Bell v. City of Boise

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Rights § 1983
  • Date Filed: 03-07-2013
  • Case #: 11-35674
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Black for the Court; Circuit Judges Graber and Rawlinson
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a party cannot seek review of an adverse state court judgment in federal court if the action “contains a forbidden de facto appeal of a state court decision and it alleges a legal error by the state court.”

Plaintiffs, all of whom are or were homeless, were cited for violating the city’s Camping Ordinance or Sleeping Ordinance. Plaintiffs brought a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action against the City of Boise (“the City”) seeking retroactive and prospective relief, claiming the ordinances violated their Eighth Amendment rights and effectively “criminalized homelessness.” The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the City. On appeal, the City argued that prospective relief was moot because the Boise Police Department voluntarily issued a special order prohibiting enforcement of the ordinances if there was no available overnight shelter and that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine deprives the court of subject matter jurisdiction to allow retrospective relief. Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a party cannot seek review of an adverse state court judgment in federal court. The Ninth Circuit reaffirmed that Rooker-Feldman applies if the action “contains a forbidden de facto appeal of a state court decision.” Such de facto appeals must also allege a legal error by the state court. The Plaintiffs did not allege the state court committed legal error, so retroactive relief is not barred. The Ninth Circuit held that the district court erred by dismissing Plaintiffs’ claims for retrospective relief under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. For the issue of prospective relief to be mute, there is a heavy burden on the party claiming mootness to show that “the challenged conduct cannot reasonably be expected to start up again.” The City failed to demonstrate that wrongful enforcement of the ordinances would not recur because the special order was issued by the chief of police and not through proper legislative means. The court did not reach the merits of the Eighth Amendment claim. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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