United States District Court, E.D. New York
August 11, 2005.
MELVYN KAUFMAN, Plaintiff,
JUDITH S. KAYE, in her capacity as Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals of the State of New York and A. GAIL PRUDENTI, in her official capacity as Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate Division, Second Judicial Department, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: DAVID TRAGER, District Judge
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Plaintiff Melvyn Kaufman ("plaintiff") brought this suit
against Judith S. Kaye, in her administrative capacity as Chief
Judge of the Court of Appeals of the State of New York, and A.
Gail Prudenti, in her official capacity as Presiding Justice of
the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate Division,
Second Judicial Department (collectively "defendants"), seeking a
declaration that the system by which appeals are assigned to
justices in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Appellate
Division, Second Judicial Department ("Second Department")
violates the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the
Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff also seeks an injunction
requiring the New York State Legislature to establish a new system of assigning appeals in the Second Department. Plaintiff
further seeks a judgment vacating the decisions and the Second
Department's imposition of sanctions against him and directing a
new hearing in each of his cases. Defendants move to dismiss
plaintiff's claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1). For the following reasons, defendants'
motion is granted.
Plaintiff is a resident of Mamaroneck, New York and lives in a
gated community known as Edgewater Point. Complaint ("Compl.") ¶
18. Edgewater Point properties are encumbered by a number of
restrictive covenants, and the community is governed by a
homeowner's association, the Edgewater Point Property Owners'
Association ("EPPOA"), which enforces those covenants. Id. ¶¶
19, 20. Plaintiff has lived in Edgewater Point for a number of
years and has complied with the restrictive covenants, as have
most of his neighbors. Id. ¶ 23.
According to plaintiff, in recent years, a number of properties
have been sold to a new type of owner who have acquired wealth
and influence "during the recent period of corporate excesses and
illegal financial schemes." Id. ¶ 24. Plaintiff claims that his
nouveau riche neighbors "decided that they were not bound by the
restrictive covenants and could ignore them." Id. Initially, plaintiff requested that the EPPOA
enforce the covenants because the property owners' non-compliance
"negatively effected plaintiff and his properties." Id. ¶¶ 25,
26. When the EEPOA refused, plaintiff "commenced actions against
both the EEPOA and other individual property owners on Edgewater
Point who were violating the restrictive covenants." Id. ¶ 28.
Plaintiff filed at least seven complaints*fn1 in New York
State Court against various of his neighbors and entities
including the Village of Mamaroneck, the Office of Building
Inspector and the State of New York. Id. ¶¶ 29, 93.
Plaintiff claimed that certain of his neighbors violated the
restrictive covenant prohibiting the homes in Edgewater Point
from being used for business purposes (1) by renting out their
house to tenants, see Kaufman v. Fass, 302 A.D.2d 497,
756 N.Y.S.2d 247 (2003) and (2) by allowing their parents to live in
a house they owned in the community rent-free. See Kaufman v.
Kehler, 305 A.D.2d 636, 759 N.Y.S.2d 765 (2003). Plaintiff also
claimed that one of his neighbors defamed him. See Kaufman v.
Farris, 293 A.D.2d 654, 740 N.Y.S.2d 627 (2002). Plaintiff's
claims against New York State, the Village of Mamaroneck and the Office of the Building Inspector alleged fraud and sought
revocation of the building permits issued to his neighbors. See
Kaufman v. State of New York, 18 A.D.3d 504, 794 N.Y.S.2d 665
(2005); Kaufman v. Office of Bldg. Inspector, 295 A.D.2d 349,
743 N.Y.S.2d 880 (2002). The New York Supreme Court dismissed
each of these cases under N.Y.C.P.L.R. § 3211. Id. ¶ 31.
Plaintiff appealed each of these decisions and, in one case,
filed two appeals. Id. ¶ 32, 93. Once plaintiff
perfected*fn2 his appeals, the cases were assigned to four
or five judge appellate panels in the Second Department. Id. ¶
34, 41. Plaintiff claims that the selection of appellate panels
were manipulated by certain justices so that they could sit on
the panels hearing plaintiff's appeals.*fn3 Id. ¶¶ 4, 49.
Plaintiff further alleges that these justices were biased against
him and wanted him to lose his appeals. Id. ¶¶ 49, 50, 81, 82.
Plaintiff did, in fact, lose each of his appeals. Id. ¶ 52.
Plaintiff's allegations of bias appear to be based on the
"inappropriate conduct that was exhibited by [the] Justices" during the oral arguments of two of plaintiff's appeals and the
fact that plaintiff lost his appeals "[d]espite the strong
factual and legal basis for overturning the orders of the court
below." Id. ¶¶ 50, 51. During the arguments, plaintiff claims
that the justices "made abusive and derisive comments
specifically about plaintiff which were totally unrelated to the
appeals and also made comments concerning the purported lack of
merits of plaintiff's positions in the appeals." Id. ¶ 50. In
addition, in one case, plaintiff was personally sanctioned in the
amount of $10,000 for pursuing a frivolous appeal, which
plaintiff claims was improperly imposed and is evidence of the
justices' bias against him. Id. ¶¶ 53-66.
Plaintiff sought permission from the New York Court of Appeals
to review the adverse decisions on two of his appeals and the
decision to impose sanctions. Id. ¶ 67. The Court of Appeals
denied plaintiff's requests. Id. Plaintiff also filed for a
writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court in one of
his cases, but the request was denied. Id. ¶ 69.
Plaintiff claims that the non-random assignment process in the
Second Department and the justices' bias against him has deprived
him of his due process right to a fair and impartial tribunal.
Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief and an order compelling the
Second Department to "adopt a public, random, neutral and
transparent process for the assignment of appeals to the panels of justices which hear and determine appeals . . . as
required by the Constitution of the United States and the Code of
Judicial Conduct of the State of New York." Id. ¶ 9.
"The Rooker-Feldman doctrine provides that the lower federal
courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over a case if the
exercise of jurisdiction over that case would result in the
reversal or modification of a state court judgment."
Hachamovitch v. DeBuono, 159 F.3d 687, 693 (2d Cir. 1998).
Rooker-Feldman applies to "cases brought by state-court losers
complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered
before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting
district court review and rejection of those judgments." Exxon
Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus., ___ U.S. ___, 125 S.Ct. 1517,
1521-22 (2005). Rooker-Feldman "requires that an aggrieved
state court litigant must pursue his claims directly in the state
appellate court and ultimately to the United States Supreme
Court." Thaler v. Casella, 960 F. Supp. 691, 697 (S.D.N.Y.
1997) (citing District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman,
460 U.S. 462, 476 (1983); Rooker v. Fid. Trust Co.,
263 U.S. 413, 415 (1923)). The Supreme Court also noted that a district
court does not have jurisdiction where "allegations are
inextricably intertwined" with the state court decision in dispute. Id.
In the case at bar, plaintiff's challenge to the process by
which justices are assigned to hear cases is potentially
distinguishable from his claims that the decisions rendered
against him and the sanctions imposed should be vacated.
It is apparent that this court is without the power to overturn
the Second Department's decisions or the sanctions against
plaintiff. Also, plaintiff has only appealed two of his cases and
the sanctions to the New York Court of Appeals and has only filed
for a writ of certiorari with the Supreme Court in one case. So
long as an avenue for appeal exists in the state court and/or
with the Supreme Court, the district court is certainly not the
appropriate forum for plaintiff's claims. Thaler,
960 F. Supp. at 697. With regard to the decisions he has appealed,
Rooker-Feldman clearly bars this court from reversing or
modifying those decisions in any way. Hachamovitch,
159 F.3d at 693. For these reasons, plaintiff's requests to overturn the
decisions of the Second Department in his cases are denied for
lack of subject-matter jurisdiction.*fn4 (2)
In Feldman, the Supreme Court drew a distinction between a
general challenge to a rule and a challenge to a judgment
applying the rule and held that a district court could have
subject matter jurisdiction over the former. Feldman,
460 U.S. at 486. Therefore, this court does have jurisdiction over
plaintiff's claim that the Second Department's assignment system
generally violates due process because it is not random and can
be manipulated. However, this claim must be dismissed on the
merits. In a letter from James Edward Pelzer, the Clerk of the
Court of the Second Department, the assignment process was
described to the plaintiff thus:
I make up the schedule of sittings that assigns the
individual Justices to panels and assigns a Reserve
Justice for each day to hand recusals and ex
parte applications. This schedule is prepared some
months in advance. Thereafter, the Chief Court
Attorney assigns appeals to the established panels
upon the completion of a confidential report by an
attorney in our law department.
See Comp. ¶ 72. Plaintiff claims that the fact that cases are
assigned to the specific panel only after the "confidential
report" is issued is unconstitutional because it allows cases to be assigned to specific justices instead of being randomly
It has been repeatedly held that the random assignment of cases
is not necessary to guarantee a party's rights. Francolino v.
Kuhlman, 365 F.3d 137, 141 (2d Cir. 2004) (finding that
impartiality required by due process "does not depend on the
manner in which [judge] was selected"); U.S. ex rel Monty v.
McQuillan, 385 F. Supp. 1308, 1310 (E.D.N.Y. 1974) ("[D]ue
process does not accord . . . a right to have a judge assigned to
[a] case on a random basis."); see also U.S. v. Simmons,
476 F.2d 33, 35 (9th Cir. 1973) (holding that defendant did not
have a right to random selection of a judge). "[A] defendant has
no vested right to have his case tried before any particular
judge, nor does he have the right to determine the manner in
which his case is assigned to a judge." Monty,
385 F. Supp. at 1310. Therefore, the fact that the Second Department's method of
assigning cases is not necessarily random does not render it
Further, even if plaintiff's cases were purposely assigned to
certain judges, the allocation of judges to related cases for the
sake of judicial efficiency is a common and accepted practice.
See e.g. E.D.N.Y. Local Rule 50.3. The assignment of a
plaintiff's cases to certain justices is perfectly reasonable
because the justices know the underlying facts of the cases and can more quickly dispose of a plaintiff's motions. Therefore, the
Second Department's assignment system does not violate due
For the foregoing reasons, defendants' motion is granted and
plaintiff's complaint is dismissed in its entirety. The Clerk of
the Court is directed to close this case.