timeliness of the action, and res judicata and collateral estoppel. However, defendants' other grounds for dismissal have merit and I find that under any of the theories advanced by Clapp, Clapp fails to state a viable federal claim.
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 in such a case, the court does have subject matter jurisdiction. See Feldman, 460 U.S. at 483, 103 S. Ct. at 1315-16.
Plaintiff is, in part, challenging the state courts' interpretation of the state's partnership laws and, thus, she is seeking direct review of the state courts' decisions. In accordance with the Supreme Court's rulings cited above, this Court does not have jurisdiction over that portion of plaintiff's claim. However, plaintiff's complaint can be interpreted to assert a federal challenge to the constitutional validity of the New York courts' interpretation of the partnership laws as they affect plaintiff's due process rights, to the parties' conspiratorial agreement to deprive her of her property without due process, and to the constitutional adequacy of the process afforded her in state court. Consequently, although this court is without jurisdiction to directly review the state courts' decisions, the court would have jurisdiction to consider plaintiff's constitutional challenges if her complaint were to set forth viable causes of action.
B. Timeliness of Plaintiff's Action
Defendants' further allegation that plaintiff's action is untimely because it was filed more than three years after the firm's dissolution and her expulsion from LeBoeuf is without merit. Defendants incorrectly characterize plaintiff's challenge as based solely on her expulsion from the firm. Plaintiff's instant action is, instead, premised on the alleged constitutional violations resulting from Justice Lebedeff's dismissal of plaintiff's state lawsuits and the subsequent affirmance of that decision by the Appellate Division and the New York State Court of Appeals. Since the New York Court of Appeals finally dismissed plaintiff's appeal in May 1993, all of the actions of which plaintiff complains occurred within three years of the filing of the instant lawsuit and this action, therefore, is timely.
C. Res Judicata and Collateral Estoppel
Defendants' contention that the plaintiff has previously litigated these same claims in state court is similarly unpersuasive. As already discussed, plaintiff's due process claims challenge actions by the State and LeBoeuf defendants concerning Clapp's state lawsuits, including how plaintiff's claims were treated by Justice Lebedeff, the Appellate Division and the New York State Court of Appeals. They are for the first time before this Court and, therefore, are not barred as having previously been resolved in some other judicial forum.
D. Failure to State a Claim
Defendants also argue that plaintiff's claims are without merit and may be dismissed pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Clapp does not set forth any viable federal claim, under even the most liberal reading of her submissions to this Court. As I discuss fully below, Clapp did not have a protected property or liberty interest in the continuation of the LeBoeuf partnership. Alternatively, assuming plaintiff had had an identifiable property or liberty interest in the LeBoeuf partnership, the defendants are not liable for any monetary damages to her because LeBoeuf is not a state actor subjecting it to liability under § 1983, Clapp has not sufficiently plead the existence of a conspiracy among the defendants, and because the State defendants are judicially immune to suit for damages. Finally, Clapp has not suffered any deprivation of her procedural due process rights in the state courts. Therefore, the complaint does not survive the motions to dismiss.
Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6) is warranted only where "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of [the plaintiff's] claim which would entitle [the plaintiff] to relief." Ricciuti v. New York City Transit Auth., 941 F.2d 119, 123 (2d Cir. 1991), quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957) (footnote omitted). The issue "is not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail, but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims." Scheuer v. Rhodes, 416 U.S. 232, 236, 40 L. Ed. 2d 90, 94 S. Ct. 1683 (1974). In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the district court must assess the legal feasibility of the complaint. Kopec v. Coughlin, 922 F.2d 152, 155 (2d Cir. 1991). In considering the motion, the allegations in the complaint must be construed favorably to the plaintiff. Walker v. New York, 974 F.2d 293, 298 (2d Cir. 1992), cert. denied, U.S. , 113 S. Ct. 1387, 122 L. Ed. 2d 762 (1993). I find that defendants have satisfied their heavy burden on their Rule 12(b)(6) motion and I further find that plaintiff does not present any facts which would entitle her to the remedies she seeks.
1. The Property and Liberty Interests at stake
Clapp claims that she is entitled to injunctive and monetary relief because the state court decisions deprived her of her due process and liberty interests in the continuation of the LeBoeuf partnership until certain notice and hearing requirements were met before her interests were terminated. Not only does plaintiff misunderstand basic tenets of constitutional due process analysis, but plaintiff fails to comprehend the fundamental legal principles applicable to New York partnerships.
To succeed on her property right due process claim, Clapp "'must first identify a property right, second show that the state has deprived [her] of that right, and third show that the deprivation was effected without due process.'" Local 342, Long Island Public Service Employees v. Town Board of the Town of Huntington, 31 F.3d 1191, slip op. at 5989 (2d Cir. 1994), quoting Mehta v. Surles, 905 F.2d 595, 598 (2d Cir. 1990) (per curiam). There is simply no legally recognizable argument that Clapp has a protected property interest at stake herein.
It is well-settled constitutional jurisprudence that property interests subject to due process protections are based on sources independent of the federal Constitution. Such interests
are created and their dimensions are defined by existing rules or understandings that stem from an independent source such as state law--rules or understandings that secure certain benefits and that support claims of entitlement to those benefits.
Board of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 577, 33 L. Ed. 2d 548, 92 S. Ct. 2701 (1972).
It is also well-settled that an individual has a property interest in a benefit if they are entitled to the benefit, and that in determining whether an individual has such entitlement, a court must consider "the applicable statute, contract or regulation which purports to establish the benefit." Martz v. Incorporated Village of Valley Stream, 22 F.3d 26, 30 (2d Cir. 1994), citing Kelly Kare, Ltd. v. O'Rourke, 930 F.2d 170, 175 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, U.S. , 112 S. Ct. 300, 116 L. Ed. 2d 244 (1991).
Clapp's interest in the LeBoeuf partnership was strictly a creature of statutory and contractual sources. Clapp admits that her partnership agreement with LeBoeuf was for an indefinite term. New York's courts have unambiguously held that a partnership agreement of an indefinite term is an at will partnership which may be terminated by any partner at any time. See, e.g., Shandell v. Katz, 95 A.D.2d 742, 464 N.Y.S.2d 177 (1st Dept. 1983); Malmeth v. Schneider, 18 A.D.2d 1030, 238 N.Y.S.2d 986 (2d Dept. 1963). Accordingly, the formulation and existence of the partnership does not create, either under the contract or New York's laws, an entitlement or an interest in the indefinite or even limited continuation of the partnership. Therefore, the dissolution of LeBoeuf, with or without due process, cannot be a violation of constitutional rights because no right in the continuation of the partnership exists under New York law.
Clapp relies on sections 62, 63, 66-69, and 80-81 of New York's Partnership Law in support of her claims that she has a protected property interest in the partnership. These statutory provisions, however, are not a source for the proposed property right. Instead, these sections merely set forth the manner by which a partnership may dissolve and the particular liabilities and responsibilities the partners bears upon dissolution.
Section 63 provides for dissolution by decree of the court, and sections 66-69 address the partners' liabilities and use of partnership property after dissolution. Section 80 describes when a partnership name may be continued and section 81 requires that a partnership certificate be filed with the county clerk. Section 62, in turn, specifically permits a partnership to dissolve at the request of any partner at any time:
Dissolution is caused: