Adams Outdoor Advertisingv.City of East Lansing

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United States District Court, W.D. Michigan, Southern DivisionApr 16, 2001
Case No. 5:00-CV-119 (W.D. Mich. Apr. 16, 2001)

Case No. 5:00-CV-119

April 16, 2001


This matter is before the Court on Defendant's, City of East Lansing, Motion for Summary Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. Defendant seeks summary judgment against Adams Outdoor Advertising ("Adams") only. Defendant claims that Adams cannot maintain its suit because the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars it. The Court grants Defendant's Motion.

Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923) and Dist. of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983).


On October 7, 1975, Defendant enacted Sign Ordinance No. 382. This Ordinance regulated signs and billboards throughout East Lansing. Section 8.39(2) of the Ordinance provided that all signs and billboard must conform to the Ordinance or be removed by May 1, 1987, eight years from the Ordinance's effective date. This deadline was extended twice, thereby providing 12 years within which to comply with the Ordinance.

Adams owns rooftop billboards including two billboards on property it leases from the other Plaintiffs, David H. Krause and JLN of Mid Michigan. The current lease for one billboard was executed in 1996, for a ten-year term. The current lease for the other billboard was executed in 1998, for a five-year term. Although these billboards were lawful when erected, Defendant's 1975 Sign Ordinance prohibited them.

Defendant bases its argument on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which is not applicable to parties that did not participate in state court proceedings. See United States v. Owens, 54 F.2d 271, 273 (6th Cir. 1995). Therefore, Defendant is seeking summary judgment against Adams only because the other two Plaintiffs did not participate in the state court proceedings.

On February 27, 1987, Defendant notified Adams that it must remove its non-conforming billboards by May 1, 1987. Adams sought a variance, which Defendant denied. No other intra-city administrative remedies are available to Adams, and Defendant's denial of Adams' application for a variance was final.

On August 21, 1987, Adams filed a suit against Defendant in state court, seeking to declare the Defendant's Sign Ordinance unconstitutional as applied to rooftop billboards. In its petition in state court, Adams claimed that Defendant violated its right to due process of law and took its property without just compensation in violation of both the Michigan and Federal Constitutions.

The trial court initially granted Adams' motion for summary judgment, finding that Defendant's Sign Ordinance violated Michigan law. Through appeals, the Michigan Supreme Court reversed and remanded for consideration of "whether the enforcement of the sign code against nonconforming signs would be an unconstitutional taking." Adams Outdoor Advertising v. City of East Lansing, 439 Mich. 209, 219 (1992).

On December 9, 1996, trial was held on this matter. Adams presented two witnesses. One witness testified regarding the history of billboards in East Lansing, and the other witness testified about the value of the individual billboards. The trial court determined that Defendant's Sign Ordinance was unconstitutional and ordered that Defendant would be required to pay Adams should Defendant remove the billboards.

This decision was appealed. The Michigan Supreme Court reversed the lower courts and held that Adams' interest in the leasehold was derivative of the lessors' interest, and the lessors had no cognizable claim. Adams Outdoor Advertising v. City of East Lansing, 463 Mich. 17 (2000). Adams has since filed a petition for writ of certiorari before the United States Supreme Court.

Adams has also filed the instant lawsuit, seeking a reversal of the Michigan Supreme Court's decision. On January 29, 2001, Defendant filed its Motion for Summary Judgment.


Rule 56

In reviewing a motion for summary judgment, this Court will only consider the narrow question of whether there are "genuine issues as to any material fact and [whether] the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). A motion for summary judgment requires that the Court view the "`inferences to be drawn from the underlying facts . . . in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.'" Matsushita Elec. Ind Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986) (quoting United States v. Diebold, Inc., 369 U.S. 654, 655 (1962)). The opponent, however, has the burden of showing that a "rational trier of fact [could] find for the non-moving party [or] that there is a `genuine issue for trial.'" Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 587. "The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of plaintiff's position[, however,] will be insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 252 (1986).


Defendant claims it is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine because Adams has thoroughly litigated its claims in state court, and a Rule 56 motion for summary judgment is appropriate if the grounds are based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See Patmon v. Michigan Supreme Court, 224 F.3d 504 (6th Cir. 2000).

The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine stands for the proposition that constitutional issues arising and litigated in state court cannot thereafter become the subject of an original lawsuit in federal courts. See United States v. Owens, 54 F.3d 271, 275 (6th Cir. 1995).

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is derived from two lawsuits. The first is Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923), in which the plaintiff filed suit in federal court to have a judgment of an Indiana state court declared null and void and to obtain other relief dependent upon that outcome. See Rooker, 263 U.S. at 414. In that case, the plaintiff claimed that the constitutional issues first litigated in state court were decided contrary to the United States Constitution. See id. at 415. The district court held it was without jurisdiction, and the plaintiff appealed directly to the United States Supreme Court. See id.

The Supreme Court affirmed and upheld the dismissal for lack of jurisdiction. The Supreme Court stated that if the constitutional questions actually arose in the cause in the state court, it was the state court's "province and duty" to decide them. See id. The Court further opined that if the state court's decision was incorrect, the judgment was not void but open to reversal or modification in an appellate proceeding. See id. If the state court's decision was not reversed or modified, it was an effective and conclusive adjudication, and "no court of the United States other than [the Supreme Court] could entertain a proceeding to reverse or modify the judgment for [those] errors." Id.

Entertaining such a proceeding would be an exercise of appellate jurisdiction, and the federal district courts possess only original jurisdiction. See Rooker, 263 U.S. at 416.

In the second case, Dist. of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983), the issue was whether bar admission by the highest court of the District of Columbia could be challenged on constitutional grounds in federal district court. Feldman, 460 U.S. at 463. The Court held that the federal district court was "without authority to review final determinations of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in judicial proceedings." Id. at 476. In Feldman, however, the plaintiffs also challenged the general constitutional validity of the District of Columbia's bar admission waiver rules, and this added another layer of analysis to the Rooker decision. Id. at 468, 472. The Feldman Court concluded that the federal plaintiffs could not bring to federal district court a claim that was "inextricably intertwined" with the state court decision, but they could bring their "general attack" on the bar rules' validity. Id. at 486-87.

Combined, these two cases bar federal issues actually raised in state courts, and those "inextricably intertwined" issued that could have been raised there. An exception to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does exist if a party did not have a reasonable opportunity to raise its federal claim before the state court. Agripost Inc. v. Miami-Dade County, 195 F.3d 1225 (11th Cir. 1999).

The Sixth Circuit applied the Rooker-Feldman doctrine in Patmon v. Michigan Supreme Court, 224 F.3d 504 (2000). In Patmon, the Sixth Circuit reasoned that if a plaintiff s constitutional claims are "inextricably intertwined" with the state judicial determination of his case, a review of the constitutional claims would require review of the state court proceedings and violate the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Patmon, 224 F.3d at 509-10. The Sixth Circuit also noted that the plaintiff's requested relief of an injunction and monetary damages would require the federal district court to review a prior state judicial determination. See id. at 510. The Sixth Circuit also addressed the Rooker-Feldman doctrine in United States v. Owens, 54 F.3d 271 (6th Cir. 1995). In Owens, the Sixth Circuit stated that "[a] party raising a federal question must appeal a state court decision through the state system and then directly to the Supreme Court of the United States." Id. at 274.

This case involves a section 1983 case. The Sixth Circuit has applied the Rooker-Feldman doctrine in this situation as well. In Wabeke v. Mulder, 1996 WL 571302 (6th Cir. Oct.4, 1996), a Michigan litigant appealed a district court order dismissing his civil rights claim. The Wabeke court held that federal courts lacked jurisdiction to engage in appellate review of state court determinations. Wabeke, 1996 WL 571302 at * 1 (citations omitted). The Wabeke court further held that a party raising a federal question must appeal a state court's decision through that state's system and then directly to the Supreme Court of the United States. Id. (citing Feldman, 460 U.S. at 476.)

Adams' Argument

Adams' claims that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine does not apply because it was required to exhaust its administrative remedies and use the state's judicial procedures before it could bring its Fifth Amendment takings claim in federal court. Adams' bases this argument on Williamson County Planning Comm'n v. Hamilton Bank., 473 U.S. 172 (1985).

In Williamson, the Supreme Court held that a party could not bring a Fifth Amendment takings claim in federal court if that party had not "obtained a final decision regarding application of the zoning ordinance . . ." or "sought compensation through the procedures the state has provided for doing so." Williamson, 473 U.S. at 186, 194. The Supreme Court also held that a party does not suffer a Fifth Amendment takings violation until it has unsuccessfully tried to obtain just compensation through a state's procedures. Williamson, 473 U.S. at 195.

The Sixth Circuit applied Williamson in Bigelow v. Dep't of Natural Res., 970 F.2d 154 (6th Cir. 1992), and held that a takings claim was not ripe for federal court review because the plaintiffs had failed to file an inverse condemnation action in the Michigan courts despite the availability of this remedy. Bigelow, 970 F.2d at 158.

Adams' First Amended Petition in the state courts sought a declaration that Defendant's ordinance resulted in an unconstitutional taking of Adams' property. In addition, Defendant has admitted that it made a final decision regarding the application of its ordinance to Adams' rooftop billboards. Therefore, Adams' argues, it has satisfied Williamson, and Williamson must be an exception to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Adams' is unaware of, and the Court's research does not reveal, any published opinion by the United States Supreme Court or Sixth Circuit addressing this issue.

The Court disagrees with Adams' argument. The Williamson case does require a party to either obtain a final decision regarding a zoning ordinance's application or seek compensation through that state's specific procedures. Until a party does so, that party's taking claim is not ripe and cannot be brought in federal court. Williamson, however, does not state that a party may escape the limits of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine when pursuing a takings claim simply by following Williamson's mandates. That is, availing oneself of state remedies does not automatically give one the right to litigate the same issues in federal district court. In addition, Bigelow differs factually from the case at bar. In Bigelow, the plaintiff never availed itself of state remedies, and therefore never had a full trial on the takings issue. In this case, Adams did receive a full trial in state court, and Adams presented its state and federal issues in state court.

This Court will not alter the Rooker-Feldman doctrine based on this case where Adams has, for approximately 13 years, litigated in state court the issues that it now wishes to litigate in federal court. One recognized exception to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, albeit by the Eleventh Circuit, exists when a party had no reasonable opportunity to raise its federal claim for just compensation in the state courts. Agripost Inc. v. Miami-Dade County, 195 F.3d 1225 (11th Cir. 1999). Even that exception does not apply to this case. Here, Adams had every opportunity to raise its federal questions in state court, and it did so. Even if Adams had not done so, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine would bar its case from federal district court because every federal issue in its First Amended Complaint could have been raised in state court as the state and federal issues here are "inextricably intertwined." Furthermore, this Court's decision does not leave Adams without remedy. Adams may file a writ of certiorari to the United States Supreme Court and has done so.

Adams further argues that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is inapplicable because Adams is challenging the constitutionality of the Ordinance's plain language. In support of this argument, Adams argues that it is not asking the Court to overturn a Michigan state court decision.

While it is true that a federal district court has jurisdiction to consider a facial challenge to the constitutionality of a statute or rule, Feldman, 460 U.S. at 486-87 and Patmon v. Michigan Supreme Court, 224 F.3d 504, 509 (6th Cir. 2000), that does not affect the outcome of this case. Adams' argument that it is not challenging the Michigan state court's rulings and instead seeks declaratory and injunctive relief in accordance with its constitutional challenge to Defendant's Ordinance is disingenuous. In its First Amended Petition for Review in state court, Adams alleges that the Ordinance is unconstitutional. On page 5 of its First Amended Petition, Adams states: "[Defendant's] ordinance . . . is invalid, unauthorized by statute, and/or unconstitutional. . . ." On page 7 of the First Amended Petition, Adams pleads: "[Defendant's] ordinance . . . [is] not authorized by statute and/or the Constitution, and for that reason, [is] contrary to law." The Court reads this plain language as a constitutional challenge. The Michigan state courts have considered and ruled on the constitutionality of Defendant's Ordinance. In addition, the constitutionality of the Ordinance is "inextricably intertwined" with the state court's decision. Therefore, it is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

Adams also mentions the full faith and credit clause. Adams does so because Defendant gave the full faith and credit clause some attention in its Brief in Support of its Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court need not address the full faith and credit clause because it has determined that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars Adams' claim.

For the foregoing reasons, the Court grants Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. An Order consistent with this Opinion will follow.


In accordance with the Opinion entered this day;

IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment Against Adams Outdoor Advertising, Inc., Only (Dkt. No. 24) is GRANTED.

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