United States District Court, E.D. New York
August 12, 2004.
SCOTT RABINOWITZ, Plaintiff,
THE STATE OF NEW YORK; NEW YORK STATE FAMILY COURT; NEW YORK STATE SUPREME COURT, APPELLATE DIVISION 2nd DEPARTMENT; THE NEW YORK STATE COURT OF APPEALS; JUDGE KERRY TRAINOR; FAMILY COURT; JOY JORGENSON, LAW GUARDIAN; JOSEPH MULE, LINDA COOK'S LAWYER; FLOYD SARISOHN, MY FORMER LAWYER; and LINDA COOK, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ARTHUR SPATT, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER
On June 18, 2004, Scott Rabinowitz ("Rabinowitz" or the
"plaintiff"), who is proceeding pro se, commenced this
action, accompanied by an application to proceed in forma
pauperis, alleging issues relating to the custody of his
children. On July 21, 2004, the plaintiff filed an amended
complaint. For the reasons set forth below, the application to
proceed in forma pauperis is granted, and the complaint is
In his voluminous complaint, consisting of 46 pages and
exhibits, Rabinowitz alleges a litany of charges against the
defendants including, inter alia, The State of New York,
several New York State Courts, a judge, a law guardian, and
several lawyers. He claims that jurisdiction of the court is
invoked pursuant to, among others, several Federal Rules of
Evidence, including Rules 105, 402, 403; 28 U.S.C. § 455, which
relates to disqualification of federal judges; Title II of the
Americans with Disabilities; and the First and Fourteenth
Amendments to the United States Constitution.
The gravamen of plaintiff's complaint is that the Family Court
of the State of New York, Suffolk County, should not have issued
an unfavorably opinion granting sole custody of his children to
Linda Cook, the mother of his children.
According to the complaint, the Plaintiff and Ms. Cook began
dating and cohabiting between the years of 1994 and 1997. While
unmarried, they subsequently had three children, Emily born on
February 13, 1999, Zachary born on October 12, 2000, and Joshua,
born on October 1, 2001.
During this time, they lived in various places, including
California, Ohio, Connecticut, and New York.
Apparently, the relationship between plaintiff and Cook began
to have problems associated with financial difficulties, family
differences, drug use, and religion. The parties sought to
resolve issues relating to the custody of the children in the
Family Court, Suffolk County. A hearing was held before Family
Court Judge Kerry R. Trainor with regard to the custody of the
children. The Plaintiff was represented by counsel for most of
the trial. Judge Trainor issued a decision on February 2, 2002,
which granted sole legal custody of plaintiff's children to the
mother, Linda Cook, and limited visitation rights to the
plaintiff. The Appellate Division of the Second Judicial
Department affirmed the decision on March 15, 2004. The New York
State Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal on May 13, 2004.
Rabinowitz seeks, among other things, (1) full custody of his
children; (2) "[a] permanent order for Linda Cook [mother of his
children] to keep me [him] informed as to any location and
address of where she lives now and at anytime". Compl. at 51; and
(3) reversal of Judge Trainor's decision.
It is well-settled that the Court must read a pro se
plaintiff's complaint liberally. See Hughes v. Rowe,
449 U.S. 5, 9, 101 S.Ct. 173 (1980); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519,
520-21, 92 S.Ct. 594 (1972). Further, at this stage of the
proceedings, the Court assumes the truth of the allegations in
the complaint. See H.J. Inc. v. Northwestern Bell Tel. Co.,
492 U.S. 229, 249-50, 109 S.Ct. 2893 (1989); Koppel v. 4987
Corp., 167 F.3d 125, 127 (2d Cir. 1999).
A. In Forma Pauperis Application
Upon review of the plaintiff's declaration in support of his
application to proceed in forma pauperis, the Court
concludes that the plaintiff's financial status qualifies him to
commence this action without prepayment of the filing fees. See
28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(1). Therefore, the plaintiff's request to
proceed in forma pauperis is granted.
B. Domestic Relations Exception to Federal Jurisdiction
Jurisdiction over this matter is barred by the domestic
relations exception to the jurisdiction of the federal courts.
This doctrine "divests the federal courts of power to issue
divorce, alimony and child custody decrees." Ankenbrandt v.
Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 703 112S.Ct. 2206, 119 L.Ed.2d 468
(1992); see Mitchell-Angel v. Cronin, 101 F.3d 108, 1996 WL
107300 (2d Cir. 1996); American Airlines v. Block, 905 F.2d 12,
14 (2d Cir. 1990). Federal courts will dismiss actions aimed at
changing the results of domestic proceedings, including orders of
child custody. See Abidekun v. New York City Bd. Of
Education, 1995 WL 228395 (E.D.N.Y. April 6, 1995; Fariello,
148 F.R.D. at 675; McArthur v. Bell, 788 F. Supp. 706, 708
(E.D.N.Y. 1992); Neustein v. Orbach, 732 F. Supp. 333, 339
Here, in large measure, the plaintiff seeks to obtain the same
relief he sought in state court, namely, custody of his children.
If this Court were to allow the plaintiff to pursue this action,
it would be forced to "re-examine and re-interpret all the
evidence brought before the state court" in the earlier
proceedings. McArthur, 788 F. Supp. At 709. As such, this action
is barred by the domestic relations exception to this court's
jurisdiction. See also Neustein, 732 F. Supp. at 339 (action
barred by domestic relations exception if, "in resolving the
issues presented, the federal court becomes embroiled in factual
disputes concerning custody and visitation. . . .").
C. Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
It is well settled that federal district courts do not have
jurisdiction "over challenges to state court decisions . . .
arising out of judicial proceedings even if those challenges
allege that the state court's action was unconstitutional."
Dist. of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462,
486, 487, 103 S.Ct. 1303 (1983). Under the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine and as expressly provided by 28 U.S.C. § 1257(a), only
the Supreme Court may review state court decisions. See
Feldman at 486-87, 103 S.Ct. at 1317; see also Atl. Coast
Line R. Co. v. Bhd. of Locomotive Engines, 398 U.S. 281, 284-88,
90 S.Ct. 1739, 1742-43 (1970). A plaintiff may not overcome the
doctrine and seek a reversal of a state court judgment "simply by
casting his complaint in the form of a civil rights action.".
Ritter v. Ross, 992 F.2d 750, 754 (7th Cir. 1993) (citing
cases), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1046, 114 S.Ct. 694 (1994);
see Tang v. App. Div. of N.Y. Sup. Ct., First Dept.,
487 F.2d 138, 142 (2d Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 416 U.S. 906, 94 So.
Ct. 1611 (1974).
Where constitutional claims are not raised in state court
proceedings, there is no federal subject matter jurisdiction if
the claim is "inextricably intertwined" with the state court
judgment. Feldman, 460 U.S. at 483, 103 S.Ct. at 1315;
Fariello v. Campbell, 860 F. Supp. 54, 65 (E.D.N.Y. August 6,
1994). As construed by the courts, a federal claim and a state
court judgment are said to be "inextricably intertwined" if the
federal court is being called upon to review the state court
judgment. Feldman, 460 U.S. at 483-484, 103 S.Ct. at 1316;
Ritter, 992 F.2d at 754; see also Wiesenfeld v. State of
N.Y., 474 F. Supp. 1141, 1146 (S.D.N.Y. July 9, 1979) ("The fact
and law determination by the state courts is not subject to
review by the federal courts for they are not `the arbiter(s) of
the correctness of every state court decision. . . .'") (quoting,
in part, Kamhi v. Cohen, 512 F.2d 1051, 1056 (2d Cir. 1975)
(additional citations omitted)).
The allegations in the instant complaint appear to collaterally
attack a state court order against the plaintiff related to the
custody of his children. In essence, the plaintiff seeks
"appellate review" of these orders in Federal District Court,
which is an action outside this Court's jurisdiction.
Accordingly, the Court dismisses the complaint on this
additional ground based on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.
For the reasons stated herein, it is hereby
ORDERED, that the application to proceed in forma
pauperis is granted; and it is further
ORDERED, that the complaint is hereby DISMISSED; and it is
ORDERED, that the Clerk of the Court is directed to close
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