United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Southern Division
JOHN L. DUNNING, Plaintiff,
STATE OF ALABAMA and TITLEMAX, Inc., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
H. ENGLAND, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
John L. Dunning (“Dunning”) brings this action
against Defendants the State of Alabama (“the
State” or “Alabama”) and TitleMax, Inc.
(“TitleMax”) alleging that the State criminal
court is precluded from proceeding with a criminal case
against him because a contract between him and TitleMax
contained an arbitration clause. (Doc. 3 at 4-5). Dunning
requests this Court review his case and dismiss the state
criminal charges pending against him. (Id. at 7).
Both Defendants have filed motions to dismiss (docs. 6 &
11), which are fully briefed and ripe for review. (Docs. 14,
18, & 22). For the reasons stated below, the motions to
dismiss (docs. 6 & 11) , are due to be
and Dunning entered into a pawn transaction, with
Dunning's Ford truck as collateral for a loan. (Doc. 3 at
2). When Dunning missed payments, TitleMax attempted to
repossess the Ford truck by sending a tow truck with a driver
and a spotter. (Id.). During the repossession
process, Dunning tried to loosen the towing straps, and the
"tow truck driver came up behind Dunning and tried to
choke him with those same straps." (Id. at 3).
Dunning then jumped into the tow truck and tried to drive it
away with his Ford truck "dangling behind."
(Id). During this time, the spotter called the
Bessemer Police Department. (Id.). Dunning was later
subject to criminal prosecution for his actions during the
Standard of Review
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2), a pleading must
contain "a short and plain statement of the claim
showing the pleader is entitled to relief." "[T]he
pleading standard Rule 8 announces does not require
'detailed factual allegations,' but it demands more
than an unadorned, the-defendant-unlawfully-harmed-me
accusation." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678 (2009) (citing Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550
U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). Mere "labels and
conclusions" or" a formulaic recitation of the
elements of a cause of action" are insufficient.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. (citations and internal
quotation marks omitted). "Nor does a complaint suffice
if it tenders 'naked assertion[s]' devoid
of'further factual enhancement." Id.
(citing BellAtl. Corp., 550 U.S. at 557).
12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., permits dismissal when a complaint
fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
"To survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must
contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state
a claim to relief that is plausible on its face."
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citations and internal
quotation marks omitted). A complaint states a facially
plausible claim for relief "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. (citation omitted). The complaint
must establish "more than a sheer possibility that a
defendant has acted unlawfully." Id.; see also Bell
Ail. Corp., 550 U.S. at 555 ("Factual allegations
must be enough to raise a right to relief above the
speculative level."). Ultimately, this inquiry is a
"context-specific task that requires the reviewing court
to draw on its judicial experience and common sense."
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679.
asserts he should not be criminally prosecuted for his
actions because he entered into a contract with Title Max
containing an arbitration agreement, and any such claims
against him should have been addressed through arbitration.
(See docs. 3 & 14). Dunning requests that this
Court intervene to review the matter and have the state
criminal charges dismissed. (Id.) Dunning's
position is misguided for several reasons.
the Rooker-Feldmen and Younger Abstention
Doctrines preclude Dunning from seeking a remedy in this
Court at this time. The Rooker-Feldman Abstention
Doctrine precludes a party from receiving “what in
substance would be appellate review of the state judgment in
a United States district court, based on the losing
party's claim that the state judgment itself violates the
loser's federal rights.” Johnson v. De
Grandy, 512 U.S. 997, 1005-06 (1994). The Supreme Court
has said that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is
confined to “cases brought by state-court losers
complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments
rendered before the federal district court proceedings
commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of
those judgments.” Exxon Mobile Corp. v. Saudi Basic
Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 281 (2005).
Dunning's complaint meets the criteria set out by the
Supreme Court. Dunning lost his appeals to the Alabama
Supreme Court and Court of Criminal Appeals and is now in
federal court seeking a remedy for his injuries caused by the
state-court judgments, which were rendered before the federal
district court proceedings were commenced, and he is seeking
the review and rejection of those judgments.
Younger Abstention Doctrine also applies. In
Younger v. Harris, the Supreme Court recognized the
general principle expressed by Congress over the years that
federal courts should refrain from interfering with state
court proceedings. 401 U.S. 37, 43 (1971). One basis of the
principle noted by the Court was the doctrine of equity
jurisprudence wherein “courts of equity should not act,
and particularly should not act to restrain a criminal
prosecution, when the moving party has an adequate remedy at
law and will not suffer irreparable injury if denied
equitable relief.” Id. at 43-44. The Supreme
Court went on to say that “the cost, anxiety, and
inconvenience of having to defend against a single criminal
prosecution, could not by themselves be considered
‘irreparable' in the special legal sense of that
term.” Id. at 46. Therefore, the fact that
Dunning faces a criminal prosecution does not overcome the
general principle expressed in Younger that federal
courts should not restrain state criminal prosecutions.
Therefore, the Younger Abstention Doctrine bars the
Court from taking action in this case.
without application of these doctrine, this action would be
dismissed. The action would be dismissed as to defendant
TitleMax because none of the actions complained of are
attributable to TitleMax. Notably, although Dunning does not
allege a specific cause of action, to the extent he alleges
he has been harmed by the State's failure to submit the
criminal charges against him to arbitration, those
allegations are directed toward the State. TitleMax could not
be held liable for the actions (or inactions) of the State,
which decided to criminally charge him for his alleged
there is no law to support Dunning's argument that the
arbitration agreement required the State to pursue its
criminal charges through arbitration. The arbitration
agreement is a private contract that governs disputes between
the parties relating to “all claims based upon a
violation of any state or federal constitution, statute or
regulation.” (Doc. 11-1). The arbitration agreement
does not address or govern criminal charges brought by the
State, which is not a party to the agreement. Two private
parties cannot negotiate away the public's interest in
public criminal prosecutions or the State's prosecutorial
reliance on Title Loans, Inc. v. White, 80 So.3d 887
(Ala. 2011) is misplaced. (See doc. 14 at 6).
Alabama Title Loans involved a civil law suit
brought by an individual against her former creditor, Alabama
Title Loans, for assault and battery, negligence, wantonness,
trespass, wrongful repossession, and conversion. Id.
at 890. Alabama Title Loans moved to compel arbitration based
on the arbitration agreements included in the title-loan
documents the plaintiff had signed. Id. The trial
court denied the motion to compel arbitration without making
any findings of fact. Id. at 891. The Supreme Court
of Alabama held that the trial court should have granted the
motion to compel arbitration based on the broadly-worded
arbitration clause in the title-loan agreements. Id.
at 894. Contrary to Dunning's assertion, Alabama
Title Loans only addresses arbitration of a civil claim
between the parties to an arbitration agreement. At
no point did the court consider whether a criminal defendant