TRIBAL SOVEREIGN IMMUNITY
ROOKER-FELDMAN / RES JUDICATA / COLLATERAL ESTOPPEL
Vasquez v. YII Shipping Company, Ltd., --- F.3d --- (11th Cir. August 30, 2012) vacated an order dismissing a seaman’s complaint alleging violations of the Jones Act, and federal maritime law of unseaworthiness. Vasquez originally filed his suit in Florida court, which dismissed his claims based on Florida’s doctrine of forum non conveniens, and the dismissal was affirmed on appeal. Vasquez then brought the same claims in federal district court, arguing that federal maritime law applied to his case and that venue was not improper under federal forum non conveniens principles. Although the Florida court never decided whether federal maritime law was applicable to Vasquez’s case, the district court ruled that under principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel, Vasquez was precluded from litigating facts relevant to his federal maritime claims. The district court then dismissed Vasquez’s complaint on the grounds of federal forum non conveniens and the Rooker-Feldman doctrine based on its application of collateral estoppel and res judicata. The appellate court found that collateral estoppel applies only when identical issues are involved and that was not the case here. Likewise, res judicata applies only to a final judgment on the merits and, therefore, was not applicable here where there has been no merits determination. Finally, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine was a narrow doctrine that only applies to an attempt to appeal a state court judgment. The doctrine holds that federal courts below the Supreme Court must not become a court of appeals for state court decisions. The state court appellant has to find a state court remedy, or obtain relief from the U.S. Supreme Court. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is “confined to cases” that were “brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments.” Exxon Mobile Corp. v Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). In this case, Vasquez’s lawsuit does not seek appellate review of the state court’s decision applying Florida’s forum non conveniens rules to his claims. Instead, Vasquez seeks review of the district court’s order that federal maritime law does not apply to his case, an issue not resolved by the state court.