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Maria Rivera Barragan v. Juan Morales; Josefina Morales; and Peter Brazil


February 16, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Howard R. Lloyd United States Magistrate Judge

E-filed February 16, 2012



Pre so plaintiff Maria Rivera Barragan brings suit against defendants Juan Morales, Josefina Morales, and Peter Brazil (collectively, "defendants") alleging forgery, fraud, misrepresentation, 19 and conspiracy in connection with the transfer of real property that both Barragan and the Moraleses 20 claim to own. Dkt. No. 1 ("Complaint"). Barragan seeks money damages from all defendants and 21 urges the California State Bar to investigate attorney Brazil for his allegedly improper behavior in a 22 related state court action. Id. Finally, she also alleges that the Monterey County Superior Court, 23 which has not been named in this lawsuit, deprived her of her right to a fair hearing when it entered 24 a default judgment against her. Id. at 3. 25

Barragan filed her complaint as a removal action, but, in reality, it is an original complaint.*fn1

While the complaint does not clearly articulate her claims, she seeks, in essence, a refund of the money she paid the Moraleses for the subject property, and a reversal of a default judgment that the 2 state court entered against her.*fn2

The defendants have been served, but have not appeared in this action. Barragan requested 4 entry of default against the defendants, which the Clerk of the Court entered on December 20, 2011.

Dkt. Nos. 12-14. Barragan then moved for entry of default judgment against the defendants, and 6 also moved for summary judgment. Dkt. Nos. 15-18. Barragan has consented to the undersigned's 7 jurisdiction. Defendants have not opposed the motions. The court deemed these motions suitable for 8 determination without oral argument, and vacated the January 31, 2012 hearing.

116 S. Ct. 494, 133 L. Ed. 2d 461 (1995) (Ginsburg, J., concurring) ("[o]f course, every federal 14 court, whether trial or appellate, is obliged to notice want of subject matter jurisdiction on its own 15 motion"). If the court determines that it does not have subject-matter jurisdiction, it must dismiss 16 the claim. FED. R. CIV. P. 12(h)(3). A lack of jurisdiction is presumed unless the party asserting 17 jurisdiction establishes that it exists. Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 377 18

Federal courts have original jurisdiction over civil actions "arising under the Constitution, 20 laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. A claim "arises under" federal law if, 21 based on the "well-pleaded complaint rule," the plaintiff alleges a federal cause of action. Vaden v. Discovery Bank, 129 S. Ct. 1262, 1272 (2009). The federal district courts have no jurisdiction to 23 review state-court judgments rendered before district court proceedings commenced. This is known 24 as the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 291 25



Even if no party challenges subject matter jurisdiction, the court has a duty to raise the issue sua sponte whenever it is perceived. Things Remembered, Inc. v. Petrarca, 516 U.S. 124, 132 n.1, 13 (1994). Because plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the court liberally construes her complaint. Id. 19 (2005); see also Noel v. Hall, 341 F.3d 1148, 1163 (9th Cir. 2003). "If a federal plaintiff asserts as a legal wrong an allegedly erroneous decision by a state court, and seeks relief from a state court 2 judgment based on that decision, Rooker-Feldman bars subject matter jurisdiction in federal district 3 court." Noel, 341 F.3d at 1164. The court must consider the relief sought by the federal court 4 plaintiff-a claim that seeks the "undoing" of a prior state court judgment is "clearly barred" by the 5 doctrine. Bianchi v. Rylaarsdam, 334 F.3d 895, 900 (9th Cir. 2003).

Barragan makes only one allegation in her complaint that can be construed as attempting to 8 state a claim arising under federal law. In relevant part, the complaint states that "the Monterey


County Superior Court deprived plaintiff of the constitutional rights to a fair hearing . . . when the 10 defendants Morales and their attorney acquired a default judgment under false pretenses."

Complaint at 3. Barragan later filed a document entitled "Request for the court to review the consent to proceed before a United States Magistrate Judge," in which she requests that the court "issue[] an 13 immediate order to the Monterey County of Recorders and the Monterey County Superior Court . . . 14 to remove all the illegally or misrepresented [liens] for recordations [sic] by the defendants." Dkt. 15

This court has not had the opportunity to review the pleadings filed in the state court action.

However, from Barragan's federal complaint and the few state-court orders she had provided, this 18 court concludes that the state-court plaintiffs, the Moraleses, represented by Brazil, sought 19 reformation of a deed of trust on the subject property and an equitable lien on that property. See 20

Complaint, Exh. 11. Barragan failed to timely appear in the state court action and the Moraleses 21 obtained a default judgment. Complaint, Exh. 15. Barragan now seeks to have this court order the 22 state court to remove the lien imposed by the default judgment. This attempt to obtain federal court 23 review and reversal of an unfavorable state court judgment is precisely the sort of complaint 24 prohibited by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See Exxon Mobil Corp., 544 U.S. at 283-284. 25

Court, not against any of the defendants named in this suit. Even if the claim were one this court had 27 the power to adjudicate, the entity at whom it is directed is not a party to this action.

No. 25, p.2. 16

Additionally, Barragan's purported federal claim is aimed at the Monterey County Superior

Finally, this court also lacks jurisdiction based on diversity. Federal subject-matter 2 jurisdiction based on diversity requires complete diversity of citizenship and an amount in 3 controversy in excess of $75,000. 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Here, plaintiff does seek damages in excess 4 of $75,000, but, as best the court can discern from the complaint, all parties are California citizens. 5

Therefore, as there is no diversity of citizenship, subject matter jurisdiction founded on diversity is 6 also lacking. 7

Plaintiff also attempts to state claims for relief under state law. As this court lacks 8 jurisdiction to hear her only federal claim, it declines to consider the state law claims. 9

Accordingly, the court must dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

Because Barragan's only attempt at a federal claim runs afoul of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the court finds that she would be unable to establish subject matter jurisdiction even if she were given the opportunity to amend the complaint. Although Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15(a) requires 13 that leave to amend be freely given when justice so requires, if it is clear the court lacks subject 14 matter jurisdiction and amendment could not cure the problem, the court must dismiss the case in its 15 entirety. Carvalho v. Equifax Info. Servs., L.L.C., 629 F.3d 876, 892-93 (9th Cir. 2010). 16 Amendment here would be futile, because Barragan's complaint states no claim that, if amended, 17 could provide this court with subject matter jurisdiction and would not be barred under the Rooker- Feldman doctrine. Therefore, the complaint is DISMISSED without leave to amend.


Barragan has moved for default judgment against all three defendants, as well as for 21 summary judgment. As there is no subject matter jurisdiction over this action, the court cannot 22 provide the relief sought. Accordingly, all pending motions are DENIED as MOOT.


C11-05463 HRL Notice will be electronically mailed to:

Theodore Cominos 3 Notice will be mailed to: 4 Maria Rivera Barragan Post Office Box 6006 5 Salinas, CA 93912 6 Counsel are responsible for distributing copies of this document to co-counsel who have not registered for e-filing under the court's CM/ECF program.

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