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Worley v. Engel

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

July 18, 2017

Savanna Worley, Plaintiff,
Matthew A. Engel, Defendant.


          Paul A. Magnuson United States District Court Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative for a More Definite Statement. For the following reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.


         In August 2015, Plaintiff Savanna Worley began renting an apartment in Bloomington, Minnesota managed by Housing Hub, LLC. (Am. Compl. (Docket No. 12) ¶ 11.) But, according to Worley, the City of Bloomington had not licensed the apartment as a rental property. (Id. ¶ 21.)

         On August 3, 2016, Worley filed a rent-escrow action in Minnesota state court against Housing Hub and the apartment's alleged owner, Christopher Hoff, alleging multiple habitability issues. (Id. ¶ 12.) A rent-escrow action allows a tenant to deposit their rent with the court administrator instead of making a payment if they believe their landlord has violated Minnesota law or the lease agreement. Minn. Stat. § 504B.385. In response, Defendant Matthew Engel filed an eviction action against Worley on behalf of his client, CHC Investments, LLC (“CHC”), for unpaid rent. (Id. ¶ 13.) The eviction action alleged that CHC owned Worley's apartment and also demanded $440 in court costs and fees. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 18.) The state court dismissed the eviction action without prejudice and directed Engel to file the complaint as an answer in Worley's rent-escrow action. (Kemp Decl. (Docket No. 22) Ex. A at 3.)[1] The state court eventually dismissed Worley's rent-escrow action without prejudice because Worley failed to deposit her rent with the court. (Id. Ex. C at 2.)

         Engel filed another eviction action against Worley on behalf of CHC for unpaid rent on October 14, 2016. (Am. Compl. ¶ 25.) Worley answered the complaint and argued that she was not obligated to pay rent due to CHC's violations of the covenants of habitability. (Id. ¶ 32.) Following a bench trial, the state court concluded that CHC did not violate the covenants of habitability, entered judgment in favor of CHC in the amount of $5, 725, ordered $3, 600 on deposit with the Court to be released to CHC, and allowed Worley to redeem the apartment if she paid the remaining $2, 135 within one week. (Id. ¶ 33; Kemp Decl. Ex. D at 11.) Worley redeemed the apartment. (Am. Compl. ¶ 34.) During these two eviction actions, Worley alleges that Engel, through in-person conversations, demanded that Worley pay her rent but failed to communicate information that he was required to communicate under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). (Id. ¶ 35.)

         On March 28, 2017, Engel filed another eviction action in state court against Worley on behalf of CHC alleging that Worley had not paid her rent. (Id. ¶ 37.) Engel later filed an amended complaint against Worley on behalf of CHC alleging that Worley owed a different amount of rent. (Id. ¶ 42.) On April 5, Engel filed a second amended complaint, this time bringing the action on behalf of Christopher Hoff, and alleging a still different amount of rent owed. (Id. ¶ 48.) That case is ongoing.

         On April 10, Worley filed this lawsuit alleging that, by filing the eviction actions on behalf of CHC for nonpayment of rent, Engel violated the FDCPA. In response, Engel filed a motion to dismiss. Two days after the deadline passed to amend her pleading as a matter of course, Worley filed an Amended Complaint. (Docket No. 12.) Engel consented to the filing of this amended pleading. (Docket No. 13.) Worley's Amended Complaint lists one claim titled “Specific Claims” and alleges that “[Engel's] conduct includes multiple and numerous violations of the [FDCPA] . . . including, but not limited to 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692e, 1692e(2)(A), 1692e(5), 1692(10), 1692f, and 1692f(1).” (Am. Compl. ¶ 53.) Engel now moves to dismiss the Amended Complaint asserting that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars Worley's claims and that Worley has failed to state a claim on which relief can be granted. In the alternative, Engel moves for a more definite statement.


         A. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

         The Rooker-Feldman doctrine was born from two cases that the Supreme Court decided 60 years apart and over 30 years ago. In Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., a party sued in federal district court to have an unfavorable state court judgment declared null and void. 263 U.S. 413, 414 (1923). In District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, a losing party in a separate litigation sued the court that provided the party with an unfavorable ruling. 460 U.S. 462 (1983). The Supreme Court held that both lawsuits were impermissible because only the Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction to reverse or modify a state-court judgment. See id. at 482.

         The Rooker-Feldman doctrine, however, has “sometimes been construed far beyond the contours” of these two cases, “overriding Congress' conferral of federal-court jurisdiction concurrent with jurisdiction exercised by state courts, and superseding the ordinary application of preclusion law.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 283 (2005). As the Supreme Court has described it, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies only to “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.” Id. at 284.

         Although Worley is a state-court loser, she is not complaining of injuries caused by the state-court judgment, nor is she asking the Court to review the state court judgment as an appeals court would. Instead, she is complaining of injuries caused by the filing of the eviction actions, and she seeks monetary damages for Engel's alleged violations of the FDCPA. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine therefore does not apply.

         B. Failure ...

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