United States District Court, District of Columbia
BERMAN JACKSON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
December 28, 2017, plaintiff Donna Barnes-Duncan, who is
proceeding pro se, filed a complaint against the
Estate of Morris Battle and two individuals - Lane H. Potkin,
a “Trustee, ” and Eugenie A. Lucas, a
“Personal Representative” of the Estate -
challenging the foreclosure of her property located at 9010
Watkins Road, Gaithersburg, Maryland 20882 (the
“Property”). Compl. [Dkt. # 1]. The parties have
been embroiled in a years-long legal battle that plaintiff
refuses to put to rest despite numerous federal and state
court rulings rejecting her claims, and multiple court
reprimands for abusing the litigation process.
brought this federal suit after the Circuit Court for
Montgomery County, Maryland ratified the foreclosure sale,
see Barnes-Duncan, Md. Cir. Ct. at Dkt # 146 (filed
Nov. 7, 2012), and the Maryland Court of Special Appeals
affirmed the ratification. See Barnes-Duncan,
Md.App. Plaintiff's complaint, which consists of a
rambling list of conclusory allegations, ultimately seeks an
order declaring the Maryland foreclosure order null and void.
See Compl. ¶ 20; Pl.'s Opp. to Mot. to
Dismiss [Dkt. # 9] at 8 (“Plaintiff requests . . . that
Deed fraudulently transferring ownership of Plaintiff's
home to Lucas be declared NULL and VOID.”).
the Court independently concludes that the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine precludes it from exercising
subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's challenge to
a state-court foreclosure order, the case will be dismissed
sua sponte. The pending motions - defendants'
motions to dismiss and request for sanctions, and
plaintiff's request for default judgment - will be denied
as moot. Substitute Trustee's Mot. to Dismiss
& Request for Imposition of Sanctions [Dkt. # 2]; Eugenie
A. Lucas' Mot. to Dismiss & Request for Imposition of
Sanctions [Dkt. # 7] (collectively, “Defs.'
Mot.”); Pl.'s Mot. to Dismiss Def.'s Mot. &
Pl.'s Mot. for J. by Default [Dkt. # 4].
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, and the law
presumes that “a cause lies outside this limited
jurisdiction.” Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co.
of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994); see also Gen.
Motors Corp. v. EPA, 363 F.3d 442, 448 (D.C. Cir. 2004)
(“As a court of limited jurisdiction, we begin, and
end, with an examination of our jurisdiction.”).
Indeed, this Court has an independent duty to assess its
subject matter jurisdiction, see NetworkIP, LLC v.
FCC, 548 F.3d 116, 120 (D.C. Cir. 2008), and it must
dismiss a complaint sua sponte pursuant to Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(3) when it is evident that the
court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. See Arbaugh v. Y
& H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 514 (2006); see also
Evans v. Suter, No. 09-5242, 2010 WL 1632902 (D.C. Cir.
Apr. 2, 2010).
considering whether subject matter jurisdiction exists over
an action, the court must assume the truth of the factual
allegations in the complaint, and it must “construe the
complaint liberally, granting plaintiff the benefit of all
[factual] inferences.” Am. Nat'l Ins. Co. v.
FDIC, 642 F.3d 1137, 1139 (D.C. Cir. 2011), quoting
Thomas v. Principi, 394 F.3d 970, 972 (D.C. Cir.
2005). However, the court need not accept inferences drawn by
plaintiff if those inferences are unsupported by facts
alleged in the complaint or merely amount to legal
conclusions. See Browning v. Clinton, 292 F.3d 235,
242 (D.C. Cir. 2002). In undertaking this inquiry, the court
may consider materials outside the pleadings and is not
limited to the allegations contained in the complaint.
Herbert v. Nat'l Acad. of Scis., 974 F.2d 192,
197 (D.C. Cir. 1992); Hohri v. United States, 782
F.2d 227, 241 (D.C. Cir. 1986), vacated on other grounds, 482
U.S. 64, 107 (1987).
the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing jurisdiction
by a preponderance of the evidence. See Lujan v. Defs. of
Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 561 (1992). Even though pro
se complaints must be construed liberally, see
Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1972); United
States v. Byfield, 391 F.3d 277, 281 (D.C. Cir. 2004), a
pro se litigant is not exempt from this requirement.
See, e.g., Glaviano v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A.,
No. 13-2049, 2013 WL 6823122, at *2 (D.D.C. Dec. 27, 2013)
(dismissing pro se complaint for lack of subject
matter jurisdiction); Green v. Stuyvesant, 505
F.Supp.2d 176, 177 (D.D.C. 2007) (same).
Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's
claims because at bottom, the complaint ultimately seeks to
overturn a decision rendered by the Maryland state courts.
The Rooker-Feldman abstention 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), citing D.C. Court of Appeals v.
Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482 (1983); and Rooker v.
Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923). Under 28 U.S.C.
§ 1257, the Supreme Court of the United States maintains
exclusive jurisdiction to review final state-court judgments.
Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 463 (2006).
the Supreme Court has cautioned that the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies only in
“limited circumstances.” Id. at 466,
quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus.
Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 291 (2005). It is
“inapplicable where the party against whom the doctrine
is invoked was not a party to the underlying state-court
proceeding.” Lance, 546 U.S. at 464. And
“the claim raised in the federal suit must have been
actually raised or inextricably intertwined with the
state-court judgment.” Id. at 462. Finally,
the federal suit must be brought after judgment was
entered in the state-court action. Exxon Mobil, 544
U.S. at 284. In sum, the doctrine is confined “to cases
brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused
by state-court judgments rendered before the federal district
court proceedings commenced and inviting district court
review and rejection of those judgments.” Id.
the Court finds that plaintiff's case falls squarely
within the confines of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
Plaintiff was a defendant in the state foreclosure action,
and she brought this federal suit after the Circuit Court for
Montgomery County, Maryland ratified the foreclosure sale on
November 7, 2012, and after the Maryland Court of Special
Appeals upheld the ruling on July 14, 2016. See
Barnes-Duncan, Md. Cir. Ct.; Barnes-Duncan,
Md.App. Moreover, plaintiff's complaint simply re-hashes
the allegations that were presented to and rejected by the
Maryland state courts, including her claim that the
foreclosure was invalid because it was obtained through
“fraud and misrepresentation, ” Compl.
¶¶ 17-18; that it was “barred by the statute
of limitations, ” id. ¶¶ 6-9; that
defendants violated the “[p]robate laws of the District
of Columbia and . . . the state of Maryland, ” id.
¶ 19; and that “defendants lacked [the] legal
authority to foreclose.” Id. ¶¶
10-16. See generally Barnes-Duncan, Md.App.
(rejecting all of these claims and referencing prior
Montgomery County Circuit Court rulings on these issues).
Because plaintiff's complaint fails to raise an
independent claim, and she seeks relief designed to
invalidate a Maryland state court judgment, her case is
plainly barred under the Rooker-Feldman
complaint will be dismissed for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(3)
and both plaintiffs and defendants' pending motions will
be denied as moot ...