United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Roanoke Division
Glen E. Conrad Chief United States District Judge
Cary Hendrick, Bryan Manning, Ryan Williams, Richard
Deckerhoff, and Richard Walls bring this action seeking
declaratory and injunctive relief against defendants Donald
Caldwell and Michael Herring, in their official capacities,
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. §§
2201 and 2202. This case is presently before the court on
defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6)
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. For the reasons set
forth below, the court will grant defendants'
following facts, taken from the plaintiffs' complaint,
are accepted as true for purposes of the defendants'
motion to dismiss. See Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S.
89, 94 (2007). The named plaintiffs in this matter are
homeless individuals who suffer from alcohol use disorder and
have been interdicted pursuant to Virginia Code §
4.1-333(a). Defendants are prosecutors for the Commonwealth
Code § 4.1-333(a) states:
When after a hearing upon due notice it appears to the
satisfaction of the circuit court of any county or city that
any person, residing within such county or city, has been
convicted of driving any automobile, truck, motorcycle,
engine or train while intoxicated or has shown himself to be
an habitual drunkard, the court may enter an order of
interdiction prohibiting the sale of alcoholic beverages to
such person until further ordered.
statute does not define "habitual drunkard, " and
there is no clear standard for removing the label once
determined to be such. Compl. ¶ 32-33. A person can be
interdicted in absentia, and a defendant does not have the
right to counsel or trial by jury at the interdiction hearing
as it is a civil proceeding. Id. ¶ 19.
It is a
Class 1 misdemeanor for an interdicted individual to
"consume, purchase or possess, or attempt to consume,
purchase or posses, any alcoholic beverage." Va. Code
§ 4.1-305. It is this prohibition of consumption,
possession, or attempted possession or consumption that
plaintiffs challenge (the "consumption prong").
Virginia Code § 4.1-322 also makes it a Class 1
misdemeanor for an interdicted person to be drunk in public,
and plaintiffs do not challenge this aspect of the statutory
scheme. The punishment for conviction of a Class 1
misdemeanor is "confinement in jail for not more than
twelve months and a fine of not more than $2, 500, either or
both." Va. Code § 18.2-11(a). Between August of
2005 and August of 2015, there were 4, 743 convictions under
this statutory scheme (the "Interdiction Statute").
Id. ¶ 21.
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 23(b)(2), plaintiffs seek
to certify a class of homeless alcoholics who have been or
will be interdicted, and a class of defendant Virginia
Commonwealth Attorneys who have the authority to enforce the
Interdiction Statute. The complaint alleges that alcoholism
is an addiction: a chronic disease of the brain that compels
the plaintiffs to pathologically pursue alcohol use.
Id. ¶ 25. Their homelessness exacerbates their
alcoholism and makes long-term abstention "nearly
impossible." Id. ¶ 26.
named plaintiffs were interdicted between 2009 and 2012.
These four plaintiffs have been arrested and prosecuted under
the Interdiction Statute between ten and thirty times each.
All of the named plaintiffs were either interdicted in
absentia or requested counsel, but their requests were
denied. Id. ¶ 19. The complaint also alleges
that the plaintiffs have been arrested for constructive
possession of alcohol, including situations in which a
plaintiff was merely sitting near open containers or emitting
a detectable odor of alcohol. Id.'¶ 29.
challenge the Interdiction Statute, claiming that it violates
their rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution.
Specifically, plaintiffs bring five claims against
defendants. Count One alleges that the enforcement of
the Interdiction Statute results in cruel and unusual
punishment in violation of the Eighth Amendment as applied to
the States through the Fourteenth Amendment. Count Three
alleges deprivation of due process under the Fourteenth
Amendment. Count Five claims that the Interdiction Statute is
unconstitutionally vague in violation of the Fourteenth
Amendment. Count Seven alleges deprivation of equal
protection under the Fourteenth Amendment. Count Eight
requests injunctive and declaratory relief pursuant to 28
U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202. Plaintiffs ask the court
to certify the classes of plaintiffs and defendants, declare
that the defendants' practice of enforcing the
consumption prong of the Interdiction Statute against
homeless alcoholics violates their constitutional rights, and
enjoin defendants from further enforcing this portion of the
Interdiction Statute against plaintiffs and others in the
purpose of a Rule 12(b)(6) motion is to test the sufficiency
of a complaint." Edwards v. City of Goldsboro,
178 F.3d 231, 243 (4th Cir. 1999). When deciding a motion to
dismiss under this rule, the court must accept as true all
well-pleaded allegations and draw all reasonable factual
inferences in the plaintiffs' favor. Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); see also Vitol S.A.
v. Primerose Shipping Co., 708 F.3d 527, 539 (4th Cir.
2013). "While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6)
motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations,
a plaintiffs obligation to provide the grounds of his
entitlement to relief requires more than labels and
conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v.
Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (internal citation and
quotation marks omitted). To survive dismissal for failure to
state a claim, "a complaint must contain sufficient
factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim for
relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft
v. Iqbal 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570).
make five arguments, four of which are procedural and one of
which is substantive, in support of their motion to dismiss:
(1) that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine precludes this
court from exercising jurisdiction over this case; (2) that
plaintiffs have had the opportunity to challenge their
interdictions in state court, and those judgments have
preclusive effect; (3) that plaintiffs' request for
future equitable relief is not ripe for adjudication; (4)
that plaintiffs' request for declaratory relief is barred
by the statute of limitations; and (5) that plaintiffs have
failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.
The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
contend that plaintiffs' complaint is a de facto appeal
from a state court judgment and is thus barred by
Rooker-Feldman. See Rooker v. Fid. Trust
Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923); D.C. Ct. of App. v.
Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983). The
Rooker-Feldman doctrine arises from Congress'
assignment of original jurisdiction to the district courts
and appellate jurisdiction over final state court judgments
to the United States Supreme Court. Thana v. Bd. of
License Comm'rs for Charles Cty., Md., 827 F.3d 314,
318-19 (4th Cir. 2016). When applicable, the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine is a jurisdictional bar that
prevents a state court loser from seeking, in substance,
appellate review of his adverse state court decision by a
federal district court. Am. Reliable Ins. Co. v.
Stillwell 336 F.3d 311, 316 (4th Cir. 2003). In
determining whether the doctrine applies, the fundamental
question is whether the litigant is seeking federal appellate
review of the merits of a state court decision. Id.
A litigant may not "escape the jurisdictional bar of
Rooker-Feldman by merely refashioning its attack on
state court judgments as a §1983 claim."
Jordahl v. Democratic Party of Virginia, 122 F.3d
192, 202 (4th Cir. 1997). Stated otherwise, if the federal
court's action would render the state court judgment
ineffectual, Rooker-Feldman is implicated.
Fourth Circuit recently addressed the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine and clarified its narrow scope. See Thana,
827 F.3d at 319 ("[T]he Rooker-Feldman doctrine
is narrow and focused...."). Noting that the
"distinction between preclusion principles and the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine can sometimes be subtle,
" the Fourth Circuit observed that the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine "assesses only whether
the process for appealing a state court judgment to the
Supreme Court under 28 U.S.C. § 1257(a) has been
sidetracked by an action filed in a district court
specifically to review the state court
judgment." Id. (emphasis in original). The
Fourth Circuit further emphasized that the Supreme Court has
indicated that the doctrine should be restricted "to
cases whose procedural posture mirrored those in the
Rooker and Feldman cases themselves."
Thana, 827 F.3d at 320 (citing Exxon Mobile
Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284
(2005)). Accordingly, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine
bars a district court's jurisdiction in similar
situations: when "the losing party in state court filed
suit in federal court after the state proceedings ended,
complaining of an injury caused by the state-court judgment
and seeking review and rejection of that judgment."
Exxon, 544 U.S. at 291. The Fourth Circuit has
never, in a published opinion, applied the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine to preclude a district
court's jurisdiction. Thana, 827 F.3d at 320.
instant case, and in light of the Fourth Circuit's most
recent clarification of the narrow scope of the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine, the court does not believe
the doctrine applies. While the instant action was filed
after the state proceedings ended, the plaintiffs are not
"complaining of an injury caused by the state-court
judgment and seeking review and rejection of that
judgment." Id. They do not seek to overturn
their orders of interdiction or their prior convictions as
interdicted individuals. Instead, plaintiffs challenge the
statutory scheme-that is, how the Interdiction Statute is
applied to them in the future. The court finds that this
claim, as pled, is sufficiently independent so as not to act
as an impediment to the exercise of federal jurisdiction. See
Skinner v. Switzer, 562 U.S. 521, 532 (2011)
(stating that if the party "presents an independent
claim, it is not an impediment to the exercise of federal
jurisdiction that the same or a related question was earlier
aired between the parties in state court"). The court,
however, cannot escape the tension between the state
proceedings and the instant action. Nevertheless, the Fourth
Circuit has determined that Rooker-Feldman is not
the appropriate vehicle to manage such tensions. Instead,
they are to be examined through the doctrines of preclusion,
comity, and abstention. Thana, 827 F.3d at 320
(citing Exxon, 544 U.S. at 292-93).
court next turns to the question of whether plaintiffs'
claims are procedurally barred under preclusion principles.
"Federal courts asked in a § 1983 action to give
res judicata effect (in any of the doctrine's aspects) to
a state court judgment are bound under the Full Faith and
Credit Statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1738, to apply the law of
the rendering state to determine whether and to what extent
the state court judgment should have preclusive effect."
Davenport v. North Carolina Dep't of
Transp., 3 F.3d 89, 92 (4th Cir. 1993). The effects of
res judicata can be divided into two categories: claim
preclusion and issue preclusion. Lee v. Spoden, 290
Va. 235, 245 (2015). In Virginia, under the doctrine of claim
A party whose claim for relief arising from identified
conduct, a transaction, or an occurrence, is decided on the
merits by a final judgment, shall be forever barred from
prosecuting any second or subsequent civil action against the
same opposing party or parties on any claim or cause of
action that arises from the same conduct, transaction or
occurrence, whether or not the legal theory or rights
asserted in the second or subsequent action were raised in
the prior lawsuit, and regardless of the legal elements or
the evidence upon which any claim in the prior proceeding
depended, or the particular remedies sought.
Supreme Court Rule l:6(a). Whether a subsequent claim
involves "the same conduct, transaction or
occurrence" depends on whether the claim is based on a
different cause of action. Lee, 290 Va. at 248.
"[A] cause of action is a set of operative facts which,
under the substantive law, may give rise to a right of
action." Roller v. Basic Constr. Co., 238 Va.
321, 327 (1989). "A right of action, on the other hand,
4s the remedial right accorded to a person to enforce a cause
of action and arises only when a person's rights are
infringed.'" Lee, 290 Va. at 249. Multiple
rights may arise under a single cause of action, but "a
wrongful act generally gives rise to only a single
indivisible cause of action."
instant case, the plaintiffs are seeking declaratory and
injunctive relief regarding future arrests and prosecutions
that plaintiffs assert are certain to occur. These
prosecutions will necessarily include a separate "set of
operative facts" that gives rise to the right of action.
Lee, 290 Va. at 248. Therefore, although there
remains the issue of whether plaintiffs have standing to
proceed based on future occurrences, the court does not
believe that the instant matter addresses the same cause of
action. Accordingly, the doctrine of claim preclusion does
not prevent suit.
the doctrine of issue preclusion does not bar plaintiffs'
claims. Issue preclusion "bars 'successive
litigation of an issue of fact or law actually litigated and
resolved in a valid court determination essential to the
prior judgment, ' even if the issue recurs in the context
of a different claim." Lee, 290 Va. at 246 (quoting
Taylor v. Sturgell 553 U.S. 880, 892 (2008)). Here,
as explained, there are no factual issues that have already
been litigated, as the facts simply have not yet unfolded.
Moreover, defendants do not assert that plaintiffs actually
litigated their constitutional claims in the state court
proceedings. Instead, defendants argue that plaintiffs had
the opportunity to do so in their previous state court
proceedings, but chose not to raise these issues.
arguing that plaintiffs' claims are barred by res
judicata, the defendants rely upon Colvin v. Deaton.
577 F.Supp. 925 (W.D. Va. 1984). In Colvm, ten individuals
brought constitutional challenges to the Interdiction
Statute. The court held that res judicata precluded the
plaintiffs from bringing their claims because plaintiffs had
the opportunity to folly and fairly litigate their
constitutional claims in their state court proceedings, but
chose not to do so. Id. at 928.
court questions whether the plaintiffs in the instant matter
had a full and fair opportunity to litigate their
constitutional claims. See Allen v. McCurry, 449
U.S. 90, 101 (1980) (holding that res judicata can apply to
§ 1983 claims but noting that "[c]ollateral
estoppel does not apply where the party against whom an
earlier court decision is asserted did not have a full and
fair opportunity to litigate the claim or issue decided by
the first court"). In determining that the plaintiffs
had a full and fair opportunity to litigate their
constitutional claims in their state court proceedings, the
Colvin court relied, in part, on (1) the fact that
the plaintiffs "were represented by counsel at their
state court hearing"; and (2) the fact that
"[t]heir present claim for declaratory, injunctive, and
monetary relief arises from the very fact of the state court
proceedings themselves." Colvin, 577 F.Supp. at
928-29. The district court also referenced Southern Jam,
Inc. y. Robinson, 675 F.2d 94 (5th Cir. 1982), a case in
which res judicata barred a plaintiffs constitutional claims
because the plaintiffs did not take the opportunity to raise
these claims at the state court proceeding. The
Colvin court observed that the state law applied in
Southern Jam required a party to raise any claim it
may have against an opposing party that arose out of the same
transaction or occurrence in that same proceeding.
Colvin, 557 F.Supp. at 930. In Virginia, however,
"[a]ll counterclaims are permissive." Tyler v.
Berger, No. Civ.A. 605CV00030, 2005 WL 2596164, at *3
n.2 (W.D. Va. Oct. 13, 2005); Va. Code § 16.1-88.01. The
fact that counterclaims are permissive in Virginia supports
the argument that plaintiffs may not have had the opportunity
to fully and fairly litigate their claims. See Brown v.
Transurban USA, Inc., 144 F.Supp.3d 809, ...