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WALKER v. FELLER

August 16, 2005.

MICHAEL WALKER, PASTOR SHERYL WALKER, Plaintiffs,
v.
JEROME FELLER, U.S. Bankruptcy Court Judge for the Eastern District, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FREDERIC BLOCK, District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiffs Michael Walker ("Mr. Walker") and his half-sister, Pastor Sheryl Walker ("Pastor Walker") (collectively, "the Walkers"), bring this pro se action pursuant to the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et seq., principally seeking to enjoin Mr. Walker's eviction by the New York City Housing Authority ("NYCHA"). The Court grants the Walkers' request to proceed in forma pauperis and reviews the sufficiency of their complaints sua sponte, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, the complaints are hereby dismissed.

  I.

  This action is the latest in a long series of cases which the Walkers have pursued in both state and federal courts to prevent NYCHA from evicting Mr. Walker from an apartment the Walkers both occupy at 50-20 31st Avenue in Woodside, Queens. There is no need to chronicle the history of this litigation in great detail. The following excerpt from the last of three opinions which Judge Nickerson authored in an earlier related case in this epic eviction battle nonetheless provides some context for the instant action:
[Pastor Walker] lives in her half-brother Michael Walker's Housing Authority apartment in the Woodside Houses housing development in Woodside, Queens. In March, 1992, she moved into the apartment without Mr. Walker's permission, refused to move out, and threatened him with unspecified harm if she were to be removed from the premises.
By letter dated September 11, 1993, Michael Walker advised defendant Ronald Cox, manager of the Woodside Houses housing development, that [Pastor Walker], although not an authorized occupant, had been residing in the Apartment since March, 1992.
On March 3, 1994, Mr. Walker signed a Resident Lease Cancellation Agreement indicating that he would cancel the 1992 Lease to the four-bedroom apartment he had been living in and move into a smaller Housing Authority apartment. * * * About a week later, on March 9, 1994, Mr. Walker informed the Housing Authority that he could not give clear title to the four-bedroom apartment and voided the lease to the one-bedroom. He explained that [Pastor Walker] and her fiancé, Mark Hundly, were living in his apartment without his permission, and that he could not take action against them because he feared for his life.
The Housing Authority thereupon initiated [proceedings to terminate] Mr. Walker's tenancy. * * * On July 27, 1994, after an administrative hearing at which neither [of the Walkers] appeared, the Housing Authority notified Michael Walker that his tenancy had been terminated.
Walker v. Cox, No. 95-CV-1219, 1999 WL 294723, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 17, 1999).

  In 1995, after NYCHA instituted eviction proceedings in the Housing Part of the Civil Court of the City of New York, Pastor Walker brought a pro se action in the Eastern District of New York, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act and seeking to enjoin NYCHA from "evicting her from her residence because she is a `light skinned black female with a perceived disability.'" Id. After almost four years of litigation, during which Judge Nickerson concluded that Pastor Walker was not a lawful tenant of the apartment and was not entitled to join her half-brother as a tenant of record, see Walker v. Cox, No. 95-CV-1219, 1997 WL 177854 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 27, 1997), the Court dismissed the action for lack of standing. See Walker v. Cox, 1999 WL 294723, at *4-5 (E.D.N.Y. 1999).

  At some point during the course of this litigation, Mr. Walker was adjudicated mentally incapacitated pursuant to Article 81 of the New York State Mental Hygiene Law. In 1995, upon learning that Mr. Walker was "at risk" of an emotional or psychological disorder, NYCHA postponed the scheduled eviction and reopened the administrative tenancy termination hearing. Walker v. Cox, 1999 WL 294723 at *2. Although the New York State Supreme Court initially appointed Pastor Walker as Mr. Walker's guardian, NYCHA refused to accept rent payments tendered by her in March Civil Court's order, ruling that Mr. Walker's "moving papers failed to set forth sufficient facts to establish a meritorious defense to the action and an excusable default." Id. The Appellate Term also upheld the Civil Court's refusal to stay Mr. Walker's eviction during the pendency of a bankruptcy case that had been filed by Mr. Walker in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of New York on December 16, 2004. Id.

  Before NYCHA could take any action to evict Mr. Walker, the bankruptcy petition was dismissed. By order entered May 5, 2005, Bankruptcy Judge Jerome Feller dismissed Mr. Walker's petition on the grounds that Mr. Walker (1) lacked the capacity to file a bankruptcy petition; (2) had filed the petition in bad faith; (3) had failed to file various required documents, and (4) had failed to attend a Section 341 meeting. In re Walker, No. 04-27545 (jf), slip op. at p. 2, (Bankr. E.D.N.Y. May 4, 2005). Judge Feller not only lifted the automatic stay in that case, but also ruled that in the event any of the Walkers filed another bankruptcy petition, the automatic stay provision of the bankruptcy law*fn2 would "not take effect against the New York City Housing Authority, its employees, agents and/or representatives, or against any New York City Marshal or Sheriff so as to bar the New York City Housing Authority from having executed on its behalf a warrant of eviction to regain [possession of Mr. Walker's premises]." Id. at 3-4.

  Mr. Walker did not appeal Judge Feller's order. Rather, on June 3, 2005 — almost one month after the bankruptcy petition was dismissed but just hours before the scheduled eviction — the Walkers filed the two underlying complaints. The first (the "Feller complaint") names only Judge Feller as a defendant; it alleges that the Judge was biased and had discriminated against Mr. Walker on account of his "mental disability." Feller Complaint, ¶¶ 4, 6. The complaint further alleges that Judge Feller "superceded his authority" by denying Mr. Walker's mother (Dolores Walker) and Pastor Walker — neither of whom were parties to the bankruptcy proceedings — the benefit of an automatic stay in any future bankruptcy actions. Id. at ¶ 5.

  The second complaint (the "NYCHA complaint") alleges that the Civil Court of the City of New York, Queens County; the New York City Housing Authority; City Marshall #45, Catherine Stringer; and Self Help Community Services, Inc., were biased and had discriminated against the Walkers on account of their disabilities. Specifically, the complaint asserts that the Civil Court deprived the Walkers of due process by refusing to compel SHCS to appear in court, and discriminated against Mr. Walker by denying him a hearing on his allegations of fraud against NYCHA, id. at ¶¶ 5-6; that NYCHA had attempted to "defraud [Mr. Walker] out of [his] apartment" by "not promptly pursuing rent" in violation of an unspecified "Federal law," NYCHA Complaint, ¶¶ 5, 8; that Marshal Stringer failed "to properly serve the eviction notice pursuant to [New York] Real Property Law and Rules 749 (2) and 735 (1)," and discriminated against Mr. Walker by refusing to refer him to PDA Adult Protective Services, id. at ¶ 4; and that SHCS had "abandoned" Mr. Walker by failing to "take control of [his] income to preserve [his] property [and to] . . . pay [his] bills," including his rent. Id. at ¶ 7.

  In both actions, the Walkers requested money damages; a permanent injunction prohibiting the defendants "from denying [the Walkers] access to a fair hearing and equal protection of the law regardless of [their] disabilit[ies]"; and an injunction and restraining order (1) preventing Marshal Stringer or NYCHA from evicting them, (2) reversing the order dismissing the bankruptcy petition, and (3) reinstating the automatic stay. In addition, the Walkers filed orders to show cause requesting a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order preventing their eviction. By order dated June 3, 2005, the Court denied preliminary injunctive relief because the Walkers had failed to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits.

  II.

  A. Standard of Review

  Because the Walkers are proceeding pro se, their pleadings must be read liberally and interpreted as raising the strongest arguments they suggest. See McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d Cir. 2004); Burgos v. Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994). If a liberal reading of the complaint "gives any indication that a valid claim might be stated," the Court must grant leave to amend the complaint. See Cuoco v. Moritsugu, 222 F.3d 99, 112 (2d Cir. 2000); Gomez v. USAA Fed. Sav. Bank, 171 F.3d 794, 795 (2d Cir. 1999).

  Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B), however, a district court must dismiss a case if the court determines that the action "(i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." An action is frivolous as a matter of law when, inter alia, it is based on an "indisputably meritless legal theory" — that is, when it "lacks an arguable basis in law . . ., or [when] a dispositive defense clearly exists on the face of the complaint." Livingston v. Adirondack Beverage Co., 141 F.3d 434, 437 (2d Cir. 1998) (internal quotations and citations omitted). For example, "[a] complaint will be dismissed as ...


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