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CLAPP v. LEBOEUF

August 19, 1994

ALISON E. CLAPP, Plaintiff,
v.
LeBOEUF, LAMB, LEIBY & MacRAE, DONALD J. GREENE, DONALD J. GREENE, P.C., TAYLOR R. BRIGGS, TAYLOR R. BRIGGS, P.C., ALAN M. BERMAN, GEOFFRY D.C. BEST, DAVID P. BICKS, DAVID P. BICKS, P.C., CHARLES W. HAVENS, III, CHARLES W. HAVENS, III, P.C., DOUGLAS W. HAWES, DOUGLAS W. HAWES, P.C., CARL D. HOBELMAN, CARL D. HOBELMAN, CHARTERED, RONALD D. JONES, RONALD D. JONES, P.C., GRANT S. LEWIS, GRANT S. LEWIS, P.C., CAMERON F. MacRAE, III, CAMERON F. MacRAE, III, P.C., SAMUEL M. SUGDEN, SAMUEL M. SUGDEN, P.C., Collectively THE LeBOEUF, LAMB, LEIBY & MacRAE "ADMINISTRATIVE COMMITTEE", LeBOEUF, LAMB, LEIBY, & MacRAE, IRVING MOSKOVITZ, PETER N. SCHILLER, JOHN A. YOUNG, JOHN C. RICHARDSON, JOHN C. RICHARDSON, P.C., HON. DIANE A. LEBEDEFF, Individually and in her past or present capacity as Justice of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, New York County, and HON. JOSEPH P. SULLIVAN, HON. RICHARD W. WALLACH, HON. THEODORE R. KUPPERMAN, HON. DAVID ROSS, HON. BETTY WEINBERG ELLERIN, HON. FRANCIS T. MURPHY, HON. JOHN CARRO, HON. BENTLY KASSAL, HON. GEORGE BUNDY SMITH, HON. ERNST H. ROSENBERGER, Each individually and in his/her past or present official capacities as Justices of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, First Department, (collectively THE "APPELLATE DIVISION," FIRST DEPARTMENT), Defendants.


SOTOMAYOR


The opinion of the court was delivered by: SONIA SOTOMAYOR

ORDER AND OPINION

 Plaintiff Alison Clapp, a former partner of defendant law firm LeBoeuf, Lamb, Leiby & MacRae ("LeBoeuf"), filed the instant action against LeBoeuf, individual firm members and professional corporations (collectively, the "LeBoeuf defendants"), and the Honorable Justice Diane A. Lebedeff of the Supreme Court of the County of New York and the judges of the Appellate Division, First Department of the State of New York (collectively, "the State defendants"). The genesis of this federal action is Clapp's exclusion from membership in LeBoeuf after its 1989 dissolution and subsequent reconstitution in 1990.

 All of the defendants have moved to dismiss the complaint, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and pursuant to 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. The LeBoeuf defendants have also moved, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 65, to enjoin plaintiff from instituting further actions against the defendants without prior court approval, and for sanctions against plaintiff pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 11. Plaintiff has likewise moved for sanctions against the defendants under Rule 11. For the reasons discussed below, defendants' motions to dismiss are granted, the LeBoeuf defendants' motion to enjoin litigation without prior approval is denied, and the LeBoeuf defendants' and plaintiff's motions for sanctions are denied.

 I. Background

 A. Alison Clapp's Expulsion From LeBoeuf

 Alison Clapp joined LeBoeuf as an associate attorney in its tax department in 1981 and became a partner in 1986. In 1986, 1987 and 1988, plaintiff signed partnership agreements with the firm, which provided that the partnership term "shall be indefinite." Clapp's tenure at the firm deteriorated, however, apparently due to disagreements over her billable hours and productivity. In September 1989, when Clapp learned of her impending termination from the firm, she objected. LeBoeuf, nevertheless, ended the partnership relationship with plaintiff on December 31, 1989, when the firm of LeBoeuf, Lamb, Leiby & MacRae dissolved, and subsequently reformed on January 1, 1990, without plaintiff. Defendants also paid plaintiff those sums defendants believed were due to plaintiff under the partnership agreement. Clapp thereafter began her litigation crusade against LeBoeuf and its members through the federal and state courts. *fn1"

 B. The March 1990 Federal Action

 In March 1990, Clapp filed a federal action against LeBoeuf and several of its individual partners, alleging that the defendants had violated the Employee Retirement Income and Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. §§ 1132(a)(1)(B), (a)(3) and 1140, as amended, and the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1961 et seq., as amended. The complaint also asserted various breach of contract and tort claims. By Order dated August 29, 1990, as amended by Order dated October 16, 1990, Judge Robert P. Patterson, Jr. granted the defendants' motion to dismiss. See Clapp v. Greene, 743 F. Supp. 273 (S.D.N.Y. 1990). On October 26, 1990, Judge Patterson also denied plaintiff's motions to vacate his August 29th Order and for recusal and injunctive relief. The Second Circuit affirmed Judge Patterson's Orders on March 29, 1991. Clapp v. Greene, 930 F.2d 912 (2d Cir. 1991).

 C. The State Court Lawsuits

 In two separate state court actions filed in New York Supreme Court, New York County, Clapp again sued LeBoeuf, challenging her expulsion from the firm on the ground that the firm's 1989 dissolution and subsequent reformulation violated New York's partnership laws. Plaintiff's first action sought specific performance of the LeBoeuf partnership agreement, an accounting of partnership profits and declaratory and injunctive relief. In her second state court action, Clapp alleged claims of breach of contract, fraud, promissory estoppel and intentional infliction of emotional distress. By Order dated February 14, 1992, defendant Justice Lebedeff granted summary judgment for the defendants and dismissed both lawsuits.

 Plaintiff appealed Justice Lebedeff's decision to the Appellate Division, First Department, which unanimously affirmed the lower court decision on December 15, 1992. Shortly thereafter, on or about April 8, 1993, the First Department denied plaintiff's request for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals; plaintiff, nonetheless, filed a Notice of Appeal as of right to the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals dismissed the appeal in May 1993, finding that "no substantial constitutional question is directly involved."

 D. The Instant Federal Action

 On November 23, 1993, soon after the dismissal of her state court lawsuits, Clapp filed the instant action against the LeBoeuf defendants, Justice Lebedeff and the judges of the Appellate Division, First Department. Clapp's complaint and subsequent submissions to this Court can only be described as turgid. After much effort in deciphering Clapp's voluminous submissions and her arguments before this Court, I discern the following five categories of claims, all of which are essentially premised on Clapp's contention that the defendants have misconstrued or misapplied New York's partnership laws, with the result of depriving her of her interest in continuing in the LeBoeuf partnership without due process of law.

 First, Clapp appears to being challenging the state courts' legal interpretation of New York's partnership laws. She argues that the state courts' interpretation of those laws divested the statutes of their due process notice aspects, and, according to Clapp, made the laws "nugatory". Second, Clapp asserts a claim against the partnership laws as applied to her, arguing that the partnership laws deprived her of her property interest in the LeBoeuf partnership, without benefit of due process of law. Third, Clapp attempts to impose liability on LeBoeuf under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for an unconstitutional taking of property, on the ground that LeBoeuf is a state actor as a result of its illegal utilization of the state's laws to divest her of her partnership interest. Fourth, Clapp alleges that the State defendants and LeBoeuf conspired to deprive her of her partnership interests in LeBoeuf without due process of law. Finally, Clapp also claims that the judicial procedure followed in her state court cases denied her a full opportunity to present her claims at the trial level and in the appellate courts. For all of these alleged violations of law, Clapp seeks damages as well as declaratory and injunctive relief. Complaint, PP 58-61.

 On December 12, 1993, Clapp moved for a preliminary injunction enjoining LeBoeuf from terminating her interest in the firm. On numerous grounds, not the least that the LeBoeuf partnership in which plaintiff had been a member had dissolved four years earlier, I denied the preliminary injunction motion. Clapp challenged the legitimacy of my ruling by, in addition to appealing the denial of injunctive relief to the Second Circuit, moving for my recusal. *fn2" Plaintiff argued in support of recusal that I was wrong in denying her preliminary injunction motion and that I had demonstrated an improper demeanor towards plaintiff and her counsel during the preliminary injunction hearing held before me on December 20, 1993, and that my "suggestion of sanctions against counsel and the plaintiff, in context of the facts and circumstances of this case," required my recusal. Transcript of March 31, 1994 Hearing, p. 3 ("Tr."). I subsequently denied the motion to recuse, finding no grounds to justify my removal from this action.

 In addition to opposing Clapp's preliminary injunction motion, the State defendants have cross-moved to dismiss the complaint, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and (b)(6), for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The LeBoeuf defendants have also moved to dismiss on the same grounds, and further seek to enjoin plaintiff, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 65, from instituting any further lawsuits against the LeBoeuf defendants, without prior leave of the Court.

 In response to defendants' motions, plaintiff has filed a steady stream of opposing documents and further motions. Clapp moved for sanctions against defendants, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 11, urging me to penalize defendants because they had submitted an unsigned cross-motion for dismissal and supporting memoranda. The motion was without merit and I denied her request for sanctions on March 21, 1994.

 Thereafter, plaintiff filed a motion for reargument of her Rule 11 motion and she submitted supplemental papers on her motion to recuse. On April 29, 1994, I denied plaintiff's motion for reargument because she failed to present any legally cognizable basis for reconsideration of my decision.

 Although all of plaintiff's initial motions were unsuccessful, she remained undaunted. She moved for Rule 11 sanctions a second time, on May 13, 1994. In this second motion, plaintiff claims that sanctions should be imposed on the defendants because they did not serve or file opposition papers to her motion to recuse, which Clapp argues was still pending because there was no denial of the recusal motion entered on this Court's docket. Plaintiff also requests that defendants' letter responses to her supplemental papers in support of her motion to recuse be stricken because they are prejudicial to her.

 Consistent with plaintiff's practices, she has also recently requested a conference regarding my denial of her motion to modify a transcript of a hearing before me because her counsel claims that the transcript does not accurately reflect what I said at the hearing. By Order dated August 12, 1994, I denied this request, advising plaintiff and her counsel that I did not say what counsel claims I said. A hearing or conference will not alter the fact that even if I had said what counsel claims, which I did not, I would have misspoken because I do not personally know Justice Lebedeff and have never had any personal or business contact with her that I can recall.

 This summary rendition of plaintiff's motions illustrates the burdens of her motion practice on this Court and on the opposing parties.

 E. The March 31, 1994 Hearing

 The parties appeared before me at a hearing to argue the motions to dismiss on March 31, 1994 ("the Hearing"). At the Hearing, I explained to plaintiff's counsel that I had had difficulties in deciphering plaintiff's submissions. I posed several questions to plaintiff's counsel, in order to understand plaintiff's claims. Despite my efforts to clarify Clapp's arguments, plaintiff's counsel was unresponsive to my inquiries, often refusing to answer my questions and directing me to plaintiff's submissions as adequate to explain her position.

 II. The Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 12(b)

 The LeBoeuf and State defendants argue several grounds in support of their motions to dismiss. The grounds set forth in the defendants respective motions are similar and overlap. Briefly and collectively described, the defendants move for dismissal on the grounds that: 1) this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction; 2) the claims are time-barred; 3) res judicata and collateral estoppel bar any further litigation of the instant claims; 4) Clapp has not stated a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and 5) the State defendants are exempt under the doctrine of judicial immunity from liability for damages.

 A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction

 Defendants claim that this Court lacks jurisdiction because, by the instant action, plaintiff actually seeks federal review of New York state court decisions, which review, defendants argue, is wholly outside the scope of this Court's jurisdictional authority. Although I agree that this Court does not have authority to review state court decisions based on state law, this Court does have subject matter jurisdiction over federal claims.

 This Court's jurisdiction is circumscribed by the principle that a district court may not review final judgments of state courts. See Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 415, 416, 44 S. Ct. 149, 150, 68 L. Ed. 362 (1923); District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 103 S. Ct. 1303, 1315 n.16, 75 L. Ed. 2d 206 (1983). Nevertheless, a federal court may properly consider a challenge to the constitutionality of a state rule or law, and ...


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