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Jensen v. Ferguson

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

September 17, 2014

KENNETH JENSEN, Plaintiff,
v.
WASHINGTON ATTORNEY GENERAL BOB FERGUSON, Defendant.

ORDER GRANTING MOTION TO DISMISS FOURTEENTH AMENDMENT CLAIM

JAMES L. ROBART, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Before the court is Defendant Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson's ("the Attorney General") motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). (Mot. (Dkt. # 9).) Because the Attorney General raises issues concerning both subject matter and personal jurisdiction, the court properly characterizes his motion as under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and (2) as well. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), (2). The court has considered the motion, all submissions filed in support of and opposition thereto, the balance of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised, the court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the Attorney General's motion and DISMISSES without prejudice Plaintiff Kenneth Jensen's claim that various state court orders requiring him to pay restitution violate the Fourteenth Amendment. The court notes that the Attorney General's motion does not address Mr. Jensen's claim that his conviction for second degree manslaughter violates the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment. Accordingly, this claim remains.

II. BACKGROUND

This case arises from Kenneth Jensen's criminal conviction in state court. ( See Compl. (Dkt. # 1) 1-8.) In 2002, Mr. Jensen was convicted of second degree felony murder for the death of his neighbor. ( Id. at 36.) The trial court entered an order setting restitution in the amount of $28, 817.78 to be paid to the court registry. ( Id.) After paying that amount, Mr. Jensen settled a civil claim brought by the victim's widow. ( Id. ) Jensen sold his home and deposited the proceeds into the court registry as well. ( Id. ) The court subsequently entered orders disbursing funds from the account to both parties' attorneys, the court appointed commissioner, the victim's widow, and the Washington State Department of Labor & Industries, Crime Victim Compensation Division ("CVC"). ( Id. )

In 2005, the Washington State Court of Appeals reversed and remanded Mr. Jensen's criminal conviction based on the Washington State Supreme Court's holding in In Re PRP of Andress, 56 P.3d 981 (Wash. 2002). (Mot. at 21.) The State subsequently retried Mr. Jensen, and he was convicted of second degree manslaughter. ( Id. at 36.) The court imposed a second restitution order in the amount of $16, 022.39. ( Id. ) The state court judge stated that this amount credited Mr. Jensen for his previous restitution payment of $28, 817.78. ( Id. at 37.)

Mr. Jensen disagrees. He alleges that the state court wrongfully disbursed $28, 817.78 to the victim's widow and her attorney as an improper "ex parte civil disbursement." ( Id. at 8.) He has filed ten unsuccessful motions and petitions with the state court to recover those funds. ( Id. at 37.) Additionally, the Court of Appeals and the Washington State Supreme Court denied discretionary review of Mr. Jensen's recovery claim. ( Id. at 38, 42.) The court liberally construes Mr. Jensen's complaint[1] to include two claims: (1) Mr. Jensen claims that the state court order distributing $28, 817.78 to the victim's widow and her attorney and the court's denial of his subsequent motion to recover those funds constitutes an improper deprivation of his property in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment ( see id. at 8), and (2) Mr. Jensen claims that his second conviction violates the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment ( see id. at 4).

The Attorney General moves to dismiss Mr. Jensen's Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claim on grounds that: (1) the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear the claim under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine ( id. at 3-4), and (2) Mr. Jensen has sued the wrong party. (Mot. at 3.)[2] The Attorney General does not address Mr. Jensen's Fifth Amendment Double Jeopardy claim. ( See generally Mot.) Because the Attorney General fails to address this claim, the court does not consider its dismissal.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Standard on a Motion to Dismiss

The Attorney General moves to dismiss Mr. Jensen's Fourteenth Amendment claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. (Mot. at 3 (citing Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923); D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983)).) The burden of establishing subject matter jurisdiction rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Here, Mr. Jensen bears that burden.

A motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction can be facial or factual. Safe Air for Everyone v. Meyer, 373 F.3d 1035, 1039 (9th Cir. 2004). "In a facial attack, the challenger asserts that the allegations contained in a complaint are insufficient on their face to invoke federal jurisdiction." Id. This "confin[es] the inquiry to allegations in the complaint." Savage v. Glendale Union High Sch., Dist. No. 205, Maricopa Cnty., 343 F.3d 1036, 1040 n.2 (9th Cir. 2003). By contrast, "in a factual attack, the challenger disputes the truth of the allegations that, by themselves, would otherwise invoke federal jurisdiction." Safe Air for Everyone, 373 F.3d at 1039. This analysis does not require the court to presume the truthfulness of a plaintiff's allegations. White v. Lee, 227 F.3d 1214, 1242 (9th Cir. 2000).

The Attorney General's challenge in this case is a facial one. It is his position that Mr. Jensen's allegations are insufficient to invoke federal jurisdiction as a matter of law in light of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Resolution of such a facial challenge to the court's subject matter jurisdiction depends on the allegations in the complaint and does not involve the resolution of a factual dispute. Wolfe v. Strankman, 392 F.3d 358, 362 (9th Cir. 2004). In a facial challenge, the court must assume the allegations in the complaint are true and "draw all reasonable inferences in [the plaintiff's] favor." Id .; Whisnant v. United States, 400 F.3d 1177, 1179 (9th Cir. 2005).

Even in a facial challenge, however, the court may look beyond the face of the pleadings and consider "exhibits attached to the complaint, matters subject to judicial notice, [and] documents necessarily relied on by the complaint and whose authenticity no party questions." Bautista-Perez v. Holder, 681 F.Supp.2d 1083, 1087 (N.D. Cal. 2009) (citing Lee v. City of Los Angeles, 250 F.3d 668, 688-89 (9th Cir. 2001); see also Barron v. Riech, 13 F.3d 1370, 1377 (9th Cir. 1994). Thus, review of the Attorney General's motion is informed by the state court orders at issue over which this court takes judicial notice. Further, the consideration of information outside the complaint does not convert the motion into one for summary judgment. White, 227 F.3d at 1242.

B. The Due Process Claim is Barred by the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

The Attorney General contends that Mr. Jensen's Fourteenth Amendment claim concerning the restitution order is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. (Mot. at 3-4.) The Rooker-Feldman doctrine reflects the statutory limitations to original jurisdiction of the federal courts and the United States Supreme Court's role as the only federal court with jurisdiction to hear an appeal from state court. Noel v. Hall, 341 F.3d 1148, 1154-55 (9th Cir. 2003). The doctrine has evolved from the two Supreme Court cases from which its name is derived. See Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923); D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983). In Rooker, the Court "held that when a losing plaintiff in a state court brings a suit in federal district court asserting as legal wrongs the allegedly erroneous rulings of the state court and seeks to vacate or set aside the judgment of that court, the federal suit is a forbidden de facto appeal." Noel, 341 F.3d at 1156 (summarizing Rooker ). In Feldman, the Court held that where an "issue was inextricably intertwined' with an issue resolved by the local court in its judicial decision, the federal district court could not address that issue, for the district court would be, in effect, hearing a forbidden appeal from the judicial decision of the local court." Noel, 341 F.3d at 1157 (summarizing Feldman ). An issue is inextricably intertwined' with the state court's decision when "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." Reusser v. Wachovia Bank, N.A., 525 F.3d 855, 859 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting Bianchi v. Rylaarsdam, 334 F.3d 895, 898 (9th Cir. 2003)). Thus, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies "when the federal plaintiff both asserts as her injury legal error or errors by the state court and seeks as her remedy relief from the state court judgment." Kougasian v. TMSL, Inc., 359 F.3d 1136, 1140 (9th Cir. 2004).

Mr. Jensen's claim satisfies the four main requirements of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, and thus it is barred. See Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). First, Rooker-Feldman applies only to federal plaintiffs who did not prevail in state court. Id. Mr. Jensen has brought ten unsuccessful motions to recover the disputed restitution funds in state court. ( See Compl. at 37-38, 42.)

Second, the plaintiff must claim that the state court judgment caused his injuries. Exxon Mobil Corp, 544 U.S. at 284. Mr. Jensen's complaint states that "the trial court's denial of [his] motion to recover the funds he had deposited was erroneous; it effectively confiscated $28, 817.78 from him without just cause and without due process of law."[3] (Compl. at 8; see also id. at 4.) Thus, in essence, he asserts that errors on the part of the state courts are the source of his injury. See Henrichs v. Valley View Develop, 474 F.3d 609, 613 (9th Cir. 2007) (noting dismissal pursuant to Rooker-Feldman is indicated where the plaintiff asserts an erroneous state court decision as a legal wrong).

Third, Rooker-Feldman applies only when the plaintiff seeks review and rejection of the state court judgment. Exxon Mobile, 544 U.S. at 284. In his complaint, Mr. Jensen asks this court to "exonerate all interest on [his] restitution order, " and to "direct the trial court" to adjust the restitution order and restore his funds. (Compl. at 45.) He also asks this court to find fault with the trial court's analysis that the second restitution order was a net amount owed by Mr. Jensen. ( See id. at 2-8, 10-20, 22-35.) This constitutes a request for this court to review the state court's judgment.

Finally, under the doctrine, state court proceedings must have ended before the plaintiff initiates his federal claim. Exxon Mobile., 544 U.S. at 284. Mr. Jensen alleges that the state courts have repeatedly denied the relief he seeks over the past seven years. ( See Compl. at 41.) He further alleges that the Washington State Supreme Court denied his request for review in March, 2014 ( see id. at 39-43.), and he filed his lawsuit before this court in May, 2014. ( Id. at 1.) "Proceedings end for Rooker - Feldman purposes when the state courts finally resolve the issue that the federal court plaintiff seeks to relitigate in a federal forum, " and thus Mr. Jensen's state court proceedings ended prior to the commencement of his federal claim. Mothershed v. Justices of the Supreme Court, 410 F.3d 602, 604 n.1 (9th Cir. 2005).

In sum, Mr. Jensen's claim is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. He challenges the constitutional validity of a final state court decision, and a district court has "no authority to review the final determinations of a state court... even when the challenge to the state court decision involves federal constitutional issues." See Worldwide Church of God v. McNair, 805 F.2d 888, 890-91 (9th Cir. 1986); see also Ignacio v. Judges of United States Court of Appeals for Ninth Circuit, 453 F.3d 1160, 1165 (9th Cir. 2006) (noting that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine also bars constitutional claims that are "inextricably intertwined" with a de facto forbidden appeal).

C. Leave to amend

When the court grants a motion to dismiss, it must also decide whether to grant leave to amend. Mora v. Countrywide Mortg., No. 2:11-cv-00899-GMN-RJJ, 2012 WL 254056, at *2 (D. Nev. Jan. 26, 2012). Ordinarily, leave to amend a complaint should be freely given following an order of dismissal. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(2). Generally, leave to amend is only denied when it is clear that the deficiencies of the complaint cannot be cured by amendment. See Thinket Ink Info. Res., Inc. v. Sun Microsys., Inc., 368 F.3d 1053, 1061 (9th Cir. 2004); DeSoto v. Yellow Freight Sys., Inc., 957 F.2d 655, 658 (9th Cir. 1992) ("A district court does not err in denying leave to amend where the amendment would be futile." (citing Reddy v. Litton Indus., Inc., 912 F.2d 291, 296 (9th Cir. 1990)).

Here, the court concludes that granting leave to amend would be futile. The court can conceive of no possible cure for Mr. Jensen's Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claim based on its conflict with the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Even if Mr. Jensen amends his complaint to focus on the actions of adverse parties other than the court, his claim would be barred by collateral estoppel or res judicata. See Cooper v. Ramos, 704 F.3d 772, 784 (9th Cir. 2012) (holding that collateral estoppel barred plaintiff from amending his claim to focus on the actions of adverse parties rather than the court when then the same legal issue had already been decided by the state court).[4] Any claim Mr. Jensen could bring alleging his funds were improperly disbursed would be barred by collateral estoppel or res judicata because the state trial court ruled that he was properly credited for those funds and is not entitled to any recovery. ( See Compl. at 37-38, 41-42.) Thus, the issue he seeks to litigate is already subject to a final judgment on the merits. See Cooper, 704 F.3d at 784. The court, therefore, denies Mr. Jensen leave to amend his Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claim concerning the state court restitution orders.

IV. CONCLUSION

For the foregoing reasons, the court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part the Attorney General's motion and DISMISSES Mr. Jensen's Fourteenth Amendment Due Process claim without prejudice[5] and without leave to amend. The court notes that Mr. Jensen's Fifth Amendment Double Jeopardy claim remains.


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