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Klimowicz v. Deutsche Bank National Trust Co.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

October 19, 2018

JEANNE M. KLIMOWICZ, Plaintiff, Appellant,
DEUTSCHE BANK NATIONAL TRUST COMPANY, as indenture trustee for New Century Home Equity Loan Trust 2005-1 ET AL., Defendants, Appellees.


          Mark Ellis O'Brien on brief for appellant.

          Shawn M. Masterson and Shapiro Dorry Masterson, LLC on brief for appellees.

          Before Lynch, Selya, and Thompson, Circuit Judges.

          SELYA, Circuit Judge.

         In this appeal, we are asked to revisit a case in which the plaintiff fought tooth and nail in the Massachusetts state courts and lost. Displeased by the result of the state-court proceedings, she repaired to the federal district court and sought to have that court address essentially the same grievances. The district court rejected her importunings, and the plaintiff now appeals. Concluding, as we do, that Supreme Court case law divests federal courts of subject-matter jurisdiction in such circumstances, see D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415-16 (1923), we affirm the district court's order of dismissal.

         In as much as this appeal follows the granting of a motion to dismiss before the filing of any responsive pleading, we draw the relevant facts from the plaintiff's complaint, supplemented by matters of public record and matters susceptible to judicial notice. See Banco Santander de P.R. v. Lopez-Stubbe (In re Colonial Mortg. Bankers Corp.), 324 F.3d 12, 14-15 (1st Cir. 2003). Even though the facts are convoluted and the case has been litigated in one form or another for many years, the controlling legal issue is straightforward. Consequently, a sketch of the relevant events and travel of the case will serve to put the appeal into focus.

         In December of 2004, plaintiff-appellant Jeanne M. Klimowicz executed a mortgage in favor of New Century Mortgage Company (New Century) for real estate that she owned in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. On or about May 24, 2006, the plaintiff filed for protection under the United States Bankruptcy Code. Her filing was converted to a Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceeding. See 11 U.S.C. §§ 701-784. As part of that proceeding, she challenged the validity of the New Century mortgage. This challenge proved futile: the bankruptcy court dismissed it because the plaintiff failed to serve New Century properly.

         One year later, New Century itself filed for bankruptcy. It was liquidated in due course, and the plaintiff's mortgage was assigned to defendant-appellee Deutsche Bank National Trust Company (Deutsche Bank). Thereafter, the plaintiff defaulted on her payment obligations under the mortgage.

         In response to the plaintiff's default, Deutsche Bank petitioned in the Massachusetts Land Court, seeking to foreclose on the mortgaged property. The Land Court entered a final judgment of foreclosure, after which Deutsche Bank proceeded to arrange a foreclosure sale. Deutsche Bank proved to be the highest bidder at the foreclosure sale and became the record owner of the property.

         Deutsche Bank then commenced a summary process action in the Worcester Housing Court, seeking to evict the plaintiff. In turn, the plaintiff filed a counterclaim. Well into the summary process action, the plaintiff introduced a new argument: she moved to amend her counterclaim so as to challenge the validity of the mortgage assignment. This strategy came to naught, as the Housing Court denied her motion.

         Following lengthy motion practice and other skirmishing in the summary process action, the Housing Court - on January 14, 2016 - entered a final judgment awarding possession of the property to Deutsche Bank. The plaintiff appealed, but her appeal was dismissed for failure to post the required bond.

         Roughly five months after the conclusion of the summary process action, the plaintiff sought another bite of the cherry. Invoking diversity jurisdiction, see 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a), she filed a civil action against Deutsche Bank in the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts.[1] In her complaint, the plaintiff alleged claims for wrongful foreclosure, violation of the Massachusetts consumer protection statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, § 9(1), breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. Deutsche Bank moved to dismiss. The district court granted Deutsche Bank's motion, concluding, inter alia, that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine deprived the federal courts of subject-matter jurisdiction. This timely appeal followed.

         "Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co., 511 U.S. 375, 377 (1994). Consequently, a plaintiff who seeks to bring her suit in a federal forum bears the burden of establishing that the federal court has subject-matter jurisdiction. See Gordo-González v. United States, 873 F.3d 32, 35 (1st Cir. 2017). The court below found that the ...

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