United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division
SADE BEATON, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
RENT-A-CENTER, INC., Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
A. ROSS, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion To
Remand (Doc. No. 7) and Defendant Rent-A-Center, Inc.'s
Motion to Compel Individual Arbitration and Stay Litigation
(Doc. No. 15). The motions are fully briefed and ready for
December 6, 2017, Plaintiff Myra Williams
("Williams") filed a Class Action Petition styled
Myra Williams v. Rent-A-Center, Inc., No.
1722-CC11893, in the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis,
against Defendant Rent-A-Center ("RAC"). The
petition was later amended to add Sade Beaton
("Beaton") as a named Plaintiff in the
case. (First Amended Class Action Petition
("AC"), Doc. No. 4) RAC is in the business of
leasing household goods such as furniture and appliances;
Plaintiff and the putative class members are current or
former customers of RAC. According to Plaintiffs, RAC
regularly uses court process to collect on lease agreements
it asserts are in default. (AC ¶ 7) In Count I of the
amended petition, Plaintiffs allege that RAC violated the
Missouri Merchandising Practices Act ("MMPA") by
taking default judgments against them in state court without
having obtained personal jurisdiction. Specifically,
Plaintiffs allege the default judgments were based on returns
of service signed by special process servers who were not
appointed by the Court to serve process in accordance with
Missouri law. (AC ¶¶ 8-15, 21-23) In Count II of
the amended petition, Plaintiffs allege that RAC was unjustly
enriched at the expense of Plaintiffs and the putative class
members by the default judgments and monies collected after
those judgments were entered. (AC ¶¶ 56-60)
Plaintiffs seek damages and an order declaring RAC's
prior judgments against them void as a matter of law and
directing RAC to set the judgments aside.
removed the case to this Court on January 5, 2018 based on
diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§
1332, 1441, 1446 and 1453, and the Class Action Fairness Act
("CAFA"), 28 U.S.C. § 1332(d). (Doc. No. 1)
Plaintiffs seek remand on the grounds that the Court lacks
jurisdiction over their claims pursuant to the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine. RAC opposes remand and
moves to compel individual arbitration and stay litigation
or, in the alternative, to dismiss the case without
prejudice, pending the individual arbitrations.
is a jurisdictional doctrine that applies only to cases
brought by "state-court losers complaining of injuries
caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district
court proceedings commenced and inviting district court
review and rejection of those judgments." Heroux v.
Callidus Portfolio Mgmt. Inc. & Messerli & Kramer,
P.A., No. CV 17-5I32(DSD/HB), 2018 WL 2018069, at *2 (D.
Minn. May 1, 2018) (quoting Exxon Mobile Corp. v. Saudi
Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005)); see
also Skit Int'L Ltd. v. DAC Techs. Of Ark.. Inc..
487 F.3d 1154, 1157 (8th Cir. 2007). Under the doctrine,
federal district courts are without jurisdiction to review
state-court judgments or to address federal claims with
allegations that are inextricably intertwined with a
state-court decision. Id. (citing Prince v. Ark.
Bd. of Exam'rs in Psychology, 380 F.3d 337, 340 (8th
Cir. 2004)). A claim is inextricably intertwined if "the
relief requested . . . would effectively reverse the state
court decision or void its ruling." Fielder v.
Credit Acceptance Corp.. 188 F.3d 1031, 1035 (8th Cir.
1999) (citation omitted). The fact that a judgment was
entered on a party's default does not alter the
doctrine's applicability. Id.
Rooker-Feldman originally limited federal-question
jurisdiction, the Supreme Court has recognized the
applicability of the doctrine to cases brought under
diversity jurisdiction. See Exxon, 544 U.S. at
291-92. Diversity proceedings removed to federal court under
CAFA are also within the doctrine's purview. Pounds
v. Portfolio Recovery Assocs.. LLC. No. 1:16CV1395, 2018
WL 1583670, at *2-3 (M.D. N.C. Mar. 28, 2018) (citing
Dell Webb Cmtvs.. Inc. v. Carlson. 817 F.3d 867, 872
(4th Cir.), cert, denied, -U.S.- 137 S.Ct. 567, 196 L.Ed.2d
444 (2016); Bergquist v. Mann Bracken. LLP. 592 F.3d
816, 818 (7th Cir. 2010); Murray v. Midland Funding.
LLC, Civil No. JKB-15-0532, 2015 WL 3874635, at *1, *3-4
(D. Md. June 23, 2015)).
presence or absence of subject matter jurisdiction under
Rooker-Feldman is a threshold issue the Court must
determine before considering the merits of the case. See
Friedman's. Inc. v. Dunlap, 290 F.3d 191, 196 (4th
Cir. 2002) ("Because the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine is jurisdictional, we are obliged to address it
before proceeding further in our analysis."); see
also Stanton v. District of Columbia Court of Appeals.
127 F.3d 72, 75 (D.C. 1997) ("Because it is
jurisdictional, we first consider the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine . . ." (emphasis
added)); Neal v. Wilsoa 112 F.3d 351, 356 (8th Cir.
1997) (explaining that "to the extent that any portion
of [the] complaint survived the jurisdictional bar of the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the district court
correctly ruled that Younger abstention was
urges the Court to bypass Rooker-Feldman
jurisdictional issues and grant its pending motion to stay
and compel arbitration because arbitration is a procedural
rather than a merits-based issue, citing Sinochem Intern.
Co. Ltd. v. Malaysia Intern. Shipping Corp., 549 U.S.
422 (2007) and its progeny. (Doc. No. 24 at 7-9) In
Sinochem. the Supreme Court held that a district
court acted within its discretion to first decide a forum
non conveniens motion before determining whether it had
personal jurisdiction over the defendant, because
"[r]esolving a forum non conveniens motion does
not entail any assumption by the court of substantive
'law-declaring power.'" Id. at 433.
Sinochem did not, however, specifically address the
applicability of Rooker-Feldman and is thus
distinguishable from the instant case.
when the question of jurisdiction "will involve no
arduous inquiry, " the Court should address jurisdiction
first. Id. (quoting Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil
Co., 526 U.S. 574, 587-88 (1999)). Because Plaintiffs
amended petition is "a classic illustration of the cases
covered by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, "
Skit, 487 F.3d at 1157, jurisdiction will not
involve an "arduous inquiry." The Court will,
therefore, determine the threshold question of jurisdiction
by addressing Plaintiffs motion to remand.
courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. Ark. Blue
Cross & Blue Shield v. Little Rock Cardiology Clinic,
P.A., 551 F.3d 812, 816 (8th Cir. 2009). A federal
district court may exercise removal jurisdiction only where
the court would have had original subject-matter jurisdiction
had the action initially been filed there. Krispin v. May
Dep't Stores Co., 218 F.3d 919, 922 (8th Cir. 2000)
(citing 28 U.S.C. § 1441(b)). A party seeking removal
and opposing remand carries the burden of establishing
federal subject-matter jurisdiction by a preponderance of the
evidence. In re Prempro Prods. Liab. Litis., 591
F.3d 613, 620 (8th Cir. 2010). Generally, a court must
resolve all doubts about federal jurisdiction in favor of
remanding the case to state court. In re Prempro,
591 F.3d at 620.
support of their motion to remand this case to state court,
Plaintiffs argue the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction
under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because they are
challenging the validity Of default judgments entered against
them by a Missouri state court. (Doc. No. 8 at 3-5) RAC
responds that Rooker-Feldman does not apply to cases
that raise independent claims of misconduct, separate and
apart from any state court judgment, citing Riehm v.
Engelking. 538 F.3d 952, 965 (8th Cir. 2008) and MSK
EvEs Ltd. v. Wells Fargo Bank. Nat'l. Ass'n, 546
F.3d 533, 539 (8th Cir. 2008). (Doc. No. 24 at 10-12) RAC
argues that Plaintiffs' claims are premised on RAC's
alleged misconduct in ...