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Blessett v. Garcia

United States District Court, S.D. Texas, Galveston Division

August 29, 2019

JOE BLESSETT, Plaintiff,
v.
BEVERLY ANN GARCIA, et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          GEORGE C HANKS JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is Beverly Ann Garcia's (“Garcia”) Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. Dkt. 98. After reviewing the motion, the response, the reply, and the applicable law, the motion is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         Factual Background and Prior Proceedings

         On July 23, 1999, a Galveston County court entered a Final Decree of Divorce between the Plaintiff, Joe Blessett (“Blessett”), and Garcia. Dkt. 31-1. The decree also established Blessett's paternity over a child born during the marriage and ordered him to pay child support payments of $800 each month. Id. at 11. After Blessett consistently defaulted on this child support obligation for sixteen years, the county court entered an order in favor of Garcia confirming child support arrearage in the amount of $131, 923.14. Dkt. 31-2.

         Almost a year later, Garcia used that order to apply for a judicial writ of withholding to garnish Blessett's wages and to place a child support lien on some of Blessett's real property. Dkt. 31-3; Dkt. 31-4. In response, Blessett filed a lawsuit against Garcia to have the child support liens released. Dkt. 31-6. Garcia answered the lawsuit, and then asserted counterclaims of her own for “a cumulative money judgment” and for a declaratory judgment that Blessett did not own any real property that was exempt from foreclosure. Dkt. 31-17. On June 30, 2017, the Galveston County court granted Summary Judgment in favor of Garcia on each of her counterclaims. Dkt. 31-32. Blessett did not file a motion for new trial nor did he appeal the county court's order. Dkt. 31 at 11. Subsequently, Garcia foreclosed on Blessett's property, which was ultimately sold at public auction in partial satisfaction of the child support arrears he owes. Id.

         Since Blessett's property was sold at public auction, he has filed this and several other lawsuits in this Court to collaterally attack the state-court orders that led to the foreclosure of his property.[1] On March 4, 2019, the Court dismissed this suit under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, because the Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to collaterally review state court Judgments. Dkt. 82. Two days later, the Fifth Circuit partially vacated an order dismissing another suit initiated by Blessett on Rooker-Feldman grounds. See Blessett v. Tex. Office of the AG Galveston Cty. Child Support Enf't Div. (Blessett Appellate Decision), 756 Fed.Appx. 445, 446 (5th Cir. 2019). In an abundance of caution, the Court withdrew the order of dismissal that it issued in this case and allowed Blessett an opportunity to amend his complaint consistent with the Fifth Circuit's order in the parallel case. Dkt. 88.

         In his amended complaint, Blessett asserts five separate “counts” of fraud against Garcia.[2] Dkt. 93. Garcia now moves to dismiss Blessett's amended complaint under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1), 12(b)(6), and Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code § 27.003(a). For the reasons stated below, the Court finds that Garcia's motion to dismiss should be granted in part on 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6) grounds.

         Standard of Review

         “[F]ederal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction.” Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan v. Layale Enters. (In re B-727 Aircraft), 272 F.3d 264, 269 (5th Cir. 2001). Thus, a federal district court is required to presume that it does not have the jurisdiction to rule on a matter until “the party asserting jurisdiction” can prove otherwise. Griffith v. Alcon Research, Ltd., 712 Fed.Appx. 406, 408 (5th Cir. 2017) (internal quotation marks omitted). To make its case, the party asserting jurisdiction may direct the Court to look at “(1) the complaint alone; (2) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts evidenced in the record; or (3) the complaint supplemented by undisputed facts plus the court's resolution of disputed facts.” Ramming v. United States, 281 F.3d 158, 161 (5th Cir. 2001). Ultimately, a court cannot dismiss a claim for lack of subject matter jurisdiction unless “it appears certain that [a party] cannot prove any set of facts” in support of its assertion that jurisdiction is appropriate in federal court. Bombardier Aero. Emple. Welfare Benefits Plan v. Ferrer, Poirot & Wansbrough, P.C., 354 F.3d 348, 351 (5th Cir. 2003).

         If a party is successful in establishing that the Court has jurisdiction to hear a dispute, the Court may still dismiss the dispute where the party fails “to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). The Court's task in this inquiry is to determine whether “the plaintiff has stated a legally cognizable claim that is plausible” on its face. Shandong Yinguang Chem. Indus. Joint Stock Co. v. Potter, 607 F.3d 1029, 1032 (5th Cir. 2010). With respect to fraud claims, a Plaintiff must “state with particularity the circumstances constituting the fraud” in order to survive this inquiry. Fed.R.Civ.P. 9(b). This means that a court will dismiss the case unless the plaintiff can adequately plead “the who, what, when, where, and how to be laid out” for a particular fraud allegation. Benchmark Electronics, Inc. v. J.M. Huber Corp., 343 F.3d 719, 724 (5th Cir. 2003). In evaluating a plaintiff's pleadings, the Court will not “strain to find inferences favorable to the plaintiff[], ” nor will it “accept conclusory allegations, unwarranted deductions or legal conclusions.” Barrie v. Intervoice-Brite, Inc., 397 F.3d 249, 254-55 (5th Cir. 2005).

         Analysis

         A. Dismissal on 12(b)(1) grounds

         Garcia asserts that this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over this dispute, because Blessett's complaint asks the Court to “review, modify, or reverse” state court orders, which is expressly prohibited by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Dkt. 98 at 17. The Court agrees and dismisses Blessett's complaint to the extent that it “collaterally attack[s] the state court divorce decree, ” “judgments concerning paternity and child support, ” or the foreclosure order. See Blessett Appellate Decision, 756 Fed.Appx. at 445-446.

         Under federal law, the Supreme Court has exclusive “authority to review a state-court judgment.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 283 (2005); 28 U.S.C.S. § 1257 (2018). Therefore, a federal district court cannot modify or reverse a state court judgment unless Congress authorizes it to do so. Burciaga v. Deutsche Bank Nat'l Tr. Co., 871 F.3d 380, 384 (5th Cir. 2017). Casually referred to as Rooker-Feldman, this doctrine was created to bar “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.” Houston v. Queen, 606 Fed.Appx. 725, 730 (5th Cir. 2015). In Exxon, the Supreme Court explained that this doctrine is triggered by the existence of “four elements: (1) a state-court loser; (2) alleging harm ...


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