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Lawyer Discipline Challenge Violated Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. | Last updated on

A California attorney Marilyn Sue Scheer doesn't give up easily. When a dispute with a client led to discipline from the California State Bar, Scheer refused to comply. When her refusal led to suspension, Scheer sued. When the California Supreme Court ruled against her, Scheer moved the fight over to the federal courts.

And it was there, in the Ninth Circuit, that Scheer lost again on Monday, as the Ninth reminded her that only the Supreme Court could hear appeals from "a state-court loser."

A Client Dispute Taken to Every Possible Court

Scheer was placed on the California State Bars inactive enrollment list following a dispute with a client over the reimbursement of the client's funds. The client secured an arbitration award against Scheer and went through the state's enforcement proceedings in order to get her payment. Scheer refused to comply and found herself on the persona non grata list of the State Bar.

She challenged the State Bar's decision to place her on inactive enrollment to practice law. She failed here. She sought review with the California Supreme Court and was denied review. Finally, she moved to federal court, sued the State Bar, and this time also alleged violation of her due process rights and free speech rights. The District granted the State Bar's motion to dismiss.

Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine gets its namesake from the two cases of Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co. and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman. The doctrine holds that the lower federal courts cannot act as courts of appeal to overturn state court decisions. If there is no channel of possible relief left for a litigant dissatisfied with the results of his suit, he must apply for cert to the US Supreme Court. And grant of cert from the Supreme Court is, as everyone knows, difficult to secure.

Scheer, it seems, has dragged the case as far as it could conceivably go. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the lower district court's decision to dismiss her case. Only the U.S. Supreme Court can exercise jurisdiction to overturn a state court case.

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