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Shayne v. Lampl

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Anderson/Greenwood Division

February 4, 2019

Leslie Jay Shayne, a/k/a Les Shayne, a citizen and resident of South Carolina, Pro Se, and on behalf of Charlotte Shayne, his 96 year old incapacitated mother, as her court appointed guardian and conservator S.C., Plaintiff,
Sondra Lampl, a citizen and resident of the State of New Jersey, Defendant.


          Bruce Howe Hendricks, United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Leslie Jay Shayne (“Plantiff”), proceeding pro se, filed this action seeking a judgment declaring that an order issued by a South Carolina Probate Court is in full force and effect, and that a contrary order issued by a New Jersey Probate Court is vacated and is null and void. (ECF No. 1.) This matter is before the Court for review of the Report and Recommendation (“Report”) of United States Magistrate Judge Kevin F. McDonald, made in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Rule 73.02 for the District of South Carolina. On January 18, 2019, Magistrate Judge McDonald issued a Report recommending that this case be summarily dismissed without prejudice, and without issuance of any service of process. (ECF No. 8.) Plaintiff filed objections (ECF No. 14) to the Report on January 31, 2019, as well as a motion for extension of time to file additional objections (ECF No. 13).


         The Magistrate Judge makes only a recommendation to this Court. The recommendation has no presumptive weight. The responsibility for making a final determination remains with the Court. Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 270 (1976). The Court must make a de novo determination of those portions of the Report, or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which specific objection is made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C). The Court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the Report or may recommit the matter to the Magistrate Judge with instructions. Id. In the absence of a timely filed objection, a district court need not conduct a de novo review, but instead must “only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.” Diamond v. Colonial Life & Acc. Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005). De novo review is also “unnecessary in . . . situations when a party makes general and conclusory objections that do not direct the court to a specific error in the magistrate's proposed findings and recommendations.” Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982).

         In reviewing these pleadings, the Court is mindful of Plaintiff's pro se status. This Court is charged with liberally construing the pleadings of a pro se litigant. See, e.g., De'Lonta v. Angelone, 330 F.3d 630, 633 (4th Cir. 2003).[1] The requirement of a liberal construction does not mean, however, that the Court can ignore a plaintiff's clear failure to allege facts that set forth a cognizable claim, or that the Court must assume the existence of a genuine issue of material fact where none exists. See United States v. Wilson, 699 F.3d 789, 797 (4th Cir. 2012).


         Magistrate Judge McDonald concluded that this case must be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Specifically, the Magistrate Judge found that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars the exercise of federal jurisdiction where, as here, a plaintiff seeks to overturn a state court order in a federal district court. (See ECF No. 8 at 3-5.) The Fourth Circuit has explained the purpose and scope of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine in the following manner:

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine provides that “a United States District Court has no authority to review final judgments of a state court in judicial proceedings.” District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482, 103 S.Ct. 1303, 75 L.Ed.2d 206 (1983); see also Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 44 S.Ct. 149, 68 L.Ed. 362 (1923). “[J]urisdiction to review such decisions lies exclusively with superior state courts and, ultimately, the United States Supreme Court.” Plyler v. Moore, 129 F.3d 728, 731 (4th Cir. 1997). Only habeas corpus petitions or actions sounding in habeas corpus are excepted from the Rooker-Feldman bar. See Plyler, 129 F.3d at 732, 733.
Rooker-Feldman bars not only direct review of issues actually decided by the state court, but also consideration of those claims which are “inextricably intertwined” with state court decisions. See Feldman, 460 U.S. at 486-87, 103 S.Ct. 1303; Plyler, 129 F.3d at 731. The “inextricably intertwined” prong of the doctrine bars a claim that was not actually decided by the state court but where “success on the federal claim depends upon a determination that the state court wrongly decided the issues before it.” Plyler, 129 F.3d at 731 (internal quotation marks omitted). Under either the “actually decided” or the “inextricably intertwined” prong, the principle is the same: “[A] party losing in state court is barred from seeking what in substance would be appellate review of the state judgment in a United States district court, based on the losing party's claim that the state judgment itself violates the loser's federal rights.” Johnson v. De Grandy, 512 U.S. 997, 1005-06, 114 S.Ct. 2647, 129 L.Ed.2d 775 (1994).
Rooker-Feldman is one of a number of doctrines that safeguards our dual system of government from federal judicial erosion. Cf. Atlantic Coast Line R.R. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Eng'rs, 398 U.S. 281, 286, 90 S.Ct. 1739, 26 L.Ed.2d 234 (1970) (“[F]rom the beginning we have had in this country two essentially separate legal systems. Each system proceeds independently of the other with ultimate review in [the Supreme] Court of the federal questions raised in either system.”). The independence of state courts would surely be compromised if every adverse decision in state court merely rang the opening bell for federal litigation of the same issues.
Even more fundamentally, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is rooted in the principle of separation of powers. It rests on two basic propositions of federal jurisdiction. First, Congress has vested the authority to review state court judgments in the United States Supreme Court alone. See 28 U.S.C. § 1257(a); Feldman, 460 U.S. at 482, 103 S.Ct. 1303. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine thus “interprets 28 U.S.C. § 1257 as ordinarily barring direct review in the lower federal courts of a decision reached by the highest state court, for such authority is vested solely in [the Supreme] Court.” ASARCO Inc. v. Kadish, 490 U.S. 605, 622, 109 S.Ct. 2037, 104 L.Ed.2d 696 (1989). Second, Congress has empowered the federal district courts to exercise only original jurisdiction. See, e.g., 28 U.S.C. § 1331, 1332; Rooker, 263 U.S. at 416, 44 S.Ct. 149. “While the lower federal courts were given certain powers in the [Judiciary Act of 1789], they were not given any power to review directly cases from state courts, and they have not been given such powers since that time.” Atlantic Coast Line, 398 U.S. at 286, 90 S.Ct. 1739. And it is well settled that “Congress has the constitutional authority to define the jurisdiction of the lower federal courts.” Keene Corp. v. United States, 508 U.S. 200, 207, 113 S.Ct. 2035, 124 L.Ed.2d 118 (1993).
Importantly, “the Rooker-Feldman doctrine precludes not only review of adjudications of the state's highest court, but also the decisions of its lower courts.” Jordahl v. Democratic Party of Virginia, 122 F.3d 192, 199 (4th Cir. 1997); accord FOCUS v. Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, 75 F.3d 834, 840 (3d Cir. 1996) (“We have interpreted the doctrine to encompass final decisions of lower state courts.”). “The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is in no way dependent upon the temporal procedural posture of the state court judgment.” Jordahl, 122 F.3d at 202. “[R]ather, the doctrine reinforces the important principle that review of state court decisions must be made to the state appellate courts, and eventually to the Supreme Court, not by federal district courts or courts of appeal.” Id.
Finally, Rooker-Feldman also applies to interlocutory orders issued by state courts. Indeed, “[i]t cannot be the meaning of Rooker-Feldman that, while the inferior federal courts are barred from reviewing final decisions of state courts, they are free to review interlocutory orders.” Doctor's Assocs., Inc. v. Distajo, 107 F.3d 126, 138 (2d Cir. 1997) (internal quotation marks omitted); see also Charchenko v. City of Stillwater, 47 F.3d 981, 983 n.1 (8th Cir. 1995) (noting that “Rooker-Feldman is broader than claim and issue preclusion because it does not depend on a final judgment on the merits”).

Brown & Root, Inc. v. Breckenridge, 211 F.3d 194, 198 (4th Cir. 2000). Plaintiff's complaint by its plain terms seeks to vacate and declare null and void a New Jersey state court order in favor of a conflicting South Carolina state court order. (See ECF No. 1 at ...

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