Although the concerns of the Third Circuit seem reasonable, it is likely that the Supreme Court will rule against its decision. The interpretation of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine by the appeals court seems inconsistent with both decisions in Rooker and Feldman, as well as the established principle that parallel claims may be available in both state and federal court where the federal claims do not challenge the outcome in the state court.
In Rooker and Feldman, the claims brought by the plaintiffs in both cases were in response to unfavorable outcomes in state court actions, and were in direct conflict with the state court decisions. See Rooker, 263 U.S. 413; Feldman, 460 U.S. 462. Also, in clear support for the sustainability of parallel claims in both federal and state court, the Supreme Court stated in McClellan v. Carland: "The rule is well recognized that the pendency of an action in the state court is no bar to proceedings concerning the same matter in the Federal court having jurisdiction." McClellan v. Carland, 217 U.S. 268, 282 (1910). In the current case before the Supreme Court, Exxon's claims in federal court are not in response to an unfavorable state court decision, and are not in conflict with the state court decision.
Overall, the interpretation offered by the Third Circuit and followed in the Second Circuit, that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is coextensive with the preclusive concept of res judicata, does not seem as persuasive, or even as appropriate, as the interpretations of other circuits.
The Ninth Circuit's approach offers distinctions between the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and inter-jurisdictional preclusion as codified in 28 U.S.C. § 1738. In Noel v. Hall, the Ninth Circuit noted "[i]n decisions both before and after Feldman, § 1738 requires a federal district court to give the same — not more and not less — preclusive effect to a state court judgment as that judgment would have in the state courts of the state in which is was rendered." Noel v. Hall, 341 F.3d 1148, 1160 (9th Cir. 2003). Identical claims may be pursued in federal and state courts; the Rooker-Feldman doctrine applied too broadly would have "conflicted with either the rule permitting parallel state and federal litigation or the rule of § 1738 requiring federal courts to follow state preclusion rules." Id. at 1161.
The Sixth and Seventh Circuits follow a similar approach to the Ninth Circuit. The Seventh Circuit case, GASH Assocs. v. Vill. Of Rosemont, iterates a similar principle to that of the Ninth Circuit:
"The Rooker-Feldman doctrine. . . has nothing to do with § 1738. It rests on the principle that district courts have only original jurisdiction. . . . The Rooker-Feldman doctrine asks: is the federal plaintiff seeking to set aside a state judgment, or does he present some independent claim, albeit one that denies a legal conclusion that a state court has reached in a case to which he was party? If the former, then the district court lacks jurisdiction; if the latter, then there is jurisdiction and state law determines whether the defendant prevails under principles of preclusion."
GASH Assocs. v. Vill. Of Rosemont, 995 F.2d 726, 728 (7th Cir. 1993).
The Fourth Circuit, in its quite similar interpretations of the doctrine and res judicata, reiterates the general rule that parallel actions may proceed in both federal and state courts until one becomes preclusive of the other. Vulcan Chem. Techs., Inc. v. Barker, 297 F.3d 332 (4th Cir. 2002). The Fourth Circuit court stated that "[i]t would be a novel application of the already beleaguered Rooker-Feldman doctrine to divest a federal court of subject matter jurisdiction simply because a parallel case was later filed in State court seeking to decide the same question." Id. at 338. This argument seems to point to a weakness in the Third Circuit's decision in Exxon Mobil Corp.; the decision clearly fails to address the accepted general principle of parallel claims in two courts.