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Jenkins v. Whitley

March 27, 2007

GARY C. JENKINS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MATTHEW L. WHITLEY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Mattice

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Resconsider [sic] [Court Doc. No. 47], by which Plaintiff Gary C. Jenkins challenges the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") issued by United States Magistrate Judge H. Bruce Guyton on October 25, 2006 [Court Doc. No. 46]. Although not styled as such, the Court will treat Plaintiff's Motion as an objection to Magistrate Judge Guyton's R&R pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(b).*fn1

In his R&R, Magistrate Judge Guyton addressed four motions presently pending before the Court: Plaintiff's Motion for Restraining Order and Injunction [Court Doc. No. 37], Defendant Matthew Whitley's Motion to Require Plaintiff to Produce Medical Records Relating to Plaintiff's Motion for Restraining Order and Injunction [Court Doc. No. 39], Plaintiff's Motion to Strike Defendant Whitley's Motion to Require Plaintiff to Produce Medical Records Relating to Plaintiff's Motion for Restraining Order and Injunction [Court Doc. No. 42], and Plaintiff's Motion to Require Defendant Whitley to Produce Records Relating to "Safety" and Good Faith Concerning His Frivolous, Fraudulent Motion and Relating to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint [Court Doc. No. 44].

For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion to Resconsider [sic] will be DENIED, and the Court will ACCEPT and ADOPT IN PART the Magistrate Judge's R&R. Moreover, and as more fully explained below, because the Court finds that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over nearly all of the claims in this action, the Court will, except as provided hereinafter with respect to Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim against Defendant Norwood pursuant to § 1983, DISMISS this action WITHOUT PREJUDICE. Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim against Defendant Norwood pursuant to § 1983 will be DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court must conduct a de novo review of those portions of the R&R to which objection is made and may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or part, the Magistrate Judge's findings or recommendations. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1).

II. FACTS

Although in his Motion to Resconsider [sic], the Plaintiff challenges Magistrate Judge Guyton's recitation of the relevant facts as set forth in the R&R, Plaintiff's assertions go primarily to the intermediate and ultimate conclusions which are drawn from those facts rather than to the accuracy or relevance of the facts themselves. The Court has independently reviewed the record before it and finds that the R&R's summary of underlying relevant facts and the procedural background of this case is accurate and complete in all material respects. Accordingly, the Court ACCEPTS and ADOPTS by reference the Magistrate Judge's statement of Relevant Facts in his R&R [Court Doc. No. 46, pp. 2-5].

III. ANALYSIS

In his R&R, Magistrate Judge Guyton found that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's action due to the application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. As Magistrate Judge Guyton points out, this doctrine emanates from the decisions of the United States Supreme Court in Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923), and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983). "The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents the lower federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over cases brought by 'state court losers' challenging 'state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced.' " Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 126 S.Ct. 1198, 1199 (2006) (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Sandi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005)).

As Magistrate Judge Guyton observes, and as Plaintiff concedes in his Motion to Resconsider [sic], the instant lawsuit is strikingly similar in nature to the case previously addressed by this Court in Bryant v. Brown, No. 1:02-cv-180 (E.D. Tenn. Jul. 29, 2002). In that case, the Court found that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction due to the application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. While conceding the similarity of the instant lawsuit to that addressed in Bryant v. Brown, however, Plaintiff challenges the applicability of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine to the case at bar and cites Stemler v. Florence, 350 F.3d 578, 589 (6th Cir. 2003), in support of that challenge. Stemler is instructive in that it points out and discusses the common conflation by courts of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine with the doctrines of claim and issue preclusion by which federal court plaintiffs who have had a full and fair opportunity to raise their complaints in state court are thereafter barred from relitigating those issues or claims in federal court.

To the extent he relies on Stemler, Plaintiff is correct that, depending on whether his litigation in the Tennessee state court system is finally concluded, his action here may be barred by the doctrines of issue and/or claim preclusion, rather than by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. In such a case, if the state court litigation is finally concluded, and to the extent Plaintiff's claims were, or could have been, raised in the Tennessee state courts, his instant lawsuit would be subject to dismissal with prejudice as res judicata,rather than without prejudice for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. While the Court is aware of, and pursuant to Federal Rule of Evidence 201 will take judicial notice of, the decision of the Tennessee Court of Appeals in In re Conservatorship of Burnette, No. E2005-01742-COAR3-CV, 2006 WL 3431935 (Tenn. Ct. App. Nov. 29, 2006), the Court cannot determine on the record before it whether Plaintiff's litigation regarding these matters in Tennessee state court is fully and finally concluded such that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine would be inapplicable.

Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Hudson v. Coleman, 347 F.3d 138, 141 (6th Cir. 2003); United States ex rel. McKenzie v. BellSouth Telecomms., Inc., 123 F.3d 935, 938 (6th Cir. 1997). As a result, a federal court must assume that a cause of action lies outside its jurisdiction unless and until the plaintiff establishes that such cause of action is within the court's jurisdiction. Hudson, 347 F.3d at 141; McKenzie, 123 F.3d at 938. In the instant case, Plaintiff has not established that his Tennessee state court litigation is fully and finally concluded such that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine would be inapplicable. In the absence of such a showing, the Court must conclude that, for the reasons explained in Magistrate Judge Guyton's R&R, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies to this case and that, as a result, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over nearly all of Plaintiff's claims.

Accordingly, Plaintiff's Motion to Resconsider [sic] is DENIED. Further, the Court will ACCEPT and ADOPT the portion of Magistrate Judge Guyton's R&R discussing the application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and will DISMISS WITHOUT PREJUDICE to refiling all of Plaintiff's claims-with the exception of Plaintiff's claim against Defendant Norwood for violations ...


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