United States District Court, District of Columbia
N. MCFADDEN, U.S.D.J.
Holt alleges that he spent $33, 750 to buy four tax liens and
$11, 700 in legal fees to file four actions in the District
of Columbia Superior Court seeking to foreclose the original
owners' right of redemption. Two of these actions were
dismissed for want of prosecution. Under Section 47-1355 of
the District Code, the dismissals voided Mr. Holt's
certificates of sale, meaning he forfeited both his interest
in the underlying properties and the money that he paid to
obtain that interest.
Holt sues the District, together with its Office of Tax and
Revenue and its Mayor and Chief Financial Officer in their
official capacities. He claims that the Defendants have
defrauded him, taken his property in violation of the Fifth
Amendment, and interfered with his contractual rights in
violation of the Contract Clause and the Fourteenth Amendment
Due Process Clause. He wants his money back, together with
legal fees, $190, 000 in “compensatory damages, ”
and interest. But Mr. Holt lost the money due to a
state-court judgment. Because the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine bars federal district courts from hearing what would
amount to an appeal from a state-court decision, the Court
will grant the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction” and so
“possess only that power authorized by Constitution and
statute.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of
America, 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Thus, jurisdiction is
a prerequisite that must be satisfied before proceeding to
the merits, and a federal court must dismiss any action over
which it determines that it lacks jurisdiction. Moms
Against Mercury v. FDA, 483 F.3d 824, 826 (D.C. Cir.
2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3). On a
motion to dismiss for lack of jurisdiction under Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), the plaintiff bears the burden
of establishing jurisdiction. Georgiades v.
Martin-Trigona, 729 F.2d 831, 833 n.4 (D.C. Cir. 1984).
A plaintiff may rely on facts outside the pleadings to
satisfy this burden, as “the court may consider the
complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the
record, or the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts
plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.”
Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192,
197 (D.C. Cir. 1992).
Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents lower federal
courts from hearing cases that amount to the functional
equivalent of an appeal from a state court.” Gray
v. Poole, 275 F.3d 1113, 1119 (D.C. Cir. 2002). It
applies 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). It also applies to
constitutional attacks on state-court judgments, even if
raised for the first time in federal court, when the new
constitutional claims and the state-court judgments are
“inextricably intertwined.” Id. at 286
n.1. But the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply
to a claim challenging a statute or rule governing a state
court's decision. Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S.
521, 532 (2011). Thus, applying the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine requires courts to “draw a line between
permissible general challenges to rules and impermissible
attempts to review judgments.” Stanton v. Dist. of
Col. Court of Appeals, 127 F.3d 72, 75 (D.C. Cir.
is no dispute that Mr. Holt lost in state court before suing
here. See Compl. at 1 (federal suit filed in
November 2016); ECF 3-2 at 1 (D.C. Superior Court docket
reflecting dismissal for want of prosecution in January
2015); ECF 3-3 at 1-3 (D.C. Superior Court docket reflecting
dismissal for want of prosecution in November 2013). The only
question is whether Mr. Holt has complained of injuries
caused by state-court judgments and invited the Court to
review and reject those judgments. Put differently, the
question is whether Mr. Holt's claims are inextricably
intertwined with the state-court judgments or raise general
challenges to a rule.
Holt asserts that his “primary grievance” does
not result from the Superior Court judgments but “from
the District's independent taking of his property.”
Opp. to Defs.' Mot. Dismiss at 9. Thus, he represents
that he has not challenged the judgments against him and
points out that he has not alleged legal error by the
Superior Court. Id. at 10-12. Instead, he claims the
Second Amended Complaint seeks “damages and declaratory
relief due to the District's unconstitutional taking of
his property.” Id. at 11. According to Mr.
Holt, his lawsuit “challenges the District's
statutory scheme insofar as it provides for the taking of his
property (legally purchased through tax sales) and then
denying him the right to recover the value of that lost
property [sic], inclusive of penalties, costs, and interest
owed.” Id.; see also Id. at 12
(“Mr. Holt challenges the District's allegedly
unconstitutional enforcement of the statute providing for a
taking of his property.”).
description of Mr. Holt's claims were accurate, it might
not be clear whether he has raised general challenges to the
District's statutory scheme or specific challenges to
Superior Court judgments that deprived him of his property.
But these arguments do not reflect the contents of Mr.
Holt's Second Amended Complaint. See Id. at 9-12
(characterizing Mr. Holt's claims without a single
citation to or quotation from the operative complaint).
Nowhere does the Second Amended Complaint seek declaratory
relief. And nowhere does it raise a facial or as-applied
challenge to the statute authorizing the forfeiture he
suffered. In fact, the Second Amended Complaint does not even
mention that there is such a statute.
Mr. Holt's assertion that his claims arise not from the
Superior Court judgments but from the District's
independent taking of his property, it is true that his
Second Amended Complaint emphasizes his loss of property.
See Second Am. Compl. at 5-6. But it is not true
that this loss arises from a taking of property independent
of the Superior Court judgments. It was the Superior Court
judgments that deprived Mr. Holt of his interest in the
properties for which he had bought liens and that caused him
to forfeit the money he had paid to obtain that interest.
D.C. Code § 47-1355. They had this effect automatically
and by operation of law, with no independent action by the
District. Thus, Mr. Holt's challenge to the forfeiture of
his property is “inextricably intertwined” with
the Superior Court judgments and subject to the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See Exxon Mobil
Corp., 544 U.S. at 286 n.1.
reasons explained above, the Court will grant the
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss with ...