Court Opinions: 10th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion for Nov. 30

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals

Editor’s Note: Law Week Colorado edits court opinion summaries for style and, when necessary, length.

Drexler v. Spahn, et al.

Regina Drexler and Rachel Brown were involved in an intimate relationship that ended bitterly. Afterwards, Drexler wrote literary essays about abuse that Brown characterized as harassment. She felt stalked by Drexler. Therefore, the state granted Brown a protection order against Drexler, which prevented her from being within 100 yards of Brown, her children and her houses and at least 10 feet away from Brown while at work.

In federal court, Drexler alleged her constitutional rights had been violated by the protection order and the statutes authorizing that order. Drexler sought habeas relief against two state-court judges as well as the state court itself and sued the state attorney general for prospective relief and damages. This action was dismissed entirely by the district court. 

In Drexler’s appeal in the 10th Circuit, she asserts the protection order was so restrictive it effectively constituted custody, triggering habeas jurisdiction in her action against the two state-court judges and state court. She also stated the applicability of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine in the suit against the state attorney general. 

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents federal jurisdiction when a litigant challenges a state-court ruling. This doctrine exists to address litigants who treat federal courts as appellate tribunals for state courts and fail to recognize that federal and state courts are separate sovereign actors. In Drexler’s case, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine covered her challenge to the protection order but not the underlying statutes, so she argued the district court should not have dismissed the challenges related to the underlying statutes.

The 10th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the appeal regarding habeas action and concluded the district court erred in applying the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. 

The appeals court remanded the case to the district court to consider the merits of Drexler’s challenge to the state statutes since the doctrine doesn’t prevent federal jurisdiction over a challenge to the validity of state statutes per Skinner v. Switzer: “[A] state-court decision is not reviewable by lower federal courts, but a statute . . . governing the decision may be challenged in a federal action.” 

But the court denied the other claims regarding habeas action given the restrictions could not be regarded as custody of Drexler, and neither the state nor district court abused their discretion in presiding over this action. The protection order against Drexler stands because the district court couldn’t void the state-court orders.  

This order and judgment does not constitute binding precedent except under the doctrines of law of the case, res judicata, and collateral estoppel. But the order and judgment may be cited for its persuasive value if otherwise appropriate.

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