Lanteri v. Connecticut
ORDER granting 13 Amended Motion to Dismiss & Memorandum of Law pursuant to the attached decision. The Clerk is directed to close this case. Signed by Judge Vanessa L. Bryant on 08/07/2017. (Lee, E.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
MICHAEL A. LANTERI,
STATE OF CONNECTICUT,
CIVIL ACTION NO.
August 7, 2017
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION ON MOTION TO DISMISS [DKT. 13]
Plaintiff Michael Lanteri seeks monetary damages for the State of
Connecticut’s alleged violations under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff makes various
claims that appear to have occurred while his divorce, alimony, and child custody
issues took place. Defendant State of Connecticut has moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s
Complaint for failure to establish subject matter jurisdiction under Fed. R. Civ. P.
12(b)(1). For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Defendant’s motion and
dismisses Plaintiff’s Complaint.
Plaintiff was married to Nicole Lanteri when he was 39 years old, and their
marriage lasted for 11 years. [Dkt. 1 (Compl.) at 6 of PDF]. Nicole is alleged to have
mental health issues. Id. at 6, 10 of PDF. The Lanteris began divorce proceedings
in June of 2013.1 As a result of the proceedings, Plaintiff believes that risk of injury
The Court takes judicial notice that the docket of their divorce case, Lanteri v.
Lanteri, docket number KNO-FA13-4121693-S, is publicly available at:
to a minor, parental alienation, and spousal abuse were “not held up by
Connecticut.” Id. ¶¶ 2, 4, 5.
Plaintiff believes the State of Connecticut did not
uphold the Constitution, violated his due process and civil rights, and violated the
First Amendment by “usi[ing] a religious ceremony to take [his] assets.” Id. ¶ 15.
He also believes he has the constitutional right to the pursuit of happiness, which
the state court took away from him. Id. ¶ 28.
The divorce proceedings culminated in a trial upon which dissolution was
then entered on October 22, 2014. See [Dkt. 13 (Mot. Dismiss) at 1]; see also Lanteri
v. Lanteri, docket 230.00, docket number KNO-FA13-4121693-S. As part of the
judgment, Plaintiff lost the right to his property, which he believes violates due
process because “[t]he only way to take a person’s property according to the
Constitution is through Eminent Domain.” Id. ¶ 16. The state court also required
Plaintiff to provide spousal support.
See id. ¶ 27.
Plaintiff believes this is
unconstitutional as he has “the right to divorce a spouse and never have to support
a spouse again.” Id. Plaintiff believes his ex-wife “commited crimes against [him]
(perjury, child abuse, obstruction of justice, deformation [sic] of character, parent
alienation)” and that “[r]ewarding a criminal is not a fair trial.” Id. He also does not
think he should have to pay for his son’s college education because, after losing
all his assets as a result of the proceeding, he “could possibly have to sell the
family home to do so.” Id. ¶ 29. Ultimately, the total costs involving the divorce
cost Plaintiff over $450,000.00. Id. at 6 of PDF.
Following the judgment, his ex-wife’s attorneys, Terry and Jeremiah
Donovan, filed a Motion for Contempt Post-Judgment, alleging Plaintiff failed to
pay his fifty percent share of the costs of preparing two QDROs and failed to
cooperate with Attorney Elizabeth McMahon. [Dkt. 13-6 (Mot. Dismiss Ex. C (State
Court Mot. Contempt) at 1]. The Superior Court held a hearing and found Plaintiff
in contempt. See [Dkt. 1 ¶ 6]. Plaintiff contends that the state court judge did not
allow him to speak at the hearing. Id. ¶ 7.
Plaintiff believes “the [S]tate of Connecticut (DCF)” witnessed child abuse
but did not prosecute these crimes. Id. at 6 of PDF. Plaintiff claims issues of child
abuse are ongoing as his ex-wife is turning his son against him. Id. He also
believes the State of Connecticut threatened to take away his son without due
process. Id. ¶ 21. He believes the law was not upheld regarding his premarital
assets. Id. ¶ 26. He also contends that the State of Connecticut violated his civil
rights as a parent because a judge failed to uphold decisions he and his wife made
as parents. Id. ¶ 25. Plaintiff avers that Connecticut denied his ability to use three
years of digital recordings as evidence. Id. ¶ 1. He also takes issue with the fact
that the State of Connecticut would not release the names of the judges on the
grievance counsel despite his use of the Freedom of Information Act. Id. ¶ 32.
Plaintiff has filed multiple grievances. The first is against Lori Hellum, Esq.,
who he believes unlawfully discussed the outcome of a criminal case with his exwife’s divorce attorney. See id. ¶ 2. The second is against Judge Pinkus for
circumstances involving the divorce proceedings. Id. ¶¶ 30, 33. He believes Judge
Pinkus has “left [his] son in an abusive situation” by giving his ex-wife custody
half of the week, even after listening “to testimony of the GAL and the Forensic
psychiatrist.” Id. ¶¶ 10, 33. The third is against Judge Carbonneau due to his
handling of the contempt hearing. Id. at 7 of PDF. The fourth is against Harry
Gould, his former attorney, for an unspecified reason. See id. ¶ 33; see also [Dkt.
17 (Opp’n Mot. Dismiss) at 4]. The fifth is against Terry and Jeremiah Donovan, his
ex-wife’s attorneys, for actions they took during the divorce proceedings for their
own financial gain. See id. ¶¶ 18, 33-35. He believes the Donovans committed
perjury regarding their client’s assests, child care, and mental condition. Id. ¶ 14.
They also allegedly prompted the case to carry on for a longer period of time than
necessary for their personal gain.
Id. ¶ 18-19.
Plaintiff takes issue with the
Donovan’s alleged $94,000 attorneys’ fees. Id. ¶ 35. In addition to the issues
surrounding the divorce proceedings, he believes Jeremiah Donovan falsely
reported a recording to the Navy, which cost him his security clearance and job.
Id. ¶ 13.
Plaintiff also claims that Connecticut ignored Plaintiff’s extortion issues
arising from his “Secret Security clearance with the Federal Government.” Id.
“Federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. . . .” Gunn v. Minton, 568
U.S. 251, 256 (2013). Subject matter jurisdiction is not waivable, and a lack of
subject matter jurisdiction may be raised at any time, by a party or the court sua
sponte. See Gonzalez v. Thaler, 565 U.S. 134, 141 (2012); see also Sebelius v.
Auburn Reg’l Med. Ctr., 568 U.S. 145, 153 (2013) (“Objections to a tribunal’s
jurisdiction can be raised at any time, even by a party that once conceded the
tribunal’s subject-matter jurisdiction over the controversy.”).
If a court lacks
subject matter jurisdiction, it must dismiss the action. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3).
A “district court must take all uncontroverted facts in the complaint [ ] as
true, and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party asserting
jurisdiction.” Tandon v. Captain’s Cove Marina of Bridgeport, Inc., 752 F.3d 239,
243 (2d Cir. 2014). However, “where jurisdictional facts are placed in dispute, the
court has the power and obligation to decide issues of fact by reference to evidence
outside the pleadings. . . .” Id. “In that case, the party asserting subject matter
jurisdiction has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it
Plaintiff has filed suit against the State of Connecticut without identifying
any other culpable party. Defendant argues that this suit should be dismissed in
its entirety because the Eleventh Amendment bars suit against Defendant unless
it waives such immunity. [Dkt. 13 at 3]. Defendant also requests that the Court
decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state claims. Id. at 5. Plaintiff,
however, contends that the Eleventh Amendment applies only to “citizens of other
states and foreign counties.” [Dkt. 17 (Opp’n Mot. Dismiss) at 1].
The Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that
“[t]he 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 or Subjects of any Foreign State.” U.S. Const. amend. XI. Although not
expressly stated in the Constitution, the Supreme Court has held that this language
applies to suits against a state brought by its own citizens. See Edelman v. Jordan,
415 U.S. 651, 662-63 (1974); CSX Transp., Inc. v. New York State Office of Real Prop.
Serv., 306 F.3d 87, 94 (2d Cir. 2002) (same). Sovereign immunity under the Eleventh
Amendment is not absolute, however, and may be waived by the state or expressly
abrogated by Congress “pursuant to a valid exercise of power.” CSX Transp., Inc.,
306 F.3d at 95.
“[I]t is well established that Congress did not abrogate state sovereign
immunity in enacting 42 U.S.C. § 1983. . . .” Sargent v. Emons, 582 F. App’x 51, 52
(2d Cir. 2014) (citing Quern v. Jordan, 440 U.S. 332, 345 (1979)). The State of
Connecticut is therefore immune from a § 1983 suit under the Eleventh Amendment
to the United States Constitution unless it waives its sovereign immunity. Kentucky
v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159 (1985) (“[A]bsent waiver by the State or a valid
congressional override, the Eleventh Amendment bars a damages action against a
State in federal court.”); Brewer v. Brewer, 34 F. App’x 28, 29-30 (2d Cir. 2002)
(holding the plaintiff’s “First Amendment claims against the State of New York
pursuant to § 1983 are barred by the Eleventh Amendment since New York State
has not consented to be sued”); Turner v. Boyle, 116 F. Supp. 3d 58, 73 (D. Conn.
2015) (finding the court lacked subject matter jurisdiction “[b]ecause Connecticut
has not waived its sovereign immunity with respect to claims brought under
sections 1983 or 1985. . . .”); Taylor v. Norwalk Cmty. Coll., No. 3:13-cv-1889 (CSH),
2015 WL 5684033, at *14 (D. Conn. Sept. 28, 2015) (“[T]he Eleventh Amendment
bars federal courts from accepting such suits brought by private parties against an
unconsenting State and its agencies,” and it “is thus ‘clearly established that the
Eleventh Amendment bars section 1983 claims against state agencies.’ ”) (quoting
P.C. v. Conn. Dep't of Children & Families, 662 F. Supp. 2d 218, 226 (D. Conn. 2009)).
Connecticut has not waived immunity in this case and therefore the Eleventh
Amendment bars the Court from exercising subject matter jurisdiction over his §
Because Plaintiff’s state claims pertain to divorce, alimony, and child
custody, this Court will not exercise supplemental jurisdiction over them pursuant
to the domestic relations doctrine exception, which “divests the federal courts of
power to issue divorce, alimony, and child custody decrees.” Ankenbrandt v.
Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 703 (1992). The purpose of this doctrine is because “[a]s a
matter of judicial economy, state courts are more eminently suited to work of this
type than are federal courts, which lack the close association with state and local
government organizations dedicated to handling issues that arise out of conflicts
over divorce, alimony, and child custody decrees.” Id. at 704. Plaintiff’s repeated
reference to his divorce, alimony, and child custody strongly suggests that his
claims either seek reversal of state court rulings that he has or had the right to
appeal or are better addressed in state court. See Weiss v. Weiss, 375 F. Supp. 2d
10, 15 (D. Conn. 2005) (stating that the decision for federal courts to disclaim
jurisdiction in domestic relations cases “is statutory, not constitutional, in nature”
and “rests on the history of the diversity jurisdiction statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1332, as
well as ‘sound policy considerations’”); U.S. Life Ins. Co. v. Marshall, No. 3:13-CV00380 (VLB), 2014 WL 2040389, at *5 (D. Conn. May 16, 2014) (acknowledging that
“federal courts ‘should further abstain from exercising jurisdiction over cases on
the verge of being matrimonial in nature”) (quoting Hamilton v. Hamilton–Grinols,
363 F. App’x 767, 769 (2d Cir. 2010)).
The Court is therefore precluded from
exercising jurisdiction under this domestic relations doctrine exception.
Hamilton, 363 F. App’x at 769.
The Court also notes that Plaintiff’s challenges to state court decisions may
also be subject to one or more abstention or comity doctrines, such as the RookerFeldman doctrine. Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, federal district courts may
not exercise subject matter jurisdiction over suits that are, in substance, appeals
from state court judgments. Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 414-15
(1923); District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983);
Gonzalez v. Ocwen Home Loan Servicing, 74 F. Supp. 3d 504, 513 (D. Conn. 2015)
(stating the Rooker-Feldman doctrine depends on “the causal relationship between
the state-court judgment and the injury of which the party complains in federal
court,” not the similarity between the claims) (quoting McKithen v. Brown, 481 F.3d
89, 97-98 (2d Cir. 2007)). The doctrine is limited 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.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp.,
544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). Because Plaintiff’s federal claims appear “inextricably
intertwined” with issues already decided by the state court, the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine may also prevent the Court from exercising subject matter jurisdiction
over this case. See Mitchell v. Fishbein, 377 F. 3d 157, 165 (2d Cir. 2004); Holland
v. New York, 63 F. App’x 532, 533 (2d Cir. 2003) (affirming district court’s dismissal
for lack of subject matter jurisdiction of case involving allegations arising from
contested divorce suit); Weiss v. Weiss, 375 F. Supp. 2d at 18 (ruling the RookerFeldman doctrine barred the district court from considering the ex-wife’s tort
Lastly, were the claims to go forward, misjoinder may require the Court to
sever Plaintiff’s allegations as they include a laundry list of claims against
numerous people for various unrelated acts and omissions. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 21;
Sanchez v. O’Connell, No. 3:08cv706 (JBA), 2010 WL 7862797, at *1 (D. Conn. Sept.
27, 2010) (noting that courts have held claims are misjoined when they fail to satisfy
Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)); Fed. R. Civ. P. 20(a)(2) (establishing that defendants may be
joined in an action if a right to relief is asserted against them “with respect to or
arising out of the same transaction, occurrence, or series of transactions or
occurrences; and any question of law or fact common to all defendants will arise
in the action”). In deciding whether to sever a claim for misjoinder, the Court
should consider the following factors: “(1) the claims arise out of the same
transaction or occurrence; (2) the claims present some common question of law or
fact; (3) . . . settlement of the claims or judicial economy would be facilitated; (4)
prejudice would be avoided; and (5) different witnesses and documentary proof are
required for the separate claims.” Fletcher v. City of New London, No. 3:16-cv-241
(MPS), slip op. at 8 (D. Conn. Feb. 21, 2017) (quoting Costello v. Home Depot U.S.A.,
Inc., 888 F. Supp. 2d 258, 263 (D. Conn. 2012)). Here, Plaintiff appears to be
asserting claims against the DCF, several attorneys, judges, and possibly the
grievance council for separate and wholly unrelated conduct. Even if two or more
of these claims were appropriate for adjudication by this Court, it is likely they
would have to be brought in disparate actions.
Accordingly, Plaintiff’s § 1983 claim is hereby DISMISSED and Plaintiff’s
state claims are DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. The Clerk is directed to close
IT IS SO ORDERED.
Hon. Vanessa L. Bryant
United States District Judge
Dated at Hartford, Connecticut: August 7, 2017
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