In Howard v. RJF Financial, LLC, 2012 WL 170904 (D.Ariz. 2012), Judge Snow held that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibits a federal court from re-considering under the FDCPA a debt collector’s filing of a state court collection action on a debt that otherwise would have been barred by the applicable statute of limitations on such debt.
There is no issue of material fact that Plaintiff is bringing this suit in order to reverse or vacate the judgment of a state court. Indeed, Plaintiff does not dispute that a judgment has been entered against him in state court, but argues instead that Defendant did not bring the state action within the state statute of limitations, and that the underlying claim was meritless and therefore constituted a FDCPA violation. (Doc. 1). Plaintiff had the opportunity to argue these issues in state court, and either failed to do so or did not do so successfully. Under the Rooker–Feldman doctrine, the federal district court is not the proper forum to seek reversal of an adverse decision of the state trial court. “If the decision was wrong, that did not make the judgment void, but merely left it open to reversal or modification in an appropriate and timely appellate proceeding. Unless and until so reversed or modified, it would be an effective and conclusive adjudication.” Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415, 44 S.Ct. 149, 68 L.Ed. 362 (1923). As the Ninth Circuit has noted, “federal district courts have no authority to review the final determinations of a state court in judicial proceedings.” In re Gruntz, 202 F.3d 1074, 1078 (9th Cir.2000) (internal quotations omitted). Although the Supreme Court has clarified that the Rooker–Feldman doctrine occupies “narrow ground,” it has also emphasized that the doctrine does apply to cases brought by those “complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Co., 544 U.S. 280, 284, 125 S.Ct. 1517, 161 L.Ed.2d 454 (2005). ¶ There are a number of exceptions to the Rooker–Feldman doctrine. The Ninth Circuit has held, for example, that Rooker–Feldman is inapplicable “where the complaining party did not have a full and fair opportunity to litigate a claim in state court or where the state court demonstrated inability or unwillingness to protect federal rights.” Robinson v. Ariyoshi, 753 F.2d 1468, 1472 (9th Cir.1985) (subse-quent history omitted).This exception, however, is applicable only when a state court “had explicitly refused to hear federal constitutional claims,” not when it has considered and rejected those claims. Partington v. Gedan, 961 F.2d 852, 865 (9th Cir.1992). If a state court was jurisdictionally barred from considering the federal claims, Rooker–Feldman likewise does not apply. Mullins v. Oregon, 57 F.3d 789, 792–93 (9th Cir.1995) (holding that Rooker–Feldman does not bar a federal suit challenging, on constitutional grounds, the decision of a juvenile court that has no jurisdiction to consider the claims). ¶ When a state court decision is made solely on procedural grounds, and the court does not consider the merits of the underlying claim, Rooker–Feldman does not bar federal litigation. See Whiteford v. Reed, 155 F.3d 671, 674 (1998) (Rooker–Feldman does not bar federal case when state appeal from administrative decision was denied because the appellant “had violated Pennsylvania’s rules of appellate procedure”). Finally, Rooker–Feldman does not bar cases that “are based, in whole or in part, on alleged extrinsic fraud on the state court.” Kougasian v. TMSL, Inc., 359 F.3d 1136, 1140 (9th Cir.2004). Extrinsic fraud is defined as “conduct which prevents a party from presenting his claim in court.” Id. (quoting Wood v. McEwen, 644 F.2d 797, 801 (9th Cir.1981). In Kougasian, the extrinsic fraud alleged consisted of “submitting [a] false declaration to the state court … at the last minute and refusing to supply the telephone number or address of the declarant, thereby preventing [plaintiff] from deposing or otherwise questioning him.” Kougasian, 359 F.3d at 1140. ¶ None of these exceptions to the Rooker–Feldman doctrine apply to the instant case. Plaintiff had the opportunity to answer the complaint in state court but chose not to. He was served at his home on June 4, 2006. (Doc. 27, Ex. 3). No default judgment was en-tered until after he did not appear. (Doc. 27, Ex. 4). Rooker–Feldman does not require that a party actually appear and answer the state court charge, but that he “have a full and fair opportunity” to do so. Robinson, 753 F.2d at 1472. There is nothing in the record to suggest that the state trial court “demonstrated inability or unwillingness to protect federal rights.” Id. The state court was competent to hear Plaintiff’s arguments that the suit was time-barred and that it violated FDCPA, but Plaintiff chose not to bring those arguments. ¶ Significantly, a default judgment is a decision on the merits for the purposes of Rooker–Feldman. See Reusser v. Wachovia Bank, N.A ., 525 F.3d 855, 860 (9th Cir.2008) (default judgment bars federal review even when parties argue it could have been based on procedural grounds when “the parties did not present a procedural argument before the state court”). See also Williams v. Cavalry Portfolio Svcs., LLC, 2010 WL 2889656 at *3 (C.D.Cal. July 20, 2010) (dismissing a claim that a state court suit to recover credit card debt which had resulted in a de-fault judgment had been brought in violation of FDCPA because “[a] default judgment is equivalent to an adjudication on the merits and absent extrinsic fraud, it is not grounds to preclude the application of the Rooker–Feldman doctrine”). ¶ Plaintiff has alleged that Defendant brought the state court suit after the applicable statute of limitations and that it did so without merit because he had never done business with Defendant. Even if true, these acts do not constitute extrinsic fraud adequate to set aside the Rooker–Feldman doctrine. Plaintiff makes no allegation that Defendant was prevented from presenting his claim in state court. Indeed, Plaintiff continued to pursue the case in the trial court after the default judgment. In addition to his February 2010 motion for reconsideration, he filed a “Response to Subpoena for Production, Inspection & Copying of Documents” on October 26, 2010, in which he challenged the validity of the original judgment. He had a full and fair opportunity to litigate his claims at the state court level, and the Rooker–Feldman doctrine precludes the federal court from revisiting the state court’s decision.