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Ann Elaine Campbell v. City of Spencer

June 22, 2012



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hartz, Circuit Judge.

United States Court of Appeals Tenth Circuit


Elisabeth A. Shumaker Clerk of Court

Before LUCERO, HARTZ, and O'BRIEN, Circuit Judges.

Dr. Ann Elaine Campbell put horses out to pasture on land she owns in two Oklahoma municipalities--the City of Spencer (the City) and the Town of Forest Park (the Town). After an animal-welfare investigation, City and Town authorities executed search warrants and seized 44 horses from her properties. The two municipalities successfully petitioned a state court to order forfeiture of the horses unless the owner posted a security bond to pay for their maintenance from the date of seizure. See Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 1680.4 (West 2012). After unsuccessfully appealing the forfeiture and bond determinations in state court, Dr. Campbell filed an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in federal court against the City and the Town, alleging that they violated the Fourth Amendment by unlawfully searching her property and seizing her horses, violated the Fifth Amendment by depriving her of her horses without due process or just compensation, and violated the Eighth Amendment by obtaining an excessive fine through an unreasonable forfeiture bond. The court held that it lacked jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which bars the lower federal courts from engaging in appellate review of state-court judgments. See Rooker v. Fid. Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923); D.C. Ct. App. v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983).

On appeal Dr. Campbell contends that the district court erred in applying the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Exercising jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291, we affirm in part, reverse in part, and remand for further proceedings. We agree that the district court lacked jurisdiction to consider the Fifth and Eighth Amendment claims, which are barred by Rooker-Feldman because they challenge the statecourt judgment; but it erred in dismissing the Fourth Amendment claims to the extent that they concern preforfeiture events.


Dr. Campbell maintained horses in both the City and the Town. On July 27, 2007, City police received an animal-cruelty complaint and went to one of her properties to investigate. The Oklahoma County Sheriff's office was asked to assist in the investigation. A deputy sheriff observed horses that appeared malnourished and emaciated. On July 31 officers obtained and executed search warrants, seized 44 horses, and took them to Blaze's Tribute Equine Rescue.*fn1 On August 6 the City and the Town filed a petition in Oklahoma County District Court seeking immediate forfeiture of the horses under Okla. Stat. tit. 21, § 1680.4(C)(1), which permits forfeiture if the court finds that "probable cause exists that an animal has been abused." The petition also sought a security bond for the horses' maintenance; the owner may pay the bond to prevent permanent forfeiture. The court held a hearing on August 10. It found probable cause, ordered immediate forfeiture, and set a $68,305 bond as "sufficient to reimburse all reasonable and anticipated costs incurred by the agencies caring for the 44 horses from the date of seizure for a period of 90 days." Id. at 78. Dr. Campbell appealed to the Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals, arguing that the trial court had denied her due process by "failing to conduct a separate forfeiture and bond hearing for each horse seized," id., Vol. II at 321; that it had insufficient evidence to support its finding of probable cause for all the horses; and that it had erred by refusing to consider her management plan for the horses. The court affirmed and the Oklahoma Supreme Court denied certiorari.

Dr. Campbell filed her § 1983 action in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. Her complaint alleges that the City and the Town (1) violated her rights under the Fourth Amendment by unlawfully searching her property and seizing her horses; (2) violated her Fifth Amendment rights to due process and just compensation by confiscating the horses; and (3) violated her Eighth Amendment protection against excessive fines by obtaining an unreasonable bond. The City and the Town filed motions to dismiss on a number of grounds, including the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. The district court granted the motions, see Campbell v. City of Spencer, No. CIV-09-0821-HE, 2010 WL 1780304, at *3 (W.D. Okla. May 4, 2010), concluding that her claims were "inextricably intertwined with the state court judgment, thus making Rooker- Feldman applicable," id. at *2. It reasoned that her claims were all "based on a single injury--the loss of her horses," id., and that the relief sought "would 'necessarily undo the Oklahoma [state] court's judgment,'" id. at *3 (quoting Kenmen Eng'g v. City of Union, 314 F.3d 468, 477 (10th Cir. 2002)).


There appear to be multiple reasons why Dr. Campbell's claims cannot succeed. We limit our review, however, to the merits of the district court's dismissal for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction. We review that dismissal de novo. See Mann v. Boatright, 477 F.3d 1140, 1145 (10th Cir. 2007).

We agree with the district court that it lacked jurisdiction over Dr. Campbell's due-process and excessive-fine claims. But we disagree with its ruling that it lacked jurisdiction over her claims challenging the search and seizure. Resolution of those claims does not require us to review the state-court judgment. As we stated in Bolden v. City of Topeka, 441 F.3d 1129, 1139 (10th Cir. 2006), "When the state-court judgment is not itself at issue, the [Rooker- Feldman] doctrine does not prohibit federal suits regarding the same subject matter, or even the same claims, as those presented in the state-court action."

A review of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is in order. Rooker-Feldman is a jurisdictional prohibition on lower federal courts exercising appellate jurisdiction over state-court judgments. The doctrine originated in Rooker, where the plaintiffs had lost in a lower state court in Indiana, unsuccessfully appealed to the Indiana Supreme Court, and been denied review by the Supreme Court. See 263 U.S. at 414. The plaintiffs then filed suit in federal district court, claiming that the state-court judgment should be overturned on constitutional grounds. See id. at 414-15. The district court dismissed for lack of jurisdiction, and the Supreme Court affirmed. See id. at 415. It reasoned that "[u]nder the legislation of Congress, no court of the United States other than this court could entertain a proceeding to reverse or modify the judgment for errors of that character." Id. at 416 (citing the predecessor to 28 U.S.C. ยง ...

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