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Parikh v. Frosh

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

September 15, 2017

NAMISH PARIKH, Plaintiff,
v.
HON. BRIAN FROSH, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          GEORGE J. HAZEL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Namish Parikh brings this action pro se against Defendant Hon. Brian Frosh, in his official capacity as Attorney General of Maryland, challenging the constitutionality of the Maryland prejudgment attachment statute, Md. Rule 2-115, under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and the Fourth Amendment. Presently pending before the Court is Plaintiffs Motion for a Preliminary Injunction, ECF No. 4, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss, or in the Alternative, for Summary Judgment, ECF No. 7, and Plaintiffs Motion for Leave to File Surreply, ECF No. 12. No hearing is necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion to Dismiss is granted, Plaintiffs Motion for Leave to File Surreply is denied, and Plaintiffs Motion for a Preliminary Injunction is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This case concerns the financial assets of Plaintiff s late father, Dinesh O. Parikh, and a legal dispute that resulted over those funds. ECF No. 1 ¶ 10; ECF No. 5-2 at 2.[1] Plaintiffs father died on June 18, 2016. ECF No. 1 ¶ 10. The father's Last Will and Testament was docketed in the Register of Wills Office for Montgomery County, Maryland (Estate #W87973). Id. ¶ 11. The terms of the Last Will named Plaintiffs ex-wife, Oxana Parikh, as the Executor and sole beneficiary of Plaintiff s father's property and assets. Id. ¶ 12. On June 22, 2016, the Register of Wills appointed Oxana Parikh as the Personal Representative, or Executor, of the Estate. Plaintiffs sister, who had been apparently disinherited in the will, filed a Petition to Remove the Personal Representative and a Petition to Caveat the Last Will on July 11, 2016 in the Orphans' Court for Montgomery County. Id. ¶ 14. The Orphans' Court held a hearing on September 9, 2016. Id. ¶ 17. The Orphans' Court removed Oxana Parikh as Personal Representative and appointed Lynn Claude Boynton, also known as Lynn C. Pendleton, ("Boynton"), as Special Administrator of the Estate. Id.

         On October 6, 2016, Boynton filed a verified complaint under oath against Plaintiff and his ex-wife in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland. ECF No. 1 ¶ 21; ECF No. 5-2 at 2-23; see Boynton v. Parikh, Case No. 425847 V (Cir. Ct. Prince George's Cty. 2016). That same day, Boynton also petitioned the duty judge, ex parte, for an Order of Attachment. Id. ¶ 24; ECF No. 5-3 at 2-10. Boynton moved pursuant to Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 3-303(e), which prescribes that an attachment before judgment may issue "[i]f the debtor is about to assign, dispose of, conceal, or remove his property or a portion of it from the State with intent to defraud his creditors ..." § 3-303(e)(1). See ECF No. 5-3 at 5.[2] The judge granted the Order of Attachment, freezing and seizing the Ally Bank accounts of Plaintiff and his ex-wife. ECF No. 1 ¶ 24; ECF No. 5-4 at 2-4. Allegedly, Boynton was not required to post a bond to obtain the Attachment, as it was waived by the court, and no hearing was held before the Attachment issued. ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 24, 28. Plaintiff claims that he was not notified about the Attachment. See ECF No. 1 ¶ 52; ECF No. 10 at 25. He further complains that no post-deprivation hearing was scheduled. ECF No. 1 ¶ 57. Pursuant to a joint consent motion filed by Boynton and the Parikhs, the $1, 140, 000 in seized funds were held by the Registry of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County. ECF No. 5-5 at 2-4.[3]

         Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint in this Court against Brian Frosh, in his official capacity as Attorney General for the State of Maryland, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. ECF No. 1.[4] Specifically, Plaintiff requests that the Court "[i]ssue a declaratory judgment finding that the seizure/attachment by the State unconstitutionally injured Plaintiff and is unlawful, " " [permanently enjoin the Defendant from seizing, freezing or holding, any assets belonging to Plaintiff under the State's prejudgment attachment program, " and "[o]rder the State authorities to adopt a new prejudgment attachment program without the constitutionally offensive features of the current program." ECF No. 1 at 18. Defendant moves to dismiss under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), or in the alternative, for summary judgment. ECF No. 7. Defendant contends that the case is subject to dismissal based upon the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, Younger abstention, and because the Maryland prejudgment attachment statute is not unconstitutional. The Court will address each issue.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         "It is well established that before a federal court can decide the merits of a claim, the claim must invoke the jurisdiction of the court." Miller v. Brown, 462 F.3d 312, 316 (4th Cir. 2006). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) governs motions to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. See Khoury v. Meserve, 268 F.Supp.2d 600, 606 (D. Md. 2003), aff'd, 85 F.App'x 960 (4th Cir. 2004). Once a challenge is made to subject matter jurisdiction, the Plaintiff bears the burden of proving that subject matter jurisdiction exists. See Ferdinand-Davenport v. Children's Guild, 742 F.Supp.2d 772, 777 (D. Md. 2010) (citing Piney Run Pres. Ass 'n v. Cty. Comm'rs of Carroll Cty., Md, 523 F.3d 453, 459 (4th Cir. 2008)). The Court should grant a Rule 12(b)(1) motion "only if the material jurisdictional facts are not in dispute and the moving party is entitled to prevail as a matter of law." Evans v. B.F. Perkins Co., a Div. of Standex Int'l Corp., 166 F.3d 642, 647 (4th Cir. 1999).

         A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) "test[s] the adequacy of a complaint." Prelich v. Med. Res., Inc., 813 F.Supp.2d 654, 660 (D. Md. 2011) (citing German v. Fox, 267 F.App'x 231, 233 (4th Cir. 2008)). Motions to dismiss for failure to state a claim do "not resolve contests surrounding the facts, the merits of a claim, or the applicability of defenses." Prelich, 813 F.Supp.2d at 660 (citing Edwards v. City of Goldsboro, 178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999)). To overcome a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a complaint must allege enough facts to state a plausible claim for relief. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). A claim is plausible 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. The facts "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). The Court accepts factual allegations in the complaint as true and construes the factual allegations in the light most favorable to the Plaintiff. See Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994); Lambeth v. Bd. of Comm'rs of Davidson Cty., 407 F.3d 266, 268 (4th Cir. 2005). The Court should not grant a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim unless "it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." GE Inv. Private Placement Partners II v. Parker, 247 F.3d 543, 548 (4th Cir. 2001) (citing H.J. Inc. v. Northwestern Bell Tel. Co., 492 U.S. 229, 249-50 (1989)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Rooker-Feldman

         The Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars federal district courts from hearing "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); 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 doctrine springs from the principle that "[j]urisdiction to review such state court decisions lies exclusively with superior state courts, and ultimately, the United States Supreme Court." Plyer v. Moore, 129 F.3d 728, 731 (4th Cir. 1997). Rooker-Feldman stops "lower federal courts from considering not only issues raised and decided in the state courts, but also issues that are 'inextricably intertwined' with the issues that were before the state court." Washington v. Wilmore, 407 F.3d 274, 279 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Dist. of Columbia Ct. of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 486 (1983)). An issue is "inextricably intertwined" when it "was not actually decided by the state court but where success on the ... claim depends upon a determination that the state court wrongly decided the issues before it." Brown & Root, Inc. v. Breckenridge, 211 F.3d 194, 198 (4th Cir. 2000). The doctrine is jurisdictional; thus, the Court is "obliged to address it before proceeding" to the merits of a given case. Friedman's, Inc. v. Dunlap, 290 F.3d 191, 196 (4th Cir. 2002).

         However, Rooker-Feldman is "narrow and focused, " and stands only for the proposition that "lower federal courts are precluded from exercising appellate jurisdiction over final state- court judgments." Thana v. Bd. of License Commissioners for Charles Cty., Maryland, 827 F.3d 314, 319 (4th Cir. 2016). To emphasize the narrow role of Rooker-Feldman, the Supreme Court has repeatedly noted that it has not applied the doctrine since the decisions in Rooker and Feldman. See, e.g., Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521, 531 (2011); Lance v. Dennis, 546 U.S. 459, 464 (2006); Exxon, 544 U.S. at 287 (2005). Since Exxon, the Fourth Circuit also has not, in a published opinion, held that a district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction under Rooker -Feldman. See Thana, 827 F.3d at 319.

         Indeed, the doctrine does not apply "if a plaintiff in federal court does not seek review of the state court judgment itself but instead presents an independent claim that is related to a matter decided by a state court." Torkornoo v. Helwig, No. 16-1650, 2016 WL 7156586, at *1 (4th Cir. Dec. 8, 2016). In Thana, plaintiffs had been denied an alcoholic beverage license by the Board of License Commissioners of Charles County. Thana, 827 F.3d at 317. The Circuit Court for Charles County affirmed the Board's decision and the Maryland Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed. Id. Before filing an appeal with the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, Plaintiffs filed a § 1983 action in federal court, alleging that the Board's policies violated its First Amendment rights. Id. at 318. After the district court had concluded it lacked subject matter jurisdiction under Rooker-Feldman, the Fourth Circuit reversed, reasoning that the federal action was "a concurrent, independent action supported by original jurisdiction conferred by Congress on federal district courts, even though the complaint in the action includes claims and legal arguments similar or the same as those made in the state proceedings." Id. at 321. It further held that the doctrine did not apply because "the district court here was not called upon to exercise appellate jurisdiction over a final judgment from 'the highest court of a State in which a decision could be had, ' 28 U.S.C. § 1257(a)... as was the case in both Rooker and Feldman.” Id. Thus, there could be no attempt by plaintiffs to flout Supreme Court jurisdiction because there had been no final state court judgment from which to appeal to the Supreme Court. See id.

         Rooker-Feldman is also not applicable here, at least to the extent Plaintiff challenges the prejudgment attachment statute itself. Plaintiff seeks not to appeal a state court judgment, nor does he seek to appeal an interlocutory order as claimed by Defendant. See ECF No. 7-1 at 7 (citing Brown & Root, Inc. v. Breckenridge, 211 F.3d 194, 199 (4th Cir. 2000) (holding that Rooker-Feldman applies to both final and interlocutory orders)). Five years after the Fourth Circuit decision in Brown & Root, the Supreme Court clarified in Exxon-Mobil that "the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is confined 'to cases brought after the state proceedings have ended.'" Mann v. Boatright, 477 F.3d 1140, 1146 (10th Cir. 2007) (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 291 (2005)). Rooker-Feldman does not apply to federal court actions proceeding in tandem with on-going state court actions. See Exxon Mobil Corp., 544 U.S. at 292 (2005); see also Green v. Mattingly, 585 F.3d 97, 101 (2d Cir. 2009) (noting that ExxonMobil abrogated much of the prior case law on Rooker-Feldman and stating that the doctrine "has no application to federal-court suits proceeding in parallel with ongoing state-court litigation").

         At the time of the filing of this Complaint, Boynton v. Parikh, had not produced a final, appealable judgment from which to appeal to the Supreme Court. The Maryland Court of Appeals has held that a ruling must have the following three attributes to be considered a "final judgment": (1) "it must be intended by the court as an unqualified, final disposition of the matter in controversy, " (2) "it must adjudicate or complete the adjudication of all claims against all parties" unless "the court acts pursuant to Maryland Rule 2-602(b) to direct the entry of a final judgment as to less than all of the claims or all of the parties, " and (3) "it must be set forth and recorded in accordance with Rule 2-601." Metro Maint. Sys. S., Inc. v. Milburn, 442 Md. 289, 298 (2015); see Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 12-301. To constitute an "unqualified, final disposition, an order of a circuit court must be so final as either to determine and conclude the rights involved or to deny the appellant the means of further prosecuting or defending his or her rights and interests in the subject matter of the proceeding." Id. at 299 (emphasis in original). The order need not resolve the merits of the case, but it must have the effect of "putting the party out of court." Id. (internal citations omitted).

         With respect to interlocutory orders, or orders that do not dispose of all the claims against all parties, such orders are immediately appealable only under three narrow exceptions to the final judgment rule: (1) "appeals from interlocutory orders specifically allowed by statute"; (2) appeals certified under Maryland Rule 2-602; and (3) "appeals from interlocutory rulings allowed under the common law collateral order doctrine." Schuele v. Case Handyman & Remodeling Servs., LLC, 412 Md. 555, 566 (2010). Under the first exception, Md. Code, Cts. & Jud. Proc. § 12-303(2) provides that a party may appeal from "[a]n order granting or denying a motion to quash a writ of attachment, " but as the Montgomery County Circuit Court here had not, as of the time of the filing of this Complaint, ruled upon a motion to quash, this exception is inapplicable to this case. Second, no appeal has been certified under Rule 2-602. Third, the collateral order doctrine "permits premature appeals" only from "a limited class of cases." Schuele, 412 Md. at 572 (emphasis added). These include an interlocutory order that "(1) conclusively determines the disputed question, (2) resolves an important issue, (3) resolves an issue that is completely separate from the merits of the action, and (4) would be effectively unreviewable if the appeal had to await the entry of a final judgment." Id. (emphasis in original).

         The prejudgment attachment ordered by the Circuit Court was not an unqualified, final disposition of the matter in controversy, nor did it conclusively determine a disputed question. Indeed, prejudgment attachment by its very nature invites further prosecuting or defending of the rights and interests involved in the subject matter of the proceeding. Failure to do so results in the dissolution of the attachment or disposition of the property. See Md. Rule 2-115(i)-(k). Viewed in this context, Plaintiff cannot be considered a "state court loser." See Green v. Mattingly, 585 F.3d 97, 102 (2d Cir. 2009) (plaintiff not a "state court loser" for Rooker- Feldman purposes where state court had issued an order temporarily removing plaintiffs child after an ex parte emergency hearing). The issue presented also cannot be considered "inextricably intertwined" because Plaintiffs success on the claim does not depend on this Court's determination that the state court was "wrong." Preventing review of such a prejudgment attachment is not contemplated by the principles of Rooker-Feldman, which merely restricts federal courts from exercising appellate jurisdiction over state court judgments.

         Even if Plaintiff s as-applied challenge to the state court attachment were barred as an unreviewable interlocutory order, Plaintiff also clearly makes a facial challenge to the constitutionality of the underlying prejudgment attachment statute, which is an independent claim not barred by Rooker-Feldman. See D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 486 (1983) (noting that "[c]hallenges to the constitutionality of state bar rules, therefore, do not necessarily require a United States District Court to review a final state court judgment"). As the court in Willner noted:

The rationale of Feldman makes clear that. . . whether [plaintiffs] may bring their claims in federal district court depends on whether their challenge to [the state] ... statute is facial or as-applied. If the former, then it may proceed, because the plaintiffs would then be challenging an act of the . . . state legislature. But if the latter, then it is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because the ...

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