United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin
MARYAM E. MUHAMMAD, Plaintiff,
BEVERLY LOUIS et al., Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
WILLIAM M. CONLEY District Judge
12, 2016, this court granted pro se plaintiff Maryam
E. Muhammad leave to proceed on claims that several employees
of the City of Madison Community Development Authority
(“CDA”) violated her rights under the
constitution and federal law by terminating her housing
benefits without providing due process. Specifically,
Muhammad was granted leave to proceed against defendants
Beverly Louis, Tom Conrad, Shelia Ashley and John Finger. At
the same time, the court denied her leave to proceed against
the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development
(“HUD”), as none of her allegations suggested
that HUD's policies or procedures were responsible for
the alleged violation of due process. Plaintiff subsequently
filed two motions for emergency injunctive relief (dkts.
##19, 35), seeking an order requiring CDA and HUD to
reinstate her Section 8 voucher or pay her rent until the
merits of this case have been decided. She argues that if her
benefits are not reinstated, she may soon be homeless.
Finally, she has filed a motion requesting assistance in
recruiting counsel. (Dkt. #31.)
response to her motion for a preliminary injunction,
defendants filed motions to dismiss. Defendants clarify in
their motions that defendants Shelia Ashley and John Finger
are employees of HUD, not CDA, as plaintiff's complaint
implies. These federal defendants argue that the claims
against them should be dismissed for lack of personal
jurisdiction because they were improperly served under Rule 4
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The actual CDA
employees, defendants Louis and Conrad, also argue that the
claims against them should be dismissed: under
Rooker-Feldman; under the related doctrine of claim
preclusion; and (3) for failure to state a claim under which
relief may be granted.
the motion to dismiss filed by the federal defendants will be
granted, the court will deny the motion to dismiss filed by
the CDA employees. Even so, plaintiff's request for
emergency relief and for assistance in recruiting counsel
must be denied for reasons set forth below.
Motion to Dismiss Filed by Defendants Louis and
reliance on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine presents the
threshold issue of whether this court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction. In reviewing a motion to dismiss for lack of
subject matter jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), a
court accepts as true the well pleaded factual allegations
found in the complaint, drawing all reasonable inferences in
favor of the plaintiff. Center for Dermatology and Skin
Cancer, Ltd. v. Burwell, 770 F.3d 586, 588 (7th Cir.
2014). The court may also “look beyond the
jurisdictional allegations of the complaint and view whatever
evidence has been submitted on the issue to determine whether
in fact subject matter jurisdiction exists.” Evers
v. Astrue, 536 F.3d 651, 656-57 (7th Cir. 2008).
Rooker-Feldman, federal district courts lack
jurisdiction over cases challenging state court judgments
rendered before the district court proceedings commenced.
Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Indus. Corp., 544 U.S.
280, 284 (2005). If the Rooker-Feldman doctrine
applies, a suit must be dismissed without prejudice under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction. See Frederiksen v. City of Lockport,
384 F.3d 437, 439 (7th Cir. 2004); see also Fed. R.
Civ. P. 12(h)(3) (“If the court determines at any time
that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must
dismiss the action.”). The relevant question in
determining whether Rooker-Feldman bars a particular
claim is whether the plaintiff is seeking redress for an
injury caused by the state court judgment. See
Iqbal v. Patel, 780 F.3d 728, 730 (7th Cir. 2015)
(“[T]he Rooker-Feldman doctrine asks what
injury the plaintiff asks the federal court to
argue that plaintiff's due process claims are barred by
Rooker-Feldman because she unsuccessfully litigated
the exact same claims in state court. On March 28, 2014,
plaintiff filed a petition against defendants Louis and
Conrad in Dane County Circuit Court seeking review of the
CDA's decision to terminate her housing voucher.
See Muhammad v. Louis, 2014CV947 (Dane Cty.
Cir. Ct.). Plaintiff alleged in the circuit
court petition that defendants “took the
petitioner's Section 8 Voucher without due process of the
law” during a March 18, 2016, hearing that was held
without her. (See dkt. #23-1, petition). On July 31,
2014, the Dane County Circuit Court issued an order granting
the defendants' motion to dismiss the case “[f]or
the reasons stated on the record at [a] May 6, 2014
hearing.” (See dkt. #23-2.) Plaintiff appealed
the circuit court dismissal to the Wisconsin Court of
Appeals, but the court of appeals dismissed her appeal
because she failed to file a brief in support. (See
dkt. #23-3.) While that appeal was pending, plaintiff filed
her § 1983 claims in this court.
claim preclusion remains a possibility, the court is not
persuaded that Rooker-Feldman applies. Defendants
did not submit a transcript from the hearing, so the court
cannot determine the basis for the state court's
dismissal of plaintiff's claims. However, the claims on
which plaintiff was allowed to proceed in this case are not
clearly based on an injury caused by the state court
judgment. For example, this is not a case in which the
plaintiff is asking a federal court to undo a state court
garnishment or foreclosure order. Rather, plaintiff is
alleging injuries caused by defendants' actions that
occurred before the initiation of her state court case.
plaintiff is clearly hoping for a different result than she
achieved in state court, she is not asking this court to
review the state court's decision. Under these
circumstances, Rooker-Feldman does not clearly
apply. See Iqbal, 780 F.3d at 730 (“[I]f a
plaintiff contends that out-of-court events have caused
injury that the state judiciary failed to detect and repair,
then a district court has jurisdiction.”). Therefore,
the court will deny the motion to dismiss on
Louis and Conrad's assertion that plaintiff's claims
are barred by claim preclusion is a stronger one, though
ultimately not successful on this record. In Wisconsin, the
doctrine of claim preclusion holds that “a final
judgment is conclusive in all subsequent actions between the
same parties as to all matters which were litigated or which
might have been litigated in the former proceedings.”
Menard, Inc. v. Liteway Lighting Prods., 2005 WI 98,
¶ 26, 282 Wis.2d 582, 698 N.W.2d 738 (emphasis added).
Wisconsin law requires the following essential elements for
claim preclusion to apply: (1) an “identity between the
parties or their privies in the prior and present
suits”; (2) that the “prior litigation resulted
in a final judgment on the ...