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Scheffler v. City of Blaine

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

April 30, 2019

CITY OF BLAINE, Defendant.


          Nancy E. Brasel United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Troy K. Scheffler brings several constitutional challenges to the state forfeiture of his vehicle relating to his arrest for driving under the influence. The City of Blaine (“the City”) moves to dismiss the case. Because Scheffler previously challenged the forfeiture in state court, the gateway question is whether the Court has subject-matter jurisdiction over this case under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. The Court finds the constitutional claims are inextricably intertwined with the state judgment and thus grants the City's motion.


         Plaintiff Troy Scheffler was arrested in the City of Blaine in December 2010 and charged with several crimes, including Fourth Degree Driving While Intoxicated. [ECF No. 35-1 at 1.] The City seized Scheffler's vehicle-a 2008 Chevrolet Aveo-incident to the arrest and provided him with a notice of forfeiture. Ten days later, Scheffler filed a Demand for Judicial Determination for Forfeiture Pursuant to Minn. Stat. § 169A.63. (Id.)

         Meanwhile, the City prosecuted Scheffler and he entered a plea under Minn. R. Crim. P. 26.01, subd, 4 to the offense of Fourth Degree Diving While Intoxicated. The remaining charges were dismissed. [ECF No. 1 ¶ 24.] Scheffler appealed his conviction to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which affirmed the district court. [ECF No. 35-1 at 1.] He then filed a Petition for Review with the Minnesota Supreme Court, which was denied, and a Petition for Writ of Certiorari with the United States Supreme Court, which was also denied. (Id.) The criminal file was closed in 2015.

         In September 2016, Scheffler contacted Anoka County Court administration about the status of the forfeiture of the Chevrolet Aveo. (Id.) The court scheduled a hearing for October 27, 2016. (Id.) At that hearing, the court ordered a briefing schedule and scheduled an evidentiary hearing for January 24, 2017. (Id. at 2.) After that hearing, the court dismissed Scheffler's petition for return of his vehicle. (Id.) Scheffler appealed to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, which upheld the district court's dismissal of the petition. (Id. at 6.) Scheffler petitioned the Minnesota Supreme Court for review of his petition and the Minnesota Supreme Court denied review. [ECF No. 35-5.]

         In June 2018, Scheffler brought this action against the City of Blaine and the District Court Administrator of the Tenth Judicial District of the State of Minnesota, alleging that the seizure of the vehicle violated his procedural and substantive due process rights, along with equal protection under the law, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment.[1][ECF No. 1 ¶ 2.]


         The City moves to dismiss the complaint under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Under Rule 12(b)(1), a party may move to dismiss an action for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. If this Court finds it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over this case, it has no choice but to dismiss it. Bueford v. Resolution Tr. Corp., 991 F.2d 481, 485 (8th Cir. 1993). This Court may also dismiss this case under Rule 12(b)(6) for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” “The complaint must contain ‘enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'” Horras v. Am. Capital Strategies, Ltd., 729 F.3d 798, 801 (8th Cir. 2013) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Id. (quoting Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009)).

         I. The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

         The City argues this court lacks subject-matter jurisdiction over this case because the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars jurisdiction. Under this doctrine, federal district courts lack subject-matter jurisdiction to review state-court decisions. Postma v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan of Sioux City, 74 F.3d 160, 162 (8th Cir. 1996); see Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923); District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983). The power to review state-court decisions is reserved for the United States Supreme Court, not this Court. Postma, 74 F.3d at 162. Thus, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine “precludes district courts from obtaining jurisdiction both over the rare case styled as a direct appeal . . . as well as more common claims which are ‘inextricably intertwined' with state court decisions.” Simes v. Huckabee, 354 F.3d 823, 827 (8th Cir. 2004) (citation omitted). “A claim is inextricably intertwined if the federal claim succeeds only to the extent that the state court wrongly decided the issues before it.” Charchenko v. City of Stillwater, 47 F.3d 981, 983 (8th Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). Therefore, “Rooker-Feldman precludes a federal action if the relief requested in the federal action would effectively reverse the state court decision or void its ruling.” Id.

         This lawsuit runs afoul of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because it attempts to relitigate the state-court denial of Scheffler's forfeiture petition. Scheffler fashions his claims differently in federal court-he alleges federal constitutional violations instead of state statutory ones. But his federal claims are inextricably intertwined with the state- court judgment. While a “federal district court has jurisdiction over general constitutional challenges if these claims are not inextricably intertwined with the claims asserted in state court, ” Id., courts routinely find as-applied constitutional challenges to be inextricably intertwined with state-court judgments. See, e.g., Hall v. Callahan, 727 F.3d 450, 454 (6th Cir. 2013) (“To the extent Plaintiffs seek a declaration that the Statute is unconstitutional as applied in the prior state court proceeding and relieving them from that judgment, the District Court correctly ruled that Rooker-Feldman bars their as-applied challenge to the Statute.”); McKithen v. Brown, 626 F.3d 143, 154 (2d Cir. 2010) (finding the plaintiff's as- applied § 1983 challenge was barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine); Bass v. Butler, 116 F. Appʹx 376, 382-83 (3d Cir. 2004) (affirming the district court's dismissal under the Rooker- Feldman doctrine because the plaintiff's as-applied constitutional challenge would directly conflict and overrule the state-court decision).

         Scheffler was a party to the state suit and could have brought the federal constitutional claims in state court as well. Instead, he seeks to have this Court reverse the state-court denial of his forfeiture petition by arguing the process was unconstitutional as applied to him. Doing so, however, “would effectively reverse the state court decision or void its ruling.” Charchenko, 47 F.3d at 983 (citation omitted). There is no way this Court could find the forfeiture process unconstitutional as applied to Scheffler without reversing and voiding the district court's denial of his forfeiture petition. This scenario is precisely the reason for the existence of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

         Not only would a win for Scheffler in this case reverse a state-court judgment, but that would be its only effect. Scheffler brings his constitutional claims only as as-applied challenges to his forfeiture process. In doing so, his challenges affect no future litigants or any future relief. Cf. Karsjens v. Piper, 845 F.3d 394, 406 (8th Cir. 2017), cert. denied, 138 S.Ct. 106 (2017) (finding the Rooker-Feldman doctrine did not apply because “the class plaintiffs [were] not seeking review and rejection of state court judgments, nor [were] the plaintiffs claiming to have suffered harm because of prior state court judgments” but instead “plaintiffs [were] seeking prospective injunctive relief based on a theory that the ...

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