Staup v. Wachovia Bank, N.A., Slip Copy, 2008 WL 2598005 (S.D.Fla. Jun 27, 2008)
The substantive issue in this case is pretty simple: if you lose in state court, you don’t get another bite at the apple by simply re-filing your same case in federal court. More technically speaking the plaintiff’s lawsuit was dismissed under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which I recently wrote about here in connection with a contested guardianship proceeding.
Poster child for mandatory arbitration clauses:
When you read the background facts of this case, the substantive ruling becomes almost meaningless. This opinion is just that last stop for a litigation train involving this trust that has been rolling along for over 10 years! A mandatory arbitration clause in the trust agreement, as expressly authorized by F.S. 731.401 [click here for form clauses], wouldn’t have eliminated all of the litigation involving this trust, but I’m sure it would have dramatically reduced its scope and cost. Here’s how the court described the "back-story" on this case:
By way of background, Plaintiff filed more than thirty state court actions dating as far back as 1996 with the same operative facts in Circuit Court in and for Sarasota County Florida. That court found it necessary to order a permanent injunction restricting Plaintiff from filing civil actions relating to cases involving the Mary Staup Estate in the state of Florida. Additionally, Plaintiff has filed at least eight federal court lawsuits on similar operative facts in the Middle District of Florida. Each of these lawsuits was dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
Note to estate planners: include mandatory arbitration clauses in your trust agreements.
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine:
Here’s how the court explained its application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine to this case:
Next, Defendant argues the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars the Court from having jurisdiction over Counts I and II, as a state court previously rendered judgments for the claims raised in these two counts. Plaintiff responds by concluding that the underlying state court judgment is void, resulting in the Rooker-Feldman doctrine being inapplicable. Plaintiff goes on to acknowledge that although the claims in Counts I and II have previously been litigated, he has never plead the postal service fraud count. (Plaintiff’s Response [DE 20], p. 7.)
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine provides that no federal courts, other than the United States Supreme Court, have the authority to review final judgments of state courts. Goodman v. Sipos, 259 F .3d 1327, 1332 (11th Cir.2001). This doctrine encompasses claims that are “inextricably intertwined” with a state court judgment. Id. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies to “cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the federal district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments.” Exxon Mobile Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 281 (2005).
Essentially, Plaintiff is asking the Court to invalidate the state court actions by ruling that the state court judgment is void. Additionally, the postal fraud claim has been dismissed, making this action identical to the previous state court claim. Accordingly, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, as Plaintiff seeks a de facto appeal of a previously litigated state court matter. Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss as to Count I and II of the Complaint will be granted.