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Ellis v. City of Portland

United States District Court, Ninth Circuit

May 24, 2013



MICHAEL MOSMAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Ronald Bruce Ellis filed this pro se action in forma pauperis against defendants the City of Portland, the State of Oregon, and Multnomah County on December 26, 2012. For the reasons set forth below, Ellis' action is dismissed with prejudice pursuant to Federal Civil Procedure Rule 12(h)(3) and 28 U.S. C.§ 1915(e)(2).

Ellis' complaint is not a model of clarity. However, analysis of the allegations contained therein establishes that Ellis intends by and through his complaint to challenge a conviction obtained against him in the Multnomah County Court for the State of Oregon, and not to raise any other claim against the defendants.

Federal Civil Procedure Rule 12(h)(3) provides that "[i]fthe court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the comi must dismiss the action." Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3); see also Cal. Diversified Promotions, Inc. v. J'vfusick, 505 F.2d 278, 280 (9th Cir. 1974) ("It has long been held that a judge can dismiss sua sponte for lack of jurisdiction"). Moreover, in connection with in forma pauperis actions such as this, the district courts are obliged to dismiss sua sponte actions failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted:

Notwithstanding any filing fee, or any pmiion thereof, that may have been paid, the comi shall dismiss the case at any time if the court detennines that-
* * *
(B) the action...
* * *
(ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted....

28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2).

Pursuant to the so-called Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the federal comts lack jurisdiction to exercise appellate review over state court judgments. See Reusser v. Wachovia Bank, NA., 525 F.3d 855, 858-859 (9th Cir. 2008); see also D. C. Court ofAppeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482-86 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415-16 (1923). "The clearest case for dismissal based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine occurs when a federal plaintiff assetis as a legal wrong an allegedly erroneous decision by a state court, and seeks relief from a state court judgment based on that decision...."' Henrichs v. Valley View Dev., 474 F.3d 609, 613 (9th Cir. 2007), quoting Noel v. Hall, 341 F.3d 1148, 1164 (9th Cir. 2003). However, the doctrine is equally applicable to bar the federal comis "from exercising subject matter jurisdiction over a suit that is a de facto appeal from a state court judgment." Reusser, 525 F.3d at 859, quoting Kougasian v. TMSL, Inc., 359 F.3d 1136, 1139 (9th Cir. 2004), citing Bianchi v. Rylaarsdam, 334 F.3d 895, 898 (9th Cir. 2003). An action brought in federal comi constitutes such an appeal if "claims raised in the federal couti action are inextricably inte1iwined' with [a] state court's decision such that the adjudication of the federal claims would undercut the state ruling or require the district court to interpret the application of state laws or procedural rules." Id., quoting Bianchi, 334 F.3d at 898. In essence, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine provides that "a pmiy losing in state comi is barred from seeking what in substance would be appellate review of the state judgment in a United States district comi, based on the losing pmiy's claim that the state judgment itself violates the loser's federal rights." Johnson v. De Grandy, 512 U.S. 997, 1005-1006 (1994) (citations omitted).

· Here, Ellis' claim or claims are "inextricably intertwined" with the complained-of decision of the Multnomah County Circuit Court. The gravamen of Ellis' complaint is that his state-court conviction was wrongfully obtained and that he was wrongfully imprisoned in connection with that conviction. To provide Ellis the relief he seeks would therefore require this court to review the Multnomah County proceedings, which it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction to do. Because no amendment of the complaint could be effective to cure this jurisdictional deficiency, Ellis' complaint should be dismissed in its entirety.[1] See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h)(3); 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e).


For the reasons set forth above, Ellis' complaint is dismissed with prejudice in its entirety. A final judgment shall be prepared.

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