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The Case of Mehta and Application of the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine


by Surajit Sen Sharma

The case of disbarred attorney Mahendra R. Mehta v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission of Supreme Court of Illinois is of importance for obvious reasons, but more than its disciplinary angle, the question of law settled by the United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit bears upon the concept of finality of judgment and the application of the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine. The court held that the nature of interim order inherent in the application of Rule 774 was final until further order of the court. The appellate court held that the qualifying clause until further order of the court did not reduce the finality of the order unless a separately initiated case in a higher forum or the Supreme Court supersedes that order.

In the instant case submitted and decided on March 21, 2012, the court upheld a suspension order as the final judgment of a state court and affirmed that the district courts judgment pertaining to dismissal of the suit was valid under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. The case in nutshell is that the debarred attorney contended his right to due process was violated by an order of the Illinois Supreme Court suspending his license to practice law. The district court dismissed Mehtas complaint under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine holding that the suspension order was the final judgment of a state court and the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear the complaint against it. The court of appeals found the district court to be right. The case started with the Administrator of the Commission filing a disciplinary complaint against Mehta in 2008. A three-day evidentiary hearing by a Hearing Board appointed by the Commission found Mehta had violated four rules of professional conduct and recommended that he be disbarred. Mehta was found guilty of converting more than $100,000 in realestate escrow funds and of lying to an Illinois court about his authority to take the funds from his client. During the pending of an review upon the Commissions recommendation in front of the Commissions Review

Board, the Administrator petitioned the Illinois Supreme Court to suspend Mehtas license under its Rule 774(a). The concerned Supreme Court clerk assigned a docket number to the petition and issued a show cause to Mehta as to why he should not be suspended. Mehta submitted that other proceedings against him should remain suspended until the Commissions Review Board resolved the issue of the Hearing Boards recommendation. However, the Supreme Court was unimpressed and issued a mandate on December 29, 2010 that Mehtas license be suspended with immediate effect and until further order of the Court. While the Commission Review Board was yet to come to any decision, Mehta sued in federal district court alleging that the suspension issued by the Supreme Court violated his right to due process of law. He also pleaded that the Supreme Courts interim order created constitutional bias in the review that was still pending upon the original recommendation of disbarring him. He asked the district court to vacate the order and dismiss the underlying disciplinary complaint. Five days before the district court reached its decision, the Illinois Supreme Court, in a separately filed petition accepted the Hearing Boards recommendation to disbar Mehta. Following the Supreme Courts decision the district court held that it lacked jurisdiction in the subjectmatter under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.

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On appeal from the district court decision the appellate court found that the district court was right and Rooker-Feldman barred the suit in as much as it applies to cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced (Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005)).

However, the appellate court remarked that the only course of action, which Mehta had missed, but was open to him under the circumstances, was a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court of the United States. See Kan. City S. Ry. Co. v. Koeller, 653 F.3d 496, 503 (7th Cir. 2011), cert. denied, 132 S.Ct. 855 (2011).

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