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Crawley v. City of Oakland

United States District Court, N.D. California

November 18, 2019




         Plaintiff Marcus Crawley has filed suit against the City of Oakland (“City”).[1] Currently pending before the Court is the City's motion to dismiss and Mr. Crawley's related motion to strike. Having considered the parties' briefs and accompanying submissions, the Court finds the motions suitable for disposition without oral argument and thus VACATES the hearing on the motion. The Court hereby GRANTS the motion to dismiss and DENIES in part the motion to strike.


         Although the complaint is not a model of clarity, Mr. Crawley has, in his opposition to the pending motion to dismiss, given further details explaining the basis of his lawsuit. Taken together, the complaint and opposition brief indicate as follows: (1) in November 2016, the City voters passed a bond measure known as Measure KK; (2) Mr. Crawley sued the City in state court challenging Measure KK but, ultimately, was not successful in that litigation, including through the appeals process; (3) his current lawsuit - in federal court - is predicated on the claim that the state courts (both superior and appellate) failed to address a specific argument he made before them regarding the measure and therefore the state courts deprived him of his due process rights. See, e.g., Compl. at 4 (“The [Measure] KK Cause of Action has not received a due process hearing.”); Opp'n at 4 (“The Court Order SKIPPED the Decision on Petition's First Cause of Action.”); Opp'n at 11 (“The state Court Order/Judgement failed to decide . . . the issue . . . .”).


         The City initially moved to dismiss Mr. Crawley's complaint on two grounds: (1) the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and (2) res judicata. After Mr. Crawley filed his opposition and clarified the basis of his complaint, the City narrowed its argument in favor of dismissal to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.[2]

         The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is based on Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923), and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983). “[T]he Rooker-Feldman doctrine . . ., in general terms, prevents ‘a party losing in state court . . . from seeking what in substance would be appellate review of the state judgment in a United States district court.'” Henrichs v. Valley View Dev., 474 F.3d 609, 611 (9th Cir. 2007).

Essentially, the doctrine bars “state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced” from asking district courts to review and reject those judgments. Absent express statutory authorization, only the Supreme Court has jurisdiction to reverse or modify a state court judgment. The clearest case for dismissal based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine occurs when “a federal plaintiff asserts as a legal wrong an allegedly erroneous decision by a state court, and seeks relief from a state court judgment based on that decision . . . .”

Id. at 613.

         Because it was invoking the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the City asked the Court to take judicial notice of the state court rulings that had been issued, both superior and appellate. When Mr. Crawley filed his opposition to the City's motion, he did not object to the request for judicial notice or otherwise contest the admissibility of the state court decisions. However, after the City filed its reply, in which it narrowed its focus to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, Mr. Crawley filed the pending motion to strike, in which he argues, inter alia, that the Court cannot consider the (unpublished) California Court of Appeal's decision on his state court petition.

         This motion to strike is denied. Contrary to what Mr. Crawley argues, the state court decision is not irrelevant. Mr. Crawley is challenging the state courts' actions, claiming a failure to rule on an issue that he raised with the courts. Therefore, the Court must necessarily understand what the state court rulings were. In addition, the City has raised a Rooker-Feldman defense. Thus, again, the Court must necessarily understand what the state court rulings were. Cf. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b) (providing that “[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense”).

         Mr. Crawley also contends that the state court decision is hearsay. But hearsay is defined as an out-of-court statement that “a party offers in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted in the statement.” Fed.R.Evid. 801(c)(2) (emphasis added). Here, the City is not asking the Court to accept the truth of the matters asserted in the state court decision (e.g., the correctness of the state court's analysis). Rather, the City is simply asking the Court to consider what the state court held, regardless of whether that holding was correct. Cf. Reyn's Pasta Bella, LLC v. Visa USA, Inc., 442 F.3d 741, 746 n.6 (9th Cir. 2006) (taking judicial notice of briefs and a hearing transcript filed in another lawsuit “[t]o determine what issues were actually litigated” in that lawsuit). Compare Bertuglia v. City of N.Y., 133 F.Supp.3d 608, 631 n.14 (S.D.N.Y. 2015) (stating that, “[b]ecause Judge Zweibel's opinions are hearsay and no hearsay exception applies, the opinions are inadmissible on this motion for the truth of whether there was sufficient probable cause for the first or second indictments” and “whether there was prosecutorial misconduct”; but “the decisions are admissible . . . for the fact that the prosecution terminated in favor of the plaintiffs”). The Court therefore may consider the state appellate court order (as well as the state superior court order). The record before the Court thus reflects as follows.

         Mr. Crawley initiated his state court action - a petition for a writ of mandamus - in February 2017. See Cal. AG RJN, Ex. 1 (petition). In his petition, he asserted several causes of action against, inter alia, the City. (The California Attorney General was named as a real party in interest.)

         In the first cause of action, Mr. Crawley claimed that Measure KK violated the California Constitution because:

• the California Constitution “guarantees property owners the right to vote on all property taxes, ” Cal. AG RJN, Ex. 1 (Pet. ¶ 21); see also Cal. Const. art. 13C, § 2(c) (providing that “[n]o local government may impose, extend, or increase any special tax unless and until that ...

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