United States District Court, Southern District of New York
January 13, 1999
NEW YORK CRIMINAL BAR ASSOCIATION, NEW YORK STATE ASSOCIATION OF CRIMINAL DEFENSE LAWYERS, DIARMUID WHITE, RICHARD WARE LEVITT, RUSSELL M. GIOIELLA, IRA D. LONDON, MURRAY RICHMAN, MARVIN E. SCHECHTER, JOSEPH TACOPINA, JERRY VASQUEZ AND COASTAL OIL NEW YORK INC., PLAINTIFFS,
THE HONORABLE JUANITA BING NEWTON, AS ADMINISTRATIVE JUDGE FOR THE FIRST JUDICIAL DISTRICT, STATE OF NEW YORK, CRIMINAL BRANCH, THE HONORABLE JOAN CAREY, AS DEPUTY CHIEF ADMINISTRATIVE JUDGE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK FOR THE NEW YORK CITY COURTS, AND THE HONORABLE JONATHAN LIPPMAN, AS CHIEF ADMINISTRATIVE JUDGE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Stein, District Judge.
Plaintiffs in this action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983
allege that the New York County District Attorney controls the
assignment of judges to try "high-profile" criminal cases in New
York County and that that practice violates plaintiffs' right to
due process of law, since, they allege, the D.A. selects jurists
who "strongly" favor the prosecution. As set forth below,
defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings is granted on
the grounds that the claim of Coastal Oil New York, Inc. is moot
and the remaining plaintiffs lack standing to bring this action.
Plaintiffs are Coastal Oil New York, Inc., two associations of
criminal defense attorneys — the New York Criminal Bar
Association and the New York State Association of Criminal
Defense Lawyers — and eight individuals who are members of the
those bar associations. They name as defendants Justice Juanita
Bing Newton, who as Administrative Judge for the criminal branch
of New York State courts in New York County administers the
system of selecting judges to hear criminal matters, as well as
two of her administrative superiors — Justice Jonathan Lippman,
who is Chief Administrative Judge of the State of New York, and
Justice Joan Carey, who is Justice Lippman's deputy for courts in
New York City.
The alleged scheme is simplicity itself: the D.A. purportedly
seeks out "strongly proprosecution" judges to issue ex parte
orders such as search warrants or wire tap authorizations.
(Amended Complaint at ¶ 18). After having thus initially involved
a judge in a particular criminal matter, the D.A.'s office then
allegedly requests Justice Newton to appoint that same judge to
convene and preside over a special grand jury,*fn1 (Id. at ¶¶
18, 19), a recommendation which has "almost always [been]
accepted" by the Administrative Judge. (Id. at ¶¶ 19, 20).
Finally, the judge who has been selected to preside over that
grand jury is frequently assigned to preside over the subsequent
proceedings, including arraignments, pre-trial proceedings,
trial, and sentencings. (Id. at ¶ 20). Thus, plaintiffs allege,
the D.A. has effectively chosen the judge who presides over the
entire criminal proceeding.
Plaintiffs do not dispute that the ultimate determination as to
which judge is assigned to preside over special grand juries and
any resulting indictments and trials rests exclusively with the
Chief Administrative Judge. (Id. at ¶¶ 19, 20, 24, 28). Their
complaint rather is that in practice the D.A. — a party to the
criminal proceedings — selects the presiding judge who, in the
eyes of plaintiffs, is in "a disproportionate number of
high-profile cases" a judge who is "strongly prosecution-minded."
(Id. at ¶ 21).
The particular incident giving rise to Coastal's grievance is
as follows: Sometime in 1995, a prosecutor from the D.A.'s office
telephoned Justice Edward J. McLaughlin and asked whether he
would be available to preside over a grand jury. (Id. at ¶¶ 31,
32). Justice McLaughlin responded to this inquiry by stating:
"I'll do anything I'm asked to do, but get Judge Newton's
clearance." (Id. at ¶ 31). Sometime after this conversation,
Justice Newton informed Justice McLaughlin that he had been
designated to preside over a special grand jury which, as he
later discovered, was the grand jury investigating Coastal.
After that special grand jury handed up an indictment, Coastal
made an administrative request to have the case transferred from
Justice McLaughlin (Id. at ¶ 34); that request was later denied
by Justice Newton on the grounds that the selection of Justice
McLaughlin had been made in accordance with proper procedure.
annexed to Newton Aff. as Exh. B).*fn2 In addition, Justice
Newton informed Coastal that the question of whether the judge
assigned to supervise a special grand jury should preside over
any indictments filed by that grand jury is "a policy decision
that has historically been answered in the affirmative" and that
this policy would not be disturbed "absent compelling reasons."
(Amended Complaint at ¶ 34).
Coastal then instituted an Article 78 proceeding in the
Appellate Division seeking to enjoin Justice Newton from
assigning the indictment of Coastal to Justice McLaughlin, to
enjoin Justice McLaughlin from presiding over the indictment, and
to compel Justice Newton to assign the arraignment of Coastal to
the judge sitting in the grand jury part for that term and,
thereafter, to randomly assign another judge to preside over that
The Appellate Division subsequently dismissed the Article 78
petition on the grounds that Coastal's claims were "purely
speculative" as it had not asserted that "any ruling made thus
far by the presiding judge has been affected by bias." Coastal
Oil New York, Inc. v. Newton, 231 A.D.2d 55, 57-58, 660 N.Y.S.2d 428,
429 (1st Dept. 1997). Coastal then unsuccessfully moved to
recuse Justice McLaughlin from presiding over its case. (Newton
Aff., Exh. H). The New York Court of Appeals subsequently (1)
dismissed the appeal Coastal took on constitutional grounds from
the dismissal of its Article 78 petition, 91 N.Y.2d 848,
690 N.E.2d 492, 667 N.Y.S.2d 683 (1997), and (2) denied Coastal's
motion for leave to appeal, 91 N.Y.2d 808, 692 N.E.2d 130,
669 N.Y.S.2d 261 (1998).
Having pursued its contentions through the state court system,
Coastal instituted this federal action in June of 1998 and
defendants subsequently made this motion for judgment on the
pleadings. Shortly thereafter, Justice McLaughlin granted a
renewed motion by Coastal to recuse himself from trying the
criminal action. (Order and Decision dated October 5, 1998,
annexed to Newton Supp. Aff. as Exh. A). Another judge was
assigned to the trial "in a manner that is not at issue here."
(Opp. at 36).
Although a new judge has been assigned to preside over
Coastal's case, plaintiffs allege that the offending practice by
the District Attorney's Office is continuing and they seek a
judgment pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 declaring that it violates
the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and enjoining
its continuation. (Amended Complaint ¶ 4, prayer for relief).
Defendants have moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) on the grounds that (1) the action is moot,
(2) the bar associations and individual plaintiffs lack standing,
(3) the action is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, (4)
the action is precluded by the doctrine of collateral estoppel,
and (5) this Court should abstain from hearing the action
pursuant to the doctrine of Younger v. Harris, as well as due
to considerations of equity, comity, and federalism.
A motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(c) should be granted when the moving party is entitled to
judgment as a matter of law. See Burns Int'l Sec. Servs., Inc.
v. International Union, United Plant Guard Workers of America
(UPGWA) & Its Local 537, 47 F.3d 14, 16 (2d Cir. 1995) (per
curiam). The standard for evaluating a motion for judgment on the
pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) is the same as that for
a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). See AdHoc
Comm. of the Baruch Black & Hispanic Alumni Assoc. v. Bernard M.
Baruch College, 835 F.2d 980, 982 (2d Cir. 1987). This Court
must view the pleadings in the light most favorable to, and draw
all reasonable inferences in favor of, the non-moving party. See
Davidson v. Flynn, 32 F.3d 27, 29 (2d Cir. 1994) (citing
Madonna v. United States, 878 F.2d 62, 65 (2d Cir. 1989)).
Whether a person seeking relief is a proper party must be
considered at the outset of any litigation. In re Appointment of
Independent Counsel, 766 F.2d 70, 75 (2d Cir. 1985) (citing
Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 498, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 2204-05, 45
L.Ed.2d 343 (1975)). Thus, I turn first to defendants'
contentions that judgment in their favor should be granted on the
grounds of mootness and lack of standing.
I. Coastal's Claim is Moot
Defendants assert that they are entitled to judgment against
Coastal on the grounds that its claim is moot because Justice
McLaughlin, whose selection defendants' challenge, is no longer
presiding over the criminal trial against Coastal, and Coastal is
not challenging the method by which the current judge was chosen.
This Court does not have subject matter jurisdiction when "the
question sought to be adjudicated has been mooted by subsequent
developments . . ." Flast v. Cohen, 392 U.S. 83, 95, 88 S.Ct.
1942, 1950, 20 L.Ed.2d 947 (1968); Irish Lesbian & Gay Org. v.
Giuliani, 143 F.3d 638, 647 (2d Cir. 1998). See also Arizonans
for Official English v. Arizona, 520 U.S. 43, 67, 117 S.Ct.
1055, 1068, 137 L.Ed.2d 170 (1997) (citing Preiser v. Newkirk,
422 U.S. 395, 401, 95 S.Ct. 2330, 2334, 45 L.Ed.2d 272 (1975));
O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 495-96, 94 S.Ct. 669, 676,
38 L.Ed.2d 674 (1974) ("Past exposure to illegal conduct does not
in itself show a present case or controversy regarding injunctive
relief, however, if unaccompanied by any continuing, present
adverse effects"). Thus, "the mootness doctrine ensures that the
litigant's interest in the outcome continues to exist throughout
the life of the lawsuit. . . ." Cook v. Colgate Univ.,
992 F.2d 17, 18 (2d Cir. 1993) (citation omitted). Because Coastal was
challenging Justice McLaughlin's selection as the trial judge,
and he is no longer the trial judge, Coastal's claim is
II. The Bar Associations and the Individual Plaintiffs Lack
Defendants contend that they are entitled to judgment in their
favor against the two bar associations and the individual
plaintiffs because the associations lack standing to sue on the
grounds that neither the bar associations nor their members have
sustained an actual injury and the individual litigants do not
have standing to assert the constitutional rights of third
parties, namely, unknown future criminal defendants.
Article III, section 2 of the U.S. Constitution mandates that
federal courts resolve disputes only in the context of an actual
claim in which the parties have a personal stake. See Valley
Forge Christian College v. Americans United for Separation of
Church & State, Inc., 454 U.S. 464, 472-73, 102 S.Ct. 752,
758-59, 70 L.Ed.2d 700 (1982); Flast, 392 U.S. at 99-100, 88
S.Ct. at 1952. Thus, plaintiff must set forth (1) a personal
injury; (2) proximately caused by defendant's alleged unlawful
conduct; (3) which is likely to be redressed by the requested
relief. Allen v. Wright, 468 U.S. 737, 751, 104 S.Ct. 3315,
3324, 82 L.Ed.2d 556 (1984) (citing Valley Forge, 454 U.S. at
472, 102 S.Ct. at 758). This "injury or threat of injury must be
both `real and immediate,' not `conjectural' or `hypothetical.'"
O'Shea, 414 U.S. at 494, 94 S.Ct. at 675 (citations omitted).
In addition to those Constitutional limitations, there are also
court-imposed prudential limitations on standing. These
prudential limitations require that a plaintiff must (1) have a
specific grievance as opposed to a general injury shared by a
large class of citizens; (2) assert its own rights and not those
of third parties; and (3) have a complaint within the zone of
interest defined by the statute or constitutional provision at
issue. See Valley Forge, 454 U.S. at 474-75, 102 S.Ct. at 760
(citations omitted); FTD Corp. v. Banker's Trust Co.,
954 F. Supp. 106, 108 (S.D.N.Y. 1997) (citing Warth, 422 U.S. at
501, 95 S.Ct. at 2206).
The bar associations and individual plaintiffs rely on the
decision of the New York Court of Appeals in Morgenthau v.
Cooke, 56 N.Y.2d 24, 436 N.E.2d 467, 451 N.Y.S.2d 17 (1982), for
the proposition that they have standing because they fall within
the "zone of interest" covered by the uniform rules governing the
assignment of judges. That case is distinguishable, however, on
several grounds. First, in Morgenthau, the D.A. was challenging
the power of the Chief Judge to appoint judges; in this action,
plaintiffs concede that the power to so appoint exists, and
challenge simply the means Justice Newton has chosen to
effectuate her power. Second, the case that the New York Court of
Appeals relied on, Boryszewski v. Brydges, 37 N.Y.2d 361,
334 N.E.2d 579, 372 N.Y.S.2d 623 (1975), "was not based on any
constitutional right of standing." See Wein v. Comptroller,
46 N.Y.2d 394, 397, 386 N.E.2d 242, 243, 413 N.Y.S.2d 633, 634
(1979). Third, state courts do not have to take into account
federal standing rules. See ASARCO Inc. v. Kadish,
490 U.S. 605, 617, 109 S.Ct. 2037, 2045, 104 L.Ed.2d 696 (1989) ("[T]he
constraints of Article III do not apply to state courts, and
accordingly the state courts are not bound by the limitations of
a case or controversy or other federal rules of justiciability .
The only specific injury that plaintiffs claim to have suffered
concerns the assignment of Justice McLaughlin to Coastal's case;
as noted above, that issue has become moot during the brief life
of this litigation. Without any other specific instance of
illegality alleged, there is no present case or controversy for
this court to decide. See O'Shea, 414 U.S. at 498, 94 S.Ct. at
677 (plaintiffs challenging the method of bond setting,
sentencing, and jury fee practices in criminal cases lacked
standing where there were no specific instances involving the
named respondents set forth in the complaint). In effect, what
plaintiffs seek is "an injunction aimed at controlling or
preventing the occurrence of specific events that might take
place in the course of future state criminal trials." Id. at
500, 94 S.Ct. at 678. This, however, is insufficient to confer
standing because, as noted above, any injury allegedly sustained
by plaintiffs is purely speculative at this point. To hold
otherwise would require this Court to speculate on the basis of
generalized allegations in order to render a decision — a
position clearly at odds with the dictates of Article III. The
associations and their individual members simply have not
sustained any actual or threatened injury.*fn4
Moreover, contrary to plaintiffs' assertions, this is not a
case where the failure to accord plaintiffs standing would shield
the alleged unlawful practice from judicial scrutiny; Coastal is
free to attack the complained of practice in the future were it
to occur again.
Because the associations' claim is dismissed for lack of
standing, I reach neither the issue of whether an association
ever has standing to assert a § 1983 claim (see, e.g., League of
Women Voters of Nassau County v. Nassau County Bd. of
Supervisors, 737 F.2d 155, 160 (2d Cir. 1984)), nor the
alternative grounds for dismissal raised by defendants. See
Steel Co. v. Citizens for a Better Env't, 523 U.S. 83, ___, 118
S.Ct. 1003, 1016, 140 L.Ed.2d 210 (1998).
For the foregoing reasons, defendants' motion for judgment on
the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) is hereby granted,
and the amended complaint is dismissed.