Patterson v. Labor Administrator et al
ORDER denying 39 Motion to Amend; finding as moot 40 Motion for Extension of Time ; terminating 45 reply brief ; granting in part and denying in part 15 Motion to Dismiss. Signed by Judge Janet C. Hall on 9/26/12. (Bauer, J.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
STATE OF CONNECTICUT
DEPARTMENT OF LABOR
ADMINISTRATOR, ET AL,
CIVIL ACTION NO.
SEPTEMBER 26, 2012
RULING RE: DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO DISMISS (Doc. No. 15) and PLAINTIFF’S
MOTION TO AMEND COMPLAINT (Doc. No. 39)
Plaintiff Ronald Patterson brings this action pro se against the State of
Connecticut Department of Labor Administrator (“Administrator”), the State of
Connecticut Employment Security Appeals Division, Lynne M. Knox in her individual
capacity and in her capacity as Chairwoman of the State of Connecticut Employment
Security Board of Review (“Board of Review”), Janice T. Drombrowski in her individual
capacity and in her capacity as an Associate Appeals Referee of the State of
Connecticut Employment Security Appeals Division, and the State of Connecticut
Judicial Branch (together “Defendants”), for violation of his procedural due process and
equal protection rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States
Constitution, violation of his right to be free from retaliation for the exercise of his First
Amendment rights, and to assert the unconstitutionality of a provision of Connecticut
law. Currently pending before the court is Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (“Mot.
Dismiss”) (Doc. No. 15) and Mr. Patterson’s Motion to Amend his Complaint (Doc. No.
39). For the reasons that follow, the court grants in part and denies in part the Motion
to Dismiss and denies the Motion to Amend.1
STANDARD OF REVIEW
A district court properly dismisses a case for lack of subject matter jurisdiction
under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when the court lacks the
statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it. Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d
110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000). In assessing a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction, the court “accept[s] as true all material allegations in the complaint.”
Shipping Fin. Serv. Corp. v. Drakos, 140 F.3d 129, 131 (2d Cir. 1998) (citing Scheuer v.
Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)). The court, however, refrains from “drawing from
the pleadings inferences favorable to the party asserting [jurisdiction].” Id. (citing
Norton v. Larney, 266 U.S. 511, 515 (1925)). On a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule
12(b)(1), the plaintiff must establish by a preponderance of the evidence that the court
has subject matter jurisdiction over the complaint. Makarova, 201 F.3d at 113; see also
Malik v. Meissner, 82 F.3d 560, 562 (2d Cir. 1996); In re Joint E. & So. Dist. Asbestos
Litig., 14 F.3d 726, 730 (2d Cir.1993). Courts evaluating Rule 12(b)(1) motions “may
resolve [ ] disputed jurisdictional fact issues by reference to evidence outside the
pleadings, such as affidavits.” Zappia Middle East Constr. Co. Ltd. v. Emirate of Abu
Dhabi, 215 F.3d 247, 253 (2d Cir. 2000).
The court also addresses plaintiff’s Motion to Overrule Defendant’s Objection to Serve a
Supplemental Complaint (Doc. No. 45). This document is more properly labeled plaintiff’s Reply to
Defendants’ Objection to Plaintiff’s Motion to Amend/Correct the Complaint. Therefore, the court
terminates the motion and will treat it as a Reply.
The court also terminates as moot Defendants’ Motion for Extension of Time (Doc. No. 40).
For a period of time prior to November 2009, Mr. Patterson received
unemployment benefits from the State of Connecticut Department of Labor Employment
Security Division. See Compl. at ¶ 10. In November 2009, President Barack Obama
signed an extension of unemployment compensation benefits. Id. Mr. Patterson’s
unemployment compensation benefits during his extended benefit year were $503,
pursuant to the decision of the Administrator, which Mr. Patterson argues is final after
21 days under Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-241(a). Id.
On February 21, 2010, the Administrator sent Mr. Patterson a monetary
determination extending the benefit year for his Federal Emergency Unemployment
Compensation at the same amount, $503. Id. at ¶ 11.2 Mr. Patterson continued to file
his claim. Id.
On or about April 18, 2010, plaintiff retrieved his unemployment compensation
check and found that the amount had been reduced to $15. Id. at ¶ 12. He received no
finding from the Administrator as to why his check amount had been reduced. Id. Mr.
Patterson believes the amount was reduced in retaliation against him for having filed
suit in federal court against state court judges. Id. Mr. Patterson, nor the Superior
Court judge who eventually heard Mr. Patterson’s appeal, ever received any decision
from the Administrator as to why his originally extended benefit year had been
terminated, despite state policy in favor of sending adequate and timely predetermination notices. Id. at ¶ 13.
The Complaint contains two paragraphs labeled with the number “11.” This citation refers to the
second such paragraph, at page 3.
Mr. Patterson initiated an appeal of the Administrator’s action reducing the
amount of his unemployment compensation, but without a decision from the
Administrator, he was unable to prepare a line of questioning for the appellate hearing.
Id. at 14. The Administrator did not appear at the hearing. Id. Mr. Patterson alleges
that the Appeals Referee, Ms. Drombrowski, was biased because “she issued facts and
law that could not reasonably be followed” and that the Administrator “defaulted.” Id. At
this hearing, Mr. Patterson was denied his right to cross-examine the Administrator both
as a result of the Administrator’s failure to issue a finding and by failing to appear at the
hearing. Id. at 15. Mr. Patterson alleges that this pattern shows that a policy clearly
exists that claimants automatically lose at appeals hearings. Id. He further claims that
Ms. Drombrowski’s position representing the Administrator created a conflict of interest
and that her decision should not have any legal force. Id.
Mr. Patterson timely appealed the decision to the Board of Review, which found
no errors in Mr. Patterson’s benefit rate. Id. at 16. The Board of Review applied no
legal standard to the denial of Mr. Patterson’s due process rights. Id. The Board of
Review further erred, Mr. Patterson asserts, because promissory estoppel applies
because federal law includes a right to exhaustion of unemployment benefits and does
not allow a new benefit year to be established before the termination of an existing
benefit year, and states do not have the right to re-determine federal benefits. Id.
Mr. Patterson further alleges that section 22-4 of the Connecticut Practice Book
is unconstitutional because the time frame established by the rule penalizes claimants,
particularly pro se claimants. Id. at 17. In Mr. Patterson’s case, it took the Board of
Review over four months to come to its decision, making a rule that a claimant must
wait two weeks to file a Motion to Correct with an Intent to Appeal unconstitutional. Id.
Mr. Patterson appears to have filed a motion to reopen the Board of Review’s decision.
Mr. Patterson further claims that his rights to procedural due process were
violated by the protection of the Board of Review’s decision by the state Superior court.
Mr. Patterson references, and the court takes judicial notice of, Mr. Patterson’s
appeal of the Board of Review decision to the Connecticut Superior Court. See
Patterson, Ronald G. v. Administrator, Unemployment Comp. Act., No. HHD-CV115035331-S (Conn. Super. 2011), available at
5331S (“State Court Action”). Mr. Patterson filed his Petition on March 3, 2011. See
State Court Action at Doc. No. 100.30. Judgment entered against him on July 25, 2011.
Id. at 103.87. An Appeal to the State of Connecticut Appellate Court was dismissed for
failure to properly file his case. Id. at 108.00.3
Mr. Patterson filed this action on August 4, 2011, asking for a temporary
injunction to receive his unemployment benefits at the higher rate and alleging violations
of his federal rights to equal protection and procedural due process, brought under
section 1983 of title 42 of the United States Code. On December 9, 2011, defendants
filed a Motion to Dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. On April 4, 2012, Mr.
Patterson filed a Motion to Amend his Complaint, seeking to add facts explaining in
greater detail the benefit notices mailed to him and detailing the chain of events that
Defendants assert that Mr. Patterson subsequently attempted to withdraw his case. See See
Defendant’s Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 15-1) at Ex. F (including what
appears to be a Motion to Withdraw Appeal). This document, however, is not listed on the state trial or
appellate court dockets.
have transpired since he originally filed his Complaint. On August 9, 2012, this case
was transferred to the undersigned.
In their Motion to Dismiss, the defendants first argue, as a preliminary matter,
that Mr. Patterson’s claims against the various state agencies and against Ms. Knox
and Ms. Drombrowski in their official capacities are barred by the Eleventh Amendment.
The defendants next argue that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over Mr.
Patterson’s claims because of res judicata, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, and qualified
A. Eleventh Amendment
The defendants argue that -- to the extent Mr. Patterson’s complaint is made
against the Administrator, the Board of Review, the State of Connecticut Employment
Security Appeals Division, the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch, and Ms. Knox and
Ms. Drombrowski in their official capacities -- it is barred under the Eleventh
Amendment. Under the Eleventh Amendment, “The Judicial power of the United States
shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted
against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects
of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. amend XI. The Eleventh Amendment has been
extended to apply to suits by citizens against their own states. See Bd. of Tr. Of Univ.
of Ala. v. Garrett, 531 U.S. 356, 363 (2002). This immunity bars federal courts from
entertaining suits for damages brought by a private citizen against a state without the
state’s consent. Id. “The ultimate guarantee of the Eleventh Amendment is that
nonconsenting States may not be sued by private individuals in federal court.” Id.
Further, the Eleventh Amendment does not apply solely to suits directed at a
state as a whole, but also to state agencies. See In re Deposit Ins. Agency, 482 F.3d
612, 617 (2d Cir. 2007) (“This jurisdictional bar also immunizes a state entity that is an
‘arm of the state,’ including, in appropriate circumstances, a state official acting in his or
her official capacity”) (citing Northern Ins. Co. v. Chatham County, 547 U.S. 189 (2006);
Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 663 (1974)). “Unless Eleventh Amendment immunity
has been waived by the state or abrogated by Congress . . . private plaintiffs cannot sue
an entity that enjoys this immunity in federal court.” Walker v. City of Waterbury, 253
Fed.Appx. 58, 60 (2d Cir. 2007). Whether an entity is an arm of the state depends on
(1) How it is referred to in its documents of origin, (2) how its governing members
are appointed, (3) how it is funded, (4) whether its function is traditionally one of
local or state government, (5) whether the state has a veto power over the
entity’s actions, and (6) whether the entity’s financial obligations are binding upon
Id. at 60-61 (internal quotations omitted).
The defendants argue that the entities in question here are clearly “arms” of the
State of Connecticut. Mr. Patterson has offered no authority in opposition, other than to
argue that, in general, “The 11th Amendment does not interrupt any constitutional and
federal law violations of rights guaranteed to citizens to seek redress in this court.” See
Plantiff’s Reply to Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss (“Pl.’s Obj. Mot. Dismiss”) (Doc. No.
16) at 1.
The court agrees with the defendants. The State of Connecticut Department of
Labor is, by statute, an explicit part of the executive branch of state government. See
Conn. Gen. Stat. § 4-38c. The Department of Labor is clearly an arm of the State of
Connecticut. See Easterling v. Connecticut, 356 F.Supp.2d 103, 106 (D. Conn. 2005).
The Administrator of the Unemployment Compensation Act is actually the State
Labor Commissioner, appointed by the state, serving at the pleasure of the governor,
and charged with state functions. See Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 31-222(c), 4-6, 4-8, 31-2.
The court sees no reason why the Administrator is not also an arm of the State of
Connecticut for purposes of Eleventh Amendment immunity.
The State of Connecticut Employment Security Board of Review consists of three
members appointed by the Governor, one of whom serves as chairman. See Conn.
Gen. Stat. § 31-237c(a). The Governor may also remove members of the Board of
Review for cause. Id. The chairperson of the Board of Review is the executive leader
of the appeals division within the Board of Review. See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-237d.
Suits against the Board of Review, or its chairperson in his or her official capacity would
necessarily implicate the State treasury. As a result, the Board of Review and Ms.
Knox, in her official capacity as chairwoman of the Board of Review, are immune from
suit under the Eleventh Amendment. Similar logic also immunizes Ms. Drombrowski in
her official capacity as an Appeals Referee for the appeals division of the Board of
Review. See Conn. Gen. Stat. §§ 31-237e (establishing that such referees are paid by
the State); 31-237i (stating that “[e]ach such referee shall be appointed by the board
and shall be in the classified service of the state”).
Mr. Patterson also brings suit against the State of Connecticut Judicial Branch.
The Judicial Branch is clearly an arm of the state, and Mr. Patterson’s claims against it
are also barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See S. v. Webb, 602 F.Supp.2d 374, 384
(D. Conn. 2009).
Mr. Patterson has not supplied any caselaw, and the court has found none, that
demonstrate that Congress has abrogated application of the Eleventh Amendment to
suits alleging equal protection, due process, and First Amendment retaliation violations
brought pursuant to section 1983 of title 42 of the United States Code, as Mr. Patterson
does here. See Wang v. Office of Professional Medical Conduct, 228 Fed.Appx 17, 19
(2d Cir. 2007) (recognizing that section 1983 does not abrogate the states’ Eleventh
Amendment immunity) (citing Dube v. State Univ. of N.Y., 900 F.2d 587, 594-95 (2d Cir.
Additionally, immunity under the Eleventh Amendment applies to actions for
money damages and for retroactive relief of any kind. See Walker v. Connecticut, 106
F.Supp.2d 364, 369 (D. Conn. 2000) (“[I]n an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ‘a federal
court’s remedial power, consistent with the Eleventh Amendment, is necessarily limited
to prospective injunctive relief . . . and may not include any award of damages which
requires payment of funds from the State Treasury.’”) (quoting Edelman v. Jordan, 415
U.S. 651, 677 (1974)). As a result, to the extent that Mr. Patterson seeks monetary
damages or retroactive injunctive relief against the state defendants addressed above,
his claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and the defendants’ Motion to
Dismiss is granted. This Eleventh Amendment bar, however, does not apply to his
claims against Ms. Knox and Ms. Drombrowski in their individual capacities, or to the
extent he seeks prospective, equitable or injunctive relief to reinstate his unemployment
B. Res Judicata
The defendants next argue that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over
the claims in Mr. Patterson’s Complaint because a state court has already decided
those claims on the merits, thus implicating the doctrine of res judicata. See
Defendant’s Memorandum in Support of Motion to Dismiss (“Memo. Supp. Mot.
Dismiss”) (Doc. No. 15-1) at 13 (“[T]he doctrine of res judicata bars this Court from
having jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s complaint on the basis of the State court judgment
on the merits, affirming agency decisions, where plaintiff raised or could have raised his
claims in the present federal court action in State court.”).
“Under the doctrine of res judicata, ‘[a] final judgment on the merits of an action
precludes the parties or their privies from relitigating issues that were or could have
been raised in that action.’” Washington v. Blackmore, 468 Fed.Appx. 86, 87 (2d Cir.
2012) (quoting Federated Dep’t Stores, Inc. v. Moitie, 452 U.S. 394, 398 (1981). “State
court judgments are to be given the same preclusive effect in federal court as they
would be given in the courts of that state.” Id. (citing Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic
Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 293 (2005). “In considering the preclusive effect of a state
court judgment on a subsequent federal action, under the Full Faith and Credit Act, 28
U.S.C. § 1738, we consult the preclusion laws of the state in which the judgment was
issued.” Ross v. New Canaan Envtl. Comm’n, 433 Fed.Appx. 7, 8 (2d. Cir. 2011). In
Connecticut, “‘[D]octrines of preclusion . . . should be flexible and must give way when
their mechanical application would frustrate other social policies based on values
equally or more important that the convenience afforded by finality in legal
controversies.’” Nestor v. Pratt & Whitney, 466 F.3d 65, 74 (2d Cir. 2006) (quoting
Isaac v. Truck Serv., Inc., 253 Conn. 416, 423 (2000).
Neither party disputes that the state Superior Court entered an order granting
defendants’ motion for judgment on at least some of the claims brought in Mr.
Patterson’s State Court Action, which concerned the same general events that form the
basis of this action. According to the defendants, Mr. Patterson’s State Court Action,
either included, or should have included, all of the claims brought by Mr. Patterson
before this court, including his federal constitutional claims. The judgment itself,
unfortunately, simply grants the motion for judgment without analysis. It does appear
that the State Court Action was, in fact, an administrative appeal from the decisions of
the Board of Review. Further, it is unclear how the trial court itself treated the various
claims before it and which claims it was ruling on. Given this uncertainty, this court will
examine whether Connecticut courts would apply res judicata in the situation of an
Defendants argue that courts in this circuit have already held that administrative
appeals ruled upon judicially by a state court are subject to res judicata. See Reeder v.
Connecticut Unemployment Comp. Div., No. 3:97-CV-234 (DJS) (D. Conn. 1997) at
Doc. No. 16. In that case, the court considered whether a claim for punitive damages
against the Employment Security Division was barred by res judicata because his
claims had been argued in multiple forums, including appeals from administrative
decisions to the state superior and appellate courts. Accordingly, the court found that
res judicata did in fact deprive the court of jurisdiction. “Here, the state administrative
actions were challenged in state court, and the state court acted judicially; therefore, the
doctrine of res judicata bars the court from having jurisdiction over the compliant [sic].”
Reeder, No. 3:97-CV-234 (DJS) at Doc. No. 16, at 4.
However, the Second Circuit, in a recent opinion, appears to require a more
searching analysis of the question of what claims are actually acted upon when a
Connecticut court rules on the merits of an administrative appeal. In Ross, the court
considered whether res judicata applied to federal substantive due process and equal
protection claims filed in federal court following a state court decision based on an
administrative appeal of a statutory land use issue. Though the administrative appeal
relied on the same set of facts as the federal claims, the court found res judicata
Applying Connecticut’s precedents to the res judicata analysis here, we hold that
the Superior Court’s denial of plaintiff’s administrative appeal does not have a
claim preclusive effect on plaintiff’s subsequent filing in the district court of a
complaint seeking compensation for alleged constitutional violations.
Notwithstanding the plaintiff’s federal claims rely on the same facts as were
presented in the administrative proceedings that were before the Superior Court,
in her federal complaint she submits that she suffered both financial and
psychological damages as a proximate result of defendant’s constitutional torts -specifically, legal fees from her state court proceedings and losses resulting from
the delay in construction as well as stress, anxiety, and emotional pain. Under
Connecticut law the Superior Court cannot award a monetary remedy in an
Ross, 433 Fed.Appx. at 9 (citing Cumberland Farms, Inc. v. Town of Groton, 262 Conn.
45, 63 (2002)). Like the plaintiff in Ross, Mr. Patterson is suing (at least in part) to
recover monetary damages for violations of his constitutional rights.4
Additionally, the type of administrative appeal at issue here appears to similarly
restrict what actions a Superior Court can actually take as the appeal considered in
Mr. Patterson seeks “compensatory” and “punitive” damages, as well as attorney’s fees. See
Compl. at 5.
Ross. See Conn. Gen. Stat. § 31-249b (outlining the procedure for appealing a
decision of the Board of Review to Superior Court, limiting the record on appeal to the
notice of appeal, the notices of hearing, the appellate referee’s findings of fact and
decision, the findings and decision of the board, and documents and other evidentiary
material accepted by the appeals referee and the Board of Review, and stipulating, “[i]n
any appeal, any finding of the referee or the board shall be subject to correction only to
the extent provided by section 22-9 of the Connecticut Practice Book). Section 22-9 of
the Connecticut Practice Book states, under the heading “Function of the Court”:
Such appeals are heard by the court upon the certified copy of the record filed by
the board. The court does not retry the facts or hear evidence. It considers no
evidence other than that certified to it by the board, and then for the limited
purpose of determining whether the finding should be corrected, or whether there
was any evidence to support in law the conclusions reached. It cannot review
the conclusions of the board when these depend on the weight of the evidence
and the credibility of witnesses.
Conn. R. Super. Ct. Civ. § 22-9. As a result, appeals to the state court from the
administrative actions of the Board of Review are relatively limited and circumscribed.
The state courts have taken at times somewhat conflicting positions on the types
of claims that are appropriate for them to consider when reviewing appeals from the
Board of Review. Compare Fullerton v. Administrator, Unemployment Compensation
Act, 280 Conn. 745, 761-62 (2006) (“There is no language in [section 31-249b] or any
other employment compensation statute suggesting that the court may hear claims on
appeal from the board over which the board lacks jurisdiction . . . Although we conclude
that the trial court did not have jurisdiction to consider the plaintiffs’ claims of
discrimination on appeal from the board, they were not without an alternative forum.
They could have brought an independent action in Superior Court.”); with Addona v.
Administrator, Unemployment Compensation Act, 121 Conn.App. 355, 363 (Conn. App.
2010) (determining that procedural due process is a requirement of adjudicative
administrative hearings and remanding to the trial court for reconsideration of the state
due process claim); Molnar v. Administrator, Unemployment Compensation Act, 239
Conn. 233, 234-35 (1996) (affirming decision of state trial court in administrative appeal
raising an equal protection claim relating to the enactment of a statute).
Defendants might argue that the federal constitutional claims Mr. Patterson filed
before the state trial court, assuming he did file them, constituted, in effect, an
independent action, and that judicial economy favors avoidance of the filing of two
separate lawsuits.5 However, given Mr. Patterson’s pro se status, the Connecticut
Supreme Court’s determination in Fullerton that restricts state trial courts from hearing,
in administrative appeals, claims over which the board lacked jurisdiction, and this
circuit’s decision in Ross that actions for money damages are outside the scope of an
administrative appeal before a trial court, this court will not apply res judicata to Mr.
Patterson’s claims to the extent that they are federal constitutional claims brought for
monetary damages6 or determinations of the constitutionality of a provision of the
Connecticut Practice Book.
The court notes that it does not have, and the parties have not provided, a copy of the petition
Mr. Patterson actually filed in state court. The court declines to assume what Mr. Patterson actually filed
based on an incomplete record and a state court judgment that granted defendants’ motion for judgment
The court also notes that Mr. Patterson, in his Complaint, does not specify how he was actually
damaged by the events he describes other than to describe the continued loss of his unemployment
checks. While this omission might be fatal to Mr. Patterson’s claims, the defendant’s Motion to Dismiss
does not ask this court to address whether Mr. Patterson has properly stated a claim.
The defendants next argue that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine deprives this court
of subject matter jurisdiction over Mr. Patterson’s claims. The Rooker-Feldman doctrine
essentially bars federal courts from reviewing state court judgments by stripping federal
subject matter jurisdiction over lawsuits that are, in substance, appeals from state court
decisions. See Hoblock v. Albany County Bd. of Elections, 422, F.3d 77, 84 (2d. Cir.
2005); Hernandez v. Palisades Collection LLC, 3:06-CV-1382, 2008 WL 4426890, *2
(D. Conn. Sept. 29, 2008).
In Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280 (2005) (“Exxon
Mobil”), the Supreme Court significantly curtailed the application of the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine. Under this formulation, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is confined to “cases
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.” Id. at 284; see also Safferstein v. Lawyers’
Fund for Client Protection, 142 Fed.Appx. 494, 496 (2d. Cir. 2005).
Four requirements must be met before the Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies: “(1)
the federal court plaintiff lost in state court; (2) the plaintiff complains of injuries caused
by the state court judgment; (3) the plaintiff invites district court review and rejection of
the state court judgment; and (4) the state court judgment was rendered before the
district court proceedings commenced.” Davis v. Cowin, No. 9:10-CV-0081 (DNH/GHL),
2011 WL 4655858, *4 (N.D.N.Y. 2011) (citing Hoblock v. Albany Cnty. Bd. of Elections,
422 F.3d 77, 85 (2d Cir. 2005); Green v. Mattingly, 585 F.3d 97, 101 (2d Cir. 2009).
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine clearly applies to Mr. Patterson’s claims to the
extent he seeks an order from this court overturning the determination of the state court
to grant a motion for judgment as to Mr. Patterson’s appeal of the judgment of the Board
of Review and the Appeals Referee. See Compl. at 5. Not only did Mr. Patterson lose
in state court on his appeal, but he complains of injuries as a result of the determination,
namely, the loss of his unemployment benefits. Mr. Patterson invites this court to
review and reject the determination of the state court, and the judgment was rendered
before this action commenced. Therefore, to the extent that any kind of injunctive relief
remained possible after this court’s ruling as to the res judicata issue, such relief is
barred under Rooker-Feldman.
However, Mr. Patterson’s federal equal protection, procedural due process, and
First Amendment retaliation claims are situated slightly differently.7 As the court
discussed above, it is far from clear that the trial court itself had the authority to decide
such claims, even if Mr. Patterson had in fact raised those issues before it. However,
even that much is not clear. The defendants assert that Mr. Patterson pled his federal
claims before the state court, but they did not attach, and the court was unable to locate
on the docket, a copy of Mr. Patterson’s original Petition. Even if Mr. Patterson had
pled his federal claims, it does not appear that the state court addressed these issues
separately. Indeed, the state court decision granting the defendants’ Motion for
The court does note that merely raising constitutional claims in a subsequent action does not
exempt a litigant from the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See District of Columbia Court of Appeals v.
Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 486 (1983) (holding that federal courts “do not have 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”); see also Castiglioni v. Papa, 423
Fed.Appx. 10, 13 (2d Cir. 2011) (“Castiglione cannot avoid application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine
simply by presenting in federal court a legal theory not raised in state court, for example, by framing her
claims under [sections] 1983 or 1985.”).
Judgment as to Mr. Patterson’s appeal was done without analysis. See Memo. Supp.
Mot. Dismiss at Ex. D.
The court concludes that, even if Mr. Patterson raised these issues in his state
court petition, they either could not be or were not acted on, so there is no state court
judgment to reject as to these claims.
However, given Mr. Patterson’s pro se status, in addition to the superior court’s
apparent lack of jurisdiction over claims for monetary damages and the limited and
unclear nature of the state court decision, this court concludes that Mr. Patterson’s
constitutional claims, to the extent that they do not implicate overturning the state court
judgment, are not barred by Rooker-Feldman.
D. Qualified Immunity
Lastly, defendants ask this court to find that it is deprived of subject matter
jurisdiction because the remaining defendants are entitled to qualified immunity.
Though defenses of qualified immunity are typically raised on summary judgment, this
circuit has explicitly allowed such defenses in the context of a motion to dismiss. See
McKenna v. Wright, 386 F.3d 432, 436 (2d Cir. 2004). However, “[a] party endeavoring
to defeat a lawsuit by a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim faces a ‘higher
burden’ than a party proceeding on a motion for summary judgment.” Id. (quoting
Moore’s Federal Practice § 56.30[b]. This is because “the plaintiff is entitled to all
reasonable inferences from the facts alleged, not only those that support his claim, but
also those that defeat the immunity defense.” Id.8
The defendants raise qualified immunity under Rule 12(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure. However, other courts have addressed similar claims under Rule 12(b)(6). See McKenna,
386 F.3d at 436.
“In determining the issue of qualified immunity, ‘courts engage in a two-part
inquiry: whether the facts shown make out a violation of a constitutional right, and
whether the right at issue was clearly established at the time of the defendant’s alleged
misconduct.’” Talley v. Brentwood Union Free School Dist., 728 F.Supp.2d 226, 234
(E.D.N.Y. 2010) (quoting Taravella v. Town of Wolcott, 599 F.3d 129, 133 (2d. Cir
While hardly a model of artful and thorough pleading, Mr. Patterson’s Complaint
asserts that the remaining individual defendants acted out of spite against him, engaged
in retaliation against him for attempting to enforce his rights in state and federal court,
acted in a biased manner, and violated procedural requirements. The court accepts
these claims as true, construing Mr. Patterson’s pro se complaint liberally. “It is well
established that the submissions of a pro se litigant must be construed liberally and
interpreted to raise the strongest arguments they suggest.” Triestman v. Federal
Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 474 (2d Cir. 2006) (emphasis in original) (quotations
omitted). Despite the solicitude the court must offer a pro se litigant, this court finds that
the facts alleged in the Complaint fail to make out violations of constitutional rights.
As to the First Amendment retaliation claim, the court finds that Mr. Patterson
fails to make out a violation of a constitutional right. Mr. Patterson’s Complaint merely
alleges that “defendants all acted out of spite on the basis he [sic] enforcing his rights in
state and federal courts” and that “he was retaliate [sic] against because he filed suit
against state court judges in Ronald Patterson vs. Chase T. Rodgers et al in federal
court 10-0579 whose [sic] avoiding deposition.” Compl. at 1, 3.
“In order for a lawsuit to constitute First Amendment protected speech, the
lawsuit itself must consist of a matter of public concern.” Kamholtz v. Spike, No. 11-CV6094L, 2011 WL 3235672, *2 (W.D.N.Y. 2011) (citing Ruotolo v. City of New York, 514
F.3d 184, 190 (2d Cir. 2008)) (“Because Ruotolo’s [prior] lawsuit concerns essentially
personal grievances and the relief he seeks is for himself alone, the lawsuit is not
speech on a matter of public concern and cannot sustain a First Amendment retaliation
claim”). Here, Mr. Patterson has not alleged that his prior lawsuit or lawsuits addressed
matters of public concern, as opposed to personal grievances. Accordingly, the court
cannot say that Mr. Patterson has made out a constitutional violation by the defendants,
and the court grants the Motion to Dismiss as to this federal claim.
As for the equal protection claim, the court finds that Mr. Patterson has likewise
failed to make out a violation of a federal right. “The Equal Protection Clause requires
the government to treat all similarly situated people alike.” African Trade & Information
Ctr., Inc. v. Abromaitis, 294 F.3d 355, 362 (2d Cir. 2002). “‘Traditionally, the Equal
Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects against [classification-based]
discrimination.’” Lavoie-Francisco v. Town of Coventry, 581 F.Supp.2d 304, 309-10 (D.
Conn. 2008) (quoting Goldfarb v. Town of West Hartford, 474 F.Supp.2d 356, 366 (D.
Conn. 2007)). Here, Mr. Patterson does not allege membership in a protected class.
This leaves two potential theories that may sustain an equal protection claim.
First, Mr. Patterson may be asserting a “class of one” equal protection claim based on
Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 564 (2000). Next, he may be asserting a
“selective enforcement” claim under LeClair v. Saunders, 627 F.2d 606, 609-10 (2d Cir.
1980). Mr. Patterson fails to make out a constitutional violation under either theory,
thereby entitling Ms. Knox and Ms. Drombrowski to qualified immunity.
“As the Supreme Court has recently reaffirmed, equal protection claims can be
brought by a ‘class of one’ where a plaintiff alleges that she has been ‘intentionally
treated differently from others similarly situated and that there is no rational basis for the
difference in treatment.’” Id. (quoting Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562,
564 (2000) (per curiam) (citations omitted)). In Olech, the court sustained an equal
protection claim where the plaintiff alleged that the defendants’ actions were irrational
and arbitrary and were motivated by ill-will resulting from the filing of an unrelated
lawsuit. See Olech, 528 U.S. at 563. Here, Mr. Patterson appears to have satisfied this
hurdle by alleging arbitrary retaliation against him for the filing of a lawsuit. Further, the
Second Circuit has determined that Olech-based equal protection rights were clearly
established even before Olech was decided. See Cobb v. Pozzi, 363 F.3d 89, 111 (2d
However, the standards of an equal protection claim, even under Olech, still
require some allegation that a plaintiff was treated differently from other similarly
situated individuals. Here, Mr. Patterson has failed to allege any facts showing that he
was treated differently from other similarly situated individuals. See Skiff v. Colchester
Bd. of Educ., 514 F.Supp.2d 284, 292 (D. Conn. 2007) (“To prove the first element, ‘the
level of similarity between [a] plaintiff and the [comparators] must be extremely high,’
even to the point of being ‘prima facie identical in all relevant respects.’”) (quoting
Neilson v. D’Angelis, 409 F.3d 100, 104 (2d Cir. 2005)). Mr. Patterson does not offer
any other cases as supporting evidence, much less evidence from similarly situated
cases. Accordingly, the court cannot say that Mr. Patterson has made out an equal
protection violation. If Mr. Patterson chooses to replead, some allegation of similarly
situated individuals being treated differently is necessary to defeat qualified immunity.
Mr. Patterson also fails to make out a constitutional violation under the “selective
enforcement” theory. “To succeed in such an equal protection action, plaintiffs in this
circuit must show both ‘(1) that they were treated differently from other similarly situated
individuals, and (2) that such differential treatment was based on impermissible
considerations such as race, religioun, intent to inhibit or punish the exercise of
constitutional rights, or malicious or bad faith intent to injure person.’” LavoieFrancisco, 581 F.Spp.2d at 314 (quoting Harlan Assocs. v. Incorp. Village of Mineola,
273 F.3d 494, 499 (2d Cir. 2001). Mr. Patterson has not alleged that he was treated
differently from similarly situated individuals. As a result, this court cannot say that he
has made out a violation of a constitutional right, and Ms. Knox and Ms. Drombrowski
are entitled to qualified immunity on this claim. Accordingly the court grants the motion
to Dismiss as to this claim..
Lastly, the court turns to whether violations of Mr. Patterson has made out a
violation of his federal procedural due process rights The procedural due process
allegations as to the remaining defendants include a claim that he was not provided a
finding from the Administrator as to why his benefits were reduced, he was not provided
with the Administrator’s decision prior to a hearing on his case, that the Administrator
did not appear at the hearing, that he was unable to cross examine the Administrator at
the hearing, that the recalculation of his benefit rate had no basis in law, and that a
requirement under Connecticut Practice Book section 22-4 -- requiring a motion to
correct the finding of the Review Board to be made within two weeks of an appeal to the
superior court -- was inherently unfair to many litigants. See Compl. at 3, 4.
Mr. Patterson has not made out a violation of his federal procedural due process
rights as to the motion to correct the finding of the Review Board. Indeed, in 1996, the
Appellate Court of Connecticut reversed a trial court that reviewed facts underlying a
decision of the Board of Review because plaintiffs in that case had failed to follow the
specific two-week time period for filing a motion to correct the record with the Board of
Review. See Calnan v. Administrator, Unemployment Compensation Act, 43 Conn.App.
779, 785 (Conn. App. 1996). Mr. Patterson has failed to identify, and the court has not
found, any evidence that allegation as to an alternative time period for filing a motion to
correct the record constituted a federal procedural due process right.
As for Mr. Patterson’s allegation that he did not receive notice, he is on firmer
ground. Under Connecticut’s agency regulations:
Where the Administrator detects that an individual has been overpaid benefits as
a result of a clerical or computational error in the processing of any weekly claim
for benefits, the Administrator shall notify the individual that he has been charged
with an overpayment of such benefits, the amount of the overpayment and that
he has a right to a hearing to be held by the Administrator . . .
Conn. Agencies Regs. § 31-273-2(d). Mr. Patterson alleges that he never received
such notice. While it appears that Mr. Patterson attached that very notice to his
Complaint, the document is sufficiently vague that the court will refrain from determining
that Mr. Patterson has undermined his own claim with his own exhibit. Because of the
ambiguity as to what Mr. Patterson actually received, and because notice is a clear
prerequisite for adequate use of the state process, and resolving all ambiguities in Mr.
Patterson’s favor, the court cannot say that Mr. Patterson failed to make out procedural
due process claim or that such a right was not clearly established at the time.
However, this does not end the court’s inquiry. This failure to provide notice by
the Administrator prior to the commencement of the appeals process does not implicate
Ms. Knox or Ms. Drombrowski, who exercise authority in an appellate capacity. As a
result the court concludes that Mr. Patterson has not made out a constitutional
procedural due process violation against Ms. Knox or Ms. Drombrowski in their
individual capacities, and grants their Motion to Dismiss.
For the foregoing reasons, defendants’ Motion to Dismiss (Doc. No. 15) is
granted in part and denied in part. Claims against all of the state defendants, and Ms.
Knox and Ms. Drombrowski in their official capacities, are dismissed. Additionally, Mr.
Patterson’s claims for injunctive relief are also dismissed, except for any claim for
prospective relief to reinstate his benefits. Further, Mr. Patterson’s federal constitutional
claims against Ms. Knox and Ms. Drombrowski are dismissed. However, the Motion to
Dismiss is denied solely as to Mr. Patterson’s federal constitutional procedural due
process claim for prospective, injunctive relief as to the Administrator. Plaintiff’s Motion
to Amend his Complaint (Doc. No. 39) adds no facts relevant to his surviving claim and
is therefore denied.
In light of Mr. Patterson’s pro se status, the court will grant an additional right to
replead to address the deficiencies outlined in this Ruling. The court does not grant Mr.
Patterson leave to replead his federal constitutional claims against the state defendants
or against Ms. Knox and Ms. Drombrowski in their official capacities because these
claims fail as a matter of law under the Eleventh Amendment.
Additionally, Defendants’ Motion for Extension of Time (Doc. No. 40) is
terminated as moot. Plaintiff’s Motion to Overrule Objection to Serve a Supplemental
Complaint (Doc. No. 45) is terminated to the extent that it is labeled as a motion, and it
will be treated as a reply brief and the clerk is directed to correct the entry to so describe
Dated at New Haven, Connecticut this 26th day of September, 2012.
/s/ Janet C. Hall
Janet C. Hall
United States District Judge
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