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Feingold v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

March 26, 2018




         THIS MATTER is before me upon Appellant Allen L. Feingold's (“Mr. Feingold”) appeal of the bankruptcy court's Order Granting Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Complaint (“Bankruptcy Order”), which dismissed Mr. Feingold's Complaint with prejudice. See Notice of Appeal, ECF No. 1. For the reasons stated below, I affirm the ruling of the bankruptcy court.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Feingold is an attorney formerly admitted to practice law in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Compl., ECF No. 5-2, 8-9. Appellee Office of Disciplinary Counsel (“ODC”) is an administrative agency of the Commonwealth charged with investigating and prosecuting claims of misconduct by present and formerly admitted attorneys. Id. at 8. Appellee Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania (“Board”) is also an administrative agency of the Commonwealth; it is charged with adjudicating claims of misconduct by present and formerly admitted attorneys. Id.

         On or about August 1, 2009, the ODC filed a petition against Mr. Feingold seeking the entry of a preliminary injunction preventing Mr. Feingold from performing any activities constituting the practice of law. Id. at 9-10. The case was assigned to President Judge Dembe who held a hearing on the request for injunction, after which she entered a final injunction against Mr. Feingold. Id. at 10. The injunction enjoined Mr. Feingold from any activity constituting the practice of law, allowed the ODC to seize the contents of Mr. Feingold's office, and enjoined Mr. Feingold from filing any document with the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas without prior permission from the President Judge. Id. At the instructions of Judge Dembe, the DOC and Board filed a motion for the appointment of a conservator, which was granted. Id. Mr. Feingold alleges he attempted to appeal the order appointing a conservator, but the Prothonotary of Philadelphia County refused to accept his filing, and Judge Dembe would not allow him to file his appeal. Id. at 12. During this time, Defendants retained possession of Mr. Feingold's files, office equipment, books, and other various items. Id.

         On February 18, 2011, Mr. Feingold filed a voluntary petition for bankruptcy. Appellant's Br., ECF No. 18, 10. During the pendency of the bankruptcy case, the bankruptcy court allegedly directed Appellees to provide Mr. Feingold with a list of the files in their control so Mr. Feingold could take possession of them. Compl., 12-14. According to Mr. Feingold, Appellees never gave him the list and destroyed all of his files in their possession. Id. at 14. However, at some point during the bankruptcy proceeding, the Board moved for, and was granted, relief from the automatic bankruptcy stay to allow for the winding up of the disciplinary proceedings, including returning files to Mr. Feingold's former clients. See Ord. Granting Motion for Relief from the Automatic Stay, ECF No. 5-3, 57-58.

         The instant adversary proceeding was filed on December 19, 2016, approximately six years after the filing of Mr. Feingold's bankruptcy petition and over two years after the entry of the order granting the Board relief from the bankruptcy stay. In his Complaint, Mr. Feingold alleges Appellees' seizure of his office and its contents, as well as the destruction of his files, constituted an unreasonable seizure, and the appointment of a conservator constituted an unreasonable search, all in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Compl., 13-14. Mr. Feingold also alleges Appellees acted under color of state law and in conspiracy with others to violate his civil rights “as guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution and pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985.” Id. at 14.

         However, this is not the first time Mr. Feingold has sought identical relief on identical claims. According to Appellees, Mr. Feingold filed three previous cases in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania: Case No. 09-04421, Feingold v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, et al.; Case No. 10-03357, Feingold v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, et al.; Case No. 12-03516, Feingold v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel, et al. Appellees' Br., 9. Each case was dismissed, and each dismissal was affirmed by the Third Circuit Court of Appeals. Id. Appellees have attached copies of the orders of dismissals and affirmances. See ECF No. 5-2, 29-54. They have also attached a copy of Mr. Feingold's complaint in the most recently dismissed case. ECF No. 5-2, 55-89. A review of the Complaint in the instant case and the complaint in the third Pennsylvania case reveals that Mr. Feingold's claims are identical; the only differences between the two cases are that the instant case has fewer overall Defendants but one new Defendant (the Board), as well as fewer specific factual allegations. Appellees filed a Motion to Dismiss in the underlying bankruptcy case, which the bankruptcy court granted. The bankruptcy court found it lacked subject matter jurisdiction based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and that Mr. Feingold was collaterally estopped from bringing his claims again.


         “When entertaining an appeal from a bankruptcy court, district courts are entitled to ‘affirm, modify, or reverse a bankruptcy court's . . . order' and will accept its findings of fact unless those findings are clearly erroneous.” In re Boykin, 313 B.R. 516, 519 (M.D. Ga. 2004) (Fed. Bankr. R. 8013). “A bankruptcy court's legal conclusions and application of the law to the facts of a given case are reviewed de novo . . . .” HDR Architecture, P.C. v. Maguire Grp. Holdings, 523 B.R. 879, 885 (S.D. Fla. 2014) (citing Carrier Corp. v. Buckley (In re Globe Mfg. Corp.), 567 F.3d 1291, 1296 (11th Cir. 2009)). “The court may affirm the bankruptcy court's judgment ‘on any ground that appears in the record, whether or not that ground was relied upon or even considered by the court below.'” Perry v. United States, 500 B.R. 796, 798 (M.D. Ala. 2013) (quoting Thomas v. Cooper Lighting, Inc., 506 F.3d 1361, 1364 (11th Cir. 2007)); see also In re Alam, 359 B.R. 142, 151 (6th Cir. BAP 2006) (“We may affirm the decision of the bankruptcy court if it is correct for any reason, including one not considered by the bankruptcy court.”); In re Maximus Computers, Inc., 278 B.R. 189, 194 (9th Cir. BAP 2002) (same).


         Mr. Feingold challenges the Bankruptcy Order, arguing that neither the Rooker-Feldman doctrine[1] nor the doctrine of collateral estoppel apply to his claims in the instant case. Appellees contend that the bankruptcy court correctly applied both standards. I will address only the issue of collateral estoppel, as it is clear Mr. Feingold is collaterally estopped from relitigating the issue of subject matter jurisdiction under Rooker-Feldman.

         “Collateral estoppel, or issue preclusion, bars the re-litigation of issues of fact or law that were actually litigated and decided in a prior suit.” McCulley v. Bank of Am., N.A., 605 F. App'x 875, 877 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing CSX Transp., Inc. v. Bhd. of Maint. of Way Emps., 327 F.3d 1309, 1317 (11th Cir.2003)). “Unlike res judicata, collateral estoppel is not limited to actions between the same parties and their privies.” Id. at 878 (11th Cir. 2015) (citing Hart v. Yamaha-Parts Distribs., Inc., 787 F.2d 1468, 1473 (11th Cir.1986) (“A defendant who was not a party to the original action may invoke collateral estoppel against the plaintiff.”)).

A party asking the court to apply estoppel must establish that “(1) the issue at stake is identical to the one involved” in the earlier proceeding; “(2) the issue was actually litigated” in the earlier proceeding; “(3) the determination of the issue . . . must have been a critical and necessary part” of the earlier judgment; and “(4) the party against whom ...

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