Tuesday, March 6, 2007
This month marks the second anniversary of the Supreme Court's unanimous decision in Exxon Mobile Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp. There, confronting expansive interpretation of the doctrine from some lower courts, the Court narrowed the doctrine nearly to point of nonexistence. To the extent the doctrine still applies, its overlap with preclusion makes it, to put it generously, of mild significance.
After Saudi Basic, lower courts have found occasion to dismiss federal court actions under Rooker-Feldman, e.g., Industrial Comm. & Elect. Inc. v. Monroe County 2005 WL 1253881 (11th Cir):; Federacion de Maestros v. Junta de Relaciones del Trabajo (1st Cir); McCormick V. Braverman (6th Cir.), but it seems accurate to generalize that most lower courts are reading the decision correctly and denying requests to dismiss under Rooker-Feldman.
The Supreme Court's tone sends a clear enough message: enough with Rooker-Feldman, it's almost never going to apply, preclusion is the answer to many of these questions, and there's no bar to parallel litigation. Yet the doctrine continues to be litigated frequently, and appears routinely in cases involving preclusion issues. Even though preclusion defenses would dispose of most cases that even ostensibly implicate Rooker-Feldman, courts cannot skip the Rooker-Feldman question to resolve the preclusion defense under the hypothetical jurisdiction doctrine.The Rooker-Feldman doctrine limits the court's subject-matter jurisdiction, while preclusion is a merits-based defense.
If the Court wants to kill the Rooker-Feldman discussion, it is going to have to fire a bullet that directly hits the doctrine in the areas where it continues to overlap with preclusion. It might hold, for example, that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine only prevents a party from suing a judge or state tribunal for injuries caused by a decision. Otherwise, preclusion principles control.
--RR and Counseller