In Moriarity v. Henriques, 2013 WL 1704937 (E.D.Cal. 2013), Judge Thurston explained the Rooker-Feldman doctrine as applicable in the FDCPA context, finding that it prohibited her from using the FDPCA to review ‘representations’ that the Debtor was properly served in the state court collection action in order to obtain a default judgment.
FIA Card Services, N.A. retained the law firm of Hunt & Henriques to collect a credit card debt for an account number ending 1078, and under the name of Linda D. Moriarity (Doc. 35–1, ¶ 1). On May 20, 2010, Hunt & Henriques sent Moriarity a letter, “advising her that FIA ha[d] retained the firm to make a demand for payment in full on … the Account and informing her right to dispute the debt or any portion of it.” Id., ¶ 3. On May 28, 2010, Moriarity mailed a response to Hunt & Henriques via Certified Mail # 7009282000021180025, “demanding verification/ validation of the alleged debt and disputing it.” (Doc. 39, ¶ 2). ¶ On July 20, 2010, FIA Card Services, represented by Defendants, initiated an action in Kern County Superior Court by filing a complaint against Plaintiff in Case No. M–1502–CL–18384. (Doc. 35–1, ¶ 6). FIA Card Services filed a proof of service on August 12, 2010, which indicated Moriarity had been served personally on August 5, 2010, with several documents, including the summons and complaint. (Doc. 35–2 at 10). On December 6, 2010, the state court entered default judgment against Moriarity, finding (a) she was properly served with a copy of the summons and complaint and (b) she failed to answer the complaint or appear and defend the action within the time allowed by l aw. Id. at 13. Thus, judgment was entered in favor of FIA Card Services in the amount of $7,762.31. Id. at 14. ¶ Moriarity filed a notice of motion to set aside the entry of default judgment in Case No. M1502–CL–18384 on December 27, 2012. (Doc. 35–1, ¶ 9; Doc. 35–2 at 16). Moriarity asserted “she had no knowledge of the filed complaint, having never been served, either personally or any other manner …” (Doc. 35–2 at 18). The court held a hearing on the motion to set aside default judgment, and found “[t]he plaintiff’s summons and complaint were properly served.” (Doc. 35–2 at 83). Therefore, Moriarity’s motion to set aside the entry of judgment was denied on January 17, 2013. Id.
The parties offered significantly different views of the application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
Defendants assert Plaintiff’s claims under sections 1692e and 1692f of the FDCPA and section 1788.15 of the RFDCPA are barred because “[t]his Court, and other district courts in California, have held that the Rooker–Feldman doctrine bars litigants from pursuing FDCPA claims based on allegations that a default judgment was improper, either because the debtor allegedly was not served, or allegedly does not owe the debt as adjudicated by the state court. (Doc. 35 at 13–14) (citing Grant v. Unifund CCR Partners, et al., 842 F.Supp.2d 1234 (C.D.Cal., 2012); Bryant v. Gordon & Wong Group, P.C., 681 F.Supp.2d 1205 (E.D.Cal.2010); Williams v. Calvary Portfolio Services, LLC, 2010 WL 2889656 (C.D.Cal. July 20, 2010); Fleming v. Gordon & Wong Law Group, P. C., 723 F.Supp.2d 1219 (N.D.Cal.2010)). According to Defendants, to prevail, Plaintiff “would need this Court to make a finding that is directly contrary to the findings that underlie the judgment.” Id. ¶ On the other hand, Plaintiff argues the Rooker–Feldman doctrine is inapplicable to her claims because she “is seeking damages from FDCPA improprieties and injuries,” “not … reversal of the state court decision.” (Doc. 38 at 9) (citing Evans v. Cordray, 424 Fed. App’x 537 (6th Cir.2011)). According to Plaintiff, “[t]he state court case was on a decision as to whether a debt was owed.” Id. at 11. Plaintiff explains she is not challenging the judgment from the state court action, “but rather the unlawful manner in which [Defendants] went about their collection activities.” Id. at 9. She contends she “does not seek to ‘undercut the state ruling’ or ask the district court to interpret the application of state laws or procedural rules.” Id. at 11.
The District Court found that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine prohibited the FDCPA claims challenging representations made in the State Court – namely, that the Debtor was properly served – despite the Debtor’s claim that she was not trying to set aside the default, but, instead, was seeking monetary damages under the FDCPA.
Significantly, the Rooker–Feldman doctrine “prohibits a federal district court from exercising subject matter jurisdiction over a suit that is a de facto appeal from a state court judgment.” Reusser v. Wachovia Bank, N.A., 525 F.3d 855, 859 (9th Cir.2008) (internal citations and quotation marks omitted). Previously, this Court found a plaintiff was “challenging the default against him” in the state court where he alleged he was never served with the complaint in the state court, and “his bank accounts were garnished without any prior notice.” Bryant, 681 F.Supp.2d at 1208. The Court explained the “net effect” of the plaintiff’s FDCPA claims was that he was “seeking to undermine the state court judgments.” Id. Consequently, the Court concluded the Rooker–Feldman doctrine prohibited review of the plaintiff’s claims that the defendant had violated the FDCPA and RFDCPA. Id. Similarly, in Williams, a plaintiff alleged violations of Section 1692e, asserting the defendants violated Section 1692e by “seeking a judgment against Plaintiff through a lawsuit which [ ] he had never been served with,” and by “attempting to collect a debt from Plaintiff that was not his, despite proof that his identity had been stolen.” 2010 WL 2889656, at *3. The Northern District determined the claims were barred by the Rooker–Feldman doctrine, because “[b]y way of default judgment, the state court found that Plaintiff … is liable for the debt.” Id. ¶ Because this Court is unable to review the finding of the state court regarding Plaintiff’s obligation to pay the debt, it lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff’s claims for violations of Section 1692e pursuant to the Rooker–Feldman doctrine. Accordingly, Defendants’ motion for summary adjudication of Plaintiff’s Section 1693e claims is GRANTED.