Kneitel v. Palos et al
MEMORANDUM & ORDER: Plaintiff's request to proceed in forma pauperis ("IFP") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (Dkt. 2) is GRANTED for the purpose of this Order. The court finds that it lacks subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff's complaint is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. Furthermore, Plaintiff is warned against filing repetitious and duplicative actions in this Court. The Court certifies pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1 915(a)(3) that any appeal from this order would not be taken in good faith, and therefore IFP status is denied for the purpose of an appeal. So Ordered by Judge Nicholas G. Garaufis on 6/4/2015. (c/m to pro se; fwd'd for jgm) (Lee, Tiffeny)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
MICHAEL J. KNEITEL,
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
15-CV-2577 (NGG) (VVP)
NICHOLAS PALOS, MICHAEL KATZ, and THE
STATE OF NEW YORK UNIFIED COURT SYSTEM,
NICHOLAS G. GARAUFIS, United States District Judge.
Prose Plaintiff Michael J. Kneitel ("Plaintiff') filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 on May 4, 2015. (Compl. (Dkt. 1).) Plaintiffs request to proceed in forma pauperis
("IFP") pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915 (Dkt. 2) is GRANTED for the purpose of this Order. For
the following reasons, however, Plaintiff's Complaint is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
Plaintiff alleges that Defendants Nicholas Palos, Michael Katz, and the State of New
York Unified Court System violated his constitutional rights in connection with child support
proceedings in New York City Family Court, Kings County. Specifically, Plaintiff contends that
from 2010 to the present, he filed "numerous motions" for downward modification of a child
support order to which he was subject, seeking to adjust arrears and support payments because:
(1) he paid "over three thousand dollars to the custodial parent and wished to receive credit for
those payments;" (2) he was ordered to pay in excess of the statutory limit for child support; and
(3) the custodial parent engaged in "constructive emancipation" and "deliberate frustration and
active interference with visitation." (Compl. at 5.) 1 Plaintiff argues, however, that Defendants
References to pages of the Complaint correspond to the page numbering assigned by the court's electronic
docketing system (ECF).
"denied each and every motion, refused to address any motion to reconsider and reargue," and
"refused to accept Plaintiff's appeal."
(MJ As a result, Plaintiff maintains that "[e]ach and
every defendant deliberately violated the law and deprived plaintiff of his right to due process, a
full and fair hearing, equal protection under the laws and his constitutional right to a direct
appeal of the facts." (Id.) Plaintiff seeks for this court: ( 1) to "[a]ssume jurisdiction over this
matter;" (2) to issue a temporary restraining order ("TRO") against the collection of the $500.00
in attorneys' fees he was ordered to pay on March 3, 2015; (3) to issue a declaratory judgment
that "each and everyone one of these defendants violated plaintiffs right to due process and
equal protection under the laws;" (4) to award compensatory damages; (5) to award punitive
damages; and (6) to "[r]elieve the New York State Unified Court System of its jurisdiction over
the child support and related cases." (Id. at 7-8.)
STANDARD OF REVIEW
Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), a district court shall dismiss an IFP action where it
determines that the action "(i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief
may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such
Pursuant to Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007), a complaint must
plead facts sufficient to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." "A claim has facial
plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable
inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Igbal, 556
U.S. 662, 678 (2009). At the pleadings stage, the court must assume "all well-pleaded,
nonconclusory factual allegations in the complaint to be true." Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum
Co., 621F.3d111, 124 (2d Cir. 2010) (citing Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678-79 (2009)), aff'd, 133 S.
Ct. 1659 (2013). Prose complaints, in particular, are held to less stringent standards than
pleadings drafted by attorneys, and courts are required to read plaintiffs' pro se complaints
liberally, interpreting them as raising the strongest arguments they suggest. See Erickson v.
Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980); Sealed Plaintiffv. Sealed
Defendant, 537 F.3d 185, 191 (2d Cir. 2008).
Nevertheless, "a district court may use its inherent authority to dismiss a case sua sponte
if it determines that the action is frivolous." Ashmore v. New York, No. 12-CV-3032 (JG), 2012
WL 2377403, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. June 25, 2012) (citing Fitzgerald v. First E. Seventh St. Tenants
Corp., 221 F.3d 362, 363-64 (2d Cir. 2000)), aff'd sub nom. Ashmore v. Prus, 510 F. App'x 47
(2d Cir. 2013) (summary order); see also id. ("Section 1915 ... , for example, authorizes courts
to dismiss a 'frivolous or malicious' action, but there is little doubt they would have power to do
so even in the absence of this statutory provision." (quoting Mallard v. U.S. Dist. Court for S.
Dist. oflow!!, 490 U.S. 296, 307-08 (1989))). An action is frivolous within the meaning of
§ 1915 when "the claim is 'based on an indisputably meritless legal theory."' Livingston v.
Adirondack Beverage Co., 141F.3d434, 437 (2d Cir. 1998) (quoting Nance v. Kelly, 912
F.2d 605, 606 (2d Cir. 1990) (per curiam) (quoting Neitzke v. Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325, 327
(1989))). A claim is based on an "indisputably meritless legal theory" when the claim either
"lacks an arguable basis in law," or "a dispositive defense clearly exists on the face of the
complaint." Id. (citing Benitez v. Wolff, 907 F.2d 1293, 1295 (2d Cir. 1990) (per curiam); Pino
v. Ryan, 49 F.3d 51, 53 (2d Cir. 1995)). "A dispositive defense clearly exists on the face of the
complaint 'when it is clear that the defendants are immune from suit."' Ashmore, 2012
WL 2377403, at *1 (quoting Montero v. Travis, 171 F.3d 757, 760 (2d Cir. 1999) (citation and
other internal quotation marks omitted)).
Plaintiffs Complaint advances three central "claims." Plaintiffs first claim stems from a
petition for downward modification of support payments, filed in family court on or about
June 6, 2014, in which he argued the support order should be reduced on the grounds that
Plaintiff's unemployment benefits fell below the federal poverty guidelines. (Compl. at 5.)
According to Plaintiff, on or about December 15, 2014, Defendant Palos, a support magistrate,
denied Plaintiff's motion, 2 which deprived Plaintiff of his rights to be free from unreasonable
searches and seizures, to due process, and to equal protection, in violation of the federal and New
York State constitutions. (IQ.J
Plaintiffs second claim stems from a motion to terminate the order of support, filed in
family court on or about September 3, 2014, in which he argued that his child support obligation
should be terminated on grounds of constructive emancipation and the custodial parent's active
interference and deliberate frustration with visitation. (Id. at 6.) Plaintiff alleges that in
adjudicating this motion, Defendant Palos engaged in improper ex parte communications with
the custodial parent, and that Defendant Katz, a family court judge, improperly denied Plaintiff's
motion to compel discovery, request for assignment of counsel, and ultimately, his right to a full
and fair hearing. (Id.) Plaintiff also alleges that in adjudicating an unspecified prior motion to
terminate, Defendant Katz improperly refused to allow Plaintiff to introduce certain audio
recordings into evidence and unlawfully awarded the custodial parent $500.00 in attorneys' fees.
(IQ.J Plaintiff maintains that Defendants' misconduct deprived him of his rights to be free from
unreasonable searches and seizures, to due process, and to equal protection, in violation of the
federal and New York State constitutions. (Id.)
As of the date of the Complaint, Plaintiff's appeal from Defendant Palos's order was still pending. (Comp!. at 5.)
Plaintiff's third claim concerns the entire Unified Court System of the State of New
York, which Plaintiff argues "has demonstrated beyond any doubt that it is incapable of handling
these judicial matters with any degree of fairness or reasonable degree of expeditiousness." (Id.
at 6-7.) As support, Plaintiff contends that Defendants have "grossly miscalculated" the amount
of child support he owes; have "threatened to incarcerate Plaintiff' If he fails to meet his
financial obligations; and have refused to accept evidence and hear relevant testimony. (Id. at 7.)
Thus, Plaintiff argues, because Defendants are "incapable of conducting full and fair hearings[,]
while the appeal process simply rubberstamps illegal decisions," he has ultimately been deprived
of his rights to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, to due process, and to equal
protection, in violation of the federal and New York State constitutions.
While Plaintiffs claims, construed liberally, involve federal law to the extent they allege
violations of his constitutional rights, it appears-at least on the face of his Complaint-that this
court lacks subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the so-called "domestic relations exception" to
federal question jurisdiction. Moreover, even if Plaintiff's claims-interpreted as advancing the
strongest possible arguments they suggest--did not fall within this exception, the court would
dismiss his Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine. In any event, each Defendant is also absolutely immune from suit in this case.
Subject Matter Jurisdiction
Federal courts ate courts of limited jurisdiction and may not decide cases over which they
lack subject matter jurisdiction. Pursuant to Article III of the Constitution, Congress has granted
district courts jurisdiction to hear only those cases in which there is either a federal question or
diversity of citizenship. Perpetual Sec., Inc. v. Tang, 290 F.3d 132, 136 (2d Cir. 2002). "Unlike
failure of personal jurisdiction, failure of subject matter jurisdiction is not waivable and may be
raised at any time by a party or by the court sua sponte. If subject matter jurisdiction is lacking,
the action must be dismissed." Lyndonville Sav. Bank & Trust Co. v. Lussier, 211
F.3d 697, 700-01 (2d Cir. 2000) (citing Bender v. Williamsport Area Sch. Dist., 475
U.S. 534, 541 (1986); United Food & Commercial Workers Union, Local 919 v. CenterMark
Props. Meriden Square. Inc., 30 F.3d 298, 301 (2d Cir. 1994)); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3)
("If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must
dismiss the action.") Thus, "before deciding any case," the court is required to assure itself that
the case is properly within its subject matter jurisdiction. Wynn v. AC Rochester, 273
F.3d 153, 157 (2d Cir. 2001).
Where, as here, there is no diversity of citizenship (see Compl. at 4), the court must have
subjection matter jurisdiction over the action as a federal question. Federal question jurisdiction
is invoked where a plaintiff's claim arises "under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United
States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. "A case arises under federal law within the meaning of the general
federal question statute only ifthe federal question appears in the facts of the plaintiff's well
pleaded complaint." Rennerv. Stanton, No. 13-CV-1676 (DLI), 2013 WL 1898389, at *2
(E.D.N.Y. May 7, 2013) (citing Louisville & Nashville R.R. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149 (1908)).
Domestic Relations Exception
Plaintiff's Complaint, even liberally construed, fails to present a federal question.
Instead, Plaintiff asserts claims concerning domestic relations-specifically, child support.
Federal courts generally lack subject matter jurisdiction over such claims. See, e.g., Puletti v.
Patel, No. 05-CV-2293 (SJ), 2006 WL 2010809, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. July 14, 2006) (noting the
Supreme Court has "long recognized that 'the whole subject of the domestic relations of husband
and wife, parent and child, belongs to the laws of the States and not to the laws of the United
States."' (quoting In re Burrus, 136 U.S. 586, 593-94 (1890)). "So strong" is the Supreme
Court's deference to state law in this area that it has recognized a '"domestic relations exception'
that 'divests the federal courts of power to issue divorce, alimony, and child custody decrees."'
Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. l, 12-13 (2004) (quoting Ankenbrandt v.
Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 703 (1992)), abrogated on other grounds, Lexmark Int'l. Inc. v. Static
Control Components, Inc., 134 S. Ct. 1377, 1386-88 (2014); see also Martinez v. Queens Cnty.
Dist. Attorney, No. 12-CV-6262 (RRM) (RER), 2014 WL 1011054, at *8 (E.D.N.Y.
Mar. 17, 2014) ("It is well-settled that the whole subject of the domestic relations of husband and
wife, parent and child, belongs to the laws of the States and not to the laws of the United States."
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted)).
Moreover, even where subject matter jurisdiction may exist over a particular domestic
relations matter, "federal courts should abstain from entertaining such actions in light of sound
policy considerations." Puletti, 2006 WL 2010809, at *4; see also Ankenbrandt, 504 U.S. at 704
(noting that "as a matter of judicial expertise, it makes far more sense to retain the rule that
federal courts lack power to issue [child custody] decrees because of the special proficiency
developed by state tribunals over the past century and a half in handling issues that arise in the
granting of such decrees"); Am. Airlines. Inc. v. Block, 905 F.2d 12, 14 (2d Cir. 1990) ("[E]ven
if subject matter jurisdiction lies over a particular matrimonial action, federal courts may
properly abstain from adjudicating such actions in view of the greater interest and expertise of
state courts in this field."). Thus, district courts typically "dismiss civil rights actions aimed at
changing the results of domestic proceedings, including orders of child custody." Elmasri v.
England, 111 F. Supp. 2d 212, 220 (E.D.N.Y. 2000); see also Block, 905 F.2d at 14 ("A federal
court presented with matrimonial issues or issues 'on the verge' of being matrimonial in nature
should abstain from exercising jurisdiction so long as there is no obstacle to their full and fair
determination in state courts.").
However characterized, Plaintiffs claims fundamentally challenge state court child
support orders. See Ashmore, 2012 WL 2377403, at *1 ("Federal courts 'lack jurisdiction to
interfere with ... ongoing state court proceedings concerning the custody and care of ...
children."' (quoting Abidekun v. N.Y.C. Bd. of Educ., No. 94-CV-4308 (FB), 1995 WL 228395,
at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 6, 1995))). Although he invokes his constitutional rights, Plaintiffs claims
are "directly related" to the custody proceedings. Puletti, 2006 WL 2010809, at *4. (See, e.g.,
Compl. at 5 ("This action initially stems from a child support proceeding in which each and
every defendant either [sic] sought to deprive plaintiff of his rights to due process and equal
protection under the laws.").) As a result, this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over
Plaintiffs claims. See Schottel v. Kutvba, No. 06-CV-1577, 2009 WL 230106, at *1 (2d Cir.
Feb. 2, 2009) (summary order) ("Although we recognize that the domestic relations 'exception is
very narrow,' a plaintiff cannot obtain federal jurisdiction merely by rewriting a domestic dispute
as a tort claim for monetary damages." (quoting Williams v. Lambert, 46 F.3d 1275, 1283 (2d
Cir. 1995)); Sullivan v. Xu, No. 10-CV-3626 (ENV), 2010 WL 3238979, at *2 (E.D.N.Y.
Aug. 13, 2010) (noting that "[a]lthough plaintiff invokes his constitutional rights, the substance
of his claims concern state law domestic relations matters," and dismissing the action pursuant to
the domestic relations exception).
Plaintiff claims that Defendants violated his constitutional rights by improperly
calculating arrears and support payment obligations, engaging in ex parte communications,
refusing to admit certain evidence, denying procedural motions, awarding the custodial parent
attorneys' fees, and threatening to incarcerate him upon failure to comply with court orders.
(See Compl. at 5-7.) Thus, it is obvious from the face of the Complaint that resolution of
Plaintiff's claims would force this court to "re-examine and re-interpret all the evidence brought
before the state court in the domestic relations proceedings," which "is not the role of this court."
McArthur v. Bell, 788 F. Supp. 706, 709 (E.D.N. Y. 1992). In fact, three of Plaintiff's specific
claims for relief explicitly request that this court "directly interfere with the state-court custody
determination." Ashmore, 2012 WL 2377403, at *2. (See Compl. at 7 (requesting that the court
(1) "[a]ssume jurisdiction over the matter;" (2) issue a TRO against Defendant Katz's March 3,
2015, order awarding attorneys' fees; and (6) "[r]elieve the New York State Unified Court
System of its jurisdiction over child support and related cases").)
Moreover, while Plaintiff's remaining requests concern declaratory and monetary relief,
the substance of these claims is not distinguishable. See. e.g., Ashmore, 2012 WL 2377403,
at *2 (dismissing action for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to the domestic relations
exception, where plaintiff argued that the state court violated his due process rights in admitting
hearsay testimony in child custody determination); see also Mitchell-Angel v. Cronin, 101
F.3d 108, 1996 WL 107300, at *2 (2d Cir. Mar. 8, 1996) (unpublished table decision) (observing
that district courts have found the domestic relation exception applies to civil rights actions
directed at challenging the results of domestic relations proceedings). Moreover, Plaintiff has
failed to plead facts that, even read liberally, suggest that New York state courts are not available
for a full and fair adjudication of his claims. See Block, 905 F.2d at 14; Ashmore, 2012
WL 2377403, at *3 ("While plaintiff, who appealed the judgment entered against him in state
court, may not have succeeded in obtaining declaratory relief, he has not alleged facts to suggest
that such relief was unavailable.").
Therefore, the court finds this action must be dismissed for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction. See Elmasri, 111 F. Supp. 2d at 221; see also Graham v. Criminal Court of the City
ofN.Y., No. 15-CV-337, 2015 WL 427981, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 2, 2015) (dismissing action
under the domestic relations exception where plaintiff sought to have the court "intervene and
vacate various orders that were issued in her state child custody proceedings"); Awan v. Kramer,
No. 12-CV-5092 (JG), 2012 WL 5426088, at *2-3 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 7, 2012) (noting that although
plaintiff alleged constitutional violations, he did not present "a substantial federal issue that
transcends or exists apart from the family law issue" (citation and internal quotation marks
omitted)); McKnight v. Middleton, 699 F. Supp. 2d 507, 519-20 (E.D.N.Y. 2010) ("At heart, he
is complaining of the state court custody proceedings and thus his claims are indistinct from the
domestic dispute. Plaintiff may not 'rewrit[e his] domestic dispute as a tort claim,' or a civil
rights claim by simply requesting only monetary damages." (quoting Schottel, 2009 WL 230106,
at *I)) (internal citation omitted).
Although the court finds that Plaintiffs entire action is barred pursuant to the domestic
relations exception to federal question subject matter jurisdiction, the court notes that the Second
Circuit has yet to directly address whether the domestic relations exception applies to federal
constitutional claims seeking monetary damages-as opposed to claims seeking issuance or
modification of child custody decrees. See Ashmore, 510 F. App'x at 49 ("We expressly decline
to address whether the domestic relations exception to federal subject matter jurisdiction applies
to federal question actions."); King v. Comm'r and N.Y.C. Police Dep't, 60 F. App'x 873, 875
(2d Cir. 2003) (summary order) ("Appellant is not seeking a domestic relations award, and he is
not asking that his parental rights be reinstated. Instead, his complaint seeks monetary damages.
The domestic relations exception to federal jurisdiction is therefore irrelevant to this action.").
As a result, some district courts have declined to rely exclusively on this exception in dismissing
constitutional challenges to state court child custody proceedings. See, e.g., Fernandez v.
Turetsky, No. 12-CV-4092 (SLT) (MDG), 2014 WL 5823116, at *2-3 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 7, 2014).
Alternatively, these courts have dismissed complaints based on child custody proceedings for
failure to state a claim under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See Rooker v. Fidelity Trust
Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923); Dist. of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983);
see also Remy v. N.Y. State Dep't of Taxation & Fin., 407 F. App'x 16, 18 (2d Cir. 2013)
(summary order)("' A challenge under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine is for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction."' (quoting Moccio v. N.Y. State Office of Court Admin., 95 F.3d 195, 198 (2d
Cir. 1996), abrogated on other grounds, Exxon Mobil Com. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544
U.S. 280, 283 (2005))).
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine divests federal courts of jurisdiction to consider suits that
seek to overturn state court judgments, Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 284, and suits bringing claims
that are "inextricably intertwined with a prior state court determination," Johnson v. Smithsonian
Inst., 189 F.3d 180, 185 (2d Cir. 1999) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Under
Rooker-Feldman, a district court does not have the authority to review final judgments of a state
court judicial proceeding, except for general constitutional challenges and reviews pursuant to a
writ of habeas corpus, see, e.g., Sorenson v. Suffolk Cntv. Child Support Enforcement Bureau,
No. 07-CV-3755 (JFB) (AKT), 2009 WL 580426, at *6 n.6 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 5, 2009), or by way
of certiorari petition to the Supreme Court, King, 60 F. App'x at 875. The Second Circuit has
clarified that Rooker-Feldman directs federal courts to abstain from considering claims when
four requirements are met: "(1) the plaintiff lost in state court, (2) the plaintiff complains of
injuries caused by the state court judgment, (3) the plaintiff invites district court review of that
judgment, and (4) the state court judgment was entered before the plaintiff's federal suit
commenced." McKithen v. Brown, 626 F.3d 143, 154 (2d Cir. 2010); see also Hoblock v.
Albany Cnty. Bd. of Elections, 422 F.3d 77, 85 (2d Cir. 2005). In addition, "'inextricably
intertwined' means, at a minimum, that where a federal plaintiff had an opportunity to litigate a
claim in a state proceeding ... , subsequent litigation of the claim will be barred under the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine if it would be barred under the principles of preclusion." King, 60 F.
App'x at 875 (quoting Moccio, 95 F.3d at 199-200).
"Courts have repeatedly invoked [Rooker-Feldman] in cases ... in which plaintiffs
challenge family court decrees setting child support arrears." Fernandez, 2014 WL 5823116,
at *4 (citing Remy, 507 F. App'x at 18-19; Sorenson, 2009 WL 580426, at *6 (dismissing case
pursuant to Rooker-Feldman where plaintiff's claims "all arise from the purported violation of
his constitutional rights" based upon the attempt to collect child support arrears); Chestnut v.
Gabler, No. 06-CV-534, 2007 WL 529556, at *3 (W.D.N.Y. Feb. 13, 2007) (collecting cases)).
Plaintiffs claims in this case also fall within the purview of this doctrine. He (1) has repeatedly
lost in state court proceedings; (2) complains of injuries caused by those judgments; (3) invites
this court to review those judgments by requesting that it "assume jurisdiction" over the matter
(and, in fact, others); and (4) filed this action after those judgments had been issued. See
McKithen, 626 F .3d at 154. Thus, insofar as Plaintiff seeks to have this court directly review the
prior state court judgments, this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under Rooker-Feldman.
See Remy, 507 F. App 'x at 18-19. Moreover, to the extent Plaintiff recasts his claims as alleging
constitutional violations resulting from the enforcement of the support order (including, for
example, his request for a TRO against the collection of attorneys' fees), Rooker-Feldman also
bars such claims because these claims are "inextricably intertwined" with the state court
judgment. See King, 60 F. App'x at 875-76; see also Ashmore, 510 F. App'x at 48-49 (finding
plaintiff's request for injunctive or declaratory relief--relating to the admission of specific
testimony in New York State custody proceedings to which he was a party-to be barred by
collateral estoppel); see also Fernandez, 2014 WL 5823116, at *4; Sorenson, 2009 WL 580426,
Consequently, even if the domestic relations exception did not bar this action, Plaintiffs
Complaint must be dismissed for failure to state a claim as a result of the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii).
Not only does Plaintiff fail to plead subject matter jurisdiction, but this action is also
frivolous because all of the Defendants are clearly immune from suit, and thus, a dispositive
defense clearly exists on the face of the Complaint. See id. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(i); Montero, 171
F.3d at 760.
Plaintiffs claims against the New York State Unified Court System are barred by the
doctrine of sovereign immunity pursuant to the Eleventh Amendment to the United States
Constitution. "In interpreting the Eleventh Amendment ... , the Supreme Court has consistently
held that 'nonconsenting States may not be sued by private individuals in federal court."'
Renner, 2013 WL 1898389, at *4 (quoting Bd. ofTrs. of Univ. of Ala. v. Garrett, 531
U.S. 356, 363 (2001)); see also Gollomp v. Spitzer, 568 F.3d 355, 368 (2d Cir. 2009) (holding
that the New York State Unified Court System is entitled to sovereign immunity as an arm of the
State). Moreover, courts have long held that § 1983 does not abrogate states' immunity under
the Eleventh Amendment. See Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66-67 (1989);
Dube v. State Univ. ofN.Y., 900 F.2d 587, 594 (2d Cir. 1990). In addition, Plaintiff has not
alleged, nor is there any indication, that the Unified Court System has expressly waived its
immunity. See Renner, 2013 WL 1898389, at *4. Accordingly, Plaintiff's claims seeking both
monetary and injunctive relief from Defendant Unified Court System must be dismissed. See
McGinty v. New York, 251 F.3d 84, 91 (2d Cir. 2001).
Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Palos and Katz are barred by the doctrine of
absolute judicial immunity. "It is well settled that judges have absolute immunity from suits for
damages arising out of judicial acts performed in their judicial capacities." Renner, 2013
WL 1898389, at *3 (citing Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991); Forrester v. White, 484
U.S. 219, 225 (1988)); see also id. (noting that Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554-55 (1967),
explicitly extended judicial immunity to actions brought pursuant to § 1983). "Judicial immunity
is an absolute immunity from suit, not just from the ultimate assessment of damages."
Ashmore, 2012 WL 2377403, at *2. Moreover, "[a]bsolutejudicial immunity 'is not overcome
by allegations of bad faith or malice,' nor can a judge 'be deprived of immunity because the
action he took was in error ... or was in excess of his authority."' Renner, 2013 WL 1898389,
at *3 (quoting Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11, 13). Rather, "[j]udicial immunity may be overcome only
when a judge takes action not in his or her judicial capacity or the actions at issue were taken 'in
the complete absence of all jurisdiction."' Pappas v. Zimmerman, No. 13-CV-4883 (JS)
(ORB), 2014 WL 3890149, at *5 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 6, 2014) (quoting Mireles, 502 U.S. at 12).
Plaintiff does not argue that Defendants Palos and Katz took actions that were outside
their judicial capacities; in fact, he alleges the opposite. (See Compl. at 5-7.) Instead,
interpreting Plaintiffs Complaint as raising the strongest argument it suggests, his claim that
Defendants "acted outside of the law" (id. at 7), may be construed as alleging that their actions
were taken "in the complete absence of all jurisdiction." "A judge acts in the clear absence of all
jurisdiction only when the matter upon which he acts is clearly outside the subject matter of the
court over which he presides." Levine v. Lawrence, No. 03-CV-1694 (DRH) (ETB), 2005
WL 1412143, at *7 (E.D.N.Y. June 15, 2005) (citing Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 357 n.7
(1978)). Furthermore, "[t]he scope of a judge's jurisdiction 'must be construed broadly where
the issue is the immunity of the judge."' Renner, 2013 WL 1898389, at *3 (quoting Stump, 435
U.S. at 356). Plaintiffs Complaint, however, references only actions taken in the underlying
child support proceedings, which are clearly within the subject matter of New York State courts.
See. e.g., id.; Sanchez-Preston v. Luria, No. 96-CV-2440 (CPS), 1996 WL 738140, at *5
(E.D.N.Y. Dec. 17, 1996) ("According to New York law, the New York Family Court has
exclusive original jurisdiction over custody proceedings, including custody termination." (citing
N.Y. Fam. Ct. Act§ 115(a), (b))). Thus, Plaintiff is clearly unable to overcome Defendants'
judicial immunity from any of his claims for civil damages under§ 1983.
That Plaintiff also seeks injunctive and declaratory relief in this case does not affect
Defendants' entitlement to absolute judicial immunity. "Although the judicially created doctrine
of judicial immunity does not bar a claim for prospective injunctive relief against a judicial
officer acting in his judicial capacity," Ashmore, 2012 WL 2377403, at *3 (emphasis added)
(citing Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522, 541-42 (1984)), Congress provided for such immunity
within the text of§ 1983 itself. The statute provides that "in any action brought against a judicial
officer for an act or omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity, injunctive relief shall not
be granted unless a declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was unavailable ..,
42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs Complaint does not allege that a declaratory decree was ever
entered or suggest that declaratory relief was unavailable. See, e.g., Ashmore, 2012
WL 2377403, at *3. "Declaratory relief against a judge for actions taken within his or her
judicial capacity is ordinarily available by appealing the judge's order." Id. (quoting LeDuc v.
Tilley, No. 05-CV-157 (MRK), 2005 WL 1475334, at *7 (D. Conn. June 22, 2005)). While
Plaintiff, who appealed the judgments entered against him in state court, may not have succeeded
in obtaining that declaratory relief, he has not alleged any facts suggesting that such relief was
unavailable. See id. As a result, Defendants Palos and Katz are also absolutely immune from
Plaintiffs claims for declaratory and injunctive relief under § 1983.
Accordingly, for the reasons set forth above, the court finds that it lacks subject matter
jurisdiction to adjudicate Plaintiffs claims; even ifthe court did have jurisdiction, Plaintiff
would not be able to overcome Defendants' absolute immunity to suit. Moreover, while courts
generally should not dismiss pro se complaints "without granting leave to amend at least once
when a liberal reading of the complaint gives any indication that a valid claim might be stated,"
Cuoco v. Moritsugy, 222 F.3d 99, 112 (2d Cir. 2000), courts may deny plaintiffs the opportunity
to amend "when amendment would be futile," Fulton v. Goord, 591 F.3d 37, 45 (2d Cir. 2009).
Here, the Complaint provides no indication that Plaintiff has a colorable claim under federal law;
further amendment would clearly be futile. See. e.g., Renner, 2013WL1898389, at *4.
Consequently, Plaintiffs complaint is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
Furthermore, Plaintiff is warned against filing repetitious and duplicative actions in this
Court. 3 See. e.g., Hong Mai Sa v. Doe, 406 F.3d 155, 158 (2d Cir. 2005); Lau v. Meddaugh, 229
F.3d 121, 123 (2d Cir. 2000). The Court certifies pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3) that any
appeal from this order would not be taken in good faith, and therefore IFP status is denied for the
purpose of an appeal. See Coppedge v. United States, 369 U.S. 438, 444-45 (1962).
s/Nicholas G. Garaufis
NICHOLAS G. GARAUFit United States District Judge
Dated: Brook!¥n, New York
June _"f_, 2015
This court has previously dismissed a similar action by this very Plaintiff under the domestic relations exception to
federal question subject matter jurisdiction. See Kneitel v. Doar, No. I 1-CV-5852 (NGG), 2011WL6179276, at •2
(E.D.N.Y. Dec. 12, 2011).
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