U.S. District Court: Things a Lawyer Should Know

By | February 28, 2016

There are certain obstacles to a lawyer’s efforts to gain the attention of a Federal District Court.

Rooker Feldman Doctrine A lawyer cannot challenge a decision of the State Supreme Court in federal court.  This is the Rooker Feldman Doctrine.  The federal court will not take jurisdiction of a case contesting a final decision of a state court.

The names of the doctrine refer to two cases: Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415-16 (1923), and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983). The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is jurisdictional, see Olson Farms, Inc. v. Barbosa, 134 F.3d 933, 937 (9th Cir.1998), and subject to de novo review. See Garvey v. Roberts, 203 F.3d 580, 587 (9th Cir.2000). Feldman holds that 28 U.S.C. § 1257 prevents federal courts from asserting jurisdiction over final “judicial” determinations by state supreme courts. Id. at 476, 103 S.Ct. 1303. [citations abridged, footnotes omitted, and emphasis and footnote added] 

Canatella v. State of California, 304 F. 3d 843, 849 (9th Circuit 2002).

Supreme Court – Petition for a Writ of Certiorari:  To challenge the Washington Supreme Court decision, the lawyer would have to petition the United States Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari.  The chances of the Supreme Court granting certiorari might be said to be slim.  A grant will only be made if the petition advances an important issue of known general concern and garners the support of four justices.

Younger Abstention Doctrine: The Younger Abstention Doctrine is found in Younger v. Harris, 401 U. S. 37 (1971).  There, the Supreme Court limited the ability of federal courts to enjoin or otherwise to interfere with state judicial proceedings.  The doctrine is used to by the federal court in its abstention from taking jurisdiction in a certain group of cases – where there is an ongoing state case in criminal proceeding, and state civil proceeding which is like a criminal proceeding, a quasi-criminal proceeding.  See also, Sprint Communications, Inc. v. Jacobs, 134 S. Ct. 584, 588 (Supreme Court 2013).

The Younger Abstention Doctrine will keep the lawyer out if the WSBA has commenced a proceeding, whenever that is.  I would say a proceeding has not yet been started until a complaint against the accused lawyer is  served.  Thus, to avoid the abstention doctrine the case should be filed and served after the Review Committee has ordered the “matter” to a hearing and before the complaint against the lawyer is filed.

Article III Standing and Ripeness Requirements:  The District Court’s jurisdiction is set forth in U.S. Const. Art. III.  Instead of abstention, a federal court will prevent the case from coming before the court if Art. III standing is absent.  The case or controversy requirements of standing and ripeness will have to be met.  The Court has found Article III to require that plaintiffs demonstrate injury-in-fact, that the injury in question is fairly traceable to the defendant’s challenged action, and that the injury is one that could be redressed by a favorable decision. Canatella v. State of California,