single telephone call to Homburger's attorney--he would have learned about the completed sale in time to assert all of his claims relating to the sale, under CPLR § 2003.
There is a third and unavoidable reason, however, why Levitin's claims must fail. The sole remedy for Levitan's fraud allegations is to vacate the sale and credit him with a partnership interest amount greater than that generated by the sale. In essence, Levitin is asking me to review the judgment rendered in the special proceeding, readjudicate his numerous claims, and grant him monetary damages. Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, I have no authority to grant such relief.
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is derived from the Supreme Court's decisions in Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 68 L. Ed. 362, 44 S. Ct. 149 (1923) and District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 75 L. Ed. 2d 206, 103 S. Ct. 1303 (1983). Under this doctrine, the federal district courts have no authority to review final judgments of a state court in judicial proceedings. Feldman, 460 U.S. at 476, 482; see also Gentner v. Shulman, 55 F.3d 87, 89 (2d Cir. 1995). Relief from a state court judgment is available solely within the New York State court system and ultimately from the U.S. Supreme Court. 28 U.S.C. § 1257.
Although there are two exceptions to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, neither applies in this case. A federal district court may evaluate general constitutional challenges to a state law so long as they are not "inextricably intertwined" with the merits of the state court proceeding. Feldman, 460 U.S. at 482-83 & n.16. Levitin's Complaint raises no general constitutional challenges to state law. The focus of his complaint is entirely on the sale as it relates to him.
The second exception to Rooker-Feldman applies when the state court proceedings were not judicial in nature, but administrative or ministerial. Id. at 476. The distinction among these categories, although occasionally subtle, has been well analyzed in the case law. A judicial inquiry "investigates, declares and enforces liabilities as they stand on present or past facts and under laws supposed already to exist." Id. at 477 (citation omitted). A non-adjudicative, administrative proceeding may be characterized as either legislative or ministerial. Guarino v. Larsen, 11 F.3d 1151, 1157 (3d Cir. 1993). As the Supreme Court has observed in the mandamus context, an act is ministerial only if it does not require the exercise of discretion. Wilbur v. United States, 281 U.S. 206, 218, 74 L. Ed. 809, 50 S. Ct. 320 (1930) (ministerial duty is "so plainly prescribed as to be free from doubt and equivalent to a positive command").
In this case, the sale of Levitin's partnership interest was an extension of the special enforcement proceeding, which clearly was a judicial inquiry. Justice DeMatteo conducted the sale as an officer of the court. The nature of a proceeding "depends not on the character of the body but upon the character of the proceedings." Prentis v. Atlantic Coast Line Co., 211 U.S. 210, 226, 53 L. Ed. 150, 29 S. Ct. 67 (1908); see also In re Summers, 325 U.S. 561, 567, 89 L. Ed. 1795, 65 S. Ct. 1307 (1945) ("The form of the proceeding is not significant. It is the nature and effect which is controlling.") Although a receiver may perform some ministerial acts in the course of conducting a judicial sale, this does not change the essentially adjudicative nature of the proceeding. A receiver "is expected to exercise his discretion and not merely to act in a ministerial capacity." Emigrant Indus. Sav. Bank v. Consolidated Linen & Laundry Cos., 20 N.Y.S.2d 770 (Sup.Ct. 1940) (defining receiver's duty in foreclosure sale). As a receiver, Justice DeMatteo stood in the shoes of the judge who appointed him, and he was expected to apply the law in the exercise of his discretion. Therefore, Rooker-Feldman applies.
This is not to say, however, that Levitin has no remedy in state court, particularly for some of the new claims he makes against Justice DeMatteo in his proposed amended Complaint. It is settled law that a court has inherent power to vacate its own judgment on proof that fraud has been perpetrated on the court. Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 44, 115 L. Ed. 2d 27, 111 S. Ct. 2123 (1991). This power encompasses a judicial sale conducted under court orders.
The court may exercise its inherent equitable power over a sale made pursuant to its judgment or decree to ensure that it is not made the instrument of injustice. Although this power should be exercised sparingly and with great caution, a court of equity may set aside its own judicial sale upon grounds otherwise insufficient to confer an absolute legal right to a resale in order to relieve of oppressive or unfair conduct.