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In Phan v. American Family Insurance Company, No. 17-1187 (D. Colo. 2017) the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit took on this question after Kent Vu Phan was injured in a car accident and sought damages from the insurance company. Kent Vu Phan (“Phan”) was injured in a car accident in 2012. He filed an insurance claim for bodily injury with American Family Insurance Company (“American Family”), but American Family rejected his claim. Phan brought a state-court action against American Family in November 2015, more than three years after the car accident.

The state court dismissed Phan’s action with prejudice because Phan failed to bring his claim within Colorado’s three-year statute of limitations. Both the Colorado Court of Appeals and the Colorado Supreme Court dismissed Phan’s appeal; Phan then commenced the instant action against American Family in federal district court. Here, as he did in the previous state-court action, Phan seeks to recover money damages for the injuries he sustained in the 2012 car accident. He alleges American Family violated state insurance law and the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”).

The district court dismissed Phan’s complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker–Feldman Doctrine. Phan appeals, arguing that the district court erred in dismissing his complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Rooker–Feldman Doctrine prevents the lower federal courts from exercising jurisdiction over cases brought by ‘state-court losers’ challenging ‘state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced. It also precludes lower federal courts from assuming jurisdiction over claims that are inextricably intertwined with a prior state court judgment. Claims are inextricably intertwined with prior state-court judgments if they assert injuries based on the state-court judgments and, for the plaintiff to prevail, would require the district court to review and reject those judgments.

Here, the district court found that Phan’s claims were inextricably intertwined with the prior state-court judgment because awarding Phan money damages against American Family for the same injury complained of in the state court action would require the district court to review and reject the state court’s finding. Phan doesn’t dispute that the state- and federal-court lawsuits are inextricably intertwined. But he does argue that the Rooker–Feldman doctrine is nevertheless inapplicable because: the district court may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over his claims; and the Erie Doctrine, the Supremacy Clause, and the Equal Protection Clause supersede the Rooker–Feldman doctrine and provide the federal district court with jurisdiction over his state-law insurance claim.

This Court thinks Phan’s arguments lack merit. First, the Rooker–Feldman Doctrine applies regardless of whether the district court would otherwise have jurisdiction because Phan is asking the district court to review and reverse a final state-court judgment.  Nothing about the Erie Doctrine, the Supremacy Clause, or the Equal Protection Clause authorizes lower federal courts to review and reverse final state-court judgments. Accordingly, this Court affirms the district court’s order.

The Metier Law Firm is committed to assisting people with personal injury claims throughout Colorado, Wyoming and Nebraska, and we frequently serve as co-counsel to law firms nationwide. Tom Metier recently secured the largest personal injury verdict in Colorado

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