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Does the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine Bar Your Foreclosure Appeal?

By Robyn Hagan Cain on April 05, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

The old saying, “If at first you don't succeed, try, try again,” does not ring true in the law. While the appellate process provides a certain number of second chances, you can’t relitigate final decisions after you’ve exhausted the appellate process, thanks to double jeopardy and res judicata.

In certain criminal cases, state and federal prosecutors can collaborate on a double jeopardy workaround: criminal defendants can be charged and tried separately for state and federal violations stemming from the same conduct.

The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals reminds us this week that foreclosure appeals do not enjoy a similar state vs. federal backdoor.

In Dillard v. Bank of New York, plaintiff Vicki Dillard alleged that the Bank of New York (BNY) engaged in multiple statutory and constitutional violations while foreclosing upon her home. She claimed that BNY broke both federal and state laws, including the Real Estate Settlement Procedures Act (RESPA), the Fifth Amendment's due process clause, the Federal Truth in Lending Act (TILA), the Home Ownership and Equity Protection Act of 1994 (HOEPA), and Colorado Rule of Civil Procedure 105. (She basically named all of the federal mortgage big dogs in her claim.)

Dillard, however, had already lost her challenge to the foreclosure and eviction proceedings in state court, so the Tenth Circuit ruled that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear her federal claim under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars a state-court losing party who complains of injury caused by the state-court judgment from bringing a claim seeking review and rejection of that judgment in federal court.

Dillard was proceeding pro se, so she couldn't be expected to know the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, but the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to let her amend her complaint because the facts Dillard alleged could not be amended to cure her pleading deficiencies.

Before you take a state claim and try, try, again in federal court, consider whether the Rooker-Feldman doctrine precludes your action.

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