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Nichols v. Alabama State Bar

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division

April 15, 2015

W. DAVID NICHOLS, Plaintiff,
v.
ALABAMA STATE BAR, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

WILLIAM M. ACKER, Jr., District Judge.

Before the court are a motion to dismiss (Doc. 11) filed by defendant Alabama State Bar ("ASB") on March 27, 2015, and a motion to file exhibits under seal (Doc. 14) filed by plaintiff W. David Nichols on April 10, 2015. For the reasons stated below, the motion to dismiss will be granted, and the motion to file exhibits under seal will be denied as moot.

BACKGROUND

Nichols gained admission to ASB in 1982. (Doc. 10-1 at 1, ¶ 1). He suffers from major depression and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. (Doc. 10-1 at 2, ¶ 6). As a result of misconduct allegedly caused by his disabilities, Nichols was suspended from the bar in 2000, with the suspension to expire on January 31, 2003. (Doc. 10-1 at 2-3, ¶ 6-7). Because Nichols' suspension was for a term of more than 90 days, he was not reinstated automatically but was required to apply for reinstatement with ASB. Ala. R. Disc. P. 28. He did so, but his petition was denied. (Doc. 10-1 at 2, ¶ 7). He appealed to the Alabama Supreme Court, which affirmed the denial of reinstatement. Nichols v. Ala. State Bar, 981 So.2d 398 (Ala. 2007).

Nichols owns an office building in Bessemer, Alabama, with attorneys as his primary tenants. (Docs. 10-1 at 3, ¶ 9, 13 at 4). In February 2014, Nichols informed ASB of his desire again to seek reinstatement, which is permissible under Ala. R. Disc. P. 28(i). (Doc. 10-1 at 3, ¶ 9). In response, Jeremy McIntire, assistant general counsel for ASB: (1) told Nichols that he would actively oppose any reinstatement petition; (2) informed Nichols of his opinion that Nichols was in violation of Ala. R. Disc. P. 26 by performing work of a paralegal nature (namely, answering the phone in his building, typing items for his lawyer-tenants, and discussing the lawyers' cases with them); and (3) ordered Nichols to cease these activities. (Docs. 10-1 at 3, ¶ 9, 13 at 3). Nichols complied with the order "in an abundance of caution." (Doc. 10-1 at 3, ¶ 9). ASB thereupon initiated formal disciplinary proceedings against Nichols in December 2014. (Doc. 10-1 at 3, ¶ 10). In January 2015, ASB offered to resolve the proceedings by suspending Nichols for four years. (Doc. 10-1 at 4-5, ¶¶ 11, 14).

Nichols initiated this action on January 29, 2015. In his amended complaint, he asserts two causes of action, one under Title II of the ADA and one under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He also seeks a preliminary injunction against ASB. In support of his ADA claim, he asserts that ASB has repeatedly denied the existence of his disabilities while taking the aforementioned actions with an intent to discriminate against him based on his disabilities. In his § 1983 claim, he challenges the constitutionality of Ala. R. Disc. P. 28 and other related provisions, under which any lawyer suspended for a term of greater than 90 days is subject to the same onerous readmission standards as a disbarred lawyer. According to Nichols, this standard is violative of the Fourteenth Amendment, in that it deprives him of his property and liberty interests in his law license without due process of law. It is ASB's motion to dismiss Nichols' amended complaint that is now before the court.

DISCUSSION

While ASB moves to dismiss on several grounds, the court finds it necessary only to discuss two of its grounds, both implicating the court's subject matter jurisdiction. "Attacks on subject matter jurisdiction under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) come in two forms." Lawrence v. Dunbar, 919 F.2d 1525, 1528-29 (11th Cir. 1990). "Facial attacks to subject matter jurisdiction require the court merely to look and see if the plaintiff's complaint has sufficiently alleged a basis of subject matter jurisdiction, and the allegations in his complaint are taken as true for the purposes of the motion." Houston v. Marod Supermarkets, Inc., 733 F.3d 1323, 1335-36 (11th Cir. 2013). "Factual attacks, ' on the other hand, challenge the existence of subject matter jurisdiction in fact, irrespective of the pleadings, and matters outside the pleadings, such as testimony and affidavits, are considered.'" Lawrence, 919 F.2d at 1529 (quoting Menchaca v. Chrysler Credit Corp., 613 F.2d 507, 511 (5th Cir. 1980)).

Because at issue in a factual 12(b)(1) motion is the trial court's jurisdiction-its very power to hear the case-there is substantial authority that the trial court is free to weigh the evidence and satisfy itself as to the existence of its power to hear the case. In short, no presumptive truthfulness attaches to plaintiff's allegations, and the existence of disputed material facts will not preclude the trial court from evaluating for itself the merits of jurisdictional claims.

Id. (quoting Williamson v. Tucker, 645 F.2d 404, 412 (5th Cir. 1981)).

In making its first argument, under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, ASB presents and relies upon evidence outside the pleadings. Therefore, the challenge will be considered as a factual one. As relating to the Eleventh Amendment, ASB's challenge is purely facial, relying only on the pleadings. Nichols concedes that ASB is a state agency.

A. Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

ASB first challenges this court's jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. "Under that doctrine federal district courts generally lack jurisdiction to review a final state court decision." Doe v. Fla. Bar, 630 F.3d 1336, 1340 (11th Cir. 2011). "Instead, the authority to review final decisions from the highest court of the state is reserved to the Supreme Court of the United States.'" Id. (quoting Dale v. Moore, 121 F.3d 624, 626 (11th Cir. 1997)). The Supreme Court has recognized, however, "that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine has sometimes been construed to extend far beyond the contours of the Rooker and Feldman cases' and it should be confined to cases of the kind from which the doctrine acquired its name.'" Nicholson v. Shafe, 558 F.3d 1266, 1270 (11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 283, 284 (2005)). The doctrine, therefore, is only applicable in "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, 544 U.S. at 284.

ASB argues that, under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, this court is without jurisdiction because Nichols is simply seeking review of his 2003 denial of reinstatement by the Alabama Supreme Court. According to ASB, Nichols is making the same arguments to this court that he made to the Alabama Supreme ...


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