United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Macon Division
ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS
PLAINTIFF'S SECOND AMENDED COMPLAINT
E. SELF, III, JUDGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT.
matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion to
Dismiss Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint [Doc. 48].
In their motion, Defendants maintain that Plaintiff's
Second Amended Complaint [Doc. 42] is subject to dismissal
for a multitude of reasons.
contend that the core of Plaintiff's Second Amended
Complaint rests on his dissatisfaction with being discharged
from the Medical Center of Central Georgia, Inc.,
his dissatisfaction with the legal proceedings in the
Superior Court of Bibb County, Georgia, permitting his
discharge. [Doc. 48-1 at p. 2]. In addition to these central
points, Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint clearly
displays his dissatisfaction with the care he received as a
patient in Defendants' facility. In this case, Plaintiff
asserts an Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act,
42 U.S.C. § 1395dd (“EMTALA”), claim and
medical malpractice claims against the defendant hospital
(all of which Defendants argue are barred by res judicata and
collateral estoppel) as well as claims for libel and slander;
harassment; emotional distress; and invasion of privacy.
[Doc. 42 at pp. 27-44]. In his final cause of action
Plaintiff seeks to invalidate a lien filed by the Medical
Center of Central Georgia, Inc., in relation to
Plaintiff's time as a patient at the
“[D]efendants' hospital facility.”
[Id. at p. 44].
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Court takes the following facts from Plaintiff's Second
Amended Complaint (unless otherwise noted) and assumes them
to be true for the purposes of ruling on Defendants'
motion. See Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S.
544, 556 (2007).
Putney Memorial Hospital, located in Albany, Georgia,
transferred Plaintiff Alter Antoine (“Plaintiff”)
to Navicent Health, Inc. (“Navicent Health”), in
Macon, Georgia, on March 29, 2017, following his involvement
in a motor vehicle accident. [Doc. 42 at ¶¶
5-6]. According to Plaintiff, the nature of the
injuries were severe. [Id. at ¶ 7]. The initial
admitting diagnosis at Navicent Health included “a
traumatic brain injury (“TBI”), a shear injury,
intracerebral hemorrhage, grade 4 torn spleen, and grade 4
liver injury as well as numerous fractures, tears and
lacerations[, ] and other injuries.” [Id.].
Plaintiff claims that “a TBI is one of the most
devastating events and injuries  a person can endure”
and “patients can sustain permanent brain damage
without proper neurological care.” [Id. at
¶ 11]. Although Navicent Health supposedly knew of
Plaintiff's traumatic brain injury, Plaintiff alleges
that Navicent Health never provided neurological care despite
him being admitted as a patient for more than five months.
[Id. At ¶¶ 9, 12, 23].
17, 2017, Navicent Health first cleared Plaintiff for
discharge. [Id. at ¶¶ 15, 17]. According
to Plaintiff, Dr. Smith testified (at a hearing in the
Superior Court of Bibb County) that Navicent Health's
discharge records were not accurate. [Id. At ¶
16]. Specifically, Dr. Smith testified:
[Plaintiff] was unable to ambulate on his own, he was a
serious risk to fall, [Plaintiff] was still dependent on a
PEG feeding tube which had been surgically implanted into his
stomach, [Plaintiff] was unable to medicate, unable to
hydrate or feed himself, unable to urinate other than into a
container thru [sic] a catheter attached to his penis, all
while [Plaintiff] was suffering from a severe stage 4
decubitus ulcer [ ], with severe ongoing cognitive deficits
affecting his comprehension, speech, memory, and inability to
even begin to make important independent decisions for
[Id. (internal record citation omitted)].
alleges that a video, taken four days after Navicent Health
cleared Plaintiff for discharge, shows that Plaintiff still
required assistance from hospital employees to help reduce
Plaintiff's risk of falling. [Id. at ¶ 17].
All in all, despite Plaintiff's allegations that he was
nowhere near ready for discharge, Navicent Health still
“wanted [Plaintiff] to be out their door.”
[Id. at ¶¶ 22, 23]. Plaintiff contends
that beginning on June 17, 2017, and continuing through
“and beyond” August 9, 2017, Navicent Health
conspired to evict Plaintiff. [Id. at ¶ 24].
August 9, 2017, Navicent Health deemed Plaintiff safe for
discharge for a second time, a decision that, Plaintiff
argues, was based on false grounds. [Id. at
¶¶ 32, 33]. According to Plaintiff, nursing and
assisting staff conspired, and without direction from a
medical doctor, wheeled Plaintiff out of his hospital room
“all the way down to Navicent's discharged patient
pick-up area and dumped him there.” [Id. at
¶ 34]. In doing so, Plaintiff contends that Defendants
“recklessly and wantonly created a living nightmare for
Plaintiff.” [Id. at ¶ 39]. Plaintiff states
that he “was returned to the hospital as a patient
because the hospital feared publicity from a news reporter
who was on her way to Navicent having heard about what
Navicent had done to [Plaintiff].” [Id. at
claims that Defendants' “stunningly reckless”
and “uncaring” attitude “permeated”
each Defendant to the extent that they all “made
significant effort” to “illegally discharge
[Plaintiff].” [Id. at ¶ 26]. For example,
Plaintiff states that Navicent Health did not contact
Plaintiff's brother before discharge, which, according to
Dr. Smith's testimony (at the superior-court hearing),
was not appropriate since Plaintiff's brother was
“supposed to be the one helping him.”
[Id. at ¶¶ 30, 31].
given Plaintiff's refusal to leave, Navicent Health
sought an injunction from the Superior Court of Bibb County
to remove Plaintiff on the grounds of criminal trespass.
[Id. at ¶¶ 54-56, 60]. In what Plaintiff
calls an “attempt to double down on [Navicent
Health's] insatiable desire to lock [Plaintiff] out,
” Navicent Health presented a “false set of legal
papers” for immediate review by the court system.
[Id. at ¶¶ 54-55]. According to Plaintiff,
Navicent not only sought court intervention, but also
“proudly” and “maliciously accused
[Plaintiff] of being a criminal trespasser by remaining at
Navicent.” [Id. at ¶¶ 56, 74].
asserts that Navicent Health's “slanderous
injunction case was a manipulation of the court system . . .
so that [Plaintiff] would leave the hospital.”
[Id. at ¶ 62]. Specifically, Plaintiff now
claims that the injunction application “did not contain
a scintilla of records, evidence[, ] nor medical statements
to support their allegation of irreparable harm, because
there was none.” [Id. at ¶ 79]. To that
end, Plaintiff concludes that the motive behind evicting
Plaintiff was purely out of financial concern. [Id.
at ¶ 78].
light of these events, Plaintiff takes issue with Navicent
Health's removal of “their traumatic brain injured
patient” from his hospital room to the exit with
“no medication, ” “nowhere to go, ”
and “no one to pick him up.” [Id. at
¶ 59]. Plaintiff characterizes Navicent Health's
actions as “grotesque” and “an outrageous
Goliath attempt to stomp out this 33[-]year[-]old man and to
cover up their willful neglect and abuse.”
[Id. at ¶¶ 59, 61]. According to
Plaintiff, Dr. Smith testified on several occasions at the
superior-court injunction hearing that this particular
conduct was “wrong, ” “reprehensible,
” and “unacceptable negligence.”
[Id. at ¶¶ 66, 67].
August 15, 2017, Navicent Health brought Dr. Smith into
Plaintiff's hospital room for what Plaintiff argues was a
means to “cook up” three lines in the record that
Plaintiff was “supposedly safe for discharge to Hemlock
Street or out to a Macon homeless shelter. [Id. at
¶¶ 81, 86]. Later, however, Plaintiff contends Dr.
Smith recanted on cross-examination and stated that his
previous decision authorizing discharge was “totally
improper, dangerous, and life threatening.”
[Id. at ¶ 87].
to Plaintiff, the superior court ruled that Navient Health
“could not throw [Plaintiff] out the
door.” [Id. at ¶ 93 (emphasis
added)]. After having heard testimony from only two
witnesses and after determining that the hospital's case
“had to stop, ” the superior court judge
nevertheless granted Navicent Health's injunctive relief
permitting Plaintiff's discharge, but told
“the hospital that they could not discharge [Plaintiff]
without the proper care in place.” [Id. at
¶¶ 105, 106 (emphasis omitted)]. Navicent Health
had “to provide and pay for months of in-patient
rehabilitation care at Navicent Health's own
expense.” [Id. at ¶¶ 93-94].
Specially, the superior court ordered that
[i]n order to provide a safe place for [Plaintiff] to
continue his next level of outpatient treatment after his
discharge from The Medical Center, Navicent Health, is
ordered to pay up to $400.00 per day, or $12, 000.00 per
month, for up to a maximum of one hundred (100) days for
[Plaintiff] to be admitted to a skilled nursing facility of
[Navicent Health's] choice for the purpose of providing
safe lodging and nutrition for [Plaintiff] as he transitions
from an acute care hospital.
33-2 at pp. 5-6]. After 160 days,  Navicent discharged
Plaintiff on September 5, 2017. [Doc. 33-3]. But, in an
attempt “to stick it to [Plaintiff] one more time,
” Plaintiff alleges that Navicent “secretly filed
a purported lien for their alleged billing, ” never
letting Plaintiff know of their plans. [Doc. 42 at ¶
his discharge, Plaintiff filed the instant lawsuit in the
United States District Court for the Southern District of New
York on December 28, 2017. [Doc. 1]. The next day, after
receiving filing errors, Plaintiff re-filed his initial
Complaint [Doc. 1] against Defendants. See [Doc. 3].
Before its service, Plaintiff attempted to amend his initial
Complaint on January 29, 2018, but once again received a
filing error with instructions regarding how to properly
label and file what would become his First Amended Complaint
[Doc. 26]. See [Doc. 24]. However, before correcting
his filing errors the following day, Plaintiff's
attorney, Mr. David Panitz, filed a letter dated January 29,
2018, and addressed to the Southern District of New York
district court judge assigned to his client's case. [Doc.
25]. In his letter, Mr. Panitz asked that Court “in
lieu of a more formal application to voluntarily transfer
this case pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404, from the
District Court for the Southern District of New York to the
District Court for the Middle District of Georgia.”
[Id. at p. 1]. Then, on January 30, 2018, Plaintiff
filed his First Amended Complaint. [Doc. 26].
January 31, 2018, the District Court for the Southern
District of New York ordered that “th[is] action be
transferred to the U.S. District Court for the Middle
District of Georgia.” [Doc. 27 at p. 2]. Having been
served,  Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss [Doc.
33] Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint on March 5, 2018.
On March 26, 2018, exactly 21 days after Defendants'
service of their motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
12(b), Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint [Doc. 42].
However, Plaintiff failed to seek leave of court regarding
his second attempt to amend his complaint. See Fed.
R. Civ. P. 15. Plaintiff's purported Second Amended
Complaint could not be an amendment as a matter of right
because he previously filed his First Amended Complaint on
January 30, 2018, thereby exhausting Rule 15's right to
amend “once as a matter of course.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(a)(1) (emphasis added); Stephens v.
Atlanta Indep. Sch. Sys., No. 1:13-cv-978-WSD, 2013 WL
6148099, at *2 (N.D.Ga. Nov. 22, 2013).
effort to clarify the controlling pleading in this case, the
Court held a telephone conference during which Defendants
“consent[ed] that the Plaintiff may amend his Complaint
by the filing of this Second Amended Complaint, such already
being filed of record on March 26, 2018.” [Doc. 50 at
p. 1]. Defendants now seek dismissal of Plaintiff's
Second Amended Complaint in their re-filed Motion to Dismiss
Standard of Review
seek to dismiss Plaintiff's action against them for
failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 12(b)(6). When ruling on a 12(b)(6) motion,
district courts must accept the facts set forth in the
complaint as true. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 572. A
complaint survives a motion to dismiss only if it alleges
sufficient factual matter (accepted as true) that states a
claim for relief that is plausible on its face.
McCullough v. Finley, 907 F.3d 1324, 1333 (11th Cir.
2018) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662,
678-79 (2009). In fact, a well-pled complaint “may
proceed even if it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of
those facts is improbable, and that a recovery is very remote
and unlikely.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8 does not require detailed
factual allegations, it does require “more than [ ]
accusation[s].” McCullough, 907 F.3d at 1333
(citation omitted); see also n.4, supra. To
decide whether a complaint survives a motion to dismiss,
district courts are instructed to use a two-step framework.
Id. The first step is to identify the allegations
that are “no more than mere conclusions.”
Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679).
“Conclusory allegations are not entitled to the
assumption of truth.” Id. (citation omitted).
After disregarding the conclusory allegations, the second
step is to “assume any remaining factual allegations
are true and determine whether those factual allegations
‘plausibly give rise to an entitlement to
relief.'” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556
U.S. at 679).
a complaint attacked by a 12(b)(6) motion is subject to
dismissal when it fails to “give the defendant fair
notice of what the . . . claim is and the grounds upon which
it rests.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation
omitted). “A plaintiff must plead more than labels and
conclusions or a formulaic recitation of the elements of a
cause of action.” McCullough, 907 F.3d at 1333
(internal quotations omitted); see also Twombly, 550
U.S. at 555. “To be sure, a plaintiff may use legal
conclusions to structure his complaint, but legal conclusions
‘must be supported by factual allegations.'”
McCullough, 907 F.3d at 1333 (quoting
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679). While courts, in ruling on
a motion to dismiss, must take all of the factual allegations
in the complaint as true; they are not bound to accept a
legal conclusion couched as a factual allegation.
Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Courts must “identify
conclusory allegations and then discard them-not ‘on
the ground that they are unrealistic or nonsensical' but
because their conclusory nature ‘disentitles them to
the presumption of truth.'” McCullough,
907 F.3d at 1333 (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 681).
issue to be decided when considering a motion to dismiss is
not whether the claimant will ultimately prevail, but
“whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to
support the claims.” Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416
U.S. 232, 236 (1974), overruled on other grounds by Davis
v. Scheuer, 468 U.S. 183 (1984). The factual allegations
in a complaint “must be enough to raise a right to
relief above the speculative level” and cannot
“merely create a suspicion [of] a legally cognizable
right of action.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 545,
555 (second alteration in original). Finally, complaints that
tender “‘naked assertion[s]' devoid of
‘further factual enhancement'” will not
survive against a motion to dismiss. Iqbal, 556 U.S.
at 678 (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557)
(alteration in original). Stated differently, the complaint
must allege enough facts “to raise a reasonable
expectation that discovery will reveal evidence”
supporting a claim. Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556. With
the foregoing standard in mind, and taking the facts asserted
in Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint as true, the
Court rules on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.
Defendants' Motion to Dismiss [Doc. 48]
Brief in Support of its dismissal motion sets forth ten
arguments regarding Plaintiff's claims. See
generally [Doc. 48-1]. The first and third arguments are
based on procedural grounds-namely a lack of diversity
jurisdiction, res judicata, and collateral estoppel.
[Id. at pp. 7, 10]. Defendants' second argument,
however, discusses Plaintiff's only federal law claim,
his EMTALA claim against the defendant hospital.
[Id. at p. 9]. In that argument, Defendants assert
that EMTALA, in regards to this case, is inapplicable on the
basis that EMTALA “does not apply to [the] discharge of
a non-emergent, stable patient.” [Id.]. Next,
as additional grounds for dismissal of Plaintiff's
medical malpractice claims, Defendants argue that Plaintiff
failed to file the accompanying medical affidavit as required
by Ga. Code Ann. § 9-11-9.1. [Id. at p. 12].
And, finally, Defendants' remaining arguments as to
Plaintiff's medical malpractice; libel and slander;
harassment; emotional distress; invasion of privacy;
invalidation of a hospital lien; and attorney's fees
claims all incorporate the traditional motion-to-dismiss
standard of failure to state a claim under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). See generally
Court must determine whether it has subject-matter
jurisdiction over this case before it can address any
substantive arguments presented by the parties as to
Plaintiff's claims. Henderson ex rel. Henderson v.
Shinseki, 562 U.S. 428, 435 (2011) (“[F]ederal
courts have an independent obligation to ensure that they do
not exceed the scope of their jurisdiction, and therefore
they must raise and decide jurisdictional questions that the
parties either overlook or elect not to press.”). The
claims presented in this case potentially invoke two avenues
by which a case may be filed in federal court:
federal-question jurisdiction and diversity jurisdiction.
Federal Question Jurisdiction Under 28 U.S.C. §
preliminary matter, the Court rules on Plaintiff's EMTALA
claim before discussing Defendants' diversity of
citizenship concerns and their other jurisdictional and
procedural arguments as to Plaintiff's remaining
previously alluded to, Plaintiff's EMTALA claim is his
only claim invoking federal-question jurisdiction under 28
U.S.C. § 1331,  which would normally give the Court
original jurisdiction over this case. In light of this
Court's duty to undertake an independent inquiry as to
its jurisdiction, it finds that it lacks federal-question
jurisdiction as to Plaintiff's EMTALA claim under
Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923)
and D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462
(1983). See Pate v. Chilton Cty. Bd. of Educ., 853
F.Supp.2d 1117, 1128 (M.D. Ala. Jan. 4, 2012) (citing
Ebrahimi v. City of Huntsville Bd. of Educ., 114
F.3d 162, 165 (11th Cir. 1997) (“Federal courts have an
independent duty to determine whether they have jurisdiction
and to police the boundaries of their jurisdiction.”));
see also Hoblock v. Albany Cty. Bd. of Elections,
422 F.3d 77, 83 (2d Cir. 2005) (“The district court
raised Rooker-Feldman sua sponte . . . .”).
a federal suit follows a state suit, the former may be
prohibited by the so-called Rooker-Feldman doctrine
in certain circumstances.” Hoblock, 422 F.3d
at 83. The United States Supreme Court has observed
that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine
“recognizes that [while] 28 U.S.C. § 1331 is a
grant of original jurisdiction, [it] does not authorize
district courts to exercise appellate jurisdiction over
state-court judgments, which Congress has reserved to th[e]
[United States Supreme Court].” Sophocleus v. Ala.
Dep't of Transp., 170 Fed.Appx. 608, 610 (11th Cir.
2005) (citing Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus.
Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 292 (2005)); see also 28
U.S.C. § 1257(a). After due consideration and for the
reasons that follow, the Court finds the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine controls so that it does not
have federal subject-matter jurisdiction over Plaintiff's
stands for the proposition that “a United States
District Court has no authority to review final judgments of
a state court in judicial proceedings.” Wood v.
Orange Cty., 715 F.2d 1543, 1546 (11th Cir. 1983)
(quoting D.C. Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S.
462, 467 (1983)). Cases are subject to the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine if: (1) the federal-court
plaintiff lost in state court; (2) the federal-court
plaintiff complains of injuries caused by a state-court
judgment; (3) the plaintiff's federal suit invites
district-court review and rejection of the state-court
judgment; and, (4) the state-court judgment was
“rendered before the [district-court] proceedings
commenced.” Hoblock, 422 F.3d at 85. Despite
Plaintiff's clear allegation that Navicent Health's
actions violated EMTALA, such a claim raised in this Court (a
United States District Court)-in light of the circumstances
surrounding Plaintiff's state and federal
cases-“complain[s] of [an] injury [caused] by”
the Superior Court of Bibb County (a state court) and prompts
a Rooker-Feldman analysis. Id. at 88.
The Substantive Rooker-Feldman Requirements
outset, and in order to ensure Rooker-Feldman's
applicability to Plaintiff's EMTALA claim, the Court
first details the doctrine's substantive requirements.
Embedded in the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is the
principle, expressed by Congress in 28 U.S.C. § 1257,
that within the federal judicial system, only the United
States Supreme Court may review state-court decisions (aside
from habeas review). Id. at 85; see also
Casale v. Tillman, 558 F.3d 1258, 1260 (11th Cir. 2009)
(per curiam), infra. This principle “animates
the two substantive requirements for
Rooker-Feldman's application outlined in
Exxon Mobil: [(1)] the federal plaintiff must
complain of injury from a state-court judgment; and [(2)] the
federal plaintiff must seek federal-court review and
rejection of the state-court judgment.”
Hoblock, 422 F.3d at 85.
Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Hoblock
points out that 28 U.S.C. § 1257 (and thus
Rooker-Feldman) does not deprive a district court of
subject-matter jurisdiction simply because a party attempts
to litigate in federal court a matter previously litigated in
state court. If a federal plaintiff ‘present[s]
some independent claim, albeit one that denies a legal
conclusion that a state court has reached in a case to which
he was a party . . ., then there is jurisdiction and
state law determines whether the defendant prevails under
principles of preclusion.'
Id. at 86 (quoting Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at
293) (alteration in original) (emphasis added). Stated
differently, if the federal plaintiff presents an independent
claim then the court can exercise subject-matter jurisdiction
and Rooker-Feldman cannot bar the claim. Independent
claims are outside of Rooker-Feldman's reach
even if they involve the identical subject matter and parties
as the previous state-court suit. Id. Nevertheless,
the defendant may still prevail, but state law will determine
whether the plaintiff's federal suit is subject to
preclusion. Id.; see also Section
(C)(1)(c)(i) and (ii), infra.
same token, if the plaintiff presents, in federal court, a
non-independent claim, then Rooker-Feldman will,
subject to the doctrine's procedural requirements, bar
the plaintiff's suit due to a lack of jurisdiction.
See Hoblock, 422 F.3d at 86-87. A claim's status
as either independent or non-independent is adjudicated using
the “inextricably intertwined” standard.
Id. “A claim is inextricably intertwined if it
would effectively nullify the [state-court] judgment, or if
it succeeds only to the extent that the state court wrongly
decided the issues.” Antoine v. Vernin, No.
18-10645, F. App'x, 2018 WL 3860477, at *2 (11th Cir.
Aug. 14, 2018) (citing May v. Morgan Cty., 878 F.3d
1001, 1005 (11th Cir. 2017)).
a federal claim-like EMTALA-may seem independent because
Plaintiff did not assert such claim during his state-court
proceedings. However, just presenting a legal theory to a
federal court that was not raised in state court cannot
insulate the plaintiff's federal suit from
Rooker-Feldman if the federal suit complains of
injury resulting from a state-court judgment and effectively
seeks to have that state-court judgment reversed.
Hoblock, 422 F.3d at 86. “[S]uch federal 
claims, even if not raised in state court, are
‘inextricably intertwined' with the challenged
state-court judgment . . . and therefore a federal district
court lacks jurisdiction over such claims because ‘the
district court is in essence being called upon to review the
state-court decision.'” Id. (citing
Feldman, 460 U.S. at 483-84 n.16). To that end, the
Court is tasked with deciding whether Plaintiff's federal
suit seeks “review and reversal” of the
state-court judgment. Id. at 87. In one sense, no:
Plaintiff does not seem to want the Court to evaluate the
state court's reasoning or review the substance of the
state court's ultimate decision permitting his discharge
from the hospital. See Id . However, as explained
above, a federal suit is not free from
Rooker-Feldman's bar simply because the suit
proceeds on legal theories not addressed in state court.
Id. at 87.
what Plaintiff seeks is not a strict “review” of
the state court's final order, he does-by virtue of the
federal claim enumerated in his Second Amended Complaint-
effectively seek reversal. See id; see also
[Doc. 42 at ¶ 79 (“The hospital's injunction
application of August 9[th], 2017[, ] did not include a
scintilla of records, evidence[, ] nor medical statements to
support their allegation of irreparable harm, because there
was none.”)]. The state court ordered that Plaintiff
could be discharged, and now Plaintiff ostensibly wants the
federal court to rule that The Medical Center of Central
Georgia, Inc. (the petitioner in the earlier superior court
case), violated EMTALA because it followed the
state-court order. Clearly, The Medical Center of Central
Georgia, Inc., could not comply with both the state-court
order and Plaintiff's desired federal-court
ruling-that he has sufficiently stated an EMTALA claim to
withstand a motion to dismiss. Thus, the relief sought in
Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, “if granted,
would seem to ‘reverse' the state-court
judgment.” Hoblock, 422 F.3d at 87.
other hand, Hoblock notes that an independent and,
therefore, non-barred claim may “den[y] a legal
conclusion” reached by a state court. Id.
(citing Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 293). The
Hoblock court stresses that “[p]recisely what
[‘deny a legal conclusion'] means is not
clear” from either Exxon Mobil or GASH
Ass'ns v. Village of Rosemont, 995 F.2d 726, 728
(7th Cir. 1993) (the original source of the language),
“but it suggests that a plaintiff who seeks in federal
court a result opposed to the one he achieved in state court
does not, for that reason alone, run afoul of
Rooker-Feldman.” Id. In hopes of
clarifying this phrase, and by extension clarifying the
doctrine's applicability, Hoblock tells us that
“the key to resolving this uncertainty lies in the
second substantive Rooker-Feldman requirement: that
federal plaintiffs are not subject to the
Rooker-Feldman bar unless they complain
of an injury caused by a state judgment.”
Id. (second emphasis in original).
this requirement answers why a federal plaintiff cannot
escape the Rooker-Feldman bar simply by relying on a
legal theory not raised in the state court. Hoblock
provides the perfect illustration:
Suppose a state court, based purely on state law, terminates
a father's parental rights and orders the state to take
custody of his son. If the father sues in federal court for
the return of his son on grounds that the state judgment
violates his federal substantive due-process rights as a
parent, he is complaining of an injury caused by the state
judgment and seeking its reversal. This he may not do,
regardless of whether he raised any constitutional claims in
state court, because only the Supreme Court may hear appeals
from state-court judgments.
422 F.3d at 87. This hypothetical scenario is markedly
similar to the proceedings involved in this case. “In
effect, [Plaintiff], ” by filing his EMTALA claim,
“seeks to challenge collaterally the state . . . court
proceedings” that gave The Medical Center of Central
Georgia, Inc., the authority to discharge him, and this he
may not do because “federal courts are not a forum for
appealing state[-]court decisions.” Staley v.
Ledbetter, 837 F.2d 1016, 1017-18 (11th Cir. 1988) (per
curiam); see also Wood, 715 F.2d at 1546
(“[F]ederal review of [state-court] decisions is
entrusted solely to the Supreme Court, [the lower federal
courts] may not decide federal issues that are raised in
state proceedings and ‘inextricably intertwined'
with the state court's judgment. Feldman,
moreover, indicates that the Rooker bar also
operates where the plaintiff fails to raise his federal
claims in state court.”) (internal citation omitted)).
by focusing on the requirement that the state-court judgment
be the source of the injury, it is clear how a suit
potentially asking a federal court to “den[y] a legal
conclusion” could be deemed “independent, ”
and therefore unfit for Rooker-Feldman adjudication.
Hoblock, 422 F.3d at 87. Assuredly, the Court
recognizes “[t]he fact that the state court chose not
to remedy the injury does not transform the subsequent
federal suit on the same matter into an appeal, [which is]
forbidden by Rooker-Feldman, of the state-court
judgment.” Id. at 88. However, it does seem
obvious that a federal plaintiff cannot avoid
Rooker-Feldman simply by clever pleading, such as
alleging that actions taken pursuant to a court order violate
his rights without ever challenging the state-court order
itself. Id. Revisiting Hoblock's
child-custody scenario just discussed,
if the state has taken custody of a child pursuant to a state
judgment, the parent cannot escape Rooker-Feldman
simply by alleging in federal court that he was injured by
the state employees who took his child rather than by the
judgment authorizing them to take the child. The example
shows that in some circumstances, federal suits that purport
to complain of injury by individuals in reality complain of
injury by state-court judgments.
Id. Still the question remains: when does a federal
suit complain of an injury caused by a state-court judgment?
federal suit complains of a state-court judgment even if it
appears to only claim a purported violation by a third
party's actions-in this case, The Medical Center of
Central Georgia, Inc.-when in fact, the third party's
actions were produced by the state-court judgment.
Id. “Where a state-court judgment causes the
challenged third-party action, any challenge to that
third-party action is necessarily the kind of challenge to
the state judgment that only the Supreme Court can
briefly discussed above, presenting a legal theory in the
federal suit that was not raised in state court cannot
insulate the federal plaintiff's suit from
Rooker-Feldman when the federal suit complains of an
injury from a state-court's judgment. Id. at 87.
In this case, Plaintiff cannot escape Rooker-Feldman
by alleging, via EMTALA, that he was injured by hospital
personnel (the party who actually discharged him) rather than
by the state-court judgment that permitted his discharge.
See Id . at 88. Plaintiff had every reasonable
opportunity to raise his alleged EMTALA violation during the
fervid state court proceedings. May, 878 F.3d at
1005 (“[Rooker-Feldman] does not apply,
however, where a party did not have a reasonable opportunity
to raise his federal claim in state proceedings.”).
fact, a reasonable reading of Plaintiff's Second Amended
Complaint shows that Plaintiff clearly made EMTALA arguments
in the superior court. For example, Plaintiff claims that The
Medical Center of Central Georgia, Inc., “kn[ew] they
had already illegally discharged and forced [Plaintiff]
out” and that “[i]t was only [Plaintiff], not
Navicent, who had the emergency need for court intervention
as a result of Navicent's wrongful discharge . . .
.” [Doc. 42, at ¶¶ 55, 58]. Secondly,
Plaintiff himself unequivocally alleged that
“defendants carelessly and without concern for [his]
care, sabotaged [his] personal circumstances, knowing that
[he] would suffer irreparable harm by what they were
doing to him.” [Id. at ¶ 76 (emphasis
added)]. Lastly, Plaintiff, at the time of the proceedings in
the Superior Court of Bibb County, even presented testimony
in which Dr. Matthew C. Smith, M.D., “conceded . . .
that [the June 17, 2017, ] discharge of [Plaintiff] was
totally improper, dangerous, and ...