United States District Court, D. Hawaii
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO
A. OTAKE, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Marcelino Mendoza Aquino and Jeanette Donia Aquino
(“Plaintiffs”) bring claims against Defendant
Deutsche Bank Trust Company Americas (“Deutsche
Bank”) and Defendant Cody Minatodani
(“Commissioner Minatodani”). Deutsche Bank and
Commissioner Minatodani ask the Court to abstain from
exercising jurisdiction over this action or, alternatively,
to dismiss the Complaint under Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure (“FRCP”) Rule 12(b)(6). For the reasons
stated below, the motions are GRANTED.
owned property in Wailuku, Hawai‘i. ECF No. 1
(“Compl.”) ¶¶ 3-4; ECF No. 1-3, Ex.
Deutsche Bank filed suit against Plaintiffs in the Circuit
Court of the Second Circuit, State of Hawai‘i
(“state court”) seeking to foreclose on
Plaintiff's property (the “state court
action”). ECF No. 13-3. In the state court action,
Deutsche Bank moved for summary judgment against Plaintiffs
and requested an interlocutory decree of foreclosure.
Id. In April 2018, the state court granted Deutsche
Bank's summary judgment motion and request for an
interlocutory decree of foreclosure, and directed that its
ruling be entered as a final judgment under Rule 54(b) of the
Hawai‘i Rules of Civil Procedure. Id. To
enforce its order, the state court appointed Defendant
Minatodani as Commissioner of the Court who was authorized
and directed to take possession of the property and sell it
at a public or private sale. Id.
first sought relief in state court in February 2019, asking
the state court to vacate its summary judgment order pursuant
to Rule 60(b) of the Hawai‘i Rules of Civil Procedure
based on newly discovered evidence of fraud, and seeking
dismissal of the case. Compl. ¶¶ 4-6; ECF Nos. 1 to
4, Exs. A-D. Plaintiffs also wrote to Commissioner Minatodani
in June 2019 asking that she not proceed with an auction of
the property scheduled for July 24, 2019. Compl. ¶¶
4-6; ECF No. 1-4, Ex. D.
days before that scheduled auction, on July 22, 2019,
Plaintiffs filed this federal action. ECF No. 1. Their
Complaint nominally references 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the
False Claims Act (“FCA”), and the Fair Debt
Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). Id.
They allege Defendants violated their civil rights by
depriving them of a right to a jury trial and appeal in the
state court action. Id. ¶¶ 3, 5.
Plaintiffs object to Commissioner Minatodani proceeding with
an auction before the state court ruled on their motion to
vacate, and further object that she did not respond to their
June 2019 letter asking her not to proceed with the auction.
Id. ¶¶ 4, 6-7, 10. Plaintiffs allege
Deutsche Bank does not have proper documentation to prove it
holds the original promissory note for Plaintiffs'
mortgage. Id. ¶ 7. Plaintiffs seek damages, as
well as attorney's fees and costs. Compl. at 6.
Plaintiffs also ask the Court to “stop the foreclosure
action and [Defendants] from selling the Plaintiffs'
Plaintiffs filed their Complaint, they also filed an ex
parte petition for injunctive relief and a temporary
restraining order that asked the Court to enjoin the sale of
the property. ECF No. 3. The Court held a hearing on
Plaintiffs' request for emergency relief that same day.
ECF No. 10. The Court denied Plaintiffs' motion,
concluding it lacked jurisdiction because Plaintiffs'
request to enjoin the sale of the property amounted to a
de facto appeal of the state court judgment, which
was barred under the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine. See Cooper v. Ramos, 704 F.3d
772, 777-79 (9th Cir. 2012); Noel v. Hall, 341 F.3d
1148, 1154, 1163-64 (9th Cir. 2003); Worldwide Church of
God v. McNair, 805 F.2d 888, 892, 893 n.3 (9th Cir.
1986). The Court noted that Plaintiffs' FRCP Rule 60(b)
motion did not affect the finality of the state court's
judgment or suspend its operation. The Court further ruled
that while Plaintiffs' Complaint could proceed at that
time to the extent it sought damages, the Court lacked
jurisdiction over any request for injunctive relief in the
form of enjoining the sale of the property.
now move separately to dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint.
Deutsche Bank asks the Court to abstain from exercising
jurisdiction under the Younger abstention doctrine,
also arguing the Complaint fails to state a claim against it.
ECF No. 15. Commissioner Minatodani moves separately, raising
the same arguments as Deutsche Bank but also arguing that, as
a Commissioner appointed by the state court, she is entitled
to quasi-judicial immunity. ECF No. 13. Plaintiffs,
representing themselves, oppose both motions. ECF No. 31; ECF
12(b)(6) allows an attack on the pleadings for failure to
state a claim on which relief can be granted. “[W]hen
ruling on a defendant's motion to dismiss, a judge must
accept as true all of the factual allegations contained in
the complaint.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S.
89, 94 (2007) (citing Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly,
550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007)). However, a court is “not
bound to accept as true a legal conclusion couched as a
factual allegation.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at
555). “Nor does a complaint suffice if it tenders
‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of ‘further
factual enhancement.'” Id. (alteration in
original) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557). A
complaint must “state a claim to relief that is
plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at
570. This means that the complaint must plead “factual
content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct
alleged.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678 (citing
Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). There must be
“sufficient allegations of underlying facts to give
fair notice and to enable the opposing party to defend itself
effectively, ” and “factual allegations that are
taken as true must plausibly suggest an entitlement to
relief, such that it is not unfair to require the opposing
party to be subjected to the expense of discovery and
continued litigation.” Starr v. Baca, 652 F.3d
1202, 1216 (9th Cir. 2011).
Defendants first ask the Court to abstain from exercising
jurisdiction over the case and order dismissal under
Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). In civil
cases, Younger abstention is appropriate where a
state court proceeding: (1) is ongoing; (2) is a
quasi-criminal enforcement action or involves a state's
interest in enforcing the orders and judgments of its courts;
(3) implicates important state interests; (4) provides an
adequate opportunity to raise federal challenges; and (5)
would be enjoined by the federal court action or where the
federal proceeding would have the practical effect of doing
so. See Rynearson v. Ferguson, 903 F.3d 920, 924
(9th Cir. 2018). “Each of these requirements must be
‘strictly met.'” Id. (quoting
AmerisourceBergen Corp. v. Roden, 495 F.3d 1143,
1148 (9th Cir. 2007)).
neither Defendant addresses the second element, the Court
declines to dismiss the Complaint under Younger at
this time.See ECF No. 13-1 at 6-8; ECF No.
15-1 at 5-7. Both Defendants also focus only on why
Younger abstention is appropriate given
Plaintiffs' request for injunctive relief in the form of
a stay of the sale of the property. But the Court already
dismissed that request for relief under the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine. ECF No. 10. And neither
party addresses why, for example, it would be appropriate to
dismiss an FDCPA damages claim on the basis of
Younger abstention. See Herrera v. City of
Palmdale, 918 F.3d 1037, 1042 (9th Cir. 2019)
(“[O]ur court has . . . recognized that, when a
district court abstains from considering a damages
claim under Younger, it must stay-rather
than dismiss-the ...