constitutional issues were raised in the Appellate Division, Second Department, the originating court in this proceeding." Id. at A-89, n.1. On May 15, 1995, the Supreme Court denied Sassower's petition for a writ of certiorari. See Sassower v. Mangano, 131 L. Ed. 2d 852, 115 S. Ct. 1961 (1995).
On June 20, 1994, Sassower filed the instant action, claiming that 1) N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 22, §§ 691.4(1)(1) and 691.2 are unconstitutional on their faces and as applied, compl. PP 210, 211, 2) defendants acted under color of state law to "wilfully and maliciously" violate her constitutional rights by, inter alia, conspiring to deprive her of her license to practice law, id. PP 236, 247, and 3) defendants intentionally inflicted emotional distress upon her id. P 251. Sassower seeks, inter alia, declaratory judgment, dismissal of the June 1991 suspension order, reinstatement of her license to practice law, compensatory and punitive damages, attorney's fees and costs. Id. P 251. On September 28, 1995, the Court issued a decision on the Record denying Sassower's application for a temporary restraining order on the ground that Sassower had failed to establish the need for emergency relief. See Transcript dated September 28, 1995 at 25.
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c), defendants move for judgment on the pleadings.
Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b), defendants also move to dismiss on the ground that Sassower failed to comply with this Court's November 4, 1995 order directing her to file with this Court copies of all documents filed in the New York State court proceedings relating to the claims raised herein. Pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(c), (d), and 56(c), Sassower cross-moves for a preliminary injunction and for summary judgment.
In addition, Sassower moves for reconsideration of the denial of her motion for recusal of this Court. See Transcript dated October 27, 1995 at 6-8.
On October 26, 1995, one day prior to oral argument an all outstanding motions, Sassower filed a motion for recusal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 144 on the ground that the Court held a personal bias against her. At oral argument on October 27, 1995 the Court denied Sassower's motion both as untimely and as lacking in merit because it alleged at best a dissatisfaction with the Court's rulings. On March 8, 1996, Sassower filed a motion for reconsideration of her recusal motion on the ground that the "Court's conduct has been maliciously calculated to injure" her. That motion was based upon an assertion that the Court imposed upon her a short deadline to file her motions. However, since the Court also imposed the same deadline upon the defendants, Sassower's renewed recusal motion likewise must be denied. See United States v. Brinkworth, 68 F.3d 633, 639 (2d Cir. 1995) (affirming denial of recusal motion filed soon after adverse rulings and eight days prior to trial); see also Apple v. Jewish Hosp. and Medical Ctr., 829 F.2d 326, 333 (2d Cir. 1987) (prompt application of recusal motion required to avoid risk that moving party delay his application until after adverse ruling).
Turning to the merits of the claims asserted in this action, it is clear that Sassower's claims must be dismissed because the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to resolve them. It is well established that a federal district court is one of original, and not appellate, jurisdiction and therefore has no subject matter jurisdiction to review state court decisions. See District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482, 75 L. Ed. 2d 206, 103 S. Ct. 1303 (1983); Atlantic Coast Line R.R. v. Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, 398 U.S. 281, 287, 26 L. Ed. 2d 234, 90 S. Ct. 1739 (1970); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust, 263 U.S. 413, 415-16, 68 L. Ed. 362, 44 S. Ct. 149 (1923). Therefore, an aggrieved state court litigant must pursue his claims directly in the state appellate courts and ultimately to the United States Supreme Court. See Feldman, 460 U.S. at 476; Rooker, 263 U.S. at 415; Tang v. Appellate Division, 487 F.2d 138, 141 (2d Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 416 U.S. 906, 40 L. Ed. 2d 111, 94 S. Ct. 1611 (1974).
Moreover, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars not only claims which would involve direct review of a state court decision, but also claims which are "inextricably intertwined" with a state court decision or which seek relief that, if granted, would modify a state court decision. See Feldman, 460 U.S. at 483, n.16; Rooker, 263 U.S. at 416.
Here, Sassower challenged the June 1991 suspension order directly in the Second Department and collaterally in the Article 78 proceeding. Thereafter, Sassower pressed both her statutory and constitutional challenges to the June 1991 suspension order and to the New York State bar disciplinary rules upon which they were issued, in the state appellate courts and ultimately in the Supreme Court. Indeed, Sassower raised all of the claims asserted herein in the state court and in her petition for a writ of certiorari, including claims that N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 22, § 691.4 is unconstitutional on its face and as applied, and that New York Judiciary Law § 90 is unconstitutional in failing to provide for a post-suspension hearing. See Cert. Pet'n. at 16-25, A-89 n.1. Because all of the relief requested herein would necessarily involve direct, or at a minimum indirect, review of the propriety of those state court decisions, Sassower's claims must be dismissed. See Rooker, 263 U.S. at 415-16; Feldman, 460 U.S. at 482; Campbell v. Greisberger, 80 F.3d 703, 1996 WL 156041 at *4-5 (2d Cir. 1996).
In Feldman, the plaintiffs, unsuccessful applicants to the District of Columbia Bar, brought actions in federal district court claiming that the state court had violated their federal statutory and constitutional rights by denying their petitions for waivers of state bar provisions. The Supreme Court distinguished between the two types of claims raised in Feldman: "the first [being] a constitutional challenge to the state's general rules and regulations governing admission; the second [being] a claim, based on constitutional or other grounds, that the state has unlawfully denied a particular applicant admission." Feldman, 460 U.S. at 485 (citations omitted). The Supreme Court held that a federal district court has no subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate the latter type of claim, which may be challenged only in the Supreme Court. See id. at 475. However, district courts "have subject matter jurisdiction over general challenges to state bar rules, promulgated by state courts in non-judicial proceedings, which do not require review of a final state court judgment in a particular case. They do not have jurisdiction, however, over challenges to state court decisions in particular cases arising out of judicial proceedings even if those challenges allege that the state court's action was unconstitutional." Id. at 486.
Because in the instant case all of the claims asserted here, including the general challenges to the constitutionality of the statutory scheme, were raised and denied in the state proceedings, see Cert. Pet'n. at A-20 to A-87, A-89 n.1, Sassower's constitutional challenge to the state bar disciplinary rules are inextricably intertwined with her particular case.
See Feldman 460 U.S. at 475.
In any event, Sassower's constitutional claims are barred by res judicata. The doctrine of res judicata bars subsequent litigation of claims which were raised or could have been raised in a prior proceeding involving the same parties or their privies, which resulted in a judgment on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction. See Liona Corp. v. PCH Assocs., 949 F.2d 585, 594 (2d Cir. 1991); see also Winters v. Lavine, 574 F.2d 46, 57 (2d Cir. 1978). Because all of Sassower's claims were repeatedly raised and rejected in state court proceedings, they are barred from being relitigated in the instant action. See Tang v. Appellate Division, 487 F.2d 138 (2d Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 416 U.S. 906, 40 L. Ed. 2d 111, 94 S. Ct. 1611 (1974).
Sassower challenged the constitutionality of the June 1991 suspension order and the relevant statutory disciplinary provisions in the state trial and appellate courts as well as in the United States Supreme Court. Moreover, for the purposes of res judicata, the dismissal of Sassower's January 24, 1993 appeal as of right by the Court of Appeals on the ground that no substantial constitutional question was involved, was a final adjudication on the merits. See Turco v. Monroe County Bar Ass'n, 554 F.2d 515, 521 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 434 U.S. 834, 54 L. Ed. 2d 95, 98 S. Ct. 122 (1977); McCune v. Frank, 521 F.2d 1152, 1155 (2d Cir. 1975); Olitt v. Murphy, 453 F. Supp. 354, 359 (S.D.N.Y.), aff'd, 591 F.2d 1331 (2d Cir. 1978), cert. denied, 444 U.S. 825, 62 L. Ed. 2d 31, 100 S. Ct. 46 (1979).
In addition, Sassower's claims against defendants in their individual capacities are barred by absolute immunity. The doctrine of absolute judicial immunity bars claims against judges for actions not made "'in the clear absence of all jurisdiction.'" Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-7, 55 L. Ed. 2d 331, 98 S. Ct. 1099 (1978) (quoting Bradley v. Fisher, 80 U.S. (13 Wall.) 335, 351-52, 20 L. Ed. 646 (1872)). The "clear absence of all jurisdiction" has been narrowly construed to encompass only acts taken outside the scope of all authority, as in the case of a probate judge adjudicating a criminal trial. See Stump, 435 U.S. at 357, n.7; Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 553, 18 L. Ed. 2d 288, 87 S. Ct. 1213 (1967).
In this case, the Second Department is statutorily authorized to suspend from practice any attorney engaged in professional misconduct, see N.Y. Jud. Law § 90(2) (McKinney 1983), and to hear related challenges. As a result, Sassower has alleged no basis upon which a fact finder could rationally infer that defendant Judge Mangano and the associate justices of the Second Department acted outside their proper jurisdictional capacities in adjudicating Sassower's disciplinary petition and claims raised in relation thereto, let alone that they acted in the "clear absence of all jurisdiction." Stump, 435 U.S. at 356-57; see also Pierson, 386 U.S. at 554.
Absolute immunity likewise bars Sassower's claims against the non-judicial defendants. Under the doctrine of quasi-judicial immunity, absolute immunity extends to administrative officials performing discretionary acts of a judicial nature. See Cleavinger v. Saxner, 474 U.S. 193, 200, 88 L. Ed. 2d 507, 106 S. Ct. 496 (1985); Butz v. Economou, 438 U.S. 478, 513, 57 L. Ed. 2d 895, 98 S. Ct. 2894 (1978); Oliva v. Heller, 839 F.2d 37, 39 (2d. Cir. 1988). Here, quasi-judicial immunity, which bars claims against administrative law judges and hearing examiners performing judicial functions, protects hearing officer Galfunt in his individual capacity from liability. See Cleavinger, 474 U.S. at 200. In addition, because state bar disciplinary proceedings are clearly judicial in nature, see Middlesex Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 433-34, 73 L. Ed. 2d 116, 102 S. Ct. 2515 (1982), quasi-judicial immunity bars claims against state bar disciplinary committee members Casella, Sumber and the members of the Grievance Committee.
See Klapper v. Guria, 153 Misc. 2d 726, 582 N.Y.S.2d 892, 895 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. 1992) (quasi-judicial immunity bars action against counsel to state bar disciplinary committee and its members for prosecution and adjudication of disciplinary petition).
In addition, Sassower's claims for damages against defendants in their official capacities are barred by the Eleventh Amendment, which precludes suits brought in federal court against a state or its agency, where, as here, there is no express statutory waiver or consent. See Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100-02, 79 L. Ed. 2d 67, 104 S. Ct. 900 (1984); Will v. Michigan Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71, 105 L. Ed. 2d 45, 109 S. Ct. 2304 (1989); Trotman v. Palisades Interstate Park Comm'n, 557 F.2d 35, 38-40 (2d Cir. 1977). The Eleventh Amendment also bars actions against state officials sued in their official capacities where, as here, the state is the real party in interest. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 169, 87 L. Ed. 2d 114, 105 S. Ct. 3099 (1985); Farid v. Smith, 850 F.2d 917, 921 (2d Cir. 1988). In addition, defendant Grievance Committee, as "part of the judicial arm of the state of New York," Zuckerman v. Appellate Div., 421 F.2d 625, 626 (2d Cir. 1970), is not a "person" amenable to suit under § 1983. Rapoport v. Departmental Disciplinary Comm. for the First Judicial Dep't, 1989 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13854, No. 88 CIV. 5781 (MJL), 1989 WL 146264, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 21, 1989).
In view of the early dismissal of Sassower's federal claims, the Court declines to exercise pendent jurisdiction over the remaining state claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. See United Mine Workers of America v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 726-27, 16 L. Ed. 2d 218, 86 S. Ct. 1130 (1966); Diamond v. Am-Law Publishing Corp., 745 F.2d 142, 148 (2d Cir. 1984).
For the reasons set forth above, defendants' motion for summary judgment shall be and hereby is granted.
In addition, Sassower's cross-motions for a preliminary injunction, summary judgment, and reconsideration shall be and hereby are denied. The Clerk of Court is directed to enter judgment accordingly and close the above-captioned action.
It is SO ORDERED.
Dated: New York, New York
May 21, 1996
John E. Sprizzo
United States District Judge