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Gonzalez v. Bank of America, N.A.

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

January 2, 2014

ARNULFO R. GONZALEZ, Plaintiff,
v.
BANK OF AMERICA, N.A., and MORTGAGE ELECTRONIC REGISTRATION SYSTEMS, INC., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

JOAN H. LEFKOW, District Judge.

Plaintiff Arnulfo R. Gonzalez filed a four-count pro se complaint against Bank of America, N.A. ("Bank of America")[1] and Mortgage Electronic Registration Systems, Inc. ("MERS") (collectively, "defendants")[2] seeking damages arising from alleged violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692 et seq. (Count I); void assignment of mortgage in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count II); lack of authority to assign mortgage (Count III); and, against Bank of America only, violation of the Illinois Mortgage Foreclosure Law, 735 Ill. Comp. Stat. 5/15-1101 et seq., and related state court rules (Count IV). Defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). (Dkt. #14.) For the following reasons, the motion will be granted.[3]

BACKGROUND[4]

On January 13, 2006, Gonzalez obtained a home loan from Countrywide Home Loans, Inc. ("Countrywide"), secured by a mortgage on real estate located at 14328 Karlov Avenue, Midlothian, Illinois ("the property"). (Def. Ex. 6.) On November 18, 2009, MERS, acting as nominee for Countrywide, assigned the mortgage to BAC Home Loans Servicing, LP f/k/a Countrywide Home Loans Servicing, LP ("BAC"). (Compl. Ex. A.) BAC serviced the loan and is Bank of America's predecessor by merger.

On November 25, 2009, BAC filed a foreclosure action in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Chancery Division. (Def. Ex. 5.) On June 21, 2010, BAC obtained a judgment of foreclosure and sale. (Def. Ex. 1.) On October 18, 2011, BAC obtained an order approving the foreclosure report of sale and an order for possession of the deed. (Def. Ex. 2.) On August 17, 2012, Gonzalez filed a motion to quash service, which the Circuit Court denied on October 2, 2012. (Def. Exs. 3, 4.) Gonzalez did not appeal. ( See Def. Ex. 5.) Instead, on May 9, 2013, he filed the instant complaint. Defendants now move to dismiss the complaint under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), arguing that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and the complaint fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) provides that a case will be dismissed if the court lacks the authority to hear and decide the dispute. Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). If subject matter jurisdiction is not evident from the face of the complaint, the court analyzes the motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(1) as any other motion to dismiss. United Phosphorous, Ltd. v. Angus Chem. Co., 322 F.3d 942, 946 (7th Cir. 2003) (en banc) overruled on other grounds by Minn-Chem, Inc. v. Agrium Inc., 683 F.3d 845 (7th Cir. 2012). Where, as here, "the complaint is formally sufficient but the contention is that there is in fact no subject matter jurisdiction, the movant may use affidavits and other materials to support the motion." Id. (emphasis in original); see also Long v. Shorebank Dev. Corp., 182 F.3d 548, 554 (7th Cir. 1999). The court may weigh the evidence to determine whether jurisdiction has been established. United Phosphorous, Ltd., 322 F.3d at 946. Although pro se complaints are liberally construed, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 167 L.Ed.2d 1081 (2007), Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106, 97 S.Ct. 285, 50 L.Ed.2d 251 (1976), the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing the basis for the court's jurisdiction. United Phosphorous, Ltd., 322 F.3d at 946.

Under Rule 8(a), the complaint must provide a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the complaint must not only provide the defendant with fair notice of a claim's basis but must also establish that the requested relief is plausible on its face. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009); see also Bell Atl. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). The allegations in the complaint must be "enough to raise a right of relief above the speculative level." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555. At the same time, the plaintiff need not plead legal theories. Hatmaker v. Mem'l Med. Ctr., 619 F.3d 741, 743 (7th Cir. 2010). Rather, it is the facts that count.

ANALYSIS

Defendants first argue that the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Gonzalez's claims under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a doctrine derived from the United States Supreme Court's decisions in Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 44 S.Ct. 149, 68 L.Ed.2d 362 (1923), and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 103 S.Ct. 1303, 75 L.Ed.2d 206 (1983). This doctrine stands for the principle that only the United States Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction to reverse or modify a state court judgment. Holt v. Lake Cnty. Bd. of Comm'rs, 408 F.3d 335, 336 (7th Cir. 2005). The doctrine precludes federal jurisdiction where "the complained of injury resulted from a state court judgment, " Sanchez v. Onewest Bank, FSB, No. 11 CV 6820, 2013 WL 139870, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 10, 2013), and where the federal law suit is "inextricably intertwined" with a state court decision "such that success in the federal court would require overturning the state court decision[.]" Epps v. Creditnet, Inc., 320 F.3d 756, 759 (7th Cir. 2003).[5] "The Rooker-Feldman doctrine asks: is the federal plaintiff seeking to set aside a state judgment, or does he present 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? If the former, then the district court lacks jurisdiction; if the latter, then there is jurisdiction and state law determines whether the defendant prevails under principles of preclusion." GASH Assocs. v. Vill. of Rosemont, Ill., 995 F.2d 726, 728 (7th Cir. 1993).

I. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not deprive the court of jurisdiction over the FDCPA claim

Count I alleges various violations of the FDCPA, which prohibits "debt collectors" from harassing creditors or using false representations or unfair conduct to collect a debt. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692d (prohibiting harassing, oppressive, or abusive conduct); § 1692e (prohibiting false, deceptive, or misleading representations); § 1692f (prohibiting unfair or unconscionable debt collection practices). Gonzalez alleges that defendants violated the FDCPA by "[d]esigning and implementing a purposeful scheme to obtain additional amounts from distressed borrowers on the false promise and/or misleading representation that completion of trial period payments would result in [a] permanent [loan] modification... when Defendants had no intention of actually... honor[ing] any such final modification[.]" (Compl. Count I.)

This is not an attack on the state court judgment because damages could be awarded under the FDCPA without disturbing the judgment of foreclosure. See Ruffino v. Bank of Am., N.A., No. 13 C 50124, 2013 WL 5519456, at *3 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 3, 2013) ( Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not preclude consideration of FDCPA claim); accord Hochstetler v. Fed. Home Loan Mortgage Corp., No. 12 CV 772, 2013 WL 3756502, at *4 (N.D. Ind. July 16, 2013); Brooks v. Flagstar Bank, FSB, No. 11-CV-67, 2011 WL 2710026, at *4 (E.D. La. July 12, 2011) ("[W]hen the FDCPA plaintiff is not challenging the validity of the debt, but rather the collection practices of the creditor, the FDCPA claim is independent from the state court collection action and the federal court has subject matter jurisdiction over that FDCPA claim.") (internal quotation marks and citation omitted) (collecting cases); ...


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