United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
June 15, 2005.
GILBERTO VILLASENOR CERVANTES, Plaintiff,
THE CITY OF HARVEY, J.JOSHUA, Chief of Police of the Harvey Police Dept, in his official capacity; J. COOK, #785, in his individual and official capacity; UNKNOWN HARVEY POLICE OFFICERS, in their individual and official capacities; THOMAS P. FITZGERALD, Chief of Police of the Cook County Sheriff's Police Dept., in his official capacity; SHIRLEY MARSHALL, #263, in her individual and official capacity; MICHAEL F. SHEAHAN, Cook County Sheriff, in his official capacity; ERNESTO VELASCO, Exec. Director the Cook County Dept. of Corrections, in his official capacity; and UNKNOWN COOK COUNTY SHERIFF'S POLICE OFFICERS, in their individual and official capacities, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBERT GETTLEMAN, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Plaintiff, Gilberto Villasenor Cervantes, filed a second
amended complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and § 1988 alleging that
City of Harvey police officer J. Cook and other unknown Harvey
police officers, Cook County Sheriff Deputy Shirley Marshall, and
other unknown Cook County Sheriff's Police officers violated his
due process rights under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments by
detaining him without informing him of his rights and the charges
against him, holding him on a facially invalid warrant, and
coercing him to sign a waiver of extradition, which then caused
him to be transferred between detention facilities for two months
before straightening out the matter in Contra Costa, California. In addition, plaintiff has brought a claim against Andrew
Joshua, the Chief of Police of the Harvey Police Department in
his official capacity, alleging that the department's policy of
detaining individuals on outstanding warrants, without sufficient
investigative work to establish probable cause is a violation of
due process. Plaintiff further asserts a claim against Thomas P.
Fitzgerald, Chief of Police of Cook County Sheriff's Police
Department, Michael F. Sheahan, Cook County Sheriff, and Ernesto
Velasco, Executive Director of Cook County Department of
Corrections in their official capacities, alleging that their
policies of detaining and extraditing individuals without
corroboration of the detainee's identity violates due process.
Defendants Marshall and Sheahan (the "Cook County
defendants)*fn1 have moved to dismiss plaintiff's second
amended complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), arguing
that plaintiff has failed to allege a violation of a
constitutional right under either the Fourth or the Fourteenth
amendments, that his claims are barred by the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine, and that he has failed to state a claim against the
Cook County Sheriff's Office under the requirements of Monell v.
Dept. of Social Services of City of New York, 436 U.S. 658
For the reasons set forth below, the court grants defendants'
motion to dismiss.
According to the complaint, on September 20, 2003, plaintiff
was parked at North Commercial and 156th St. in Harvey, Illinois.
A Harvey Police officer approached the car, detained plaintiff,
and took him to the Harvey police station. Harvey officer J. Cook
charged plaintiff with improper parking on a roadway, not having a valid
driver's license, and with fleeing a Contra Costa, California
arrest warrant issued against Enrique Cervantes. Plaintiff was
detained despite the fact that his name, Gilberto Villasenor
Cervantes, was not the name on the warrant, and despite his
protestations regarding his mistaken identity.
On September 23, 2003, Harvey officers took plaintiff to the
Cook County Sheriff's Police Department. When he appeared in
court on the traffic charges, the court computer again indicated
that there was an outstanding warrant from the Contra Costa,
California Police Department for Enrique Cervantes. The criminal
court judge dismissed the traffic violations against plaintiff
but continued to hold him on the outstanding warrant.
Despite plaintiff's protests that he was not the person on the
warrant, he signed a waiver of extradition, thereby waiving any
proceeding to challenge his extradition prior to being sent to
California. He alleges that this waiver was signed under extreme
duress because the officers told him that going to California to
resolve the matter was the only way to end his incarceration.
After signing the waiver, plaintiff, represented by counsel, went
before the circuit court judge, who questioned him regarding the
waiver of extradition. In response to the judge's questions,
plaintiff stated that he had signed the waiver of his own free
will. Therefore, the judge found the wavier valid.
Despite continued protestations to Marshall and other Cook
County Police Officers that he was not the person named in the
warrant, plaintiff was placed on a bus and spent two months
transferring between detention facilities until arriving in
Contra Costa, California on November 26, 2003. Upon arrival, the
Contra Costa officers ran plaintiff's fingerprints and determined
that he had no warrants against him. They released him and bought
him an airplane ticket back to Illinois. Plaintiff filed this complaint for damages under
42 U.S.C. § 1983 and § 1988 for violations of his right to due process under
the Fourth and Fourteenth amendments.
Defendants Marshall and Sheahan have moved to dismiss the
complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), for failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendants also
argue that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine to hear plaintiff's claim. See Rooker
v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 44 S.Ct. 149, 68 L.Ed. 362
(1923); District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman,
460 U.S. 462, 103 S.Ct. 1303, 75 L.Ed.2d 206 (1983); Exxon Mobil
Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., ___ U.S. ___,
125 S.Ct. 1517 (2005). This court interprets the federal rules liberally
"so that erroneous nomenclature in a motion does not bind a party
at his peril." Snyder v. Smith, 736 F.2d 409, 419 (7th Cir.
1984). Therefore, although defendants have not expressly moved
for dismissal under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), their arguments
regarding Rooker-Feldman suggest that they are moving for
dismissal for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, in addition to
failure to state a claim under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).
The defendants have attached the transcript from the state
court proceedings to their 12(b)(6) motion. Analyzing defendant's
motion under Rule 12(b)(1), the court can take notice of the
state court transcript. While plaintiff argues that the addition
of the state court transcript should convert the defendant's
motion into a motion for summary judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P.
56, a district court may properly look beyond the jurisdictional
allegations of the complaint and view whatever evidence has been
submitted on the issue to determine whether in fact subject
matter jurisdiction exists. Capitol Leasing Co. v. FDIC,
999 F.2d 188, 191 (7th Cir. 1993). An analysis of all the facts
presented in a light most favorable to plaintiff reveals that
this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear this claim under the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which states that federal courts other
than the United States Supreme Court have no jurisdiction to
review state court judgments, unless Congress has expressly
authorized them to do so. See Rooker, 263 U.S. 414,
44 S.Ct. 149, 68 L.Ed. 362 (1923); Feldman, 460 U.S. 462,
103 S.Ct. 1303, 75 L.Ed.2d 206 (1983); Exxon Mobil, 125 S.Ct. at 1521-22
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is a consequence of the limited
jurisdiction of lower federal courts which, unlike the Supreme
Court, may exercise only power granted to them by Congress.
Rooker made explicit that this power does not include the power
to review state court judgments. Affirming the dismissal of a
suit seeking to have the judgment of an Indiana court declared
void as unconstitutional, the Supreme Court stated: "If the
[state court] decision was wrong, that did not make the judgment
void, but merely left it open to reversal or modification in an
appropriate and timely appellate proceeding. Unless and until so
reversed or modified, it would be an effective and conclusive
adjudication." Rooker, 263 U.S. at 415, 44 S.Ct. 149 (1923).
The Court noted that the plaintiffs had not timely appealed from
the Indiana Supreme Court to the United States Supreme Court,
adding "an aggrieved litigant cannot be permitted to do
indirectly what he no longer can do directly." Id. at 416,
44 S.Ct. 149 (1923).
Subsequently the Supreme Court clarified its holding in
Rooker in Feldman. In Feldman, the Court decided two suits
brought by rejected applicants to the District of Columbia bar
who had been denied waivers of a bar admission rule requiring
applicants to be graduates of law schools approved by the
American Bar Association. The applicants unsuccessfully appealed
in state court, and then brought claims in federal district court
alleging that the rule violated the Fifth Amendment. They further
alleged that the District of Columbia Court of Appeals had acted unreasonably and discriminatorily in refusing to consider
the plaintiffs' qualifications when it had repeatedly waived the
rule in the past.
The district court dismissed the suits, stating that it lacked
subject matter jurisdiction to review decisions of the District
of Columbia Court of Appeals. The United States Court of Appeals
for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed the dismissals of
the plaintiffs' antitrust claims, but remanded for consideration
of the constitutional issues, finding that the waiver proceedings
were administrative acts rather than judicial decisions.
Feldman, 460 U.S. at 469 n. 3, 103 S.Ct. 1303 (1983).
The Supreme Court held that the proceedings in the District of
Columbia Court of Appeals had been judicial rather than
administrative. The Court held that because the plaintiffs' claim
that the District of Columbia Court of Appeals had acted
arbitrarily and capriciously was "inextricably intertwined" with
the District of Columbia Court of Appeals' judicial decisions,
there was no subject-matter jurisdiction over that claim. On the
other hand, challenges to the constitutionality of the rule
itself did not require review of a judicial decision in a
particular case and the district court could consider them. Id.
at 487, 103 S.Ct. 1303 (1983).
In the Seventh Circuit, the test for whether a claim is
"inextricably intertwined" with a state court judgment is whether
the alleged injury resulted from the judgment itself or is
distinct from that judgment. If the former, the federal court
lacks subject matter jurisdiction, even if the state court
judgment was erroneous or unconstitutional. Edwards v. Illinois
Board of Admissions, 261 F.3d 723, 728-29 (7th Cir. 2001).
Recently, in Exxon Mobil, the Supreme Court clarified that
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine "precludes federal subject matter
jurisdiction only when, after state proceedings have ended, a
losing party in state court files suit in federal court
complaining of an injury caused by the state court judgment and seeking review and rejection of that
judgment." Holt v. Lake County Bd. Of Com'rs, 408 F.3d 335,
2005 WL 1163679 (7th Cir. 2005) (citing Exxon Mobil,
125 S.Ct. at 1521-22 (2005)).
In addition, Exxon Mobil, reiterated the "independent claim"
exception to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Exxon Mobil,
125 S.Ct. at 1527 (2005). "If a federal plaintiff `presents some
independent claim, albeit one that denies a legal conclusion that
a state court has reached in a case to which he was a party
. . ., then there is jurisdiction and state law determines
whether the defendant prevails under principles of preclusion.'"
Id. (quoting GASH Assocs. v. Village of Rosemont, 995 F.2d 726,
728 (7th Cir. 1993)). However, a claim is considered "independent"
only when there was no "reasonable opportunity" to raise the
claim in the state court proceeding. Long v. Shorebank
Development Corp., 182 F.3d 548, 558 (7th Cir. 1999). For
example, no "reasonable opportunity" exists where "either some
action taken by the state court or state court procedures in
place have formed the barriers that the litigants are incapable
of overcoming in order to present certain claims to the state
For the purposes of determining when a claim is the result of
an independent injury, the Seventh Circuit has distinguished
between federal claims brought by the plaintiffs in the state
court suit and claims brought by the defendants in the state
court suit. Nesses v. Shepard, 68 F.3d 1003 (7th Cir. 1995);
Garry v. Geils, 82 F.3d 1362 (7th Cir. 1996). Claims brought by
state court plaintiffs may raise res judicata issues, while
claims brought by state court defendants are usually barred by
Rooker-Feldman. This is because a losing state court defendant
has been injured by the action of the state court. On the other
hand, the losing plaintiff has not been "injured" by the court's
failure to respond to his claims, but is barred by res judicata
from raising them again in a federal court. Thus, only a state court
plaintiff can allege a "prior injury that a state court failed to
remedy" without being barred by Rooker-Feldman.
In an attempt to avoid the application of Rooker-Feldman to
his claims, plaintiff argues that he is bringing an "independent
claim." Plaintiff alleges that his injury was not the direct
result of the state court judgment because the constitutional
deprivations he suffered occurred before there was state court
involvement. Plaintiff asserts that the defendants' coercive
actions forced plaintiff to believe that signing the waiver was
the only way to resolve the matter and get out of jail, and that
these actions were the "sole proximate cause" of the
constitutional deprivation of his rights. Thus, even though he
was the defendant in the state court proceeding, plaintiff argues
that he is bringing an "independent claim" that the state court
failed to remedy.*fn3
Even if plaintiff was coerced into signing the waiver by one or
more of the defendants, Rooker-Feldman still bars this court
from hearing his claims against the Cook County
defendants.*fn4 Plaintiff relies on Long to support his
assertion that his claim deals with a prior injury that the state
court failed to remedy. The plaintiff in Long lost an eviction
proceeding in state court due to misrepresentations made by the
defendants that she did not contest the eviction. Long, 182 F.3d at 554 (7th Cir. 1999). Subsequently,
she brought multiple claims in the U.S. District Court for the
Northern District of Illinois for unlawful eviction, but the
district court held that her claims were barred under
Rooker-Feldman. While the Seventh Circuit agreed that her due
process claims were barred by Rooker-Feldman, it held that her
claims under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act were not
barred because they were not "inextricably intertwined" with the
state court's judgment. Id. at 560. The court of appeals
explained that because Illinois law precluded claims not relevant
to the issue of possession in the eviction proceeding, such as
fraudulent misrepresentation, there was no "reasonable
opportunity" to raise such claim in the state court proceedings.
Id. at 559.
In contrast to the plaintiff in Long, in the instant case
plaintiff did have a "reasonable opportunity" to raise his claims
regarding coercion in the state court proceeding. There were no
state procedural rules barring him from raising his claims
regarding police coercion in the waiver proceeding. Indeed, the
judge specifically asked plaintiff about threats and coercion,
and plaintiff told the judge that his signature was voluntary and
that he agreed to be extradited to California. Therefore, because
plaintiff had an opportunity to assert his claims regarding
coercion in the state court proceeding, his claims are
"inextricably intertwined" with the state court judgment and this
court lacks jurisdiction over the claims even if that judgment
was erroneous. Edwards, 261 F.3d at 728-29.
Additionally, plaintiff's injuries were a direct result of the
state court decision that held his waiver of extradition valid.
Plaintiff argues that the "state court judge in no way caused
plaintiff's continued incarceration due to the fact that he was
simply acting as a conduit for Gilberto's wishes to go to
California and sort this matter out." Plaintiff is wrong; it was
only the state court finding that sent plaintiff to California.
Any ruling by this court that the waiver of extradition was not valid, therefore, would in effect be
reversing the previous state court judgment.
The only possible claim against the Cook County defendants
would be if they had held plaintiff based solely on the facially
invalid warrant. The allegations of the second amended complaint
and the material submitted by the Cook County defendants
establish, however, that these defendants took custody of
plaintiff on September 23, 2003, only in connection with the
extradition proceeding. The Cook County defendants' obligation
was to take defendant before the judge on the warrant, which is
precisely what they did, whereupon plaintiff told the judge that
he voluntarily waived extradition a statement entirely at odds
with his claim of coercion. As discussed above, the state judge's
finding that the waiver was valid cannot be reviewed by this
court. Because the Cook County defendants' actions were
coextensive with plaintiff's extradition proceeding, his claims
against them are barred by Rooker-Feldman.
Thus, while this court sympathizes with the ordeal that
plaintiff suffered, his current claims for damages against the
Cook County defendants are "inextricably intertwined" with the
previous state court judgment. Accordingly, this court lacks
subject matter jurisdiction to hear these claims.
For the reasons set forth above, defendants' motion to dismiss
is granted and defendants Thomas P. Fitzgerald, Shirley Marshall,
Michael F. Sheahan, Ernesto Velasco, and unknown Cook County
Sheriff's police officers are dismissed and struck from the