'Inextricably Intertwined' Explicable at Last? Rooker-Feldman Analysis after the Supreme Court's Exxon Mobil Decision
Federal Courts Law Review, May 2006
26 Pages Posted: 26 Jan 2006
The Supreme Court's March 2005 decision in Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp. substantially limited the "Rooker-Feldman" doctrine, under which lower federal courts largely lack jurisdiction to engage in what amounts to de facto review of state-court decisions. Exxon Mobil's holding is quite narrow - entry of a final state-court judgment does not destroy federal-court jurisdiction already acquired over parallel litigation. But the Court's articulation of when Rooker-Feldman applies, and its approach in deciding the case, have significant implications for several aspects of Rooker-Feldman jurisprudence. Chief among our claims is that although the Court did not expressly repudiate or limit the applicability of the "inextricably intertwined" formulation from prior cases, which had been a primary test for many lower courts, that concept appears to have been relegated to some secondary role and no longer to be a general or threshold test. The Exxon Mobil Court properly did not elaborate on just what the concept's role should be, but we offer a suggestion based on an earlier Ninth Circuit decision. We also discuss the apparent impact of Exxon Mobil on other aspects of Rooker-Feldman doctrine as the lower federal courts had developed it, including relation to preclusion doctrines, the significance of whether the federal plaintiff was plaintiff or defendant in state court, and the doctrine's applicability a) to those not parties to prior state-court litigation, b) to interlocutory state-court rulings and decisions of lower state courts, and c) when federal-court plaintiffs did not raise their federal claims in state court. A February 2006 per curiam decision applying Exxon Mobil, Lance v. Dennis, reinforces the Court's position on some of these issues.
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