It is within this framework that the Court addresses the grounds for Salvatore's motion for summary judgment.
In the Court's view, to adjudicate Smith's conversion claims would run afoul of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, since his complaint is, at the very least, an indirect challenge to the default judgment of foreclosure entered in the New York Supreme Court. At its core, Smith's complaint seeks an Order from this Court declaring that the New York State judgment of foreclosure is invalid. This Court, as a Federal District Court, is without subject matter jurisdiction to do so. As the Supreme Court noted in Rooker, even if the judgment was wrongly procured, it is, nevertheless, an effective and conclusive adjudication until modified or reversed in the appropriate State appellate or collateral proceeding. 263 U.S. at 415, 44 S. Ct. at 150. "In essence, [Smith] is asking me to review the judgment rendered in the [foreclosure] proceeding, readjudicate his numerous claims, and grant him monetary damages. Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, I have no authority to grant such relief." Levitin v. Homburger, 932 F. Supp. 508, 517-19 (S.D.N.Y. 1996), affirmed, 107 F.3d 3 (2d Cir. 1997).
The fact that the plaintiff alleges that the State Court judgment was procured by fraud does not remove his claims from the ambit of Rooker-Feldman. For example, in Levitin, the plaintiff claimed that his former partner and partnership's law firm fraudulently conspired to obtain a court order to sell the plaintiff's interest at a judicial sale without informing him. Levitin, 932 F. Supp. at 513. Citing the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine, United States District Judge Sotomayor concluded that such a claim could not be entertained in District Court. Id. at 517-19. This determination was affirmed by he Second Circuit in an unpublished decision. 107 F.3d 3 (2d Cir. 1997). Similarly, in Zipper v. Todd, 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4770, No. Civ. 96-5198, 1997 WL 181044, *1-3 (S.D.N.Y. 1997), the plaintiffs, former directors of a company, filed suit in District Court alleging that the various defendants had fraudulently obtained approval in Kansas State Court of an order liquidating the company. The District Court concluded that "it is clear that this court lacks jurisdiction over plaintiff's present cause of actions pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Plaintiff's allegations of fraud . . . are unavailing." Id. at 6 (citations omitted). Here, too, the Court finds that Smith's claims for conversion are merely a thinly-veiled effort to invalidate the State Court's foreclosure judgment, in contravention of Rooker-Feldman.
"This is not to say, however, that [Smith] has no remedy in state court . . . . 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, 111 S. Ct. 2123, 2132-33, 115 L. Ed. 2d 27 (1991)." Levitin, 932 F. Supp. at 518-19. Without expressing any opinion on the merits of Smith's claim, the Court notes its view that the appropriate forum for an attack on the foreclosure judgment is in State Court.
For the foregoing reasons, the defendant Salvatore's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is granted. Accordingly, the complaint against defendant Salvatore is dismissed in its entirety, without prejudice and with leave to refile, if the plaintiff desires to do so, in State Court.
Finally, the Court notes that "Antonio Safonte" was added as a defendant in the Amended Complaint. It is unclear whether "Antonio" and "Salvatore" are one and the same, since "Antonio" is listed in the caption as "Antonio Safonte, a/k/a Salvatore Safonte." Additionally, there is nothing in the docket reflecting that "Antonio" was served separately with any papers in this matter. The parties have simply dropped any reference to "Antonio" in the captions of their most recent papers.
In view of the foregoing, the remaining parties are directed to appear for a status conference before the Court on March 26, 1998, at 9:00 a.m. in Courtroom A, prepared to discuss the status of the defendant "Antonio Safonte," the issue of settlement, and a date for jury selection.
For the reasons set forth above, it is hereby
ORDERED, that the defendant Salvatore Safonte's motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is granted; and it is further
ORDERED, that the complaint is dismissed as against the defendant Salvatore Safonte, without prejudice and with leave to refile in State court, if the plaintiff so desires; and it is further
ORDERED, that the remaining parties are directed to appear for a status conference before the Court on March 26, 1998, at 9:00 a.m. in Courtroom A, prepared to discuss the status of the defendant "Antonio Safonte," the issue of settlement, and a date for jury selection.
Dated: Uniondale, New York
March 9, 1998
Hon. Arthur D. Spatt
United States District Judge
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