United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania
November 22, 2005.
THEODORE WALTER PIOTROWSKI, JR., et al., Plaintiffs,
FEDERMAN AND PHELAN, LLP, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: SYLVIA RAMBO, Senior District Judge
Before the court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs'
Complaint Pursuant to F.R.C.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) (Doc. 5).
The parties have briefed the issues and the matter is ripe for
disposition. For the reasons that follow, the court will grant
This case arises out of a state foreclosure action. Plaintiffs
Theodore W. Piotrowski, Jr. and Wanda Sue Piotrowski ("the
Piotrowskis") allege that Defendants violated provisions of The
Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), The Fair Credit
Reporting Act ("FCRA"), the Pennsylvania Fair Credit Extension
Uniformity Act ("FCEUA"), and the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade
Practices and Consumer Protection Law ("UTPCPL") when they
commenced a mortgage foreclosure action against Plaintiffs in
October 2003 in the York County Pennsylvania Court of Common
Pleas. In the state Complaint in Mortgage Foreclosure, Defendants
(then Plaintiffs) identified RBMG, Inc. ("RBMG") as the legal
owner of the mortgage for Plaintiffs' (then Defendants) property
located at 3686 Sorrel Ridge Lane, York, PA 17402 ("the
property"), stating that RBMG was in the process of formalizing
the assignment of the mortgage for the property. The parties
dispute various issues regarding the assignment and whether RBMG
was in fact the owner of the mortgage.
In addition, the parties appear to dispute whether Defendants
properly effected service of their motion for summary judgment in
the state court. The Piotrowskis did not file a response to the
motion. The state court granted the motion for summary judgment
on August 31, 2004, and entered judgment in favor of RBMG for
$69,324.90 plus interest and costs.
The disputes over RBMG's status as mortgagor and service of the
summary judgment motion form the basis of Plaintiffs' allegations
that the state court action was improper, fraudulent, and
Plaintiffs filed this action, pro se, on July 20, 2005.
However, Plaintiffs subsequently obtained counsel, through which
they filed a response to the instant Motion to Dismiss on October
6, 2005. Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss on
September 12, 2005.
II. Legal Standard
A. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1)
"`A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) challenges the
jurisdiction of the court to address the merits of the
plaintiff's complaint.'" Vieth v. Pennsylvania, 188 F. Supp. 2d 532, 537 (M.D. Pa. 2002) (quoting
Ballenger v. Applied Digital Solutions, Inc.,
189 F. Supp. 2d 196, 199 (D. Del. 2002)). The motion should be granted where the
asserted claim is "insubstantial, implausible, foreclosed by
prior decisions of this Court, or otherwise completely devoid of
merit as not to involve a federal controversy." Coxson v.
Pennsylvania, 935 F. Supp. 624, 626 (W.D. Pa. 1996) (citing
Growth Horizons v. Delaware County, 983 F.2d 1277, 1280-81 (3d
A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) may present either a
facial or factual challenge to subject matter jurisdiction. See
Carpet Group Int'l v. Oriental Rug Imps. Ass'n, 227 F.3d 62, 69
(3d Cir. 2000). This case presents a facial challenge to subject
matter jurisdiction because Defendants do not dispute, at this
juncture, the relevant jurisdictional facts alleged in the
complaint. See 2 James Wm. Moore et al., Moore's Federal
Practice Civil ¶ 12.30 (3d ed. 1999) (explaining the
difference between a facial and factual challenge to subject
matter jurisdiction pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1)). Therefore, the
court must accept the facts alleged in the complaint as true and
draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff.
Zinermon v. Burch, 494 U.S. 113, 118 (1990); Gould Elecs. Inc.
v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000).
B. Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)
In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule
12(b)(6), the court is required to accept as true all of the
factual allegations in the complaint and all reasonable
inferences that can be drawn from the face of the complaint.
Worldcom, Inc. v. Graphnet, Inc., 343 F.3d 651, 653 (3d Cir.
2003). "The complaint will be deemed to have alleged sufficient
facts if it adequately put[s] the defendant[s] on notice of the essential elements of the plaintiff's cause of
action." Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996). The
court will not dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim
"unless it appears beyond a doubt that the plaintiff can prove no
set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to
relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957); Port
Auth. of New York & New Jersey v. Arcadian Corp., 189 F.3d 305,
311 (3d Cir. 1999). In the case of a pro se plaintiff, the
court should construe the complaint liberally and draw fair
inferences from what is not alleged as well as for what is
alleged. Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3d Cir. 2003);
Youse v. Carlucci, 867 F. Supp. 317, 318 (E.D. Pa. 1994).
"To decide a motion to dismiss, courts generally consider only
the allegations contained in the complaint, exhibits attached to
the complaint and matters of public record." Pension Benefit
Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d
Cir. 1993) (citations omitted). The court may consider
"undisputedly authentic document[s] that a defendant attaches as
an exhibit to a motion to dismiss if the plaintiff's claims are
based on the [attached] document[s]." Id. Additionally,
"documents whose contents are alleged in the complaint and whose
authenticity no party questions, but which are not physically
attached to the pleading may be considered." Pryor v. Nat'l
Collegiate Athletic Ass'n, 288 F.3d 548, 560 (3d Cir. 2002);
see also U.S. Express Lines, Ltd. v. Higgins, 281 F.3d 383, 388
(3d Cir. 2002) ("Although a district court may not consider
matters extraneous to the pleadings, a document integral to or
explicitly relied upon in the complaint may be considered without
converting the motion to dismiss into one for summary judgment.")
(internal quotation omitted). However, the court may not rely on
other parts of the record in making its decision. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien &
Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994).
Finally, in the Third Circuit, a court must grant leave to
amend before dismissing a complaint that is merely deficient.
See, e.g., Weston v. Pennsylvania, 251 F.3d 420, 428 (3d Cir.
2001); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir. 2000).
"Dismissal without leave to amend is justified only on the
grounds of bad faith, undue delay, prejudice, or futility."
Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 236 (3d Cir. 2004).
The court will dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint because it lacks
subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
Therefore, the court will not reach Defendants' alternative
argument that the Complaint should be dismissed for failure to
state a claim based on principles of res judicata.
A. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine*fn1 provides that "lower
federal courts may not sit in direct review of the decisions of a
state tribunal." Gulla v. North Strabane Township,
146 F.3d 168, 171 (3d Cir. 1998). Because jurisdiction to review a state
court's decision rests solely in the United States Supreme Court,
see 28 U.S.C. § 1257, federal district courts lack subject
matter jurisdiction "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." D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 486 (1983). "Although § 1257
refers to orders and decrees of the highest state court, the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine has been applied to final decisions of
lower state courts." In re Pamela Knapper, 407 F.3d 573, 580
(3d Cir. 2005).
Specifically, a claim is barred by the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine if: (1) "the federal claim was actually litigated in
state court prior to the filing of the federal action" or (2) "if
the federal claim is inextricably intertwined with the state
adjudication, meaning that federal relief can only be predicated
upon a conviction that the state court was wrong." Id. In
assessing whether a claim was "actually litigated" in state
court, the court must look to the substance of the claims
adjudicated in the state court compared to the plaintiff's claims
in the federal action. Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus.
Corp., 364 F.3d 102, 105 (3d Cir. 2004), rev'd on other
grounds, 125 S. Ct. 1517 (2005).
Alternatively, a federal claim is inextricably intertwined with
a state adjudication when "(1) the federal court must determine
that the state court judgment was erroneously entered in order to
grant the requested relief, or (2) the federal court must take
action that would negate the state court's judgment." Knapper,
407 F.3d at 581. Thus, a plaintiff is foreclosed from seeking
relief in federal court that would "prevent a state court from
enforcing its orders." Id.
As a threshold matter, the federal claims at issue (i.e., the
violations of the FDCPA and FCRA), as well as the supplemental
FCEUA and UTPCPL claims, were never actually litigated in the
state court. Thus, the relevant inquiry here is whether the instant action is inextricably intertwined with the
state court action. The court finds that it is; thus this court
lacks subject matter jurisdiction.
Plaintiffs' response to Defendants' Motion to Dismiss argues
that because its claims are predicated upon Defendants' status as
statutory "Debt Collectors" under 15 U.S.C. § 1692a(6)(F)(ii) and
(iii), it is not necessary to vacate or nullify RBMG's mortgage.
However, Plaintiffs' allegations that Defendants' state mortgage
foreclosure action violated various provisions of federal and
state law rely upon the premise that the mortgage assignment to
Defendant RBMG was improper. Regardless of whether the Defendants
are considered mortgagors or debt collectors, the legality of
their conduct with respect to the federal claims turns upon the
validity of the mortgage assignment to RBMG.
If the court were to determine that the assignment to RBMG was
improper, the result would call into question Defendants'
standing to bring the foreclosure action on RBMG's behalf in
state court. Thus, such a finding would necessarily "negate the
state court's judgment." Id. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' instant
lawsuit is "inextricably intertwined" with the state court
judgment and falls squarely within the category of cases that the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine precludes a federal court from
considering. Thus, the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction
Because the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, it would
be futile to allow Plaintiffs to amend the Complaint. IV. Conclusion
For the foregoing reasons, the court will grant Defendants'
Motion to Dismiss. An appropriate order will issue. ORDER
In accordance with the court's accompanying Memorandum of Law,
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT:
1) Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint (Doc. 5)
2) The Complaint is DISMISSED, with prejudice.
3) The Clerk of Court is directed to close the file.
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