United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
July 21, 2004.
WILLIAM A. MURRAY, Plaintiff,
COOK COUNTY TREASURER, COOK COUNTY TREASURER AS TRUSTEE OF THE INDEMNITY FUND, STATE'S ATTORNEY FOR COOK COUNTY, CLERK OF COOK COUNTY, GERALDINE DOUGLAS, JAMES MARK SULZER, SULZER, SULZER & SHOPIRO, LTD., SAMUEL L. YOUNG, SR., AND EMILE YOUNG, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: DAVID COAR, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before this court are two motions to dismiss William A.
Murray's ("Plaintiff" or "Murray") Complaint. The first motion to
dismiss was filed on behalf of Geraldine Douglas, Samuel L.
Young, Jr., James Mark Sulzer and Sulzer & Shopiro, LTD.
(collectively known as "Private Citizen Defendants"). The second
motion to dismiss was filed on behalf of Maria Pappas (Cook
County Treasurer) and Richard Devine (Cook County State's
Attorney), and was subsequently adopted by David Orr (the Clerk
of Cook County) (collectively known as "County Defendants"). For
the reasons set forth below, both motions to dismiss are GRANTED
in their entirety. I. Factual Background
On November 9, 1991, Samuel L. Young, Sr., died. (Am. Compl. ¶
1). Mr. Young had a last will and testament that devised his home
at 8725 South Michigan Avenue, Chicago, Illinois, to a daughter,
Geraldine Douglas, and to the two sons of Audrey Murray (Samuel
L. Young, Sr.'s deceased daughter), Andre Murray and William
Murray, the Plaintiff. Id. Samuel L. Young, Jr., the decedent's
son, was nominated as executor of his father's last will and
testament. (Am. Compl. ¶ 2). On November 17, 1991, Plaintiff
Murray met with Geraldine Douglas and her husband to discuss the
house her father left. (Am. Compl. ¶ 3). The Plaintiff and
Geraldine Douglas entered into an agreement in which Geraldine
Douglas would quitclaim her third of her father's house to Andre
Murray and the Plaintiff, thereby increasing their share of the
home from one third to one half. Id.
On or about November 17, 1991, Plaintiff received his copy of
the quitclaim deed from James Mark Sulzer, an attorney from the
law firm of Sulzer & Shopiro Ltd. (Am. Compl. ¶ 4). James Mark
Sulzer, who represented Geraldine Douglas, drafted the quitclaim
deed. Id. Upon examining the quitclaim deed, Plaintiff noticed
that he was mistakenly referred to as "William A. Murray III",
when Plaintiff refers to himself as "William A. Murray IV." (Am.
Compl. ¶ 6). Plaintiff immediately phoned James Mark Sulzer, and
informed him of the misnomer, as Plaintiff believed that this
mistake would result in a cloud on the home's title. Id. James
Mark Sulzer told the Plaintiff that he was the attorney of
Geraldine Douglas, not the Plaintiff, and refused to make the
correction Plaintiff requested. Id.
Because of the misnomer on the quitclaim deed, subsequent
events have occurred that resulted in Plaintiff's suits in
Illinois state courts, and consequently, his present suit before
this Court. In 1991, the taxes on the property in question were not
paid, and subsequently became delinquent and were sold at auction
by the Clerk of Cook County to Midwest Real Estate Investment
Company ("Midwest"). (Am. Compl. ¶ 7). Additionally, the 1994
property taxes were not paid and were sold at auction in 1995 by
the Clerk of Cook County to National Indemnity Corp. (Am. Compl.
¶ 8). On September 5, 1995, Plaintiff, through a
sales/leaseback/buyback agreement, made a timely redemption. (Am.
Compl. ¶ 9). On or about October 5, 1995, the tax buyer filed a
petition to set aside the redemption. (Am. Compl. ¶ 10). These
proceedings were held in Circuit Court of Cook County, before the
Honorable James F. Henry. Id. Judge Henry determined that
William A. Murray IV, the Plaintiff before this Court, was not
the real party in interest, because the quitclaim deed referred
to "William A. Murray III." Id.*fn1 Murray contends that
the tax buyer, Midwest, held an ex parte evidentiary hearing
before Judge Henry, where the tax buyer falsely swore that the
taxes for the years subsequent to 1991 were all paid by the tax
buyer, when Plaintiff alleges that the records of the Clerk of
Cook County show that the 1994 property taxes had not been paid
by the tax buyer and were delinquent, and subsequently, sold at
auction to National Indemnity Corp. (Am. Compl. ¶ 11).
Nonetheless, on or about January 29, 1997, Judge Henry issued an
order directing the Clerk of Cook County to execute and deliver a
tax deed to Midwest Real Estate Investment Company and
Affiliates, the tax buyer, for the property located at 8725 So.
Michigan Avenue. (Am. Compl. ¶ 12).*fn2 On or about February
4, 1997, the Clerk of Cook County executed the aforementioned tax deed and recorded it with the Recorder of Deeds of Cook
County, Illinois. (Am. Compl. ¶ 13). Meanwhile, as the year 1997
progressed, Plaintiff Murray wondered why he had not received any
court documentation or notices from Midwest. (Am. Compl. ¶ 17).
In the Spring of 1997, while examining records from the Circuit
Court of Cook County, Plaintiff discovered that Judge Henry
issued an order for the execution of the tax deed in January of
1997. Because Plaintiff did not learn about the order for the tax
deed until more than thirty days after its issuance, a post-trial
motion to vacate the order for the tax deed was untimely,
pursuant to Illinois Supreme Court rules. (Am. Compl. ¶ 18).
However, Murray felt that the order for the tax deed was voidable
and issued due to fraud, theft and deception. Id. Plaintiff
contends that at subsequent hearings before Judge Henry, the
Judge and Midwest continued to engage in ex parte communications.
Id. Additionally, Plaintiff alleges that Judge Henry violated
Plaintiff Murray's rights by refusing to grant his motion for
substitution of judge. (Am. Compl. ¶ 19).
Additionally, Plaintiff contends, from 1995 through 2002, a
number of other state judges conspired with Midwest's attorneys
to deprive Plaintiff of his equal protection rights under the
Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution, thereby
causing injury to Plaintiff by wrongfully taking his house in a
tax deed, and obstructing justice by failing to grant his
petition to set aside the judgment ordering the tax deed for the
property located at 8725 South Michigan be delivered to Midwest.
(Am. Compl. ¶¶ 20-21, 23). Notably, these Circuit Court of Cook County judges failed to issue rulings that were favorable to the
Plaintiff on his indemnity petition. Id.*fn3
Finally, Plaintiff contends that Geraldine Douglas, Emile
Young, Samuel L. Young, Jr., James Mark Sulzer and the law firm
of Sulzer & Shopiro, Ltd. all were aware of the foregoing actions
that Plaintiff tried to bring forth in Circuit Court of Cook
County, yet failed to intervene to assist the Plaintiff. (Am.
Compl. ¶ 22). As a result, the Plaintiff brings suit against
these named private defendants (in addition to the allegations he
brings forth against the County Defendants), and claims that the
Defendants violated his constitutional rights, pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1981, 1983, 1985, 1985(c) and 1986.
Both the Private Citizen Defendants and the County Defendants
have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). A complaint will not be dismissed
pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) "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." Conley v. Gibson,
355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957). The court "must accept all well
pleaded facts as true. In addition, the court must view these
allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Gomez
v. Illinois Board of Education, 811 F.2d 1030, 1039 (7th Cir.
1987). Additionally, because Murray is pro se, the court must
view his complaint more liberally than a complaint prepared by an
attorney. Whitford v. Boglino, 63 F.3d 527, 535 (7th Cir.
1995). Nonetheless, the complaint must still allege facts that provide an adequate
basis for the plaintiff's claims. Gray v. Dane County,
854 F.2d 179, 182 (7th Cir. 1988).
Additionally, the County Defendants have moved to dismiss
Murray's Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1),
contending that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over
Murray's Complaint. The County Defendants contend that Murray is
asking this Court to review the proceedings of the Circuit Court
of Cook County, and pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine,
this Court's review of a state court judgment would be improper.
Because the County Defendants have challenged subject matter
jurisdiction, the Court must address that challenge before it can
address the Parties' motions to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R. Civ.
P. 12(b)(6). As with a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R. Civ.
P. 12(b)(6), when evaluating a motion to dismiss for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1),
the court must accept as true all well pleaded facts and make all
reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. Long v.
Shorebank Development Corp., 182 F.3d 548, 554 (7th Cir. 1999)
(citing Rueth v. United States EPA, 13 F.3d 227, 229 (7th
A. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
The County Defendants challenge jurisdiction pursuant to the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is based
upon two Supreme Court decisions of the same name: Rooker v.
Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923), and District of
Columbia v. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 413 (1983).
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine precludes lower federal courts
jurisdiction over claims seeking review of state court judgments,
"because, no matter how erroneous or unconstitutional the state
court judgment may be, the Supreme Court of the United States is
the only federal court that could have jurisdiction to review a
state court judgment." Remer v. Burlington Area Sch. Dist., 205 F.3d 990, 996 (7th Cir. 2000).
Consequently, if a litigant's claim is barred by the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a federal court will lack subject matter
jurisdiction over the case.
In order to determine whether the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is
applicable to a particular case, the court must determine whether
the injury alleged by the plaintiff in federal court "resulted
from the state court judgment itself or is distinct from that
judgment." Centres v. Town of Brookfield, 148 F.3d 699, 702
(7th Cir. 1998) (citing Garry, 82 F.3d at 1365). If the
injury is a result of the state court judgment itself, then the
federal court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, even if the
state court judgment was erroneous. Id. ("A decision by a state
court, no matter how erroneous, is not itself a violation of the
Constitution actionable in federal court." Centres, 148 F.3d at
702 (citing Homola v. McNamara, 59 F.3d 647, 650 (7th Cir.
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine "extends beyond issues actually
raised in state court to issues that are inextricably intertwined
with such issues." Long, 182 F.3d at 557. Consequently, if a
Plaintiff fails to raise his claim in state court, he "may
forfeit his right to obtain review of the state court decision in
any federal court." Id. (quoting Feldman, 460 U.S. at 482, n.
16). In defining "inextricably intertwined," the Seventh Circuit
has noted that the "crucial point is whether `the district court
is in essence being called upon to review the state court
decision.'" Ritter v. Ross, 992 F.2d 750, 754 (7th Cir. 1993)
(quoting Feldman, 460 U.S. at 483-84, n. 16). Thus, courts must
draw a distinction between a plaintiff presenting a federal claim
alleging an injury caused by a state court judgment (which
invokes the Rooker-Feldman doctrine) and those federal claims
that allege a prior injury that a state court failed to remedy
(which may raise res judicata, but not Rooker-Feldman,
concerns). Garry, 82 F.3d at 1366-67. Further, an issue cannot
be inextricably intertwined with a state court judgment if the
plaintiff did not have a reasonable opportunity to raise that
issue at the state court level. Long, 182 F.3d at 558 (quoting Wood v.
Orange County, 715 F.2d 1543, 1547 (11th Cir. 1983)).
B. Is the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine Applicable to Plaintiff's
The County Defendants contend that the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine is applicable to Plaintiff's claims, because he is
attempting to have this Court review Judge Henry's Order
directing the issuance of a tax deed. Viewing all allegations in
the Complaint in the light most favorable to Murray, it is clear
that he wants this Court to review, and subsequently overturn,
the decisions of Judge Henry and the other Circuit Court of Cook
County judges who upheld Judge Henry's decisions, based upon his
dissatisfaction with those rulings. Plaintiff presents no injury
independent of the rulings issued by the Circuit Court of Cook
County. It is not the role of this Court to engage in appellate
review of state court decisions. As previously stated, only the
Supreme Court of the United States is able to engage in appellate
review of state court decisions.
Plaintiff contends that in fact, he is not challenging the
ruling of the state court, but instead, is raising separate
federal questions within this Court, but this self-serving
declaration is not dispositive. However, the Seventh Circuit has
cautioned, "A federal plaintiff may not seek reversal of a state
court decision by casting his complaint in the form of a
constitutional violation." Garry, 82 F.3d 1362, 1369. That is
exactly what Murray is attempting to do with his case before this
Court. Though Plaintiff has couched his discontent with the State
Court judgments in the form of civil rights violations, it is
clear that he is attempting to have this court overturn the
rulings of the Circuit Court of Cook County. As stated, this
Court does not engage in such review of state court decisions. It
is clear that Plaintiff's only alleged injury derives from his
dissatisfaction with the outcome of the proceedings in the
Circuit Court of Cook County, and he alleges no independent basis
upon which any of the defendants have caused him any type of injury. This is
exactly the type of case where the Rooker-Feldman doctrine
"dictates that the federal courts lack subject matter
jurisdiction." Centres v. Town of Brookfield, 148 F.3d 699, 702
(7th Cir. 1998) (citing Garry, 82 F.3d at 1365-66)).
Consequently, because this Court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction over Murray's Complaint, all claims are dismissed
against the County Defendants and the Private Citizen Defendants.
For the foregoing reasons, the Private Citizen Defendants' and
County Defendants' Motions to Dismiss are GRANTED in their
entirety. All other motions are moot and terminated. This case is