Michigan attorney rebuts Rooker-Feldman defense in adult guardian appeal

Juliette Fairley
2 min readJan 13, 2020


The lawyer who sued the state of Michigan in federal court has filed a reply brief to the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals over alleged abuse of the elderly and people with disabilities while under court appointed guardianship.

As previously reported in Pacer Monitor News, Attorney Bradley Geller originally filed the Qui Tam complaint in Michigan Eastern District Court, naming the Michigan Supreme Court, the Michigan Attorney General, each of the state’s probate courts and all 300 professional guardians and public administrators as Defendants.

When U.S. District Judge David M. Lawson dismissed the lawsuit, Geller promptly filed an appeal last year.

“Many older adults and individuals with disabilities are victimized rather than protected through Michigan’s guardianship system,” wrote Attorney Bradley Geller in his December 2, 2019 brief.

The appeal highlights the unexpected downsides of court-appointed adult guardianship, which is designed to help the old and infirm manage their lives, but are under fire nationwide with allegations of neglect, abuse, isolation, cruelty, theft, racketeering and financial exploitation, according to a press release.

“Legislative reform has failed to rectify the issues,” Geller states in his reply brief. “The Supreme Court Task Force on Guardianship was a bust. Education and training events have had no apparent impact. There is total absence of peer pressure among the judges; indeed some disingenuously deny any problems exist.”

Some 90% of families nationwide allege that the judge in their guardianship proceedings did not act in the best interest of the elderly and about 80% suspect the judge was improperly influenced, according to a study by the Florida-based watchdog group Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship (AAAPG).

One of the state’s arguments against Counselor Geller is that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents the federal court from reviewing a state court judgment.

“A lower federal court cannot exercise jurisdiction over challenges to state court decisions in particular cases arising out of judicial proceedings even if those challenges allege that the state court’s action was unconstitutional,” wrote Todd J. Shoudy in his November 19, 2019 response on behalf of the Defendants.

However, Geller argues that the state of Michigan does not enjoy sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment and denounced the Rooker Feldman doctrine as a defense.

“The doctrine does not apply to systemic challenges to judicial proceedings,” Geller said. “This court held Rooker-Feldman does not apply to a suit against a court-appointed fiduciary. Indeed, the present case presents an even stronger argument for the non-applicability of Rooker-Feldman.”

While the Sixth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals has yet to issue a decision, the lower court declined to sanction Attorney Geller as the Defendants had requested.

“Geller is genuinely motivated to change the guardianship system and shed light on the perceived abuses,” stated the Honorable Judge Lawson in his order denying sanctions. “His filings, for instance, are not designed to extort a settlement or seek vengeance of some sort. Instead, as the magistrate judge concluded, it appears that Geller sincerely desires to expose and correct deficiencies in Michigan’s guardianship system.”



Juliette Fairley

Manhattan based national freelancer and investigative journalist.