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Renfroe v. Nationstar Mortgage, LLC

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Jacksonville Division

October 24, 2019




         THIS CAUSE is before the Court on Defendant Nationstar Mortgage, LLC's (Nationstar) Motion to Dismiss Amended Complaint (Doc. 8, Motion) filed on June 7, 2019. Plaintiff, Edith Renfroe, proceeding pro se, responded to the Motion on July 16, 2019 (Doc. 10, Response). Therefore this matter is ripe for review.

         I. Standard of Review

         In ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept the factual allegations set forth in the complaint as true. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 508 n.1 (2002); see also Lotierzo v. Woman's World Med. Ctr., Inc., 278 F.3d 1180, 1182 (11th Cir. 2002). In addition, all reasonable inferences should be drawn in favor of the plaintiff. See Randall v. Scott, 610 F.3d 701, 705 (11th Cir. 2010). Nonetheless, the plaintiff must still meet some minimal pleading requirements. Jackson v. Bellsouth Telecomm., 372 F.3d 1250, 1262-63 (11th Cir. 2004) (citations omitted). Indeed, while “[s]pecific facts are not necessary[, ]” the complaint should “‘give the defendant fair notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.'” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (per curiam) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Further, the plaintiff must allege “enough facts to state a claim that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. “A claim has facial plausibility when the pleaded factual content allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). A “plaintiff's obligation to provide the grounds of his entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do[.]” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (internal quotations omitted); see also Jackson, 372 F.3d at 1262 (explaining that “conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions of facts or legal conclusions masquerading as facts will not prevent dismissal”) (internal citation and quotations omitted). Indeed, “the tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions[, ]” which simply “are not entitled to [an] assumption of truth.” See Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, 680. Thus, in ruling on a motion to dismiss, the Court must determine whether the complaint contains “sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to ‘state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face[.]'” Id. at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). And, while "[p]ro se pleadings are held to a less stringent standard than pleadings drafted by attorneys and will, therefore, be liberally construed," Tannenbaum v. United States, 148 F.3d 1262, 1263 (11th Cir. 1998), "'this leniency does not give the court a license to serve as de facto counsel for a party or to rewrite an otherwise deficient pleading in order to sustain an action.'" Alford v. Consol. Gov't of Columbus, Ga., 438 Fed.Appx. 837, 839 (11th Cir. 2011)[1] (quoting GJR Invs., Inc. v. Cty. of Escambia, Fla., 132 F.3d 1359, 1369 (11th Cir. 1998) (internal citation omitted), overruled in part on other grounds as recognized in Randall, 610 F.3d at 706).

         II. Background

         In her Amended Complaint and Request for Injunctive Relief, see Doc. 4 (Amended Complaint), filed May 31, 2019, Renfroe alleges that Nationstar began servicing Renfroe's mortgage loan in April of 2014. See id. at 6.[2] In August of 2014, Nationstar filed an action in the Circuit Court for Duval County, Florida, to foreclose on the mortgage. Id. at 6-7; Mortgage Foreclosure Action. Renfroe asserts Nationstar did not provide her with the notice of default as required by the Mortgage Agreement, despite statements to the contrary in Nationstar's circuit court complaint to foreclose on her mortgage. Amended Complaint at 7; Mortgage Foreclosure Action at 3. Additionally, Renfroe contends that she was denied the opportunity “to answer and dispute the claims raised” in Nationstar's foreclosure complaint, while nonetheless acknowledging that she answered the complaint, and raised “fraud and forgery” as an affirmative defense. Amended Complaint at 8, 13; Order on Motion for Rehearing at 2. As such, Renfroe suggests that Nationstar committed a fraud on the state court. Amended Complaint at 12-13.

         This Court's review of the state court docket further reflects that on February 13, 2017, the state court entered a final judgment of foreclosure in favor of Nationstar and scheduled a foreclosure sale for May 18, 2017. See Nationstar Mortgage, LLC v. Edith Renfroe, No. 2014-CA-6052 (Fla. 4th Cir. Ct. 2017) (State Action).[3] Through a series of successive motions however, the foreclosure sale has been delayed, and a final date for the sale has not been set. Although Florida's First District Court of Appeal affirmed the final judgment of foreclosure on April 27, 2018, the state court docket indicates that the case remains open.

         Renfroe filed the instant action on May 3, 2019, requesting that the Court enjoin Nationstar from proceeding with the state court Mortgage Foreclosure Action against her, generally alleging that action violated her procedural due process rights. See generally Doc. 1 (Complaint). The Court struck the Complaint, questioning whether it had subject matter jurisdiction over Renfroe's claims pursuant to either the Rooker-Feldman or Younger abstention doctrines. See Doc. 3 at 2-4 (Order Striking Complaint), filed May 10, 2019. After advising Renfroe of the general substance of these doctrines, the Court gave Renfroe leave to amend her Complaint. Id. at 4-5. Renfroe subsequently filed her Amended Complaint, in which she fleshes out the factual allegations articulated in her initial Complaint, but otherwise generally reiterates her claim for injunctive relief against Nationstar in the state court Mortgage Foreclosure Action.

         III. Arguments of the Parties

         In its Motion, Nationstar moves to dismiss Renfroe's Amended Complaint arguing that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this action. Motion at 3. In particular, Nationstar asserts that because Renfroe is asking the Court to review a state court proceeding, this Court lacks jurisdiction pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.[4] Id. at 3-4. In the alternative, Nationstar contends that if the State Action is not final, the Court lacks jurisdiction pursuant to the Younger abstention doctrine.[5] Id. at 4. Therefore, Nationstar argues that the Court should dismiss the case. Liberally construing Renfroe's Response, as the Court must, Tannenbaum, 148 F.3d at 1263, Renfroe asserts that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply here because the underlying state judgment was obtained by fraud and deceit, and that the Mortgage Foreclosure Action against her violated her procedural due process rights. Response at 2, 4-5, 11.

         IV. Discussion

         As this Court stated in its Order Striking Complaint, to the extent Renfroe is asking this Court to review, overturn, or interfere with the State Action, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the claim under Rooker-Feldman. “The Rooker-Feldman doctrine makes clear that federal district courts cannot review state court final judgments because that task is reserved for state appellate courts or, as a last resort, the United States Supreme Court.” Casale v. Tillman, 558 F.3d 1258, 1260 (11th Cir. 2009) (citing Feldman, 460 U.S. at 482); see also Arthur v. JP Morgan Chase Bank, NA, 569 Fed.Appx. 669, 677 (11th Cir. 2014) (“Insofar as the [Plaintiff] seeks to have [her foreclosure] judgment declared null and void by the district court sitting in diversity, such claim is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.”); Bedasee v. Fremont Inv. & Loan Co., 741 Fed.Appx. 642, 644 (11th Cir. 2018) (“Plaintiffs lost in state court and they now seek a do-over in federal court with the goal of having the district court ‘review and reject[]' the state foreclosure judgment: an action that is exactly what the Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits.”).

         “An exception to this doctrine exists when a plaintiff had no reasonable opportunity to raise federal claims in state proceedings.” Kotz, M.D., v. Florida, 33 F.Supp.2d 1019, 1026 (M.D. Fla. 1998) (citations omitted). However, to the extent Renfroe alleges that she was denied the opportunity “to answer and dispute the claims raised” in Nationstar's mortgage foreclosure action against her, and such alleged denial is the basis of her constitutional claims, by her own pleadings, Renfroe acknowledged that she answered Nationstar's complaint and raised “fraud and forgery” as an affirmative defense. Amended Complaint at 7-8, 13; Order on Motion for Rehearing at 2. Moreover, the state court acknowledged but ultimately rejected her fraud and forgery claims in its Order on Motion for Rehearing. See Order on Motion for Rehearing at 2-3. Hence, even if the Court liberally construes Renfroe's filings as attempting to assert a federal claim, by her very own assertions in her Amended Complaint, she was indeed afforded an opportunity by the state court to “answer and dispute the claims raised” against her. Amended Complaint at 8, 13. Additionally, and again liberally construing Renfroe's pleadings, to the extent she has alleged that Nationstar's purported actions constitute a fraud on the court, and thus her action is not barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, this argument also fails. The Eleventh Circuit has stated that

[i]t is true that some of our sister circuits have recognized an extrinsic-fraud exception to Rooker-Feldman. See, e.g., In re Sun Valley Foods Co.,801 F.2d 186, 189 (6th Cir.1986) (“A federal court may entertain a collateral attack on a state court judgment which is alleged to have been procured through fraud, deception, accident, or mistake.”) (quotation marks omitted); Resolute Ins. ...

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