United States District Court, D. Maryland
KIMBERLY R. WIMBUSH, Plaintiff,
UNITED PARCEL SERVICE, INC. (OH) et al. Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
W. TITUS DISTRICT JUDGE
7, 2011, Plaintiff filed a lawsuit in the Circuit Court for
Prince George's County, Maryland, in which she claimed
personal injury from a motor vehicle accident involving
Richard Hutchinson, an employee of United Parcel Service. ECF
No. 1-2. On November 21, 2012, the court entered a judgment
against Plaintiff after a jury returned a verdict in favor of
the Defendants. ECF 1-2 at 7. Plaintiff appealed the judgment
of the Circuit Court, and on November 24, 2014, the Maryland
Court of Special Appeals affirmed the judgment. ECF No. 1 at
9. Both the Maryland Court of Appeals and the United States
Supreme Court denied her petitions for writs of certiorari.
Id. On September 20, 2016, Plaintiff filed the
instant pro se Complaint [ECF No. 1], alleging that
the Circuit Court improperly admitted certain confidential
Social Security records which defense counsel used to show
that some of her alleged injuries were, in fact, preexisting
conditions. ECF No. 1 at 2-3. She also claims that her
attorney did not effectively represent her and that the trial
judge denied her alleged right to proceed pro se.
Id. at 7-8. Plaintiff requests that this Court
overturn her jury verdict and grant her a new trial on the
merits. For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's
Complaint will be dismissed.
well established that federal courts are “courts of
limited jurisdiction” and “possess only that
power authorized by Constitution and statute.”
Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Allapattah Servs., Inc., 545
U.S. 546, 552 (2005). They “have an independent
obligation to determine whether subject-matter jurisdiction
exists, even when no party challenges it.” Hertz
Corp. v. Friend, 559 U.S. 77, 94 (2010). There is
“no presumption that the court has jurisdiction,
” and the facts showing the existence of subject-matter
jurisdiction “must be affirmatively alleged in the
complaint.” Pinkley, Inc. v. City of
Frederick, 191 F.3d 394, 399 (4th Cir. 1999), cert.
denied, 528 U.S. 1155 (2000) (citing McNutt v. Gen.
Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936)).
“A court is to presume, therefore, that a case lies
outside its limited jurisdiction unless and until
jurisdiction has been shown to be proper.” United
States v. Poole, 531 F.3d 263, 274 (4th Cir. 2008)
(citing Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S.
375, 377 (1994)).
not stated explicitly, Plaintiff presumably invokes federal
question jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, which
grants district courts “original jurisdiction over all
civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or
treaties of the United States.” Her main arguments
appear to be that (1) the jury verdict in Maryland Circuit
Court resulted from evidence admitted in violation of Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 5.2, relating to privacy protections
for filings made with the court, and (2) she was denied her
right to self-representation under 28 U.S.C. § 1654,
which allows parties to “plead and conduct their own
cases personally” in “all courts of the United
States.” ECF No. 1. The relief she seeks, however, is a new
trial for her state law-based personal injury suit.
Id. at 13.
Plaintiff's Complaint is Barred by the
is essentially seeking appellate review of a final judgment
issued by the Circuit Court for Prince George's County
and later affirmed by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
This type of claim is barred under the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine. “Under the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a ‘party losing in
state court is barred from seeking what in substance would be
appellate review of the state judgment in a United States
district court.'” Am. Reliable Ins. v.
Stillwell, 336 F.3d 311, 316 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting
Johnson v. De Grandy, 512 U.S. 997, 1005-06 (1994)).
The Supreme Court has clarified that this doctrine applies 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.”
Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544
U.S. 280, 284 (2005). If, “in order to grant the
federal plaintiff the relief sought, the federal court must
determine that the [state] court judgment was erroneously
entered or must take action that would render the judgment
ineffectual, Rooker-Feldman is implicated.”
Smalley v. Shapiro & Burson, LLP, 526 Fed.
App'x 231, 236 (4th Cir. 2013) (internal citations and
quotation marks omitted). Even if the precise claim was not
brought before the state court, if “success on the
federal claim depends upon a determination that the state
court wrongly decided the issues before it, ” the claim
is barred in federal district court. Brown & Root v.
Breckenridge, 211 F.3d 194, 198 (4th Cir. 2000). Because
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is jurisdictional, this
Court is free to raise it sua sponte. Am.
Reliable Ins., 336 F.3d at 316; see also Jordahl v.
Democratic Party of Va., 122 F.3d 192, 197 n.5 (4th Cir.
1997), cert. denied, 522 U.S. 1077 (1998) (noting
that the “district court appropriately sua
sponte raised the Rooker-Feldman issue”).
Complaint falls squarely within the confines of the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine-she lost in Maryland state
court and is now asking this Court to reject the prior
judgment against her. She had adequate opportunity to raise
the issues of the admissibility of her Social Security
records and her alleged right to self-representation on
appeal in the Maryland Court of Special Appeals. See
Brown & Root, 211 F.3d at 201 (the “relevant
inquiry is whether a party had a reasonable opportunity to
raise his federal claim in state proceedings”).
Regardless of whether Plaintiff's assertion that
“pro se litigants have less than ten percent chance to
[win] an appeal in the state of Maryland, ” ECF No. 1
at 13, is true, it is not sufficient to confer jurisdiction
upon this Court. The Complaint must therefore be dismissed.
Plaintiff's Complaint is Barred by Res Judicata.
from the Rooker-Feldman jurisdictional bar,
Plaintiff's Complaint is barred by res judicata because
the judgment she seeks to revisit is a final judgment that
was fully litigated in state court. The Full Faith and Credit
Act, 28 U.S.C. § 1738, “requires the federal court
to give the same preclusive effect to a state-court judgment
as another court of that State would give.” Saudi
Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. at 293 (internal citations
and quotation marks omitted). In Maryland, the
“doctrine of res judicata is that a judgment between
the same parties and their privies is a final bar to any
other suit upon the same cause of action, and is conclusive,
not only as to all matters that have been decided in the
original suit, but as to all matters which with propriety
could have been litigated in the first suit.” MPC,
Inc. v. Kenny, 367 A.2d 486, 488-89 (Md. 1977). Here,
Plaintiff seeks to bring another suit upon the same cause of
action as the one she previously brought in Maryland state
court against the same defendants. Because Maryland courts
would give preclusive effect to the prior judgment, this
Court must do so as well.
judicata is generally an affirmative defense, but it
“may, in ‘special circumstances, ' be raised
sua sponte.” Eriline Co. S.A. v.
Johnson, 440 F.3d 648, 655 (4th Cir. 2006) (quoting
Arizona v. California, 530 U.S. 392, 412 (2000)).
These “special circumstances” arise when, for
example, a “court is on notice that it has previously
decided the issue presented.” Arizona, 530
U.S. at 412. While this Court did not previously decide the
issues presented, it is on notice that the Circuit Court for
Prince George's County, Maryland and the Maryland Court
of Special Appeals have decided these issues. Therefore,
sua sponte dismissal is “fully consistent with
the policies underlying res judicata: it is not based solely
on the defendant's interest in avoiding the burdens of
twice defending a suit, but is also based on the avoidance of
unnecessary judicial waste.” Id. Because
Plaintiff's case against Defendants was already fully
litigated, and her asserted grounds for recovery were
available to her in prior proceedings, her suit is barred in
this Court and her Complaint must be dismissed.
it is this 7th day of October, 2016, by the United States
District Court for the District of Maryland,
ORDERED, that Plaintiff's Complaint [ECF
No. 1] is hereby DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE;
and it is further
that the Clerk SHALL PROVIDE a copy of this
Order to ...