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Brown v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

March 24, 2014




Before the Court is defendant Steven Schlesinger's ("Referee'') motion to dismiss plaintiff Swinton Brown's ("plaintiff") complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("FRCP") 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.[1] For the following reasons, the Referee's motion is GRANTED and plaintiff's complaint is dismissed as to defendant Schlesinger.

I. Background

On or about March 24, 2010, defendant Wells Fargo Bank N.A., as trustee for Option One Mortgage Wan Trust (''Wells Fargo"), commenced an action against plaintiff, Maria Brown, Beverly Brown and Betty Brown in the Supreme Court, State of New York, Suffolk County, to foreclose on a mortgage in the amount of $409, 500 ("foreclosure action") on plaintiff's real property located in Bay Shore, New York. Compl. ¶ 11; Mem. in Supp. pp. 2-3. By Order of Reference in Mortgage Foreclosure entered May 31, 2012, the state court appointed defendant Schlesinger as referee to compute the amount due on !he foreclosed mortgage. Decl. Scott, Exh. D. Judgment of Foreclosure and Sale was granted on December 10, 2012. On December 31, 2012, plaintiff, by order to show cause, sought to set aside the sale of the Bay Shore property "on the alleged grounds that the appointed Referee failed to state the correct amount of the mortgage owed." Id. at Exh. F. The state court denied the motion (order dated May 30, 2013) and held that "review of the report does not show the computation of the Referee to be inaccurate, nor has the defendant submitted any credible evidence to dispute any portion of the Referee's report." !d.

Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court on or about June 6, 2013 alleging that defendants conspired to steal his equity in the property. As to the Referee, the complaint alleges that Schlesinger "submitted computation report showing irregularity for a judicial sale with in accurate amount of Plaintiffs Mortgage; the Certified Audit show[s] a more precise amount other than the Referee's report." Compl. ¶ 24.

II. Discussion

A. Rule 12(b)(1)

The district court's federal question jurisdiction is set forth at Title 28 U.S.C. § 1331, which provides: "The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States."[2] Federal courts have limited subject matter jurisdiction which can never be waived and its existence may be challenged by the court sua sponte or by any party at any time. Crawford v. Duncan, No. 11 Civ. 3374, 2013 WL 3549180, E.D.N.Y. July 11, 2013 (citing Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006); United States v. Cotton, 535 U.S. 625, 630 (2002)). When a court "lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate" an action, the "case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1)." Makarava v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000).

In resolving a 12(b)(1) motion, a court may consider evidentiary matter beyond the pleadings. Kamen v. American Tel. & Tel. Co., 791 F.2d 1006, 1011 (2d Cir. 1986). While a pro se litigant's pleadings are subject to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers, " Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980), a prose plaintiff must establish subject matter jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. Gause v. Chase Bank N.A., No. 11 Civ. 6107, 2012 WL 847816, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 12, 2012); Makarova, 201 F.3d at 113.

The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

Pursuant to what is commonly known as the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, federal district courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over suits that are, in substance, appeals from state court judgments. Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 414-415 (1923); D.C. Court of Appeals v. Felddmon, 460 U.S. 462, 476 (1983). See Hachamovitch v. DeBuono, 159 F.3d 687, 693 (2d Cir. 1998) ("The Rooker-Feldman doctrine provides that the lower federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over a case if the exercise of jurisdiction over that case would result in the reversal or modification of a state court judgment."). "Rooker-Feldman applies not only to decisions of the highest state courts, but also to decisions of lower state courts." Ashton v. Cafero, 920 F.Supp. 35, 37 (D. Conn. 1996). A plaintiff may not avoid application of Rooker-Feldman by "presenting in federal court a legal theory not raised in state court, " such as framing claims under federal statutes. Castiglione v. Papa, 423 Fed.App'x 10, 13 (2d Cir. 2011).

The doctrine is limited to "cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments." Exxon Mobil Carp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). There are four requirements for the application of Rooker-Feldman: (1) the federal court plaintiff must have lost in state court; (2) the plaintiff's injuries must be caused by the state court judgment; (3) the plaintiffs claims must invite the district court to review and reject the state court judgment; and (4) the state court judgment must have been rendered prior to the commencement of the district court proceedings. Hoblock v. Albany County Bd. of Elections, 422 F.3d 77, 85 (2d Cir. 2005). "The first and fourth of these requirements may be loosely termed procedural; the second and third may be termed substantive." Id. If all four requirements are met, the case must be dismissed.

B. Analysis

1. Rooker-Feldman's Procedural ...

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