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Caldwell v. DeWoskin

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

August 5, 2016

Reynal Caldwell, Appellant
Alan E. DeWoskin; Alan E. DeWoskin, P.C.; Theresa Caldwell Lavender, Appellees

          Submitted: January 12, 2016

         Appeal from United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri - St. Louis

          Before LOKEN, GRUENDER, and KELLY, Circuit Judges.

          KELLY, Circuit Judge.

         Reynal Caldwell (Caldwell) appeals the grant of summary judgment in favor of his ex-wife, Theresa Caldwell Lavender (Lavender), and her attorney Alan E. DeWoskin and his law firm (DeWoskin). Caldwell also appeals the denial of his motion for summary judgment. Because we conclude the court erred in granting DeWoskin and Lavender summary judgment based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, [1]we reverse and remand.[2]

         I. Background

         The facts are undisputed. DeWoskin represented Lavender in the dissolution of her marriage to Caldwell. In the Judgment of Dissolution, filed December 3, 2009, Caldwell was ordered to pay $2, 500 per month in maintenance to Lavender, to pay $3, 000 toward a U.S. Bank credit card debt, to pay $5, 544.75 in attorney's fees to DeWoskin, and to either pay or refinance loans on property he owned. Caldwell appealed the decree of dissolution.

         When Caldwell failed to make payments, DeWoskin, on behalf of Lavender, filed a motion in Missouri state court requesting the court set a hearing to determine whether Caldwell should be held in contempt. On July 16, 2010, following a hearing, a Judgment Order of Contempt was entered against Caldwell. He was ordered to pay Lavender $20, 000, plus 9% interest, for the monthly maintenance that had accrued since the divorce, attorney's fees, and other debts ordered under the Judgment of Dissolution by August 10, 2010. On August 6, 2010, Caldwell sent two letters, one to Lavender and one to DeWoskin, stating he would pay Lavender only $1.00 per year until the day he died. On August 11, 2010, after Caldwell again failed to make any payments, DeWoskin filed a motion requesting a hearing be set to determine whether a warrant and commitment order should be issued for Caldwell based on his failure to follow the court's July 16 order. A hearing was set for August 24, 2010.

         On August 17, 2010, Caldwell filed a Chapter 13 bankruptcy case in the Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. At the August 24, 2010, contempt hearing in state court, both Caldwell and Lavender were represented by counsel. DeWoskin, on behalf of Lavender, acknowledged receipt of Caldwell's notice of bankruptcy and requested the court rule on whether the automatic stay applied to the state contempt proceeding. Caldwell's attorney argued the automatic stay stopped the state court from proceeding. The court continued the hearing to August 27, 2010, to research the issue. After again hearing argument from Caldwell's counsel at the August 27 hearing, the court decided the automatic stay did not prevent it from holding Caldwell in contempt, and so held. Caldwell was committed to the St. Louis City Jail until he purged himself of contempt by paying the amounts set forth in the court's previous orders. A friend of Caldwell posted bond in the amount of $22, 500-the amount of maintenance that had accrued since December 2009-and he was released from jail on August 28, 2010.

         On September 14, 2010, at the request of DeWoskin and Lavender, the state court held another hearing to address Caldwell's continued failure to pay maintenance to Lavender as ordered in the court's previous contempt order. The court ordered Caldwell to pay the maintenance payment due on September 15, 2010, or face another emergency contempt hearing within one week. Instead, on September 16, 2010, Caldwell appealed the July 16 Judgment of Contempt to the Missouri Court of Appeals.

         DeWoskin made additional attempts on Lavender's behalf to collect the maintenance due, including motions for orders to withhold Caldwell's wages. On November 9, 2010, friends of Caldwell posted a $25, 000 appeal bond to stay collection of the judgment for maintenance pending the outcome of the appeal of the original decree of dissolution. On March 22, 2011, the Missouri Court of Appeals affirmed the decree of dissolution. On April 28, 2011, DeWoskin applied to the court for a payout order on the $25, 000 appeal bond that had been posted on Caldwell's behalf, which the court issued.

         On May 17, 2011, the Missouri Court of Appeals reversed the Judgment of Contempt and Commitment entered against Caldwell, finding that the district court abused its discretion by not determining whether Caldwell had the financial ability to make the payment necessary to purge himself of contempt before ordering him jailed and did not make sufficient findings to support the judgment. Because the Court of Appeals found those two points on appeal "dispositive, " it did not address Caldwell's final point.[3] See Caldwell v. Caldwell, 341 S.W.3d 734, 737 (Mo.Ct.App. 2011).

         Caldwell's bankruptcy case was dismissed on July 20, 2011, and the case was closed on August 4, 2011. On January 11, 2013, Caldwell filed a complaint against DeWoskin and Lavender in federal district court alleging they violated the automatic stay and seeking damages pursuant to 11 U.S.C. § 362(k). Caldwell alleged DeWoskin and Lavender violated the automatic stay by requesting the state court hold Caldwell in contempt, requesting wage withholding orders, and seeking a payout order on the $25, 000 appeal bond. The district court referred Caldwell's claim to the bankruptcy court on January 13, 2014.

         DeWoskin and Lavender moved to dismiss the complaint but their motion was denied. DeWoskin and Lavender filed their answer and affirmative defenses, including the defense of res judicata and lack of subject-matter jurisdiction based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Caldwell moved for summary judgment on the issue of liability. DeWoskin and Lavender resisted, again referencing the Rooker-Feldman doctrine in their response to Caldwell's motion. The bankruptcy court denied Caldwell's motion for summary judgment, and sua sponte granted defendants summary judgment, concluding it lacked subject-matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. The district court affirmed.

         II. ...

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