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Graham v. Fleissner Law Firm

May 22, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Curtis L. Collier Chief United States District Judge

Chief Judge Curtis L. Collier


Pro se plaintiff Betty Lou Graham ("Plaintiff") alleges violations of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 ("HIPAA") against Defendants the Fleissner Law Firm and Scott Davis. Defendants filed two motions to dismiss and memoranda in support of those motions (Court File Nos. 4, 5, 13, 14) and moved for sanctions (Court File Nos. 10, 11). For the following reasons, the Court will GRANT Defendants' motions to dismiss (Court File Nos. 4 & 13) and DENY the motion for sanctions (Court File No. 10).


According to Plaintiff's complaint and subsequent filings, on February 12, 2007, Judge Robert Moon, in Hamilton County, Tennessee, General Sessions Court, dismissed Plaintiff's lawsuit against Walldorf Property Management and George Kangles. Plaintiff contends her Fourteenth Amendment rights in that case were violated because she was not given the opportunity to be heard nor were the merits of her case discussed before the court. She cites the court's reliance on Defendants' argument that her action against their client was barred by the one year statute of limitations (Court File No. 1). In addition, Plaintiff alleges (through her motion to amend the original complaint) that Defendants violated her rights under HIPAA by taking advantage of access to her medical information obtained via a previous case in which they defended Liberty Mutual Insurance, the insurance company Plaintiff sued after an automobile accident in 1991 (Court File No. 7).

Defendants have served as counsel for several parties sued by Plaintiff in state court. The first and third lawsuits were in state court against Lake Park Condominium Association in which Plaintiff sought access to Lake Park's books and records and alleged a breach of fiduciary duty. The first lawsuit was dismissed for Plaintiff's failure to appear at a hearing. She subsequently attempted to have that suit reinstated, but the motion was denied by the court (Court File No. 11). The third lawsuit, which was also against Lake Park, contained ten claims alleging breach of fiduciary duty. Eight of those ten claims were dismissed because the statute of limitations had run, but Plaintiff appealed to the state Circuit Court. She appealed all ten claims, but the state Circuit Court dismissed the eight claims previously dismissed by the state General Sessions Court and eventually dismissed the two remaining claims (Court File No. 11). The other two lawsuits, numbers two and four, filed by Plaintiff were also related. The second lawsuit was against Walldorf Management, Inc., and George Kangles alleging mismanagement of rental property in fourteen claims. Thirteen of the fourteen claims were dismissed, and Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the fourteenth claim. Plaintiff then filed a writ of coram nobis to reinstate the thirteen dismissed claims,which was subsequently denied. She also filed a Motion for Correction of Law in state Chancery Court, which was denied. Since then, she has filed several motions in state court in an attempt to revive the thirteen dismissed claims. The defendants in that case have filed a motion to dismiss, which is still pending in Chancery Court (Court File No. 11). In this case, Plaintiff's alleged violations of the Fourteenth Amendment is a result of her failure to succeed in her state court claims.


When reviewing a Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the Court must construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Bloch v. Ribar, 156 F.3d 673, 677 (6th Cir. 1998), accept the complaint's factual allegations as true, Broyde v. Gotham Tower, Inc., 13 F.3d 994, 996 (6th Cir. 1994), and determine whether plaintiff has pleaded "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1974 (May 21, 2007). In deciding a motion to dismiss, the question is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the plaintiff is entitled to offer evidence to support his claims. Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 511 (2002). At the same time, bare assertions of legal conclusions are insufficient, and the "complaint must contain either direct or inferential allegations respecting all the material elements to sustain a recovery under some viable legal theory." Scheid v. Fanny Farmer Candy Shops, Inc., 859 F.2d 434, 436 (6th Cir. 1988). Unsupported allegations and legal conclusions "masquerading as factual conclusions" are not sufficient. Mezibov v. Allen, 411 F.3d 712, 716 (6th Cir. 2005).


A. Fourteenth Amendment Violation

Plaintiff alleges that Defendants violated her Fourteenth Amendment rights by causing a state court to dismiss her lawsuit. However, Plaintiff is barred from bringing a case in federal court to challenge the dismissal of her state claim because of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, under which the lower federal courts abstain from exercising jurisdiction "over state court losers challenging state court judgments." Raymond v. Moyer, 501 F.3d 548, 550 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp. 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005)). The Sixth Circuit explained the scope of the doctrine:

The doctrine applies only when a plaintiff complains of injury from the state court judgment itself. If the source of the injury is the state court decision, then the Rooker-Feldman doctrine would prevent the district court from asserting jurisdiction.

If there is some other source of injury, such as a third party's actions, then the plaintiff asserts an independent claim.

Abbott v. Michigan, 474 F.3d 324, 328 (6th Cir. 2007). If the federal court claim is a "general challenge to the constitutionality of the state law applied in the state action, rather than a challenge to the law's application in a particular state case," then the lower court can exercise its jurisdiction and hear the case. Hood v. Keller, 341 F.3d 592, 597 (6th Cir. 2003). However, in the instant case, Plaintiff is challenging the state court decision and not the ...

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