United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division
Elisabeth J. McGowan, Plaintiff,
Ditech Financial, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OF OPINION AND ORDER
PATRICIA A. GAUGHAN, United States District Court Chief Judge
civil action was filed by pro se Plaintiff Elisabeth
J. McGowan against multiple defendants pertaining to a state
mortgage foreclosure action brought against the plaintiff and
James McGowan in the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas.
See Ditech Financial LLC/fka Green Tree Servicing LLC v.
James P. McGowan, et al., No. CV-16-868973. The
docket in the state-court action shows that a judgment of
foreclosure was entered in favor of Ditech Financial LLC/fka
Green Tree Servicing LLC (Ditech) against James McGowan and
the plaintiff in connection with property located in
Cleveland, and the property was subsequently sold.
case, the plaintiff sues entities and individuals who had a
role in the state foreclosure matter, namely, Ditech and its
foreclosure counsel Ted Humbert, Charles Gasior, Laura
Infante, the Law Offices of John D. Clunk Co., and Jaqueline
Wirtz. (See Doc. No. 1.) Her complaint does not set
forth detailed allegations or specific allegations of
misconduct on the part of any defendant. She only generally
alleges that the defendants have “fraudulently
submitt[ed] questionable documentation” to the Ohio
court in violation of the federal False Claims Act, which has
resulted in “irrevocable damages to [her] person in
asserting claim to [her] home.” (Id. at p. 3,
¶ A; p. 4 ¶ III.) The relief she “seeks is
release of claims from [her] personal property” and to
be reimbursed for “all monetary incumberances.”
(Id. at p. 4, ¶ IV.)
defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff's
complaint for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and for failure to state a claim
pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Doc. No. 7.) The
plaintiff has responded to the motion. (Doc. No. 8.) For the
reasons stated below, the defendants' motion to dismiss
12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides for
dismissal of a lawsuit where a federal court lacks
subject-matter jurisdiction. Under the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, federal courts lack
subject-matter jurisdiction over “cases brought by
state-court losers 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.” See Givens v.
Homecomings Financial, 278 Fed. App'x 607, 609, 2008
WL 2121008, at * 1 (6thCir. May 20, 2008), citing
Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544
U.S. 280, 284 (2005). Thus, the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine deprives a federal court from exercising
jurisdiction “when the cause of the plaintiff's
complaints is the state judgment itself.” Id.
Whatever the plaintiff's federal claims are in this case,
she is clearly seeking to challenge an unfavorable
state-court judgment which is the source of her alleged
injuries. Thus, she is inviting this Court to “review
and reject” the judgment of the state court in the
foreclosure case. This Court lacks subject-matter
jurisdiction to do so, and dismissal of her complaint is
appropriate on the grounds of the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine. See Givens, 278 Fed. App'x at 609
(holding that a plaintiff's suit “fits
squarely” within the Rooker-Feldman doctrine
because the “point of th[e] suit [was] to obtain a
federal reversal of a state court decision” granting
possession of property to defendants). See also Kafele v.
Lerner, Sampson & Rothfuss, L.P.A., 161 Fed.
App'x 487, 490 (6th Cir. 2005) (affirming
dismissal of federal claims resting on premise that state
foreclosure judgment was invalid).
the plaintiff's claims are also barred by the doctrine of
res judicata, which provides that “a final
judgment on the merits of an action precludes the parties or
their privies from re-litigating issues that were or could
have been raised in a prior action.” In re
Alfes, 709 F.3d 631, 638 (6th Cir. 2013).
Under the doctrine, “[a] valid, final judgment rendered
upon the merits bars all subsequent actions based upon any
claim arising out of the transaction or occurrence that was
the subject matter of the previous action.” Hapgood
v. City of Warren, 127 F.3d 490, 493 (6th
Cir. 1997). A second suit is barred when there is: (1) a
prior final, valid decision on the merits by a court of
competent jurisdiction; (2) a second action involving the
same parties, or their privies, as the first; (3) a second
action raising claims that were or could have been litigated
in the first action; and (4) a second action arising out of
the transaction or occurrence that was the subject matter of
the previous action. Id.
criteria are satisfied here. (1) A state judgment of
foreclosure was entered against the plaintiff in connection
with property; (2) this lawsuit involves the same parties or
their privies as the state foreclosure action (i.e.,
the plaintiff, Ditech, and Ditech's counsel); (3) the
plaintiff could have litigated the claims she seeks to raise
in this case in the state action; and (4) the plaintiff's
claims arise out of the same “transaction or
occurrence” as the action, i.e., the property
in question and the right of Ditech to foreclose.
Accordingly, the plaintiff's claims are barred by res
judicata. See, e.g., Clark v. Lender Processing
Serv., Inc., 949 F.Supp.2d 763, 773-74 (N.D. Ohio 2013)
(holding that res judicata barred mortgagor's
claims under the FDCPA and Ohio's Consumer Sales
Practices Act where there was a prior, final decision on the
merits in an underlying state foreclosure action).
although the standard of review for pro se pleadings
is liberal, Williams v. Curtin, 631 F.3d 380, 383
(6th Cir. 2011), “the lenient treatment generally
accorded pro se litigants has limits.”
Pilgrim v. Littlefield, 92 F.3d 413, 416 (6th Cir.
1996). Pro se plaintiffs must still meet basic
pleading requirements, and courts are not required to conjure
allegations on their behalf. See Erwin v. Edwards,
22 Fed.Appx. 579, 580 (6th Cir. 2001). In order to survive a
dismissal for failure to state a claim, a pro se
complaint must set forth “sufficient factual matter,
accepted as true, to state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” See Hill v. Lappin,
630 F.3d 468, 470-71 (6th Cir. 2010) (holding that pro
se complaints must satisfy the basic pleading standards
articulated in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662
(2009) and Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544 (2007)). The plaintiff's “allegations must be
enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative
level.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555.
Additionally, they must be sufficient to give the defendants
“fair notice of what [the plaintiff's] claims are
and the grounds upon which they rest.” Swierkiewicz
v. Sorema N.A., 534 U.S. 506, 514 (2002).
according the plaintiff's complaint the deference to
which a pro se pleading is entitled, it does not
meet basic federal notice pleading requirements and does not
set forth allegations sufficient to state a plausible federal
claim even to the extent her alleged claims may not be barred
by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine or res
judicata. The plaintiff's purely conclusory
allegations that the defendants have “fraudulently
submitt[ed] questionable documentation” to the Ohio
court are insufficient to suggest she has any plausible
federal claim against any defendant under the False Claims
Act or otherwise. See Lillard v. Shelby Cty. Bd. of
Educ., 76 F.3d 716, 726 (6th Cir. 1996) (a court is not
required to accept summary allegations or unwarranted
conclusions in determining whether a complaint states a claim
for relief); see also Chesbrough v. VPA, P.C., 655
F.3d 461, 466 (6th Cir. 2011) (“Complaints
alleging FCA violations must comply with Rule 9(b)' s
requirement that fraud be pled with particularity”).
the plaintiff's application to proceed in forma
pauperis in this matter (Doc. No. 2) is granted, but for
the reasons stated above, the defendants' motion to
dismiss her complaint pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) is granted. The Court further
certifies, pursuant to ...