Section 1983 Litigation/Elements of Claim, Functional Role, Pleading, and Jurisdiction

From Wiki Law School does not provide legal advice. For educational purposes only.
< Section 1983 Litigation

Section 1983 Litigation
Table of Contents
Introduction to § 1983 Litigation
The Statute
Historical Background
Nature of § 1983 Litigation
Right to Trial by Jury
Jury Instructions
Constitutional Claims Against Federal Officials: The Bivens Doctrine
Section 1983 Does Not Encompass Claims Against Federal Officials
The Bivens Claim for Relief
Law Governing Bivens Claims
Elements of Claim, Functional Role, Pleading, and Jurisdiction
Elements of the § 1983 Claim
Functional Role of § 1983
Pleading § 1983 Claims
Federal Court Jurisdiction
State Court Jurisdiction
Section 1983 Plaintiffs
Persons Entitled to Bring Suit Under § 1983
Constitutional Rights Enforceable Under § 1983
Due Process Rights: In General
Procedural Due Process
Substantive Due Process Claims
Use of Force by Government Officials: Sources of Constitutional Protection
Arrests and Searches
Malicious Prosecution Claims Under Fourth Amendment
Conditions-of-Confinement Claims Under Eighth Amendment
First Amendment Claims
Equal Protection “Class-of-One” Claims
Enforcement of Federal Statutes Under § 1983
Enforcement of Federal “Rights”
Specific Comprehensive Scheme Demonstrating Congressional Intent to Foreclose § 1983 Remedy
Current Supreme Court Approach
Enforcement of Federal Regulations Under § 1983
Color of State Law and State Action
State and Local Officials
State Action Tests
Section 1983 Defendants
State Defendants
Interplay of “Person” and Eleventh Amendment Issues
Municipal Defendants
State Versus Municipal Policy Maker
Departments, Offices, and Commissions
Capacity of Claim: Individual Versus Official Capacity
Municipal Liability
Fundamental Principles of § 1983 Municipal Liability
Officially Promulgated Policy
Municipal Policy Makers
Custom or Practice
Inadequate Training
Inadequate Hiring
Pleading Municipal Liability Claims
Liability of Supervisors
Relationship Between Individual and Municipal Liability
Los Angeles v. Heller
If Plaintiff Prevails on Personal-Capacity Claim
“Cost Allocation Scheme”
State Liability: The Eleventh Amendment
Relationship Between Suable § 1983 “Person” and Eleventh Amendment Immunity
Eleventh Amendment Protects State Even When Sued by Citizen of Defendant State
State Liability in § 1983 Actions
Personal-Capacity Claims
Municipal Liability; the Hybrid Entity Problem
Eleventh Amendment Waivers
Eleventh Amendment Appeals
Personal-Capacity Claims: Absolute Immunities
Absolute Versus Qualified Immunity: The Functional Approach
Judicial Immunity
Prosecutorial Immunity
Witness Immunity
Legislative Immunity
Personal Liability: Qualified Immunity
Who May Assert Qualified Immunity? Private Party State Actors
Clearly Established Federal Law
Procedural Aspects of Qualified Immunity
Exhaustion of State Remedies
State Judicial Remedies: Parratt-Hudson Doctrine
Preiser, Heck, and Beyond
State Administrative Remedies; PLRA
Notice of Claim
Preclusion Defenses
State Court Judgments
Administrative Res Judicata
Arbitration Decisions
Statute of Limitations
Limitations Period
Relation Back
Survivorship and Wrongful Death
Wrongful Death
Abstention Doctrines
Pullman Abstention; State Certification Procedure
Younger Abstention
Colorado River Abstention
Burford Abstention
Domestic Relations Doctrine
Tax Injunction Act
Monetary Relief
Nominal and Compensatory Damages
Punitive Damages
Release-Dismissal Agreements
Prison Litigation Reform Act
Attorneys’ Fees
Section 1988 Fee Litigation
Prevailing Parties
Computation of Fee Award: Lodestar Adjustment Method
Other Fee Issues
Model Instructions
Model Instruction 1: Section 1983—Elements of Claim—Action Under Color of State Law
Model Instruction 2: Fourth Amendment Excessive Force Claim
Model Instruction 3: Eighth Amendment Prisoner Excessive Force Claim
Model Instruction 4: Fourth Amendment False Arrest Claim
Model Instruction 5: Municipal Liability—General Instruction
Model Instruction 6: Municipal Liability—Inadequate Training or Supervision
Model Instruction 7: Compensatory Damages
Model Instruction 8: Punitive Damages

Elements of the § 1983 Claim[edit | edit source]

Section 1983 authorizes the assertion of a claim for relief against a person who, acting under color of state law, violated the claimant’s federally protected rights. The Supreme Court has identified two elements of a § 1983 claim. The plaintiff must allege both (1) a deprivation of a federal right, and (2) that the person who deprived the plaintiff of that right acted under color of state law.[1] (See infra Appendix, Model Instruction 1: Elements of Claim–Action Under Color of State Law.) In the author’s view, there are, in fact, at least four major elements for a § 1983 claim.[2] The plaintiff must establish

  1. conduct by a “person”;
  2. who acted “under color of state law”;
  3. proximately causing;
  4. a deprivation of a federally protected right.

In addition, if the plaintiff is seeking to establish municipal liability, she must show that the deprivation of her federal right was attributable to the enforcement of a municipal custom or policy.[3] The plaintiff bears the burden of establishing each element of the claim for relief by a preponderance of the evidence.[4]

Defendant’s State of Mind. The text of § 1983 does not require the plaintiff to prove that the defendant-official acted with any particular state of mind.[5] The Supreme Court holds that § 1983 does not “contain a stateof-mind requirement” and is not limited “to intentional deprivations of constitutional rights.”[6]

However, the particular constitutional right asserted by the plaintiff may require the plaintiff to establish that the defendant acted with a particular state of mind. For example, a complaint stating a violation of the substantive due process component of the Fourteenth Amendment or a violation of procedural due process will require the plaintiff to establish that a state or local official intentionally or deliberately caused a deprivation of life, liberty, or property; negligent conduct will not suffice to estab-

lish a due process violation.[7] A complaint raising racial or gender-based discrimination will invoke heightened judicial scrutiny only if a plaintiff establishes intentional discrimination.[8] A prisoner’s complaint asserting the denial of adequate medical care under the Eighth Amendment requires a prisoner to demonstrate that he was a victim of deliberate indifference to a serious medical need.[9] In other words, medical malpractice does not establish a constitutional violation merely because the plaintiff is a prisoner.[10] Because plaintiffs may seek enforcement of a wide range of federal constitutional rights under § 1983,[11] the federal court should evaluate each claim to determine whether it requires the plaintiff to prove that the defendant acted with a particular state of mind.

Functional Role of § 1983[edit | edit source]

Section 1983 does not itself create or establish any federally protected right. Instead, it creates a cause of action for plaintiffs to enforce federal rights created elsewhere—federal rights created by the federal Constitution or, in some cases, by other federal statutes.[12] In other words, § 1983 fulfills the procedural or remedial function of authorizing plaintiffs to assert a claim for relief against a defendant who, acting under color of state law, violated the plaintiffs’ rights guaranteed by the federal Constitution or, in some cases, by a federal statute other than § 1983. In addition, § 1983 provides the exclusive available federal remedy for violations of federal constitutional rights under color of state law. Thus, plaintiffs may not avoid the limitations of a § 1983 claim for relief by asserting a claim directly under the Constitution.[13]

Section 1981 claims. The Supreme Court, in Jett v. Dallas Independent School District, held that § 1983 is the exclusive remedy for violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 under color of state law.[14] The great weight of appellate authority holds that the Civil Rights Act of 1991, in amending § 1981(c), did not alter Jett’s holding.[15]

Pleading § 1983 Claims[edit | edit source]

Building upon Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,[16] the Supreme Court’s decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal,[17] resolved that federal court civil complaints filed under § 1983, like all other federal court civil complaints, must contain factual allegations, not mere conclusions, constituting a “plausible,” and not merely a speculative or possible, claim for relief.

The decision in Iqbal, however, did not overrule, at least explicitly, the Court’s prior precedents concerning pleading standards for federal court civil rights claims. This section sketches out the applicable pleading provisions in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; reviews the relevant preIqbal-Twombly Supreme Court precedents; analyzes Twombly and Iqbal; and analyzes the pleading standards for several specific § 1983 claims, namely municipal liability claims, personal-capacity claims subject to qualified immunity, conspiracy claims, and pro se complaints.

Pleading Provisions in Federal Rules of Civil Procedure[edit | edit source]

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) provides that the complaint must set forth “(1) a short and plain statement of the grounds on which the court’s jurisdiction depends, (2) a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief, and (3) a demand for judgment for the relief the pleader seeks.” Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9 requires that certain issues be pleaded “with particularity,” e.g., fraud and mistake. Rule 9(a) provides that “[m]alice, intent, knowledge, and other conditions of mind of a person may be averred generally.” State-of-mind issues arise in some § 1983 cases depending on the particular constitutional claim alleged, such as intentional race discrimination under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and prisoner Eighth Amendment challenges to conditions of confinement.[18]

Pre-Twombly/Iqbal Supreme Court Precedent: Leatherman and Swierkiewicz[edit | edit source]

In Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit,[19] the Supreme Court in 1993 rejected a “heightened” pleading requirement for § 1983 municipal liability claims because Rules 8 and 9 do not authorize it.[20] The Court held that the generally applicable “notice pleading” standard set forth in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs § 1983 municipal liability claims. The Fourth Circuit observed that the notice pleading standard “is by no means onerous; instead, it is designed to ensure that the complaint ‘will give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff’s claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.’”[21]

In Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, N.A.,[22] the Supreme Court in 2002 rejected a heightened pleading standard for Title VII (of the Civil Rights Act of 1964) and Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) claims. As in Leatherman, the Court determined that the notice pleading standard created by Rule 8 applies to Title VII and ADEA claims. The Court’s decisions in Leatherman and Swierkiewicz strongly supported the conclusion that notice pleading applied to all § 1983 claims.[23]

Iqbal/Twombly Plausibility Standard[edit | edit source]

In Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly,[24] an antitrust case, the Supreme Court ruled that although Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2) notice pleading does not require “detailed factual allegations,” the complaint must provide some factual allegations of the nature of the claim and the grounds on which the claim rests. The plaintiff must plead “more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.”[25] The “[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level” to a “plausibility” level.[26] The Court stressed that the district court’s ability to manage discovery does not diminish the plaintiff’s burden of pleading facts that constitute a plausible claim. Thus,

[i]t is no answer to say that a claim just shy of a plausible entitlement to relief can, if groundless, be weeded out early in the discovery process through “careful case management,” given the common lament that the success of judicial supervision in checking discovery abuse has been on the modest side.[27]

The Court also ruled that federal courts should no longer rely on the frequently quoted statement from Conley v. Gibson[28]

that a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief. . . .[29]

The Court explained why the Conley standard should be retired:

[A]fter puzzling the profession for 50 years, this famous observation has earned its retirement. The phrase is best forgotten as an incomplete, negative gloss on an accepted pleading standard: once a claim has been stated adequately, it may be supported by showing any set of facts consistent with the allegations in the complaint.[30]

Although Twombly could be read as imposing some form of “heightened” pleading requirement, the Supreme Court disavowed any intent to do so. The Court acknowledged that “a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations” and that it was not requiring “heightened fact pleading of specifics, but only enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”[31] Furthermore, the Court in Twombly did not expressly state that it was overruling or modifying its earlier decisions in Leatherman and Swierkiewicz.

In fact, two weeks after its decision in Twombly, the Court, in Erickson v. Pardus,[32] applied notice pleading to a pro se prisoner’s § 1983 Eighth Amendment medical treatment claim. Citing, inter alia, Twombly and Swierkiewicz, the Court in Erickson held that the § 1983 complaint satisfied Rule 8’s notice pleading standard. The Eighth Circuit had dismissed the complaint on the ground that it was conclusory, but the Supreme Court summarily reversed.

The complaint in Erickson alleged that the defendant doctor’s “decision to remove [plaintiff] from his prescribed hepatitis C medication was ‘endangering his life,’” and that “[plaintiff’s] medication was withheld ‘shortly after’ [plaintiff] had commenced a treatment program that would take one year, that he was ‘still in need of treatment for this disease,’ and that the prison officials were in the meantime refusing to provide treatment.”[33] The Supreme Court held that these allegations were sufficient to satisfy Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.[34] In reaching this conclusion the Court took into account that the plaintiff filed his complaint pro se and that pro se pleadings “‘however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.’”[35]

Because Twombly was an antitrust case, there was some uncertainty whether the Court’s decision was intended to be limited to antitrust cases or to be applied to federal court civil complaints generally.[36] The Court resolved that issue in Ashcroft v. Iqbal,[37] where the Court held that the Twombly pleading standards govern all federal court civil complaints, thus including those filed under § 1983 and the Bivens[38] doctrine. The Court, dividing 5–4, held that the plaintiff’s Bivens claims against former Attorney General Ashcroft and FBI Director Mueller did not contain factual allegations constituting a “plausible” claim that these supervisory officials formulated an unconstitutional discriminatory policy.[39]

The Court in Iqbal rejected the plaintiff’s argument that Twombly should be limited to antitrust complaints. It found that Twombly was based upon an interpretation of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8, and thus applies in all civil cases,[40] including § 1983 and Bivens suits. Iqbal clearly established that § 1983 complaints must contain factual allegations, not mere legal conclusions, and that the factual allegations must constitute a plausible — and not merely possible or speculative—claim for relief. “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged. . . . Threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action, supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice.”[41] In other words, legal conclusions must be supported by factual allegations. “Rule 8 . . . does not unlock the doors of discovery for a plaintiff armed with nothing more than conclusions.”[42]

Whether the factual allegations constitute a plausible constitutional claim is “context-specific,”[43] dependent upon the particular “constitutional provision at issue”[44] and the nature of the plaintiff’s theory of liability. For example, in Iqbal the complaint asserted a claim that the defendants, who were supervisory officials, formulated a policy that discriminated against post-9/11 detainees because of their race, religion, or national origin. To determine whether the complaint stated a plausible claim against these supervisory officials, the Court had to consider the standards for imposing § 1983 and Bivens liability against a supervisor for wrongs directly inflicted by subordinate officials.[45] The Court found that the complaint’s allegations that the defendants adopted the contested policy were too conclusory to constitute a plausible claim.

In reaching this conclusion, the Court ruled that when constitutional claims are premised on a defendant’s allegedly illicit purpose, the district court should consider whether there is a more plausible explanation for the defendant’s actions than the one alleged in the complaint. The majority found that the plaintiff did not allege a plausible claim that the defendants adopted the contested policy with the intent to discriminate on the basis of race, religion, or national origin. The Court found that the more plausible explanation was that the policy was adopted to further national security.

Reiterating an important theme articulated in Twombly, the Court in Iqbal emphasized that when the sufficiency of complaint allegations are challenged on a motion to dismiss, it is irrelevant that the district court may be able to carefully control discovery.[46] This is especially so when government officials assert qualified immunity, because this immunity is designed in part to shield officials from the demands of discovery, which divert their time and energy from their official responsibilities.[47] The “catch-22” problem for some plaintiffs is that they often need discovery to comply with the “plausibility” standard, but their inability to meet the plausibility standard will prevent them from reaching the discovery stage.

The Court in Iqbal also interpreted Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 9(b), which requires particularity of pleading of “fraud or mistake,” but allows “[m]alice, intent, knowledge, and other conditions of a person’s mind [to] be alleged generally.” The Court construed this rule as “merely excus[ing] a party from pleading discriminatory intent under an elevated pleading standard. It does not” obviate the requirement of pleading factual allegations supporting a plausible claim.[48] Thus, conclusory allegations of discriminatory intent, without supporting factual allegations, will not be accepted as true on a motion to dismiss, and did not save Iqbal’s complaint against Ashcroft and Mueller from dismissal.[49]

Neither Twombly nor Iqbal purported to overrule either Leatherman or Swierkiewicz, but also made no attempt to explain how these earlier decisions fit together with Iqbal, assuming that they can. The Third Circuit concluded “that because Conley [v. Gibson] has been specifically repudiated by both Twombly and Iqbal, so too has Swierkiewicz, at least insofar as it concerns pleading requirements and relies on Conley.”[50] The Supreme Court, however, more recently cited Swierkiewicz in concluding that a § 1983 complaint stated a plausible procedural due process claim.[51] In the author’s view, Leatherman-Swierkiewicz and Twombly-Iqbal are reconcilable if Leatherman-Swierkiewicz are read as only rejecting a heightened standard for civil rights complaints. Neither Twombly nor Iqbal expressed any intent to impose a heightened standard. In fact, the Court in Twombly specifically stated that it was not imposing a heightened pleading standard. Leatherman remains significant for having specifically rejected a heightened pleading standard for § 1983 municipal liability claims. The reality, however, is that Iqbal, the Court’s most recent major decision concerning complaint pleading standards, is the dominant precedent for evaluating the sufficiency of § 1983 complaints, with Leatherman and Swierkiewicz having been rel egated to secondary authority at best.

Putting all of the pieces of the Iqbal puzzle together, a federal district court or magistrate judge, when faced with a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, should:

  1. Separate the factual allegations in the complaint from the legal conclusions.
  2. Determine whether the factual allegations state a plausible (not merely possible or speculative) claim.
  3. In making this determination, if the complaint contains factual allegations supporting a claim that the defendant acted with a discriminatory animus, consider whether there is a more plausible explanation for the defendant’s conduct than the one offered by the plaintiff.
  4. In determining whether the complaint states a plausible claim, the court should not take into account its ability to manage discovery.

Of course, it may not be easy to determine whether a complaint allegation is “conclusory” or “nonconclusory,” constitutes an allegation of fact or conclusion of law, and whether the factual allegations constitute a plausible claim.[52] The Court in Iqbal observed that “[d]etermining whether a complaint states a plausible claim for relief will . . . be a context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to draw on its judicial experience and common sense.”[53] Different federal judges may apply their “judicial experience and common sense” differently. One need not look further than the five-to-four disagreement of Justices in Iqbal. While the majority found that the complaint’s allegations were too conclusory to constitute a plausible claim, the dissenting Justices, reading the same complaint, and applying essentially the same pleading standards, found the complaint allegations sufficient, “neither confined to naked legal conclusions nor consistent with legal conduct.”[54]

Section 1983 Municipal Liability Claims[edit | edit source]

Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly[55] and Ashcroft v. Iqbal[56] did not expressly overrule Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit,[57] which held that § 1983 municipal liability claims are not subject to a heightened pleading standard and are governed by Rule 8’s notice pleading standard. Nevertheless, in the author’s view, § 1983 municipal liability claims are now governed by the Twombly-Iqbal plausibility standard.[58]

Claims Subject to Qualified Immunity[edit | edit source]

In Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit,[59] the Supreme Court left open the issue whether a heightened pleading standard governs personal-capacity claims against government officials subject to qualified immunity. Because the claims asserted in Ashcroft v. Iqbal[60] were in fact personal-capacity monetary liability claims subject to qualified immunity, it is now resolved that § 1983 claims subject to qualified immunity are governed by the generally applicable plausibility standard.[61]

The district courts have several tools to eliminate meritless personal capacity claims subject to qualified immunity early in the litigation, including ordering the plaintiff to file either a detailed reply to the defendant’s answer under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 7, or a more definite statement under Rule 12(e), or, under Rule 26(c), tailoring discovery to protect the defendant from unnecessary embarrassments or burdens.[62]

Conspiracy Claims[edit | edit source]

Although a conspiracy is not an element of a § 1983 claim for relief, § 1983 plaintiffs sometimes plead conspiracies in order to (1) establish state action through a conspiracy between a private party and public official,[63] or (2) enhance the likelihood of recovering punitive damages;[64] or (3) broaden the potential scope of permissible discovery and admissible evidence.[65] Federal courts in § 1983 actions have traditionally rejected vague and conclusory allegations of conspiracy, and required the plaintiff to allege particular and specific allegations supporting the existence of the conspiracy.[66] These pleading rules reflect the concerns that plaintiffs may readily plead conspiracy claims but then be unable to prove them.

In the author’s view, a combined reading of Twombly and Iqbal strongly supports the conclusion that the plausibility pleading standard adopted in those cases governs § 1983 conspiracy claims. In Twombly the Court held that the complaint failed to allege a plausible conspiracy to violate the antitrust laws.[67] In Iqbal the Court stressed that the plausibility standard governs all federal court civil complaints. The plausi bility standard thus governs § 1983 conspiracy claims.[68]

Pro Se Complaints[edit | edit source]

The Supreme Court has not specifically addressed the applicability of the plausibility standard to pro se complaints. Prior to Twombly, the Court held that pro se complaints are subject to “less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers” and should be liberally construed in the plaintiff’s favor.[69] In Erickson v. Pardus,[70] decided in between Twombly and Iqbal, the Court applied the traditional notice pleading standard, and not the plausibility standard, to a pro se prisoner complaint. The Court reiterated the familiar principles that pro se complaints should be “liberally construed” and, “‘however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.’”[71]

However, because the Court in Erickson did not apply the plausibility standard, it did not discuss whether or how that standard applies to pro se complaints. Perhaps a good solution is that adopted by the Sixth Circuit, which applied the plausibility standard to a pro se complaint, with the understanding that pro se complaints are held to less stringent standards than complaints drafted by lawyers, “and should therefore be liberally construed.”[72] Other circuits have also applied the plausibility standard to pro se complaints.[73]

Federal Court Jurisdiction[edit | edit source]

Subject-Matter Jurisdiction[edit | edit source]

Section 1983 itself does not grant the federal courts subject-matter jurisdiction. Federal district courts have subject-matter jurisdiction over § 1983 claims under either 28 U.S.C. § 1343(a)(3)[74] or the general federal question jurisdiction statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Federal courts may nevertheless lack jurisdiction because of some other jurisdictional doctrine (e.g., Rooker-Feldman), the Eleventh Amendment,[75] or an abstention doctrine.[76]

Rooker-Feldman Doctrine[edit | edit source]

In some federal § 1983 actions, a party who lost in state court may try to “make a federal case of it” by seeking to overturn the state court judgment. In these circumstances the federal court defendant is likely to seek dismissal of the federal suit for lack of jurisdiction under the “Rooker-Feldman doctrine,” named after the Supreme Court’s decisions in Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co.[77] and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman.[78] This doctrine provides that a federal district court does not have jurisdiction to review a state court judgment, even when a federal court § 1983 complaint alleges that the state court judgment violates the plaintiff’s federal constitutional rights. In creating this jurisdictional bar, the Supreme Court reasoned that because federal district courts have only original jurisdiction, they lack appellate jurisdiction to review state court judgments. In Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp.,[79] the Court explained that, under 28 U.S.C. § 1257, only the Supreme Court has federal court appellate jurisdiction over state court judgments.[80]

The lower federal courts have struggled to determine the contours of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.[81] In Exxon Mobil, the Court found that some lower federal courts had interpreted Rooker-Feldman “far beyond” its intended contours by “overriding Congress’ conferral of federal court jurisdiction concurrent with jurisdiction exercised by state courts, and superseding the ordinary application of preclusion law under 28 U.S.C. § 1738.”[82] The Court clarified that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is confined to federal court actions “brought by statecourt losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced.”[83] Further, Exxon Mobil resolved that the Rooker–Feldman doctrine does not apply merely because “parallel” suits have been filed in state and federal court, even if the state suit comes to judgment during the pendency of the federal suit. The Court stressed that “‘the pendency of an action in the state court is no bar to proceedings concerning the same matter in the Federal court having jurisdiction.’”[84]

Noting that “[s]ince Feldman, this Court has never applied Rooker-Feldman to dismiss an action for want of jurisdiction,”[85] the Exxon Mobil Court emphasized the narrowness of the doctrine.[86] It acknowledged that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not “override or supplant” preclusion and abstention doctrines, which may be relevant when the federal court action parallels a state court suit.[87] Unfortunately, the Supreme Court’s decision in Exxon Mobil provid ed no guidance on the issue that has given the lower federal courts the most difficulty, namely, determining whether a federal court complaint contests the validity of a state court judgment. The federal district court will have to construe the federal complaint to determine whether the federal plaintiff is attacking the state court judgment or some other conduct. For example, in finding that the federal action was not barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the Second Circuit found “no basis for construing the [federal] complaint as an attack on the Family Court’s order, rather than an attack on independent discretionary acts and decisions of the hospital staff that were not compelled by court order.”[88]

On the other hand, even if a federal court claim does not expressly seek review of a state court judgment, the claim will be barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine if, as a practical matter, the federal court claim requires the federal district court to review the state court decision.[89]

The Ninth Circuit stated that the critical inquiry is “whether the injury alleged by the federal plaintiff resulted from the state court judgment itself or is distinct from that judgment.”[90] This principle is easy to state, though often difficult to apply.

The Third Circuit found that to determine whether a federal court plaintiff’s alleged injury was caused by the state court judgment or by the conduct of the federal court defendant(s), “a useful guidepost is the timing of the injury, that is, whether the injury complained of in federal court existed prior to the state-court proceedings and thus could not have been caused by those proceedings.”[91]

In Skinner v. Switzer,[92] the Supreme Court held that the plaintiff’s procedural due process claim relating to access to evidence for the purpose of postconviction DNA testing could be asserted under § 1983, and need not be asserted in a federal habeas corpus proceeding.[93] In the course of reaching that decision, the Court held that the plaintiff’s claim was not barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because, although the Texas state courts had twice rejected Skinner’s motions for postconviction access to evidence for the purpose of DNA evidence, Skinner did not challenge those adverse state court “decisions themselves; instead, he targets as unconstitutional the Texas statute they authoritatively construed. As the Court explained in Feldman, and reiterated in Exxon, a state-court decision is not reviewable by lower federal courts, but a statute or rule governing the decision may be challenged in a federal action.”[94] In other words, the Court read the complaint in Skinner as challenging a legislative policy rather than a state court decision.

The Supreme Court has recognized that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine may apply even when the claim asserted in federal court was not determined in the state court proceeding if that claim was “inextricably intertwined” with the state court judgment.[95] The lower federal courts have experienced difficulties applying this concept.[96]

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply to interlocutory state court orders but only to federal cases brought “after the state proceedings ended.”[97] It does not apply when a state court judgment is subject to appellate review.[98] The Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply to a federal suit brought by a plaintiff who was not a party to the state court proceeding.[99] In Lance v. Dennis,[100] the Supreme Court held that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not bar federal suit when the federal plaintiff was not a party to the state court judgment even if, for the purpose of preclusion, the federal plaintiff was in privity with a party to the state judgment.[101] As in Exxon Mobil, the Court in Lance stressed both the narrowness of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and that it is distinct from preclusion. The Supreme Court has also held that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply when the federal court plaintiff seeks review of a state administrative or executive determination.[102]

Supplemental Jurisdiction[edit | edit source]

In many § 1983 actions the federal court plaintiff asserts both a federal claim and one or more state law claims. In these cases, the plaintiff normally is unable to establish diversity jurisdiction over the state law claim because the parties are not citizens of different states. Nevertheless, the state law claim may come within the federal court’s supplemental jurisdiction. The supplemental jurisdiction statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1367, codifies United Mine Workers v. Gibbs of America’s[103] doctrine of pendent jurisdiction. Section 1367(a) grants the federal district courts supplemental jurisdiction over “all other claims that are so related to claims” over which the federal district court has original jurisdiction “that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III.”[104] In Gibbs, the Supreme Court held that a pendent claim is part of an Article III

controversy when the pendent claim arises out of “a common nucleus of operative fact” with the jurisdictional-conferring claim.[105]

Like pendent jurisdiction, supplemental jurisdiction is a matter of both power and discretion.[106] Thus, § 1367(c) provides that the district court may decline to exercise its supplemental jurisdiction when the supplemental claim “raises a novel or complex issue of state law;” when the state law claim “substantially predominates over” the jurisdiction conferring claim;” when the district court has dismissed the jurisdiction conferring claim; or in other “exceptional circumstances.”[107]

To illustrate, assume that a plaintiff asserts a non-insubstantial § 1983 constitutional claim against Officer Jones. Under § 1367, the plaintiff may assert a “supplemental” state law claim arising out of the same incident against Jones. The plaintiff might also choose to assert a “supplemental” state law claim against a new “supplemental party” defendant—for example, a state law vicarious liability claim against the city, even though there is no independent jurisdictional basis for that claim.[108] The supplemental jurisdiction statute encompasses both pendent claim and pendent party jurisdiction.[109] The statute also encompasses counter-claims, cross-claims, and impleader claims.[110]

In City of Chicago v. International College of Surgeons,[111] the Supreme Court held that a state court judicial review claim may come within supplemental jurisdiction.[112] On the other hand, the supplemental jurisdiction statute does not override the Eleventh Amendment, and thus does not authorize district courts to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over claims against nonconsenting states.[113]

Section 1367(d) of the supplemental jurisdiction statute provides for the tolling of the limitations period for supplemental claims while they are pending in federal court and for thirty days following a federal court’s dismissal of a supplemental claim, unless state law provides for a longer tolling period.[114] The supplemental jurisdiction tolling provision does not apply when a federal court dismisses a supplemental claim against a state on Eleventh Amendment grounds.[115] However, the tolling provision does apply to claims against municipal entities.[116]

Removal Jurisdiction[edit | edit source]

Defendants sued in state court under § 1983 may generally remove the entire state court action to federal court.[117] If a state court complaint alleges a § 1983 federal claim and a state law claim, the defendants may remove the entire state court action to federal court, and the federal court may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the state law claim.[118] In addition, if a state court complaint asserts a § 1983 personal-capacity claim and a § 1983 claim against a state entity that is barred by the Eleventh Amendment, the defendants may still remove the action to federal court, which can hear the non-barred, personal-capacity claim.[119] When seeking removal, the state waives its Eleventh Amendment immunity from liability on a state law claim on which the state had already waived its sovereign immunity in the state court.[120]

State Court Jurisdiction[edit | edit source]

State courts have concurrent jurisdiction over § 1983 claims.[121] When a plaintiff asserts a federal claim in state court “‘federal law takes the state courts as it finds them.’”[122] In other words, “[s]tates may establish the rules of procedure governing litigation in their own courts,” such as neutral rules of procedure governing service of process and substitution of parties.[123] State courts, however, may not apply state rules that unduly burden, frustrate, or discriminate against the federal claim for relief. For example, a state court may not apply a state notice-of-claim requirement to a § 1983 claim because notice-of-claim provisions discriminate and unduly burden plaintiffs with claims against governmental entities.[124]

In state courts, as in federal courts, federal law provides the elements of the § 1983 claim for relief and the defenses to the claim, and state law may not alter either the elements or defenses.[125] The Supreme Court, in Howlett v. Rose,[126] held that state courts may not apply state law immunity defenses to § 1983 claims. In cases arising from state court § 1983 actions, the Supreme Court has generally held that the same federal rules that govern the litigation of § 1983 actions in federal court also govern the litigation of § 1983 actions in state court.[127]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988); Flagg Bros. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 155 (1978); Gomez v. Toledo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980). If a § 1983 complaint “does not state a constitutional claim it is subject to dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) [for failure to state a proper cause of action], not Rule 12(b)(1),” for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. Doe v. Metro. Police Dep’t, 445 F.3d 460, 467 (D.C. Cir. 2006).
  2. See Summum v. City of Ogden, 297 F.3d 995, 1000 (10th Cir. 2002) (referring to four elements of § 1983 claim) (citing 1 Martin Schwartz, Section 1983 Litigation: Claims and Defenses, § 1.4 at 12 (3d ed. 1997)).
  3. See infra Chapter 11.
  4. Valance v. Wisel, 110 F.3d 1269, 1278–79 (7th Cir. 1997); Larez v. Holcomb, 16 F.3d 1513, 1517–18 (9th Cir. 1994); Ruggiero v. Krzeminski, 928 F.2d 558, 562 (2d Cir. 1991); Shaw v. Leatherberry, 706 N.W. 2d 299, 304 (Wis. 2005). See also Hartman v. Moore, 547 U.S. 250, 265–66 (2006) (requiring plaintiff to plead and prove “absence of probable cause” as an element of a Bivens First Amendment retaliatory prosecution claim); Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 594 (1998) (rejecting imposition of “clear and convincing evidence” burden on plaintiffs who assert wrongful motive claim subject to qualified immunity defense raised on summary judgment); Am. Fed’n of State, Cnty. & Mun. Emps. v. Scott, 717 F.3d 851, 880 (11th Cir. 2013) (plaintiff bears burden of persuasion on every element of § 1983 claim); Clark v. Mann, 562 F.2d 1104, 1117 (8th Cir. 1977) (§ 1983 plaintiffs “ordinarily retain the burden of proof throughout the trial”). See generally Schaffer v. Weast, 546 U.S. 49, 57 (2005) (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act action) (referring to “default rule” that “plaintiffs bear the burden of persuasion regarding the essential aspects of their claims”).
  5. Parratt v. Taylor, 451 U.S. 527, 534 (1981), overruled on other grounds by Daniels v. Williams, 474 U.S. 327, 328 (1986).
  6. Parratt, 451 U.S. at 534.
  7. Daniels, 474 U.S. at 328–30. See also Cnty. of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 846–55 (1998); Davidson v. Cannon, 474 U.S. 344, 347 (1986). See also infra Chapter 5, § IV.
  8. See, e.g., Vill. of Arlington Heights v. Metro. Hous. Dev. Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 265 (1977) (race); Washington v. Davis, 426 U.S. 229, 240–42 (1976) (race); Personnel Adm’r of Mass. v. Feeney, 442 U.S. 256, 274 (1979) (gender).
  9. Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976).
  10. Id.
  11. See Wilson v. Garcia, 471 U.S. 261, 273 (1985). See infra Chapter 5.
  12. Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 271 (1994); Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 393–94 (1989); City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 816 (1985); Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Org., 441 U.S. 600, 608 (1979) (§ 1983 “creates no substantive rights; it merely provides remedies for deprivations of rights established elsewhere”); Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 140, 144 n.3 (1979).
  13. Jett v. Dallas Indep. Sch. Dist., 491 U.S. 701, 735 (1989); Johnson v. City of Shelby, 743 F.3d 59 (5th Cir. 2013); Wax ’n Works v. City of St. Paul, 213 F.3d 1016, 1019 (8th Cir. 2000); Baxter v. Vigo Cnty. Sch. Corp., 26 F.3d 728, 732 n.3 (7th Cir. 1994); Azul-Pacifico, Inc. v. City of Los Angeles, 973 F.2d 704, 705 (9th Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 1081 (1993); Santiago v. N.Y. State Dep’t of Corr. Servs., 945 F.2d 25, 30–31 (2d Cir. 1991); Tarpley v. Greene, 684 F.2d 1, 9–11 (D.C. Cir. 1982); Pauk v. Bd. of Trustees of City Univ. of N.Y., 654 F.2d 856, 865 (2d Cir. 1981).
  14. 491 U.S. 701, 731–34 (1989).
  15. See, e.g., McCormick v. Miami Univ., 693 F.3d 654, 658–61 (6th Cir. 2012) (and cases cited therein) (§ 1983 exclusive remedy to enforce § 1981 against state actors in either official or individual capacity suits).
  16. 550 U.S. 544 (2007).
  17. 556 U.S. 662 (2009).
  18. Erickson, 551 U.S. 89 (2007) (prisoner complaint asserting Eighth Amendment medical treatment claim satisfied notice pleading standard); Kikumura v. Osagie, 461 F.3d 1269, 1294 (10th Cir. 2006) (prisoner Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference medical treatment claim: plaintiff “is merely required to provide ‘a short and plain statement’ of his Eighth Amendment claims, Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a), and ‘[m]alice, intent, knowledge, and other conditions of mind of a person may be averred generally’ in the complaint, Fed. R. Civ. P. 9(b)”; allegations that defendant “knew” that plaintiff “‘require[d] prompt medical attention and . . . that delay would exacerbate [his] health problem,’ but deliberately ‘disregarded that risk’” satisfied “pleading requirement of Rule 8(a) for the subjective component of a deliberate indifference claim”).
  19. 507 U.S. 163 (1993).
  20. Id. at 164.
  21. Slade v. Hampton Roads Reg’l Jail, 407 F.3d 243, 252 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)).
  22. 534 U.S. 506 (2002).
  23. See Erickson, 551 U.S. at 93–94; Jones v. Bock, 549 U.S. 199, 212–13 (2007); Hill v. McDonough, 547 U.S. 573, 583 (2006); Educadores Puertorriquenos en Accion v. Hernandez, 367 F.3d 61, 66–67 (1st Cir. 2004); Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005, 1007 (7th Cir. 2002). The Court in Leatherman, however, left open whether a heightened pleading standard applies to claims asserting individual liability, specifically personal-capacity claims in which officials may assert the affirmative defense of qualified immunity. Applying the rationale of Leatherman and Swierkiewicz, the majority of courts of appeals held that, like other § 1983 claims, the notice pleading standard applies to personal-capacity claims subject to qualified immunity. As discussed in this section, infra, claims subject to qualified immunity are now subject to the plausibility standard.
  24. 550 U.S. 544 (2007).
  25. Id. at 555.
  26. Id.
  27. Id. at 559 (citing Frank H. Easterbrook, Comment, Discovery as Abuse, 69 B.U. L. Rev. 635–38 (1989)).
  28. 355 U.S. 41 (1957)
  29. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 561 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 45–46).
  30. Id. at 563.
  31. Id. at 570.
  32. 551 U.S. 89 (2007).
  33. Id. at 94.
  34. The Court in Erickson noted that the complaint also included other, more specific factual allegations.
  35. Erickson, 551 U.S. at 94 (quoting Estelle, 429 U.S. at 106).
  36. The circuit courts rather consistently applied Twombly to § 1983 claims. See, e.g., Alvarado Aguilera v. Negron, 509 F.3d 50, 53 (1st Cir. 2007); Estate of Sims v. Cnty. of Bureau, 506 F.3d 509, 512 (7th Cir. 2007); Watts v. Fla. Int’l Univ., 495 F.3d 1289, 1295 (11th Cir. 2007); Stevenson v. Carroll, 495 F.3d 62, 66 (3d Cir. 2007) (plaintiffs “have met their obligation to provide grounds for their entitlement to relief by presenting factual allegations sufficient to raise their right to relief above a speculative level”), cert. denied, 128 S. Ct. 1223 (2008).
  37. 556 U.S. 662 (2009).
  38. Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents, 403 U.S. 388 (1971).
  39. For detailed complaint allegations, see infra text accompanying notes 1007–16, and discussion of supervisory liability.
  40. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 684.
  41. Id. at 678.
  42. Id. at 678–79.
  43. Id. at 679.
  44. Id. at 676.
  45. Id. at 676–77. On the issue of supervisory liability, see infra Chapter 12.
  46. Id. at 684–85.
  47. Id. at 685.
  48. Id. at 686–87. “‘The costs of diversion are only magnified when Government officials are charged with responding to . . . a national and international security emergency unprecedented in the history of the American Republic.’” (quoting Iqbal v. Hasty, 490 F.3d 143, 179 (2d Cir. 2007) (Cabranes, J., concurring), id. But see id. at 700 (Breyer, J., dissenting) (Trial court “can structure discovery in ways that diminish the risk of imposing unwarranted burdens upon public officials. A district court, for example, can begin discovery with lower level Government defendants before determining whether a case can be made to allow discovery related to higher level Government officials.”) (citations omitted). Qualified immunity is analyzed infra Chapter 16.
  49. The Court said that it was “important to note” that it was not expressing any view on the sufficiency of the complaint against the subordinate officers. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 684. It remanded the case to the Second Circuit to decide whether to remand to the district court to allow plaintiff to “seek leave to amend his deficient complaint.” Id. at 687.
  50. Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 211 (3d Cir. 2009).
  51. Skinner v. Switzer, 131 S. Ct. 1289, 1296 (2011) (Stating that because case was decided below on motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, pertinent question is “‘not whether [plaintiff] will ultimately prevail’” on due process claim [Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)], “but whether his complaint was sufficient to cross the federal court’s threshold.” [citing Swierkiewicz v. Sorema, N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002)]; “Skinner’s complaint is not a model of the careful drafter’s art, but under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint need not pin plaintiff’s claim for relief to a precise legal theory. Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure generally requires only a plausible ‘short and plain’ statement of the plaintiff’s claim, not an exposition of his legal argument.”).
  52. See Claire Prestel, Pleading: Where Things Stand, 79 U.S.L.W. 1871 (Jan. 11, 2011).
  53. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.
  54. Id. at 696–97 (Souter, J., dissenting). Justice Souter’s dissent states that the only exception to the principle “that a court must take the [complaint] allegations as true, no matter how skeptical the court may be,” is for “allegations that are sufficiently fantastic to defy reality as we know it: claims about little green men, or the plaintiff’s recent trip to Pluto, or experiences in time travel. That is not what we have here.” Id. at 696.
  55. 550 U.S. 544 (2007).
  56. 556 U.S. 662 (2009).
  57. 507 U.S. 163 (1993).
  58. See AE v. Cnty. of Tulare, 666 F.3d 631, 637 (9th Cir. 2012).
  59. 507 U.S. 163 (1993).
  60. 556 U.S. 662 (2009).
  61. See Randall v. Scott, 610 F.3d 701, 705–10 (11th Cir. 2010) (claims subject to qualified immunity governed by Iqbal plausibility standard; prior Eleventh Circuit decisions imposing heightened pleading standard for these claims are no longer good law in light of Iqbal).
  62. See, e.g., Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 597–98 (1998); Schultea v. Wood, 47 F.3d 1427, 1433–34 (5th Cir. 1995) (en banc); Doe v. Cassel, 403 F.3d 986, 989 (8th Cir. 2005). See infra Chapter 12.
  63. Dennis v. Sparks, 449 U.S. 24, 27–29 (1980); Adickes v. S.H. Kress & Co., 398 U.S. 144, 152 (1970). See infra Chapter 7.
  64. See infra Chapter 22.
  65. See, e.g., Fed. R. Evid. 801(d)(2)(E) (coconspirator hearsay exemption).
  66. See, e.g., Freger v. Cox, 524 F.3d 770, 776 (6th Cir. 2008) (vague and conclusory allegations not sufficient to plead § 1983 conspiracy; § 1983 conspiracy pleading standards are “relatively strict,” requiring some degree of specificity); Reasonover v. St. Louis Cnty., 447 F.3d 569, 582 (8th Cir. 2006) (§ 1983 conspiracy claims require plaintiff to “‘allege with particularity and specifically demonstrate material facts that the defendants reached an agreement’”) (quoting Marti v. City of Maplewood, 57 F.3d 680, 685 (8th Cir. 1995)); Ciambriello v. Cnty. of Nassau, 292 F.3d 307, 325 (2d Cir. 2002) (“complaints containing only conclusory, vague, or general allegations that defendants have engaged in a conspiracy to deprive the plaintiff of his constitutional rights are properly dismissed; diffuse and expansive allegations are insufficient, unless amplified by specific instances of misconduct”); Burns v. Cnty. of King, 883 F.2d 819, 821 (9th Cir. 1989). But see Walker v. Thompson, 288 F.3d 1005, 1007 (7th Cir. 2002) (notice pleading governs § 1983 conspiracy claims).
  67. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556 (complaint must allege “plausible grounds to infer an agreement”; “a bare assertion of conspiracy will not suffice”).
  68. See Lacey v. Maricopa Cnty., 693 F.3d 896, 935 (9th Cir. 2012) (en banc); Geinosky v. City of Chi., 675 F.3d 743, 749 (7th Cir. 2012); Cooney v. Rossiter, 583 F.3d 967, 970–71 (7th Cir. 2009).
  69. Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520 (1970). Accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007). District courts should read the pleadings of a pro se plaintiff “liberally” and “interpret them to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest.” Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994). Accord McPherson v. Coombe, 174 F.3d 276, 280 (2d Cir. 1999). However, pro se status does not exempt a party from compliance with procedural rules. Traguth v. Zuck, 710 F.2d 90, 95 (2d Cir. 1983).
  70. 551 U.S. 89 (2007).
  71. Id. at 94 (quoting Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106 (1976)).
  72. Williams v. Curtis, 631 F.3d 380, 383 (6th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted).
  73. See Gee v. Pacheco, 627 F.3d 1178, 1185–86 (10th Cir. 2010) (ruling that context is important; including that prisoners “ordinarily know what has happened to them” and “will have learned how the institution has defended the challenged conduct when they pursue the administrative claims that they must bring as a prerequisite to filing suit”; although “a pro se prisoner may fail to plead his allegations with the skill necessary to state a plausible claim even when the facts would support one[,] ordinarily the dismissal of a pro se claim under Rule 12(b)(6) should be without prejudice”) (citations omitted); Hebbe v. Pliler, 627 F.3d 338, 342 (9th Cir. 2010) (ruling that while Twombly-Iqbal imposed “higher” plausibility standard, they did not alter court’s obligation to construe pro se complaints “liberally when evaluating them under Iqbal”) (citing McGowan v. Hulick, 612 F.3d 636, 640–42 (7th Cir. 2010); Bustos v. Martini Club, Inc., 599 F.3d 458, 461–62 (5th Cir. 2010); Casanova v. Ulibarri, 595 F.3d 1120, 1124 n.2, 1125 (10th Cir. 2010); Capogrosso v. Sup. Ct. of N.J., 588 F.3d 180, 184 & n.1 (3d Cir. 2009); Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 71–72 (2d Cir. 2009)).
  74. See Chapman v. Houston Welfare Rights Org., 441 U.S. 600, 615–20 (1979).
  75. See infra Chapter 14.
  76. See infra Chapter 21.
  77. 263 U.S. 413 (1923).
  78. 460 U.S. 462 (1983). When a federal court § 1983 action relates to a pending or completed state court proceeding, preclusion (see infra Chapter 18) and Younger abstention (see infra Chapter 21) may also be pertinent defenses to § 1983 claims.
  79. 544 U.S. 280 (2005).
  80. Id. at 291.
  81. See 1 Martin A. Schwartz, Section 1983 Litigation: Claims and Defenses § 1.07 (4th ed. 2014).
  82. Exxon, 544 U.S. at 292–94. Accord Skinner v. Switzer, 131 S. Ct. 1289, 1297 (2011); Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 464 (2006).
  83. Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 281. Accord Lance, 546 U.S. at 646. See Great W. Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 166 (3d Cir. 2010) (Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies when (1) federal plaintiff lost in state court; (2) plaintiff alleges injury caused by state court judgment; (3) state court judgment was rendered before the federal suit was filed; and (4) federal plaintiff invites district court to review and reject state court judgment); Hoblock v. Albany Cnty. Bd. of Elections, 422 F.3d 77, 85 (2d Cir. 2005) (for Rooker–Feldman doctrine to apply: (1) plaintiff must have lost in state court; (2) the state court judgment must have been rendered before the district court proceeding commenced; (3) plaintiff must complain of injuries caused by the state court judgment; and (4) plaintiff must invite district court review and rejection of the state court judgment); Kougasian v. TMSL, Inc., 359 F.3d 1136, 1140 (9th Cir. 2004) (“Rooker–Feldman thus applies only 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.”).
  84. Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 292 (quoting McClellan v. Carland, 217 U.S. 268, 282 (1910)).
  85. Id. at 287. See also Skinner, 131 S. Ct. at 1297 (observing Court has invoked Rooker-Feldman doctrine only twice, “in the two cases from which the doctrine takes its name,” i.e., in Rooker and Feldman).
  86. See Skinner, 131 S. Ct. at 1297; Lance, 546 U.S. at 464 (noting Court in Exxon Mobil found that Rooker–Feldman “is a narrow doctrine”).
  87. See also Skinner, 131 S. Ct. at 1298 n.10 & n.11. See, e.g., Coggeshall v. Mass. Bd. of Registration of Psychologists, 604 F.3d 658, 663–64 (1st Cir. 2010) (although federal suit was not barred by Rooker-Feldman doctrine, it was dismissed under Younger abstention); Knutson v. City of Fargo, 600 F.3d 992, 995–96 (8th Cir.) (plaintiffs’ § 1983 claims not barred by Rooker-Feldman doctrine but were barred by preclusion), cert. denied, 131 S. Ct. 357 (2010).
  88. Morrison v. City of N.Y., 591 F.3d 109, 115 (2d Cir. 2010).
  89. Brown v. Bowman, 668 F.3d 437, 442–44 (7th Cir. 2012).
  90. Kougasian, 359 F.3d at 1140 (“If a federal plaintiff asserts as a legal wrong an allegedly erroneous decision by a state court, and seeks relief from a state court judgment based on that decision, Rooker-Feldman bars subject-matter jurisdiction in federal district court. If, on the other hand, a federal plaintiff asserts as a legal wrong an allegedly illegal act or omission by an adverse party, Rooker-Feldman does not bar jurisdiction . . . Rooker-Feldman thus applies only when the federal plaintiff both asserts as [an] injury legal error or errors by the state court and seeks as [a] remedy relief from the state court judgment.” (citations omitted)). Accord Guttman v. Khalsa, 446 F.3d 1027, 1031–32 (10th Cir. 2006); Kenmen Eng’g v. City of Union, 314 F.3d 468, 476 (10th Cir. 2002); Garry v. Geils, 82 F.3d 1362, 1365 (7th Cir. 1996).
  91. Great W. Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 167 (3d Cir. 2010) (finding action not barred by Rooker-Feldman doctrine because plaintiff alleged state court losses were result of “corrupt conspiracy” between defending attorneys and certain state court judges to exchange favorable rulings and future employment as arbitrators; federal plaintiff did not allege merely that state court decisions were erroneous or unconstitutional, but that plaintiff was denied independent right to impartial forum: “The alleged agreement to reach a predetermined outcome in a case would itself violate Great Western’s constitutional rights, independently of the subsequent state court decisions.” Id. at 172). See also Kovacic v. Cuyahoga Cnty. Dep’t of Children & Family Servs., 606 F.3d 301, 310 (6th Cir. 2010) (plaintiffs’ federal court claims not barred by Rooker-Feldman doctrine because they did not seek review or reversal of state court decisions, and focused on conduct of public officials leading up to that decision, cert. denied, 131 S. Ct. 804 (2010); Johnson v. Orr, 551 F.3d 564, 567–70 (7th Cir. 2008) (Rooker-Feldman doctrine barred plaintiff’s § 1983 action because plaintiff did not suffer any injury independent of state court order and federal suit sought to overturn that order); Powers v. Hamilton Cnty. Pub. Defender Comm’n, 501 F.3d 592, 606 (6th Cir. 2007) (Rooker-Feldman doctrine inapplicable because plaintiff did not assert state court judgment violated his constitutional rights, and focused on conduct leading up to state judgment, namely, public defender’s failure to seek indigency hearing on behalf of indigent criminal defendant facing incarceration for unpaid fines. “Assertions of injury that do not implicate state-court judgments are beyond the purview of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.”), cert. denied, 555 U.S. 813 (2008).
  92. 131 S. Ct. 1289 (2011).
  93. See infra Chapter 16 (Heck doctrine).
  94. Skinner, 131 S. Ct. at 1298 (citations omitted).
  95. Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 286 n.1 (citing D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 483 n.16 (1983)). See also Abbott v. Michigan, 474 F.3d 324, 330 (6th Cir. 2007) (Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies even when federal court plaintiff didn’t have reasonable opportunity to litigate claim in state court because in those circumstances plaintiff should appeal through state court system and seek review in U.S. Supreme Court).
  96. See Campbell v. City of Spencer, 682 F.3d 1278, 1282–83 (10th Cir. 2012) (discussing uncertainty over meaning of “inextricably intertwined”; rather than trying to “untangle the meaning” of this phrase, court applied Exxon Mobil’s reformulations of Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which eschews “inextricably intertwined” language). The Eighth Circuit stated that a federal claim is “inextricably intertwined” with the state court judgment when “the federal claim succeeds only to the extent that the state court wrongly decided the issues before it.” Robins v. Ritchie, 631 F.3d 919, 925 (8th Cir. 2011) (holding federal court § 1983 claims barred by Rooker-Feldman doctrine because they were “inextricably intertwined” with state law claims in state court action). See also Allstate Ins. Co. v. W. Va. State Bar, 233 F.3d 813, 819 (4th Cir. 2000). The Third Circuit stated that the phrase “inextricably intertwined” has no independent meaning and simply describes federal court claims that meet the Rooker-Feldman doctrine elements outlined in Exxon-Mobil. Great W. Mining, 615 F.3d at 170. See also Bolden v. City of Topeka, 441 F.3d 1129, 1140 (10th Cir. 2006).
  97. Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 291; Guttman, 446 F.3d at 1032; Federacion de Maestros de P.R. v. Junta de Relaciones del Trabajo de P.R., 410 F.3d 17, 26 (1st Cir. 2005) (for Rooker–Feldman doctrine to apply, state proceedings must have “ended with respect to the issues that the federal plaintiff seeks to have reviewed in federal court, even if other matters remain to be investigated”).
  98. Coggeshall v. Mass. Bd. of Registration of Psychologists, 604 F.3d 658, 663–64 (1st Cir. 2010) (holding district court erred in relying upon Rooker-Feldman doctrine, because when federal suit was filed, state case was pending before state appeals court; “It is a condition precedent to the application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine that, at the time the federal-court suit is commenced, the state-court proceedings have ended.”; fact that state court proceedings were completed during the federal litigation is irrelevant; although case was not barred by Rooker-Feldman, it was barred by Younger abstention) (citations omitted) (emphasis added); Nicholson v. Shafe, 558 F.3d 1266, 1279 (11th Cir. 2009); Guttman v. Khalsa, 446 F.3d 1027, 1031–32 (10th Cir. 2006).
  99. Johnson v. De Grandy, 512 U.S. 997, 1006 (1994); Holiday Amusement Co. of Charleston, Inc. v. South Carolina, 40 F.3d 534, 537 (4th Cir. 2005); Twin City Fire Ins. Co. v. Adkins, 400 F.3d 293, 297 (6th Cir. 2005).
  100. 546 U.S. 459 (2006).
  101. The Court in Lance hedged its ruling ever so slightly, stating that it need not decide “whether there are any circumstances, however limited, in which Rooker–Feldman may be applied against a party not named in an earlier state proceeding—e.g., where an estate takes a de facto appeal in a district court of an earlier state court decision involving the decedent.” Id. at 466 n.2.
  102. Verizon Md. Inc. v. Pub. Serv. Comm’n of Md., 535 U.S. 635, 644 n.3 (2002).
  103. 383 U.S. 715 (1966).
  104. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a) (1990).
  105. Gibbs, 383 U.S. at 725.
  106. See Carlsbad Technology, Inc. v. HIF Bio, Inc., 556 U.S. 635, 639–40 (2009) (district court’s decision whether to exercise supplemental jurisdiction after dismissing all jurisdiction-conferring claims “is purely discretionary,” and thus reviewable on appeal for abuse of discretion).
  107. 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c) (1990).
  108. See Jinks v. Richland Cnty., S.C., 538 U.S. 456, 465–67 (2003) (supplemental jurisdiction may be asserted in § 1983 actions against municipalities).
  109. See Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah, 545 U.S. 546, 558–59 (2005) (recognizing that § 1367 overturned Finley v. United States, 490 U.S. 545 (1989), which had rejected pendent party jurisdiction in actions under Federal Tort Claims Act; stating “The last sentence of § 1367 makes it clear that the grant of supplemental jurisdiction extends to claims involving joiner or intervention of additional parties . . . . [Section] 1367(a) is a broad jurisdictional grant with no distinctions drawn between pendent-claim and pendent-party cases. . . . The terms of § 1367 do not acknowledge any distinction between pendent jurisdiction and the doctrine of so-called ancillary jurisdiction.”).
  110. 28 U.S.C. § 2633.
  111. 522 U.S. 156 (1997).
  112. Federal courts in New York, however, have been very reluctant to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state judicial review claims. See Morningside Supermarket Co. v. N.Y. State Dep’t of Health, 432 F. Supp. 2d 334, 346–47 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (citing cases). See also Coastal Comm. Serv., Inc. v. City of N.Y., 658 F. Supp. 2d 425 (E.D.N.Y. 2009).
  113. Raygor v. Regents of Univ. of Minn., 534 U.S. 533, 536 (2002). Cf. Jinks, 538 U.S. at 466–67 (supplemental jurisdiction may be asserted in § 1983 action against municipality).
  114. See Jinks, 538 U.S. at 461, 464–67 (§ 1367(d) tolling provision is within Congress’s legislative power, does not impermissibly intrude on states’ rights, and encompasses claims against municipal entities).
  115. Raygor, 534 U.S. at 544.
  116. Jinks, 538 U.S. at 465–67.
  117. 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a)–(b) (1988).
  118. City of Chi. v. Int’l Coll. of Surgeons, 522 U.S. 156, 172–73 (1997).
  119. Wis. Dep’t of Corr. v. Schacht, 524 U.S. 381, 389–90 (1998).
  120. Lapides v. Bd. of Regents, 535 U.S. 613, 619–20 (2002). See infra Chapter 13.
  121. Haywood v. Drown, 556 U.S. 729, 734–35 (2009); Nat’l Private Truck Council, Inc. v. Okla. Tax Comm’n, 515 U.S. 582, 588–89 (1995); Howlett v. Rose, 496 U.S. 356, 375 (1990); Felder v. Casey, 487 U.S. 131, 139 (1988); Ark. Writers’ Project v. Ragland, 481 U.S. 221, 234 (1987); Patsy v. Bd. of Regents, 457 U.S. 496, 506–07 (1982). See Steven H. Steinglass, Section 1983 Litigation in State Courts (2006).
  122. Steinglass, supra note 199, § 10.1, p. 10-1 (quoting Henry M. Hart, Jr., The Relations Between State and Federal Law, 54 Colum. L. Rev. 489, 508 (1954)).
  123. Felder v. Casey, 487 U.S. 131, 138, 145 (1988).
  124. Id. at 138 (state notice-of-claim rule not applicable to § 1983 claims). See also Haywood, 556 U.S. at 736–42 (New York statute barring assertion of § 1983 personal-capacity claims against correction officers in New York courts held invalid under Supremacy Clause because state policy conflicts with policies underlying § 1983). See generally Brown v. W. Ry. of Ala., 338 U.S. 294, 298–99 (1949) (local practice rules may not unduly burden the federal right). See infra Chapter 17.
  125. Howlett, 496 U.S. at 375–76.
  126. 496 U.S. 356 (1990).
  127. See Nat’l Private Truck Council, Inc. v. Okla. Tax Comm’n, 515 U.S. 582, 586 (1995) (policies of Tax Injunction Act apply in state court § 1983 actions challenging state tax policies); Howlett, 496 U.S. at 383 (state law immunity defense doesn’t apply to § 1983 municipal liability claim); Felder, 487 U.S. at 138 (state notice-of-claim rules don’t apply in state or federal court § 1983 actions); Will v. Mich. Dep’t of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71 (1989) (whether plaintiffs file § 1983 claim in state or federal court, states and state entities not suable “persons” under § 1983). See also Haywood, 556 U.S. 729 (state law may not prohibit § 1983 personal-capacity claims against corrections officers in state court). State courts, however, aren’t obligated to grant § 1983 defendants an interlocutory appeal from the denial of qualified immunity, even when federal law would permit an interlocutory appeal in federal court. Johnson v. Fankel, 520 U.S. 911, 913 (1997). See infra Chapter 16.