United States District Court, E.D. New York
OPINION AND ORDER
SANDRA J. FEUERSTEIN, District Judge.
Defendants Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., as Trustee for Option One Mortgage Loan Trust's ("Wells Fargo"), and Richard A. Gerbino's and Adam Speregen's ("individual defendants") have moved to dismiss plaintiff Swinton Brown's ("plaintiff') complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. For the following reasons, the motions are GRANTED and plaintiffs complaint is dismissed in its entirety.
On or about March 24, 2010, defendant Wells Fargo commenced an action against plaintiff in the Supreme Court, State of New York, Suffolk County, to foreclose on a mortgage in the sum of $409, 500 on plaintiff's real property located in Bay Shore, New York. Compl. ¶ 11. Defendants Gerbino and Speregen are attorneys who were involved in certain aspects of the foreclosure process. DE 9-1 at p. 4. The state court granted a Judgment of Foreclosure and Sale against plaintiff on December 10, 2012, which was entered by the Suffolk County Clerk's office on January 14, 2013. Dec. Concepcion, Exh. H. On or about December 31, 2012, by order to show cause filed in the state court, plaintiff 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. I. 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." Id. at Exh. J. On or about June 6, 2013, plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court alleging that defendants conspired to steal his equity in the property. Id at Exh. A.
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." 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)." Makarova 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 pro se plaintiff must establish subject matter jurisdiction by a preponderance of the evidence. Makarova, 201 F.3d at 113; Gause v. Chase Bank N.A., No. 11 Civ. 6107, 2012 WL 847816, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 12, 2012).
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. Feldman, 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 Corp. 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 plaintiffs injuries must be caused by the state court judgment; (3) the plaintiff's 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.
1. Rooker-Feldman's Procedural Requirements
The procedural requirements of the doctrine, elements one (1) and four (4), have been met. Plaintiff "lost" in state court when the court granted the Judgment of Foreclosure and Sale against Brown and in favor of Wells Fargo on December 10, 2012. Dec. Concepcion, Exh. H. The complaint in this ...