United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE
WALLACE CAPEL, JR. CHIEF UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
October 13, 2017, pro se Plaintiffs filed a
complaint in the above-styled case. See Doc. 1.
Although not a model of clarity, it appears that Plaintiffs
are alleging that their due process rights were violated when
Plaintiff Jeanetta Springer's property was wrongfully
foreclosed. Id. at 4. Plaintiffs further assert that
the property was seized based upon a state tax lien against
Defendant Jacob Springer, who was not a party to the mortgage
on the property. Id. Based upon these allegations,
Plaintiffs sue (1) Defendant Wells Fargo, N.A. (“Wells
Fargo”), the entity that held the foreclosure sale of
Plaintiff Jeanetta Springer's property, purchased the
property at said foreclosure sale, and later filed a
state-court eviction action against both Plaintiffs to remove
them from the property, see Doc. 11-1; (2) Defendant
Sirote & Permutt (“S&P”), the entity that
represented Defendant Wells Fargo in state court when
Defendant Wells Fargo pursued eviction of Plaintiffs,
see Doc. 7 at 7; and (3) Defendant Vernon Barnett
(“Barnett”), Commissioner of the Alabama
Department of Revenue, because he purportedly seized
Plaintiff Jeanetta Springer's property to satisfy
Plaintiff Jacob Springer's personal tax liability,
see Doc. 1; Doc. 13 at 1-2; Doc. 21-2; Doc. 21-3.
Defendant S&P filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 7)
Plaintiffs' Complaint, as did Defendant Wells Fargo and
Defendant Barnett (Docs. 11, 13). Plaintiffs responded in
opposition to the motions (Doc. 21), and Defendants S&P
and Wells Fargo replied (Docs. 23, 24). As the matter is
fully briefed, it is ripe for recommendation to the District
The Parties' Filings
Plaintiffs' form complaint, Plaintiffs provide the
following statement of their claim:
A foreclosure proceeding was held at Circuit Court of
Randolph County, Alabama in order to pressure me, Jacob C.
Springer, into signing a check issued by the Circuit Court of
Randolph County, Alabama in another civil action. The first
time this was attempted it was on ‘deceased
property[.]' The second time was because of the
‘late payments[.]' The Evidence clearly showed the
house had not reached foreclosure status[;] however, this
evidence was not presented due to violation of due process.
The house was unlawfully seized by the State of Alabama
Department of Revenue by issuing a writ to seize the property
for $998.69, even though I (Jacob Springer) never had an
account with Wells Fargo Bank or had any dealings with them.
Doc. 1 at 4. Based upon these facts, Plaintiffs request that
the court return the property to their possession and provide
compensation for any damage or destruction that has occurred
to the property since its foreclosure. Id.
Plaintiffs also seek compensatory damages “for the
violation of [their] Constitutional Rights and abuses by the
state actors under color of law[, ]” as well as
punitive damages “to prevent this from happening
Defendants' Motions to Dismiss
S&P argues that Plaintiffs' complaint should be
dismissed because the court is without subject matter
jurisdiction to entertain Plaintiffs' requested relief
pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman abstention doctrine.
Doc. 7 at 1, 7-8. Further, Defendant S&P argues that
Plaintiffs fail to state any legally cognizable claim against
it because Plaintiffs have failed to assert any wrongdoing by
Defendant S&P other than naming it as a Defendant.
Id. at 1, 4-7.
Wells Fargo argues that Plaintiffs' complaint should be
dismissed because Plaintiffs have not alleged that Defendant
Wells Fargo is a state actor subject to a due process
violation, Doc. 11-1 at 4-6; because Plaintiffs' claims
are barred by res judicata, id. at 6-8; and
because the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars this
court's reconsideration of the judgment entered in the
state-court eviction action, id. at 8-11.
Barnett, in his capacity as the Commissioner of the Alabama
Department of Revenue, argues that Plaintiffs' complaint
should be dismissed because Plaintiffs' claims are barred
by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, Doc. 13 at 2-3;
because the claims are barred by the Tax Injunction Act
(“TIA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1341, and principles of
comity, id. at 3-4; because of official capacity
immunity under the Eleventh Amendment, id. at 4; and
because Plaintiffs have failed to state a claim for relief
under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), id.
Plaintiffs' Response in Opposition to the
argue that Defendants' motions to dismiss should not be
granted because (1) res judicata does not apply; (2)
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply; and (3)
a cause of action has been sufficiently alleged within the
complaint. Doc. 21.
the doctrine of res judicata, Plaintiffs argue that
“it does not apply in this case because the issues in
this case and the case defendant refer[s] to are not
identical.” Id. at 2. Specifically, Plaintiffs
assert that the previous state-court case was based upon
whether “there was a lawful ejectment from the property
owned by plaintiff Jeanetta Springer based on failure to her
condition of payment of the mortgage of the house foreclosed
upon” and whether “plaintiffs Jeanetta and Jacob
Springer breached the contract/mortgage.” Id.
In the case before this court, Plaintiffs assert that the
issue is “whether defendant Wells Fargo committed fraud
by intentionally using a writ of garnishment aimed at
Plaintiff Jacob Springer for Alabama State Taxes owed,
knowing that Plaintiff Jacob Springer was NOT listed as a
party to the mortgage” on the property. Id.
Thus, Plaintiffs assert that, even though both cases involve
ejectment, the issues are not the same to warrant application
of res judicata because “one was based on the
theory of mortgage foreclosure while the case at bar [is]
based on garnishment.” Id. at 2-3. Finally,
Plaintiffs argue that, even if the issues are the same,
res judicata would not apply because this case
“involve[s] fraud on the part of the defendant.”
Id. at 3.
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, Plaintiffs argue that
it does not apply because “this is not an attempt to
appeal whether or not the foreclosure and resulting ejectment
due to the foreclosure was proper which was the issue in
state court.” Id. Instead, Plaintiffs assert
that the alleged fraud forming the basis of this complaint
“occurred on or about October 15, 2015, ” which
is “well after the events that took place and was
complained of in the cause of action the Defendant
as to whether Plaintiffs have stated a claim for relief,
Plaintiffs argue that they have stated the “material
facts, ” which were that “the writ of garnishment
against petitioner Jacob Springer did NOT authorize them to
seize property owned only by petitioner Jeanetta
Springer.” Id. at 3-4. Plaintiffs continue
Sheriff of Randolph County, Alabama relied on this
misrepresentation and/or omission and seized Plaintiff
Jeanetta Springer's Property. Additionally, [b]oth
plaintiffs relied on the misrepresentation of defendant that
they had authority to seize plaintiff Jeanetta Springer's
Property based on Plaintiff Jacob Springer's debt, or in
the alternative, both plaintiffs relied on the
defendants['] intentional or reckless omission of the
material fact they did not have the authority to seize
plaintiff Jeanetta Springer's House to satisfy a tax debt
owed by Jacob Springer when his name was NOT on the mortgage.
Id. at 4.
Motion to Dismiss Standard-Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to test the facial
sufficiency of a claimant's statement for relief.
Vernon v. Med. Mgmt. Assocs. of Margate, Inc., 912
F.Supp. 1549, 1553 (S.D. Fla. 1996). It is read alongside
Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a), which requires only “a short and
plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is
entitled to relief.” The rule is not designed to strike
inartistic pleadings or to provide a more definite statement
to answer an apparent ambiguity, and the analysis of a
12(b)(6) motion is limited primarily to the face of the
complaint and attachments thereto. See 5 Charles A.
Wright & Arthur Miller, Federal Practice and
Procedure § 1356 at 590-92 (1969) (Wright &
Miller). While a complaint need not provide detailed factual
allegations, the standard “requires more than labels
and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements
of a cause of action will not do.” Ashcroft v.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 679 (2009) (citing Bell Atl.
Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)); see
also Wilchombe v. TeeVee Toons, Inc., 555 F.3d 949, 958
(11th Cir. 2009); Cobb v. State of Fla., 293
Fed.Appx. 708, 709 (11th Cir. 2008). “[N]aked
assertion[s]” bereft of “further factual
enhancement” do not suffice. Twombly, 550 U.S.
at 557. Indeed, a complaint's “factual allegations
must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level.” Id. at 555.
“Moreover, the facts supporting the claim must be
‘consistent with the allegations in the
complaint.'” Wilchombe, 555 F.3d at 958
(quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 562). On a motion to
dismiss, a court should accept the non-conclusory allegations
in the complaint as true and evaluate all plausible
inferences derived from those facts in favor of the
plaintiff. See Hughes v. Lott, 350 F.3d 1157,
1159-60 (11th Cir. 2003) (internal citation omitted); see
also Cobb, 293 Fed.Appx. at 709; Brown v. Budget
Rent-A-Car Syst., Inc., 119 F.3d 922, 923 (11th Cir.
therefore conduct a “two-pronged approach” when
considering a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6).
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. A court should first ask
whether the pleading properly asserts “well-pleaded
factual allegations” or whether, instead, it merely
asserts “‘legal conclusions' [that are] not
entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. at
679-680 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). If the
complaint contains factual allegations that are well pled,
the court should assume their veracity and then move to the
next step, asking whether the factual allegations
“plausibly give rise to an entitlement to
relief.” Id. at 679. Thus, where the pleading
asserts non-conclusory, factual allegations that, if true,
would push the claim “across the line from conceivable
to plausible, ” the motion to dismiss should be denied.
Id. at 680 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at
570) (quotation marks omitted).
August 10, 1998, Plaintiff Jeanetta Springer, along with her
mother and father, executed a mortgage in favor of SouthTrust
Bank (“SouthTrust”) for property located at 619
Lafayette Highway, Roanoke, Alabama. See Doc. 21-1
at 1. Plaintiff Jacob Springer was not a party to that
mortgage. See id. Defendant Wells Fargo is the
successor-by-merger to SouthTrust.
October 19, 2011, Defendant Wells Fargo held a non-judicial
foreclosure sale of the aforementioned property and purchased
the property at the sale. See Doc. 1 at 4; Doc. 11-3
at 2. On April 25, 2012, Defendant Wells Fargo filed a
state-court eviction action against both Plaintiffs, who were
occupants of the property at that time. See Doc.
11-3 at 2. Plaintiffs argued in that state-court eviction
action that the foreclosure of the property was wrongful, but
the Circuit Court of Randolph County entered judgment in
favor of Defendant Wells Fargo, finding that the foreclosure
sale was proper and that Defendant Wells Fargo was entitled
to immediate possession of the property. See Doc.
11-3 at 7-11. Plaintiff appealed that judgment to the Alabama
Court of Civil Appeals, which affirmed the trial court's
decision without opinion on April 17, 2015. Doc. 7-1 at 5.
Plaintiffs' petition for writ of certiorari to the
Alabama Supreme Court was denied on June 12, 2015.
case, Plaintiffs assert that the October 19th non-judicial
foreclosure sale was conducted “in order to
pressure” Plaintiff Jacob Springer “into signing
a check issued by the Circuit Court of Randolph County [ ] in
another civil action.” Doc. 1 at 4. Plaintiffs also
assert that the foreclosure was wrongful because, although
the property “had not reached foreclosure status[,
]” that evidence was “not presented [prior to the
foreclosure] due to violation of due process.”
Id. Plaintiffs continue that the property was then
seized by the State of Alabama Department of Revenue based
upon a writ issued against Plaintiff Jacob Springer for his
failure to pay individual liability taxes. See id.
Plaintiffs provide two documents from the Alabama Department
of Revenue (“ADR”): (1) a certificate of lien for
taxes issued against Plaintiff Jacob Springer on February 3,
2015, and (2) a writ of garnishment issued against Plaintiff
Jacob Springer on September 25, 2015. Doc. 21-2 at 1-2.
purposes of the motion to dismiss, Plaintiffs'
well-pleaded factual assertions that appear within
Plaintiffs' complaint will be assumed true. The
undersigned is not required to consider the mere legal
conclusions asserted by Plaintiffs for purposes of this
wading into the analysis of the arguments presented by
Defendants within their motions to dismiss Plaintiffs'
complaint, the undersigned will first define the scope of the
claims Plaintiffs present in their complaint. Clearly,
Plaintiffs attempt to allege a due process claim.
See Doc. 1 at 3 (noting that the complaint's
basis for jurisdiction is “Due Process Guarantee in
Amendment V; . . . Amendment XIV”). Plaintiffs also
state that they are bringing a claim pursuant to
“Amendment VII (Jury Trial in Civil Cases).”
See id. However, the undersigned finds no factual
predicate for such a claim. See infra Section III.
Thus, as far as the claims explicitly alleged by Plaintiffs
in the complaint, the undersigned concludes that Plaintiffs
are asserting a claim for a violation of due process only.
claims which may be construed from Plaintiffs' complaint,
the undersigned finds that a liberal construction of the
pleading suggests that Plaintiffs may be attempting to assert
(1) a claim for wrongful foreclosure; (2) a claim for
wrongful ejectment; and (3) a state-law fraud claim. See
generally Doc. 1 at 4.
are two bases for construing a wrongful foreclosure claim
from Plaintiffs' factual assertions. First,
Plaintiffs' complaint states that “[a] foreclosure
proceeding was held at Circuit Court of Randolph County,
Alabama in order to pressure me, Jacob C. Springer, into
signing a check issued by the Circuit Court of Randolph
County, Alabama in another civil action.” Id.
This statement suggests that Plaintiffs may be attempting to
assert that the foreclosure of Plaintiff Jeanetta
Springer's property was wrongful due to coercion or
fraud. Second, Plaintiffs' complaint states that, despite
the fact that Plaintiff Jeanetta Springer's property
“had not reached foreclosure status, ” the
property was foreclosed because evidence showing that the
property was not in delinquent status was not presented
because of a violation of due process. Id. This
statement suggests that Plaintiffs may be attempting to
assert that the foreclosure of the property was wrongful due
to a violation of due process. Accordingly, the undersigned
recommends that a liberal construction of Plaintiffs'
complaint suggests that Plaintiffs are attempting to assert a
claim for wrongful foreclosure.
As to a
claim for wrongful ejectment, Plaintiffs' complaint
states that the property “was siezed [sic] by the State
of Alabama Department of Revenue by issuing a writ to seize
the property for $998.69, even though I (Jacob Springer)
never had an account with Wells Fargo Bank or had any
dealings with them.” Id. The undersigned
concludes that this statement is insufficient, even under
liberal standards, to assert a claim for wrongful ejectment.
This is especially so considering there is no factual support
for the claim within the complaint, nor do the
judicially-noticed facts appearing outside of the complaint
establish such support. As set out further below,
Plaintiffs' argument that the property was seized because
of a personal tax lien against Plaintiff Jacob Springer, who
was not a party to the mortgage of the property makes little