the statute as applied to Plaintiff. Any finding by
this Court in Plaintiff's favor, whether in the form of prospective
relief or the granting of a new hearing, would reverse the final state
court judgment against Plaintiff in contravention of Rooker-Feldman.
3. Plaintiff's General Challenge
Plaintiff argues that her general challenge to the statute does not run
afoul of Rooker-Feldman because the Commonwealth Court did not make a
judgment about the facial constitutionality of Section 415, and she cites
to Feldman in support of that proposition. Pl.'s Mem. Law at 12-14.
Plaintiff quotes from Feldman that district courts "have subject matter
jurisdiction over general challenges to state bar rules, promulgated by
state courts in non-judicial proceedings, which do not require review of
a final state court judgment in a particular case." Id. at 13 (quoting
Feldman, 460 U.S. at 486). However, excluded from Plaintiff's discussion
is the next sentence from Feldman, which states that "[district courts]
do not have jurisdiction, however, over challenges to state court
decisions in particular cases arising out of judicial proceedings even if
those challenges allege that the state court's action was
unconstitutional. Review of those decisions may be had only in [the U.S.
Supreme] Court." Feldman, 460 U.S. at 486. The Commonwealth Court made
such a decision when it held that Section 415 was constitutional as
applied to Plaintiff. A finding by this Court that the statute itself was
unconstitutional would effectively nullify the Commonwealth Court's
judgment, and that we are not empowered to do.
In Stern v. Nix, 840 F.2d 208, 211 (3d Cir. 1988), the Third Circuit
distinguished between general and particular challenges for
Rooker-Feldman purposes with regard to an attorney's challenge to the
Pennsylvania Supreme Court's decision to disbar him. Acknowledging that
the line between a "general challenge" and a challenge to a state court
decision in a "particular case" "is often difficult to draw[,]" the Court
noted that if the plaintiff's request to enjoin the state court's
judgment were granted, "the federal court would effectively
state court judgment, and thus `review [a] final judgment of a state
court in judicial proceedings', contrary to Rooker-Feldman." Id. at 212.
Stern can be distinguished from Feldman itself, which explained that
challenging the validity of a state bar admission rule would "not require
review of a judicial decision in a particular case[,]" whereas seeking
review in a federal district court of a state court's final judgment in a
bar admission matter would run afoul of Rooker-Feldman. Feldman, 460
U.S. at 487.
4. Waiver of Constitutional Challenge
Further, by not raising her constitutional challenge to Section 415 in
her first appeal to the Commonwealth Court, Plaintiff waived that claim.
As the Supreme Court noted in Feldman:
"Moreover, the fact that we may not have jurisdiction
to review a state court judgment because of a
petitioner's failure to raise his constitutional
claims in state court does not mean that a United
States District Court should have jurisdiction over
the claims. By failing to raise his claims in state
court a plaintiff may forfeit his right to obtain
review of the state court action in any federal
Id. at 483 n. 16. The Commonwealth Court refused to address Plaintiff's
facial challenge precisely because Plaintiff failed to raise that claim
in her first appeal and the court found the issue was waived. In its
alternative holding, however, the Commonwealth Court rejected Plaintiff's
constitutional challenge as applied to her. In light of Plaintiff's
waiver and the inextricable intertwining of her federal claims with the
state court's decision, the application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is
5. Class Claims
With regard to class claims, in Stern, the Court concluded that the
plaintiffs' complaint was "simply a skillful attempt to mask the true
purpose of the action, which essentially [was] to reverse the judicial
decision of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, in contravention of
Rooker-Feldman." Stern, 840 F.2d at 212. The fact that the plaintiff in
Stern, like Plaintiff here, purported to act on behalf of others
similarly situated did "not change the fact that he [was] essentially
seeking reversal of his own judgment." Id. As this Court does not have
subject matter jurisdiction, it is inappropriate (and unnecessary) to
embark upon a discussion of the class claims asserted by Plaintiff.
However, this Court briefly addresses Plaintiff's argument that the
putative class be allowed to substitute a new representative. Plaintiff
relies on Goodman v. Lukens Steel Co., 777 F.2d 113, 124-25 (3d Cir.
1985), in which the Third Circuit allowed the intervention of a new class
representative after the original representative was disqualified. In
Goodman, though, the class had already been certified with a
representative so subject matter jurisdiction and standing were firmly
established. In this case, however, no class has been certified nor is a
class certification motion pending before this Court.*fn12 Because this
Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this action, and a class has
not been certified, this Court can not retain jurisdiction in order to
permit substitution of a named plaintiff.
"[W]here a named plaintiff is dismissed from the class
action because there is no case or controversy between
him and the defendant and where the class itself has
not been properly certified in accordance with Rule
23(c), the complaint of the class must be
simultaneously dismissed for failure to set forth a
case or controversy as required by Article III of the
Constitution. See Board of School Comm'rs v. Jacobs,
420 U.S. 128, 129, 95 S.Ct. 848, 850 (1975)."
Booth v. Prince George's County, 66 F.R.D. 466, 476 (D.Md. 1975).
6. Identity of Parties
Finally, Plaintiff asserts that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine should not
be applied in this case because the parties in the state and federal
actions are not identical. See Valenti v. Mitchell, 962 F.2d 288, 297 (3d
Cir. 1992). In Valenti, party identity related to the plaintiffs, as it
was the plaintiffs in the state action who differed from the plaintiffs
in the federal action. The Court held that Rooker-Feldman "does not bar
individual constitutional claims by persons not parties to earlier state
court litigation seeking a place on the ballot[.]" Id. at 298. Although
Defendants in this federal action "appear to differ somewhat from those
in the state action[,]" Bass v. Butler, 258 F.3d at 179, the issue of
privity, as pointed out by Defendants' counsel at oral argument, should be
considered from Plaintiff's side and would relate exclusively to the
state court holding against Plaintiff being applied against her by the
federal district court. When examined this way, the identity of
Defendants does not seem that relevant, particularly since Plaintiff,
having lost her action in state court, may have been motivated to prevent
Rooker-Feldman from applying in federal court simply by naming different
defendants. Although this Court is not asserting that Plaintiff has been
so motivated, even if privity among defendants is necessary, there is
some basis to conclude that Defendants in the federal action are in
privity with the employer/insurer defendant in state court because they
all share the same legal interest in preserving the outcome in state
court and the constitutionality of Section 415.
For the reasons discussed above, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine deprives
this Court of subject matter jurisdiction. Defendants' Post-Remand Motion
to Dismiss on Jurisdictional Grounds will be granted.
An appropriate Order follows.
AND NOW, this 26th day of September, 2002, upon consideration of
Defendants' Post-Remand Motion to Dismiss on Jurisdictional Grounds,
Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law Sur Rooker-Feldman, Claim Preclusion, and
Justiciability of Class Claims, and Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law in
Opposition to Defendants' Post-Remand Motion to Dismiss on Jurisdictional
Grounds, it is hereby
ORDERED that Defendants' Motion is GRANTED, and Judgment is entered in
favor of Defendants and against Plaintiff.