CRAWFORD v. COUNTRYWIDE HOME LOANS (July 21, 2011)
L. V. Crawford and his wife Yvette purchased a home in La Porte, Indiana in 2001 with the help of a mortgage from Countryside Home Loans. After they fell behind on their mortgage payments a few years later, they hired Foreclosure Solutions to help them renegotiate their mortgage and save their home. Countrywide refused to renegotiate and filed a foreclosure proceeding. Foreclosure Solutions told the Crawfords that it would provide an attorney to represent them. An attorney did file an appearance but neither he nor Foreclosure Solutions resisted summary judgment in the foreclosure proceeding. A state court entered a foreclosure judgment in August of 2006. Fannie Mae purchased the home at a sheriff's sale in December of that year. A writ of assistance to evict the Crawfords became effective in late 2008. Several months later, deputies from the La Porte County Sheriff’s Office evicted the Crawfords from their home. The Crawfords filed almost identical suits in state and federal court against Countrywide, the La Porte County Board of Commissioners, the La Porte Sheriff, and the attorney hired by Foreclosure Solutions. The state court case was removed and consolidated with the federal case. Judge Simon (N.D. Ind.) dismissed the Commissioners, the Sheriff, and the attorney under Rule 12(b)(6). On the claims against Countrywide, the district court dismissed two claims under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and granted summary judgment to Countrywide on the others. The Crawfords appeal.
In their opinion, Circuit Judges Kanne and Evans and District Judge Clevert affirmed on the merits but vacated and remanded in part to address a procedural matter. The Court first addressed jurisdiction and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Under that doctrine, a lower federal court is not allowed to review a state court judgment. The doctrine does not prevent state court losers from bringing independent federal claims, even if the claims are related to the subject matter of the state court suit. The Court agreed with the district court that two of the 22 claims presented were barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. One complained that the foreclosure and eviction violated fundamental fairness and their equal protection rights. The other presented a defense to the foreclosure complaint. The Court concluded that the other 20 claims could be resolved without impugning the foreclosure judgment. The Court turned to the summary judgment ruling in favor of Countryside. It first rejected the Crawfords' contention that they were not required to affirmatively produce evidence because Countrywide did not submit materials sufficient "to foreclose the possibility" that there were disputes of material fact, citing the Supreme Court's decision in Adickes. The Crawfords misread Adickes. A party moving for summary judgment need not show that the non-moving party’s claims are impossible in order to trigger a response requirement -- it need only show an absence of evidence in support of those claims. The district court applied the right standard. On the merits of the summary judgment ruling, the Court found that the Crawfords did not establish the existence of disputed facts. Much of the "facts" the Crawfords presented consisted of general reports of predatory lending that did not relate to their specific claims. The rest of the facts presented relate to their complaints against Foreclosure Solutions and the deputies and are not material to their claims against Countryside. Finally, the Court affirmed with little discussion the dismissal of the other defendants and the denial of the Crawfords request to add defendants. The Court vacated one of the district court's orders and remanded to allow the district court to identify which specific parts of the removed case were dismissed on jurisdictional grounds and to remand that portion of the case to the state court.