United States District Court, S.D. Florida
ORDER DENYING MOTION TO DISMISS
N. Scola, Jr United States District Judge.
matter is before the Court upon the Defendants Bayview Loan
Servicing, LLC and M&T Bank's Motion to Dismiss
Counts 1 and 2 for Lack of Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine (ECF No.
92). The pro se Plaintiff, Maria Ferrer, filed a response
(ECF No. 104), and the Defendants filed a reply (ECF No.
106). The Court has considered all supporting and opposing
submissions, the record in this case, and the applicable law.
Accordingly, the Court denies the motion to
case has a lengthy history. Pro se Plaintiff Maria Ferrer
brought suit against the Defendants, alleging violations of
the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692
(“FDCPA”), the Florida Consumer Collections
Practices Act § 559.72(9) (“FCCPA”), and the
Telephone Consumer Protection Act 47 U.S.C. § 227
(“TCPA”), related to the servicing of her
mortgage. (First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1-2, ECF No. 7.)
Ferrer alleges throughout that the Defendants sought to
collect “an alleged but non-existing debt.”
(Id. at ¶¶ 13, 21, 45-47, 49, 51, 61.)
sent debt validation request letters in response to debt
notifications and collection notices from the Defendants.
(Id. at ¶¶ 18, 20.) Ferrer did not receive
a response to her request but the Defendants continued
collection efforts by calling Ferrer's cell phone number
repeatedly, instituting a foreclosure action against her, and
mailing collection notices every month. (Id. at
¶ 21.) Additionally, Bayview, Ferrer claims, called her
cell phone 53 times between February 21, 2014, and October
23, 2014-sometimes multiple times in one day. (Id.
at ¶ 28.)
result, Ferrer filed this action, alleging violations of the
FDCPA (Count 1), the FCCPA (Count 2), and the TCPA (Count 3),
while a foreclosure proceeding was taking place in the state
court. Therefore, the Court stayed this action for almost two
years while the foreclosure proceeding progressed through the
state court system. (See ECF Nos. 62, 65.) The state
court entered a final judgment of foreclosure in
Bayview's favor in December of 2015. (ECF No. 92-1.)
Ferrer challenged the judgment by filing appeals to the Third
District Court of Appeal, the Florida Supreme Court, and the
United States Supreme Court, all of which were denied or
dismissed. (ECF Nos. 92-2, 92-3, 92-4.) Accordingly, the
Defendants now move for dismissal of Counts 1 and 2 of
Ferrer's amended complaint, arguing that the Court lacks
subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman
judgments . . . rendered by the highest court of a State in
which a decision could be had, may be reviewed by the Supreme
Court” where a person claims that the State court's
decision violates his or her federal (Constitutional or
statutory) rights. 28 U.S.C. § 1257. In other words, the
Supreme Court has-but a district court lacks-jurisdiction to
consider a case where the plaintiff is challenging the
legitimacy of a “final determination made in a state
judicial proceeding.” Hollins v. Wessel, 819
F.2d 1073, 1074 (11th Cir. 1987) (citing Rooker v.
Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 416 (1923) and
D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 476
(1983)). This is commonly referred to as the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See Brown v. R.J.
Reynolds Tobacco Co., 611 F.3d 1324, 1330 (11th Cir.
2010) (“The doctrine bars the losing party in state
court from seeking what in substance would be appellate
review of the state judgment in a United States district
court, based on the losing party's claim that the state
judgment itself violates the loser's federal
rights.”) (internal quotation marks omitted).
“The doctrine extends not only to constitutional claims
presented or adjudicated by a state court, but also to claims
that are ‘inextricably intertwined' with a state
court judgment. A federal claim is inextricably intertwined
with a state court judgment if the federal claim succeeds
only to the extent that the state court wrongly decided the
issues before it.” Goodman ex rel. Goodman v.
Sipos, 259 F.3d 1327, 1332 (11th Cir. 2001) (citation
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, ‘[i]t is
well-settled that a federal district court lacks jurisdiction
to review, reverse, or invalidate a final state court
decision.” Velardo v. Fremont Inv. & Loan,
298 F. App'x 890, 892 (11th Cir. 2008). The Eleventh
Circuit “delineat[ed] the boundaries of the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine: ‘cases brought by
state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by
state-court judgments rendered before the district court
proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and
rejection of those judgments.'” Nicholson v.
Shafe, 558 F.3d 1266, 1274 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting
Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544
U.S. 280, 284 (2005)).
their motion to dismiss, the Defendants argue that
Ferrer's FDCPA and FCCPA claims are barred by the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine because, in essence, this
case constitutes a challenge to the validity of the
promissory note and mortgage involved in the underlying state
court foreclosure proceeding. Ferrer counters that
Rooker-Feldman is not applicable in this case,
because she claims that the Defendants' collection
practices violated the FDCPA and FCCPA because they failed to
properly validate the underlying debt prior to filing the
foreclosure action. Indeed, this is not a case that fits into
the narrow category delineated by the Supreme Court in
Exxon-in which state court loser files suit to
challenge the judgment in federal Court. Ferrer filed this
case while the foreclosure proceeding was pending in the
state court, alleging several violations of the FDCPA in the
form of repeated telephone calls, the failure to disclose
that communications were from a debt collector, and the
failure to properly validate the debt after her requests.
(First Am. Compl. ¶¶ 28-29, 48, 52.) These alleged
violations do not require the Court to undo the state
foreclosure judgment as the Defendants argue, because they
relate to the Defendants' alleged debt collection
practices, not directly to the validity of the underlying
note and mortgage.
Rooker-Feldman “does not apply, however, where
a party did not have a reasonable opportunity to raise his
federal claim in state proceedings.” Casale v.
Tillman, 558 F.3d 1258, 1260 (11th Cir. 2009). While the
parties seem to agree that Ferrer generally challenged the
validity of the debt in the state court foreclosure
proceeding, there is no indication that she challenged the
Defendants' debt collection practices, which is the basis
of her FDCPA claim, in the state court. Therefore, the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply in this case
to deprive the Court of jurisdiction over Ferrer's
“[i]n parallel litigation, a federal court may be bound
to recognize the claim- and issue-preclusive effects of a
state-court judgment, but federal jurisdiction over an action
does not terminate automatically on the entry of judgment in
the state court.” Exxon Mobil Corp., 544 U.S.
at 293. The Defendants raise a valid point in noting that
Ferrer's response to the motion to dismiss confirms that
she also aims to challenge the validity of the underlying
debt-a challenge that was repeatedly rejected in the state
court. (See Reply at 3, ECF No. 106.)
states that “[i]n essence, the Plaintiff is alleg[ing]
that by attempting to collect the underlying debt and enforce
the note and mortgage through foreclosure before validating
the debt, the State Court Action was premature, and the
Plaintiff was injured by being effectively prevented from
resolving the debt and reinstating the note and mortgage.
Validating the debt would have enabled the Plaintiff to save
the property secured by the note and mortgage.” (Resp.
at 12, ECF No. 104.) In other words, through this lawsuit,
Ferrer is also attempting to challenge, once again, the
validity of the underlying debt, which is an issue already
decided by the state court. ...