United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
J. McConnell, Jr. Judge
Fair Housing ("SouthCoast") filed an application in
accordance with Rhode Island Supreme Court Article II, Rule
11, to practice law in the state of Rhode Island as a
nonprofit organization. ECF No. 11 at 6. The Rhode Island
Supreme Court issued an order denying SouthCoast's
application, because it did not satisfy the requirements
under Rule 11. Id. The Rhode Island Supreme Court
denied the application "without prejudice." ECF No.
14 at 4.
later filed a complaint in this Court alleging that Rule 11,
not the Rhode Island Supreme Court Order denying its
application, is unconstitutional. ECF No. 11. Ms. Saunders
timely moved to dismiss asserting that the Court lacked
subject matter jurisdiction. ECF No. 14. For reasons set forth
below, the Court denies Ms. Saunders' Motion to Dismiss.
Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars jurisdiction "only
in the limited circumstances' where 'the losing party
in state court filed suit in federal court after the state
proceedings ended, complaining of an injury caused by the
state-court judgment and seeking review and rejection of that
judgment.'" Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic
Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 291, (2005). "Deciding
whether Rooker-Feldman bars the plaintiffs'
federal suit therefore requires that we determine what the
state court held and whether the relief that the plaintiffs
requested in their federal action would void the state
court's decision or would require us to determine that
the decision was wrong." Hill v. Town of Con
way, 193 F.3d 33, 39 (1st Cir. 1999)(quoting Snider
v. City of Excelsior Springs, Missouri, 154 F.3d 809,
811-12 (8th Cir. 1998)). "If the constitutional claims
presented to a United States district court are inextricably
intertwined" with the merits of a judgment rendered in
state court, "then the district court is in essence
being called upon to review the state-court decision. This
the district court may not do." Pennzoil Co. v.
Texaco Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 25 (1987); (quoting
District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman,
460 U.S. 462, 483-84 (1983)).
federal claim is inextricably intertwined with, the
state-court judgment if that federal claim succeeds only if
the state court wrongly decided the issue before it.
Hill, 193 F.3d at 39 (citing Pennzoil, 481
U.S. at 25). "Where federal relief can only be
predicated upon a conviction that the state court was wrong,
it is difficult to conceive the federal proceeding as, in
substance, anything other than a prohibited appeal of the
state-court judgment." Id.
however, the federal claim is not inextricably intertwined
with the state-court decision to deny SouthCoast's
application to practice law as a nonprofit in Rhode Island.
Determinative of this decision is Feldman, which
makes clear that the Federal District courts have only
subject matter jurisdiction over narrowly plead claims
stemming from a state-court decision. See Feldman,
460 U.S. 462, 486 (1983). A close reading of Feldman
reveals three distinct challenges stemming from state-court
decisions: (1) a challenge alleging that the state-court
action is unconstitutional; (2) a challenge to review the
state-court decision as wrongly decided; and (3) a challenge
alleging that the rule or statute on which the state court
based its decision is unconstitutional. See Id. Of
these challenges, federal district courts have only subject
matter jurisdiction under the third challenge-allegations
that the rule or statute, itself, is unconstitutional.
See Skinner v. Switzei; 562 U.S. 561, 522 (2011)
(holding that when the plaintiff does not challenge the
adverse decisions and, instead, targets as unconstitutional
the Texas statute the state court authoritatively construed,
the plaintiffs federal claim does not lack subject matter
jurisdiction in the Federal District court. "As the
Court explained in Feldman and reiterated in
Exxon, a state-court decision is not reviewable by
lower federal courts, but a statute or rule governing the
decision may be challenged in a federal action.").
Feldman Court, in determining whether the federal
court had subject matter jurisdiction recited that "a
close reading of the complaints disclosed that the
respondents mounted a general challenge to the
constitutionality of the rule and sought review of
the District of Columbia Court of Appeals' decisions in
their particular cases." Feldman, 460 U.S. 462
close reading of the amended complaint reveals that South
Coast is not seeking a review of the Rhode Island Supreme
Court Order dated September 29, 2017, and, instead is asking
this Court to find Rule 11 unconstitutional. ECF No. 11 at
8-10. The Order that Ms. Saunders alleges is being challenged
in the instant action appears only twice in the amended
complaint. Id. at 6-7. One reference, in paragraph
28, is a purely factual recitation asserting that the Rhode
Island Supreme Court released an Order denying
SouthCoast's application. Id. at 6. The later
paragraph solves any confusion stating that the purpose of
the reference to the Order is to establish standing.
Id. at 7. As such, SouthCoast has properly pleaded a
constitutional challenge to Rule 11 while properly avoiding
this Court's review of the state courts decision.
Court is aware of Ms. Saunders objection to SouthCoast
amending its complaint to get around the
Rookei-Feldman challenge. But "[i]t is clear
beyond hope of contradiction that the Civil Rules permit a
party to amend its complaint 'once as a matter of
course"' within 21 days after service of a motion
under Rule 12(b). Connectu, LLC v. Zuckerberg, 522
F.3d 82, 90 (1st Cir. 2008) (quoting Fed R. Civ. P. 15(a)).
An amended complaint, once filed, supersedes the original
complaint and the facts that are neither repeated nor
otherwise incorporated into the amended complaint no longer
bind the pleader. Id., (citing InterGen N. V. v.
Grina, 344 F.3d 134, 145 (1st Cir. 2003)). As here,
SouthCoast amended its complaint as a matter of right and the
Civil Rules operate mechanically. "In that event, the
absence of federal subject matter jurisdiction in the
original complaint will pose no obstacle to the consideration
of an amended complaint." Id., at 96.
reasons stated above, Ms. Saunders' Motion to Dismiss is
 SouthCoast filed the original
complaint and Ms. Saunders moved to dismiss invoking
Rooker-Feldman. In response to the motion to
dismiss, SouthCoast filed its amended complaint.
 Ms. Saunders, in her reply memorandum,
withdrew her other challenges considering the Courts pending
decision on whether it has subject matter jurisdiction to
hear this claim. The Court therefore need not decide the
issue of res judicata or if ...