United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION TO
DISMISS (DKT. 19)
TERRENCE G. BERG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
a declaratory judgment and § 1983 case brought against
Defendants- private citizens-on the theory that their filing
of a civil lawsuit against Plaintiff in New York state court
constituted an abuse of process and deprived Plaintiff of her
due process rights under the New York Constitution.
Defendants move to dismiss this case under Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). For the reasons below,
Defendant's motion is GRANTED.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
case begins in California, where Plaintiff Mary Morrison and
two others went in together on the purchase of race horses.
Dkt 1, ¶ 14. Eventually, Plaintiff moved from California
to Missouri and disclaimed all interest in the horses,
leaving their care to the others. Dkt. 1, ¶¶ 11,
15-17, 31-32. Plaintiff's former partners hired
Defendants, who were located in New York, to board the
horses. Dkt. 1, ¶¶ 2-3, 15.
dispute arose over the horse boarding, and Defendants
foreclosed on the horses and sold them at a lien sale.
Id. Defendants then filed a lawsuit in New York
state court against all three original owners, alleging
breach of contract. Dkt. 1, ¶ 7.
acting as a defendant in the New York case, challenged the
New York court's personal jurisdiction over her. Dkt. 1,
¶ 20. The outcome of that challenge, however, is
anything but clear. In her opposition brief, Plaintiff stated
that the New York court had dismissed her from the case. But
at oral argument, Plaintiff stated that it was her
“position” that the New York court dismissed her
from the case. And Defendant maintains that the case is still
ongoing as to Plaintiff. Despite the significance of this
factual point, neither party has provided any evidence of the
New York case's status. At oral argument, Plaintiff
claimed that she filed with her challenge to personal
jurisdiction a proposed order dismissing her from the case,
that the New York court entered that order, but that the
court then entered another order suggesting that the
previously-entered order was mistakenly entered. Plaintiff
continues to maintain that she was dismissed from the case
and that the later docket entry did nothing to change her
event, Plaintiff filed this federal complaint against Laurie
and George Miller and Pine Stables d/b/a (New York residents
and the plaintiffs in the New York case), arguing that the
New York lawsuit violates her rights. Dkt. 1. Plaintiff
asserts three causes of action: (1) Declaratory Judgment
under 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202; (2) Violation of
Due Process under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (3) Abuse of
Process also under §1983. Dkt. 1, ¶¶ 43-62.
have moved to dismiss this lawsuit on three grounds. Dkt. 19.
First, Defendants argue that this lawsuit is barred by the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Dkt. 19, Pg. IDs 71-76.
Second, Defendants argue that res judicata, collateral
estoppel, and another legal maxim Defendants' counsel
calls “bar” all prevent Plaintiff from bringing
the case. Dkt. 19, Pg. IDs 76-81. And third, Defendants argue
that the statute of limitations has run on the abuse of
process claim. Dkt. 19, Pg. ID 76. Plaintiff opposes the
motion. Dkt. 21.
initial matter, the Court finds that the grounds Defendants
assert for dismissal lack merit. The Rooker-Feldman
doctrine does not apply when the federal lawsuit is filed
before the state court lawsuit ends. See Kircher v. City
of Ypsilanti, 458 F.Supp.2d 439, 449 (E.D. Mich. 2006).
Res judicata and collateral estoppel do not apply because, as
far as the parties have shown, there is no judgment against
Plaintiff in the New York case and no determination on any
issue present in both cases. And “bar” is
inapplicable because it is not an independent legal maxim.
Finally, Defendants have not shown that the three-year
statute of limitations has run for the abuse-of-process
claim. Defendants do not identify when the period began to
run, and do not contest Plaintiff's argument that the
period began running when she was purportedly dismissed from
the New York case, which was less than three years before she
filed this lawsuit. But because the Court declines to
exercise jurisdiction over Plaintiff's declaratory
judgment claim, and because the Court finds that, under the
Younger Abstention Doctrine, adjudicating this case
would require ruling on important aspects of New York law
properly left to the New York state courts, the case warrants
Discretion to Hear Declaratory Judgment Actions
courts possess discretion in determining whether and when to
entertain an action under the Declaratory Judgment Act, even
when the suit otherwise satisfies subject matter
jurisdictional prerequisites.” Wilton v. Seven
Falls Co., 515 U.S. 277, 282 (1995). Thus “a
district court is authorized, in the sound exercise of its
discretion, to stay or to dismiss an action seeking a
declaratory judgment before trial or after all arguments have
drawn to a close.” Id. at 288. In determining
whether to hear a declaratory judgment action, a district
court considers five factors:
1. whether the judgment would settle the controversy;
2. whether the declaratory judgment action would serve a
useful purpose in clarifying the legal relations at issue;
3. whether the declaratory remedy is being used merely for
the purpose of “procedural fencing” or “to
provide an arena for a race for res judicata”;
4. whether the use of a declaratory action would increase the
friction between our federal and state courts and improperly
encroach on state jurisdiction; and 5. whether there is an
alternative remedy that is better or more effective.
Zide Sport Shop of Ohio, Inc. v. Ed Tobergte Associates,
Inc., 16 F.App'x 433, 437-38 (6th Cir. 2001).
district court may also consider additional factors, such as
whether the underlying factual issues are important to an
informed resolution of the case; whether the state trial
court is in a better position to evaluate those factual
issues than is the federal court; and whether there is a
close nexus between the underlying factual and legal issues
and state law and/or public policy. Scottsdale Ins. Co.
v. Roumph, 211 F.3d 964, 968 (6th Cir. 2000).
Plaintiff seeks a declaration of her rights, and requests
specifically that the Court declare:
■ The New York long-arm statute and the constitutional
limits of due process prevent the New York ...