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Stoller v. Wilmington Trust, National Association

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

November 18, 2019

CHRISTOPHER STOLLER, Plaintiff,
v.
WILMINGTON TRUST, NATIONAL ASSOCIATION, et al., [1]Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          SHARON JOHNSON COLEMAN United States District Court Judge

         Pro se plaintiff Christopher Stoller brings this lawsuit against defendant Wilmington Trust, National Association, as Trustee of ALRP Securitization Trust, Series 2014-2 (“the Trust”) in relation to residential property located in Maricopa County, Arizona. The Trust has filed a motion to dismiss due to lack of subject matter jurisdiction, res judicata, improper venue, and for failure to state a claim. The Court, finding that it does not have subject matter jurisdiction and that Stoller is precluded from bringing this lawsuit based on the doctrine of res judicata, grants the Trust's motion to dismiss. Civil case terminated.

         Background

         In setting forth the background facts, the Court construes Stoller's pro se pleadings liberally, Chronis v. United States, 932 F.3d 544, 554 (7th Cir. 2019), and considers documents attached to the pleadings that are referred to in the complaint and central to Stoller's claims. Doe v. Columbia Coll. Chicago, 933 F.3d 849, 854 (7th Cir. 2019).

         In October 2018, the Trust filed a forcible entry and detainer action in the Superior Court of Arizona, Maricopa County based on an earlier foreclosure in relation to residential property located at 28437 N. 112th Way, Scottsdale, Arizona (“the Property”). The defendants in the forcible entry and detainer action were Phillip B. Stone, along with unknown occupants and parties-in-possession. The Arizona state court held the eviction action in abeyance while Stoller unsuccessfully attempted to remove the Maricopa County lawsuit to the Northern District of Illinois in case numbers 18-cv-7320 and 19-cv-1821. On September 5, 2019, the Arizona state court entered an order evicting any parties in possession of the Property.

         In the interim, Stoller brought the present nineteen-count complaint in relation to the Property, which includes claims of deceptive trade practices, civil conspiracy, consumer fraud, and perjury, among others, based on the Trust's allegedly fraudulent conduct in the foreclosure action. In his complaint, Stoller alleges that in September 2008, Phillip Stone sold the Property to Stoller's Pension and Profit Sharing Plan through a quit claim deed. (R. 1, Compl. ¶¶ 23, 24.) Stoller maintains that Stone's debts were discharged as of July 19, 2010 in Stone's Chapter 7 bankruptcy action, case number 10-1158-j7, in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of New Mexico. (Id. ¶ 26.) Based on the Chapter 7 discharge, Stoller asserts that he owns the Property free from any liens, including any mortgage on the Property.

         Exhibits attached to Stoller's complaint reveal that on July 13, 2015, Stoller recorded a Notice of Trustee's Sale with the Maricopa County, Arizona Recorder. (Compl., Ex. 9.) According to the Trustee's Deed recorded on March 4, 2016 in Maricopa County, a company named “Night Milk Co.” of Oak Park, Illinois was the highest bidder at a public auction held on July 17, 2014 and paid Stoller $10.00 for the Property. (Id., Ex. 8.)

         Legal Standard

         A Rule 12(b)(1) motion challenges federal jurisdiction, and the party invoking jurisdiction bears the burden of establishing the elements necessary for subject matter jurisdiction, including standing. Taylor v. McCament, 875 F.3d 849, 853 (7th Cir. 2017). Under Rule 12(b)(1), the Court accepts all well-pleaded factual allegations as true and construes all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor. Bultasa Buddhist Temple of Chicago v. Nielsen, 878 F.3d 570, 573 (7th Cir. 2017). When “external facts call the court's jurisdiction into question, ” the 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.” Taylor, 875 F.3d at 853 (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         Discussion

         Subject Matter Jurisdiction

         There are several reasons why this Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction over Stoller's claims. One reason is the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which “prevents lower federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over cases brought by state-court losers challenging state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced.” Mains v. Citibank, N.A., 852 F.3d 669, 675 (7th Cir. 2017). The doctrine “ensures that lower federal courts do not exercise appellate authority over state courts.” Id. at 675; see also In re Lodholtz, 769 F.3d 531, 534 (7th Cir. 2014) (“The Supreme Court of the United States is the only federal court with appellate authority over state courts; that is the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.”). In deciding if Rooker-Feldman applies, the Court must ask “whether the federal plaintiff is alleging that his injury was caused by the state-court judgment.” Mains, 852 F.3d at 675.

         In 2015, the Trust initiated foreclosure proceedings in Arizona state court, and, the same month Stoller filed this lawsuit, the Trust filed a forcible entry and detainer action in the Superior Court of Arizona, Maricopa County. The present lawsuit is centered on the Arizona court's foreclosure judgment and forcible entry and detainer action that Stoller argues rested on fraud. Under the circumstances, Stoller has not met his burden in establishing subject matter jurisdiction because under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine this Court does not have jurisdiction to grant Stoller the relief he seeks, namely, barring the Trust from encumbering the Property and enjoining the Trust from having rights in the Property.

         Another reason the Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction is because Stoller cannot establish Article III standing. See American Homeland Title Agency, Inc. v. Robertson, 930 F.3d 806, 810 (7th Cir. 2019) (“The standing doctrine addresses whether a court has the power to hear a case under Article III of the Constitution. It is therefore jurisdictional.”) (internal citation omitted). “The elements of standing are well settled: the plaintiff must allege an injury in fact that is traceable to the defendant's conduct and redressable by a favorable judicial decision.” Casillas v. Madison Avenue Assoc., Inc., ...


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