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Hatton v. Justices of The Oklahoma Supreme Court

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

April 1, 2019




         Now before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. (Dkt. Nos. 13, 15.[1]) Plaintiff filed a response (Dkt. No. 16), and Defendants did not file a reply. The motion is now at issue.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff is currently involved in a lawsuit in Oklahoma state court. Specifically, Plaintiff was sued in Garvin County over allegedly unpaid mortgage payments. See Embrace Home Loans v. Hatton, No. CJ-2017-97 (Garvin County, Okla.). After summary judgment was entered against him, he appealed his case to the Oklahoma Supreme Court. See Embrace Home Loans v. Hatton, No. S.D. 117581 (Okla. 2018.) That court then designated his case as an accelerated appeal under Oklahoma Supreme Court Rule 1.36-which governs the appellate procedure for summary judgments and certain other specified dismissals. See Id.; See also 12 Okla. Stat. Rule 1.36. This rule involves many provisions, but the most relevant for this case is Rule 1.36(g), which prevents parties from filing appellate briefs “[u]nless otherwise ordered by the appellate court, ” and requires a party to file a motion for leave to submit an appellate brief. 12 Okla. Stat. Rule 1.36.

         Plaintiff's state court appeal is ongoing, and is currently stayed until the resolution of this case. See Hatton, No. S.D. 117581 (Order Dated January 30, 2019.) To date, Plaintiff has not attempted to move the Oklahoma Supreme Court to grant him leave to submit an appellate brief. See generally Hatton, No. S.D. 117581. Nonetheless, he brought this action against the justices of the Oklahoma Supreme Court as well as the judges of the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals-all in their official[2] capacities-seeking (1) a declaration that Rule 1.36 is unconstitutional, and (2) an injunction barring Defendants from enforcing the rule against him. (Pl.'s Compl., Dkt. No. 1, p. 1, 69-73.) Defendants have moved to dismiss his claims, maintaining that Plaintiff is not entitled to the injunctive or declaratory relief he seeks. See (Dkt. No. 15.)

         II. Standard

         The standard for consideration of motions to dismiss brought pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) is set forth in the Supreme Court's decision in Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and the subsequent decision in Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009). In those cases, the Supreme Court made clear that to survive a motion to dismiss, a pleading must contain enough allegations of fact which, taken as true, “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570. Plaintiffs must “nudge[] their claims across the line from conceivable to plausible” to survive a motion to dismiss. Id. Thus, the starting point in resolving the Motion is to examine the factual allegations supporting each claim that Defendant wishes the Court to dismiss. The Court will accept all well-pleaded factual allegations in the Complaint as true and construe them in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Peterson v. Grisham, 594 F.3d 723, 727 (10th Cir. 2010). However, conclusory allegations need not be accepted as true. Kansas Penn Gaming, LLC v. Collins, 656 F.3d 1210, 1214 (10th Cir. 2011).

         III. Discussion

         a. Injunctive Relief

         Plaintiff first seeks injunctive relief against Defendants. But his claims may be invalid under the Anti-Injunction Act (the “Act”), which provides that:

A court of the United States may not grant an injunction to stay proceedings in a State court except as expressly authorized by Act of Congress, or where necessary in aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments.

28 U.S.C. § 2283.

         The Act was conceived out of “respect for state courts.” Smith v. Bayer Corp., 564 U.S. 299 (2011). Thus, the Act broadly requires that state courts “shall remain free from interference by federal courts.” Atlantic Coast Line R. Co. v. Locomotive Engineers, 398 U.S. 281, 282, (1970). As laid out above, however, that principle is subject to “three specifically defined exceptions.” Id. at 286. But those exceptions are narrow-they are “not [to] be enlarged by loose statutory construction.” Chick Kam Choo v. Exxon Corp., 486 U.S. 140, 146 (1988) (alteration in original). Therefore, “[a]ny doubts as to the propriety of a federal injunction against state court proceedings should be resolved in favor of permitting the state courts to proceed.” Atlantic Coast Line, 398 U.S. at 297.

         Here, Plaintiff has not identified any applicable exceptions to the rule that a federal court may not enjoin state court proceedings. Regardless, however, the Court finds that none of these exceptions apply in this case. Accordingly, the ...

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