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David C. Steinhauer v. John T. Elsner

November 5, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Edmond E. Chang


Plaintiff David Steinhauer, representing himself pro se, brought this lawsuit against his ex-wife Cynthia Steinhauer (to avoid confusion, she will be referred to by her first name), her lawyer Scott Walthius, Judge Linda Davenport, and Chief Judge John Elsner, alleging fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, and malicious prosecution.*fn1 Specifically, Steinhauer alleges that Cynthia Steinhauer and Scott Walthius conspired with Judge Davenport during his divorce proceeding to obtain certain rulings on marital property. Steinhauer also alleges that the Defendants violated his right to due process under 18 U.S.C. § 241. Finally, Steinhauer claims that Judge Davenport maliciously prosecuted him during the divorce proceedings. Scott Walthius and Judge Davenport now move to dismiss Plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). R. 12, 25. Walthius moves for sanctions against Plaintiff under Rule 11. R. 33. For the reasons stated below, the Defendants' motions to dismiss are granted in their entirety, but Walthius's motion for Rule 11 sanctions is denied.


In evaluating a motion to dismiss, the Court must accept as true the complaint's factual allegations and draw reasonable inferences in Steinhauer's favor. Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, - U.S. -, 131 S.Ct. 2074, 2079 (2011). Plaintiff David Steinhauer was married to Defendant Cynthia Steinhauer for around 20 years before the couple filed for divorce in 2007. R. 1, Compl. Arg. and Exh. at 1. On May 2, 2007, David and Cynthia Steinhauer appeared before Judge Davenport in DuPage County Circuit Court for their divorce proceeding. Compl. ¶ 1. During the proceeding, Cynthia testified that only two mortgages existed on certain real property owned by her. Compl. Arg. and Exh. at 1. Steinhauer claims that in reality, he was named on three other mortgages that were purposefully not disclosed in court. Id. at 3-4. Steinhauer alleges that Cynthia and her attorney, Scott Walthius, knew that other mortgages existed on the property but failed to identify the other mortgages in an effort to defraud Steinhauer of his rightful portion of the marital property. Id. at 2.

Steinhauer also accuses Judge Davenport of conspiring with Walthius and Cynthia Steinhauer to defraud him of his property. According to the Complaint, Judge Davenport's role in the conspiracy is "a matter of circumstantial evidence." Id. at 4. Steinhauer alleges that Judge Davenport's rulings during the divorce proceeding-such as improperly characterizing Steinhauer's improvements to the marital property as "repairs," and excluding Steinhauer's evidence of his role in the management and upkeep of the property-contributed to the conspiracy to defraud and deprived him of his property interest under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Id. at 6, 14. Finally, Stienhauer claims that Judge Davenport "assume[d] the role of auditor and prosecutor" and maliciously prosecuted Steinhauer when she falsely charged him with "dissipation of marital funds" where no charges were in order. Id. at 10-11.


The dismissal motions challenge the complaint on both subject matter jurisdiction grounds and for failing to state a claim. With regard to subject matter jurisdiction, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) provides the procedural vehicle by which the defendant may move a federal court to dismiss a claim or suit on the ground that the court lacks jurisdiction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1); Apex Digital, Inc. v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 572 F.3d 440, 444 (7th Cir. 2009).

With regard to failure to state a claim, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a complaint generally need only include "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). This short and plain statement must "give the defendant fair notice of what the claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Bell Atl. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quotation and citation omitted). The Seventh Circuit has explained that this rule "reflects a liberal notice pleading regime, which is intended to 'focus litigation on the merits of a claim' rather than on technicalities that might keep plaintiffs out of court." Brooks v. Ross, 578 F.3d 574, 580 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Swierkiewicz v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002)).

"A motion under Rule 12(b)(6) challenges the sufficiency of the complaint to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." Hallinan v. Fraternal Order of Police Chicago Lodge No. 7, 570 F.3d 811, 820 (7th Cir. 2009). "[W]hen a ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in the complaint." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555-56); McGowan v. Hulick, 612 F.3d 636, 638 (7th Cir. 2010) (courts accept factual allegations as true and draw all reasonable inferences in plaintiff's favor). "[A] complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). These allegations "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. The allegations that are entitled to the assumption of truth are those that are factual, rather than mere legal conclusions. Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79.


Walthius advances two theories under which Steinhauer's complaint must be dismissed. First, he argues that Steinhauer's complaint should be dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. Second, he argues that dismissal is warranted because Steinhauer has failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted. As explained below, each of these theories offers an independent grounds for dismissal.


Walthius argues that Steinhauer's complaint should be dismissed because the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) to adjudicate his claims. R. 12, Def.'s Mot. Dismiss ¶¶ 1, 7. Specifically, Walthius contends that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits lower federal courts from reviewing state court decisions, and thus the Court must dismiss Steinhauer's complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, lower federal courts do not have subject matter jurisdiction over claims seeking review of state court judgments. See Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415-16 (1923); District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482-86 (1983). The doctrine applies not only to claims that were actually raised before the state court, but also to claims that are inextricably intertwined with state court determinations. See Feldman, 460 U.S. at 482 n.16 ("By failing to raise his claims in state court a plaintiff may forfeit his right to obtain review of the state-court decision in any federal court."). Rooker-Feldman thus requires a party seeking review of a state court judgment or presenting a claim that a state judicial proceeding has violated their constitutional rights to pursue relief through the state court system and ultimately the Supreme Court.*fn2 See Centres, Inc. v. Town of Brookfield, 148 F.3d. 699, 701-02 (7th Cir. 1998). The doctrine stems, in part, from recognition of the fact that "a decision by a state court, however erroneous, is not itself a violation of the Constitution actionable in federal court." Homola v. ...

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