The Fraud Exception to the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine: How it Almost Wasn't (and Probably Shouldn't Be)
Steven N. Baker
affiliation not provided to SSRN
Federal Courts Law Review, Vol. 5, No. 2, p. 139, 2011
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a jurisdictional doctrine preventing state-court losers from challenging state-court judgments in the lower federal courts, is not an obvious candidate for an equitable exception. It is, after all, a matter of federal subject matter jurisdiction, which is usually determined in a fairly mechanical manner: the district court either has jurisdiction or it does not.
But the Sixth Circuit has created just such an equitable exception to Rooker-Feldman, relying on res judicata case law from the Fourth Circuit. In doing so, the Sixth Circuit failed to explain the exception at all, including why an exception from a state preclusion doctrine such as res judicata should apply to a doctrine dealing with federal subject matter jurisdiction. In fact, all indications are that the Sixth Circuit simply made a mistake. This mistake lives on, however, and has spread to other courts, including the Ninth Circuit and several district courts. Other circuits, including the Second, Fifth, Seventh, and Eight Circuits, have rejected the exception, creating a situation ripe for Supreme Court intervention.
Rooker-Feldman is currently under a great deal of pressure. Nowhere is this more clear than in a context this Article addresses: plaintiffs challenging the validity of state-court foreclosure judgments in federal court. Should federal district courts apply Rooker-Feldman and decline jurisdiction over these challenges even if plaintiffs allege that lenders have achieved state-court foreclosure judgments through fraud? This Article resolves this dilemma currently faced by federal district and circuit courts across the country.
Number of Pages in PDF File: 31
Keywords: Rooker-Feldman doctrine, Rooker, Feldman, fraud exception, res judicata
Date posted: December 13, 2011