United States District Court, D. Minnesota
ORDER OF DISMISSAL
Wilhelmina M. Wright United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on Defendant Sam Asure's
motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Dkt. 16.) For the reasons
addressed below, Asure's motion is granted and
Plaintiff's amended complaint is dismissed without
John Stephen Woodward, who was convicted following a 2012
jury trial in Minnesota District Court (Third Judicial
District), is currently serving his prison sentence. He
brings this action against Sam Asure, an investigator for the
Minnesota Department of Corrections at the Minnesota
Correctional Facility in Faribault (MCF-Faribault), and
Thomas Jackson, an inmate at MCF-Faribault in 2010.
began investigating Woodward in 2010 in connection with a
murder-for-hire plot. At that time, Woodward was incarcerated
at MCF-Faribault. Jackson, a fellow inmate, assisted during
the investigation by recording conversations with Woodward.
The investigation of Woodward culminated in a jury trial in
2012. Portions of the recorded conversations between Woodward
and Jackson were admitted in evidence at the trial, and the
jury convicted Woodward of conspiracy to commit murder in the
subsequently petitioned the Minnesota District Court (Third
Judicial District) for postconviction relief, claiming that
the state failed to disclose exculpatory evidence contained
within the audio recordings of the conversations between
Jackson and Woodward. In his postconviction proceedings,
Woodward asserted that, based on the conclusions of a
forensic firm that he retained to analyze the recordings, a
total of 18 minutes of the recordings is missing. Woodward
maintained that the missing segments of the recordings
contain exculpatory evidence. In the Minnesota postconviction
proceeding, the Minnesota District Court denied
Woodward's petition without a hearing. After concluding
that Woodward could have raised the issue on direct appeal,
the Minnesota District Court determined that Woodward failed
to prove that the audio analyzed by the forensic firm was the
same audio admitted in evidence at his trial and that
Woodward's claims that the missing audio segments
included exculpatory information were nothing more than
appealed the Minnesota District Court's denial of his
petition to the Minnesota Court of Appeals, arguing that the
district court erred by not holding an evidentiary hearing on
the issue. The Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the
Minnesota District Court's decision. The Minnesota Court
of Appeals observed that the record indicated that
Woodward's trial counsel had received the unredacted
version of the audio recordings and was aware that the
recordings had been redacted for trial in order to remove
lulls in the conversation. Because the state disclosed the
unredacted recordings and Woodward's claim was untimely
as it could have been raised on direct appeal, the Minnesota
Court of Appeals affirmed Woodward's conviction.
his appeal of the district court's denial of his petition
for postconviction relief was pending before the Minnesota
Court of Appeals, Woodward filed this Section 1983 claim,
asserting that Defendants violated his civil rights by
contributing to the “spoilage” of exculpatory
evidence. Asure moves for judgment on the pleadings in the
matter pending before this Court.
advances several grounds for dismissal of Woodward's
amended complaint. Because the existence of subject-matter
jurisdiction is a threshold matter, the Court addresses
Asure's jurisdictional challenge first. See Turner v.
Armontrout, 922 F.2d 492, 493 (8th Cir. 1991).
argues that Woodward's amended complaint is barred by the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Such a challenge to
subject-matter jurisdiction “may be raised at any point
in the litigation.” Berger Levee Dist. v. United
States, 128 F.3d 679, 680 (8th Cir. 1997). A defendant
may challenge the plaintiff's complaint for lack of
subject-matter jurisdiction either on its face or on the
factual truthfulness of its averments. See Fed. R.
Civ. P. 12(b)(1); Titus v. Sullivan, 4 F.3d 590, 593
(8th Cir. 1993). Here, Asure's Rooker-Feldman
argument presents a facial challenge to jurisdiction. In a
facial challenge, the non-moving party “receives the
same protections as it would defending against a motion
brought under Rule 12(b)(6).” Osborn v. United
States, 918 F.2d 724, 729 n.6 (8th Cir. 1990). As such,
the Court accepts as true all factual allegations in the
amended complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in
Woodward's favor. See Blankenship v. USA Truck,
Inc., 601 F.3d 852, 853 (8th Cir. 2010).
Rooker-Feldman doctrine provides that “lower
federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over
challenges to state court judgments” except for
challenges properly brought in a habeas corpus petition.
Mosby v. Ligon, 418 F.3d 927, 931 (8th Cir. 2005)
(internal quotation marks omitted). The doctrine bars
“cases brought by state-court losers complaining of
injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the
[federal] district court proceedings commenced and inviting
district court review and rejection of those
judgments.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus.
Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). This jurisdictional bar
applies only after the state-court claim has been finally
resolved. Robins v. Ritchie, 631 F.3d 919, 928 (8th
Cir. 2011). Final resolution occurs either when the state
court issues a final opinion, id. at 927, or when
“the state court proceedings have finally resolved all
the federal questions in the litigation.” Id.
(quoting Federación de Maestros de Puerto Rico v.
Junta de Relaciones del Trabajo de Puerto Rico, 410 F.3d
17, 25 (1st Cir. 2005)).
filed his federal complaint on November 27, 2018. At that
time, Woodward's petition for postconviction relief was
on appeal with the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The Minnesota
Court of Appeals did not issue a final decision until
December 24, 2018, approximately one month after Woodward
filed his federal complaint. Because the state-court
proceedings were ongoing when Woodward ...