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CHASE v. FAMILY COURT JUDGE CZAJKA

May 12, 2005.

JOHN T. CHASE, Plaintiff,
v.
FAMILY COURT JUDGE PAUL CZAJKA, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ANDREW PECK, Magistrate Judge

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

To the Honorable Lewis A. Kaplan, United States District Judge:

My March 23, 2005 Report and Recommendation ("Chase I"), familiarity with which is assumed, recommended dismissal of Chase's complaint, principally under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Chase v. Czajka, 04 Civ. 8228, 2005 WL 668535 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 23, 2005) (Peck, M.J.). A week later, on March 30, 2005, the Supreme Court issued its decision in Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., ___ U.S. ___, 125 S. Ct. 1517 (2005), limiting the scope of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. On April 12, 2005, Judge Kaplan re-referred this matter to me to determine the effect of the Supreme Court's Exxon Mobil decision. Chase v. Czajka, 04 Civ. 8228, 2005 WL 850838 at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 12, 2005) (Kaplan, D.J.).

  For the reasons set forth below, I adhere to my prior Report and Recommendation that defendants' motions to dismiss should be granted and plaintiff Chase's complaint dismissed as to all defendants, under a combination of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and the domestic relations exception to federal jurisdiction. Furthermore, in the event the Court were not to dismiss under those grounds, the case should be transferred, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1406(a), to the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York (where Columbia County is located), since venue in this District is improper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b).

  FACTS*fn1

  Plaintiff John T. Chase married defendant Kristin Fernandez Chase (hereafter "Fernandez") in April 2000. (Dkt. No. 1: Compl. ¶ 17.) Fernandez resides in Columbia County. (Compl. ¶ 4.)

  Besides Fernandez, Chase has sued: Judge Paul Czajka, Family Court Judge in Columbia County (Compl. ¶¶ 3, 11), Columbia County Sheriff's Investigator Skype (Compl. ¶ 5), Columbia County Sheriff Walter Shook (Compl. ¶¶ 6), Columbia County itself (Compl. ¶ 7), Barbara Scarduzio, the Chase's babysitter in Columbia County (Compl. ¶ 8), and Fernandez's mother, Frances Fernandez (Compl. ¶ 9). Except for Frances Fernandez, who resides in Nassau County in the Eastern District of New York, all of the other defendants reside in the Northern District of New York. (See, e.g., Compl. ¶¶ 3-9; Dkt. No. 2: DeFio Aff. ¶¶ 5, 7; Dkt. No. 2: Columbia County Defs. Br. at 2; Dkt. No. 6: Gharty Aff. ¶¶ 4-5.)

  Chase asserts that Fernandez conspired with defendant Family Court Judge Paul Czajka to obtain an "Ex Parte Order of Protection" issued on September 23, 2003, barring Chase from his home and son. (Compl. ¶¶ 25, 44; see also Compl. ¶¶ 28-32.) Chase's complaint is replete with discussion about the state court divorce and child custody proceedings. (E.g., Compl. ¶¶ 3, 11-15, 18-19, 25-33, 35-43, 45-48.)

  Chase's nine causes of action assert that: (1) defendants Fernandez and Judge Czajka conspired in a scheme to extort his money and property and deny him contact with his son (Compl. ¶¶ 45-48); (2) Fernandez slandered, libeled and defamed Chase by making false allegations of child sexual abuse in Columbia County (Compl. ¶¶ 50-52); (3) & (4) Fernandez intentionally inflicted emotional distress on Chase by conspiring against him and defaming him with false allegations of child sexual abuse made to officials in Columbia County (Compl. ¶¶ 54-55, 59-60); (5) defendant Columbia County Sheriff's Investigator Skype conspired against Chase to derail a criminal investigation of Chase's allegations of bank fraud and embezzlement against Fernandez, and conspired with Fernandez to gather false evidence of child sexual abuse (Compl. ¶¶ 64-66); (6) defendant Columbia County Sheriff Walter Shook "tacitly authorized the action and conduct of Defendant Skype" (Compl. ¶ 71); (7) Columbia County, as a state actor, is liable for the acts of Family Court Judge Czajka (Compl. ¶¶ 75-79); (8) defendant Barbara Scarduzio, a friend of Fernandez and their child's babysitter, acted in common with Fernandez and Sheriff's Investigator Skype in a scheme to extort and defame Chase through allegations of child sexual abuse (Compl. ¶¶ 82-85); and (9) Fernandez' mother Frances Fernandez conspired with her daughter to extort money from and defame Chase. (Compl. ¶¶ 88-89.) Procedural History of the Fernandez-chase Matrimonial & Child Custody Case

  On September 23, 2003, Fernandez commenced a proceeding for Family Offense in Columbia County Family Court against Chase. (Dkt. No. 14: Schmidt Aff. ¶ 5 & Ex. B;*fn2 see Compl. ¶¶ 25, 28.) On October 7, 2003, after a hearing, Judge Czajka found Chase guilty of aggravated harassment, assault and attempted assault, and granted an order of protection requiring Chase to stay away from Fernandez and their son. (Schmidt Aff. ¶ 6 & Ex. C; see Compl. ¶¶ 25, 28-32.)

  Chase commenced a matrimonial (divorce) action in Supreme Court, Albany County, on October 8, 2003. (Schmidt Aff. ¶ 12; see Compl. ¶ 33.)

  In February 2004, an Article 10 neglect proceeding was brought against Chase by the Columbia County Department of Social Services. (Schmidt Aff. ¶ 7.) On March 4, 2004, in the Albany divorce action, Chase filed for custody relief, and Fernandez cross-moved for child support and maintenance. (Schmidt Aff. ¶ 2.) Justice Cannizzaro of Albany County Supreme Court referred the custody issue to Family Court, Columbia County, and the financial issues to Supreme Court, Columbia County. (Schmidt Aff. ¶ 2 & Ex. A.) A hearing was conducted before defendant Family Court Judge Czajka on June 9, 2004, and in an oral decision Judge Czajka found Chase guilty of "neglect." (Schmidt Aff. ¶¶ 8-10 & Ex. D.) Chase appealed the neglect order on September 9, 2004. (Schmidt Aff. ¶ 11 & Exs. E-F.)

  Chase also commenced state court proceedings related to the Family Court matter. (See generally Schmidt Aff. ¶ 12.) Chase sought a writ of habeas corpus in Supreme Court, Columbia County, seeking custody of his child and to transfer the Family Court case before Judge Czajka to Supreme Court. (Schmidt Aff. ¶¶ 12 & Ex. G.) On August 27, 2004, Judge Hummel denied Chase's request to transfer custody and visitation matters from Family Court to Supreme Court, noting that "[i]t is clear from this record that [Chase] is unhappy with Judge Czajka and his handling of the Family Court petitions as evidenced by his unsuccessful motion to disqualify Judge Czajka. . . . [Chase's] proper remedy lies in an appeal to the Appellate Division, Third Department. At this juncture [Chase] is engaged in `judge shopping.'" (Schmidt Aff. Ex. H: Judge Hummel 8/27/05 Order at 4-5.) This Order also denied Chase's motion to disqualify his son's law guardian, and his motion for a writ of habeas corpus for custody over his son. (Id. at 5.)

  Chase also filed two motions to recuse Judge Czajka and a motion for a second writ of habeas corpus. (Schmidt Aff. ¶ 14 & Ex. I.) The first recusal motion was denied, but the second motion (after commencement of this lawsuit) resulted in Judge Czajka being relieved from the Chase v. Chase action at his own request, and the Family Court case was re-assigned to Judge Hummel. (Schmidt Aff. ¶ 15 & Ex. J; Dkt. No. 22: Chase 12/20/04 Aff. ¶ 24 & Ex.: 11/30/04 Order relieving Judge Czajka and appointing Judge Hummel; Dkt. No. 34: Gharty 4/11/05 Aff. Ex. D: 11/16/04 Czajka Letter to Administrative Judge, requesting that Chase v. Chase case be reassigned to ...


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