United States District Court, S.D. New York
August 17, 2005.
CLAUDE GALLAND, Plaintiff,
ERIC MARGULES et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: DENNY CHIN, District Judge
Plaintiff, appearing pro se, brings the instant complaint,
"challenging the constitutionality of Summary proceedings that
allow?, permit and encourage the law to be used as an extortion
tool[,]" and seeking as relief, inter alia, "no less than
five million?" dollars in damages and a review of "the law to
fill the `loopholes'[.]"*fn1 (Compl. at 4 (unmarked)).
Liberally construing plaintiff's complaint, see Haines v.
Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972) (per curiam); Graham v.
Henderson, 89 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 1996) (pro se complaints
must be "read liberally and should be interpreted `to raise the
strongest arguments that they suggest'") (quoting Burgos v.
Hopkins, 14 F.3d 787, 790 (2d Cir. 1994)), it appears that
plaintiff is a party in an ongoing action involving a residential
landlord-tenant dispute brought in the Housing Part of the Civil
Court of the City of New York ("Housing Court"). (Compl. at
10-21). For the following reasons, the instant action is dismissed.
A. Subject Matter Jurisdiction
The subject matter jurisdiction of the federal district courts
is limited and is set forth generally in 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and
1332. Under these statutes, federal subject matter jurisdiction
is available only when a "federal question" is presented or when
plaintiff and defendants are of diverse citizenship and the
amount in controversy exceeds $75,000.00. See
28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1332. A party seeking relief in the district court must
plead facts that bring the suit within the court's subject matter
jurisdiction. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(1). Failure to plead
such facts warrants dismissal of the action. Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(h)(3); see also Ruhrgas AG v. Marathon Oil Co.,
526 U.S. 574, 583 (1999) ("[S]ubject-matter delineations must be policed
by the courts on their own initiative. . . ."); FW/PBS, Inc. v.
City of Dallas, 493 U.S. 215, 231 (1990) (courts have an
"independent obligation to examine" the basis of their
jurisdiction); Manway Constr. Co., Inc. v. Hous. Auth. of the
City of Hartford, 711 F.2d 501, 503 (2d Cir. 1983) (citing
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(h) when holding that courts may dismiss cases sua
sponte for lack of subject matter jurisdiction).
1. Federal Question
To invoke federal question subject matter jurisdiction,
plaintiff's claims must arise "under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331; see State of
New York v. White, 528 F.2d 336, 338 (2d Cir. 1975) ("Federal
question jurisdiction may be properly invoked only if the
plaintiff's complaint necessarily draws into question the
interpretation or application of federal law."). Despite granting
pro se plaintiff's complaint the liberal interpretation it is
due, plaintiff's action fails to invoke this Court's federal
question subject matter jurisdiction. As stated above, the
instant action appears to arise out of a residential
landlord-tenant action pending in Housing Court. Plaintiff's case
must be dismissed as federal courts do not have federal question
subject matter jurisdiction over state residential
landlord-tenant matters. United Mut. Houses, L.P. v. Andujar,
230 F. Supp. 2d 349, 354 (S.D.N.Y. 2002); Chiania v. Broadmoor
Assocs., No. 94 Civ. 0613 (RPP), 1994 WL 30412 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 2,
1994); Kya-Hill v. New York State Unified Ct. Sys., No. 94 Civ.
0176 (RPP), 1994 WL 17925 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 18, 1994); Macebuh v.
Parker, No. 93 Civ. 8761 (CSH), 1994 WL 4258 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 7,
1994); Glen 6 Assocs., Inc. v. Dedaj, 770 F. Supp. 225, 228
Plaintiff does refer to violations of his constitutional rights
within his complaint. (Compl. at 1-3, 21). Nevertheless, this
Court does not have federal question subject matter jurisdiction
over plaintiff's housing law claims, even when such claims are
dressed in the garb of constitutional claims. See Vill. of
Millbrook v. Forrest, 903 F.Supp. 599, 600 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) ("Where, as here, the [plaintiff's]
constitutional claim appears to be nothing more than a state
court claim `recloaked in constitutional garb,' the
constitutional claim is insufficient to confer jurisdiction.")
(quoting Anderson v. Bowen, 881 F.2d 1, 5 (2d Cir. 1989)).
Therefore, to the extent plaintiff's action arises out of a
residential landlord-tenant dispute, this action is dismissed
because it fails to invoke this Court's federal question subject
Nonetheless, even if this Court were to liberally construe
plaintiff's action as one brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, wherein
plaintiff alleges that his constitutional rights have been
violated by defendants, the instant action still would be subject
to dismissal. Section 1983 provides a plaintiff a vehicle for the
redress of violations of his constitutional rights when such
violations are carried out by persons acting under color of state
law. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Blessing v. Freestone,
520 U.S. 329, 340 (1997). "A plaintiff pressing a claim of violation of
his constitutional rights under § 1983 is thus required to show
state action." Trancredi v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 316 F.3d 308,
312 (2d Cir. 2003), cert. denied, 539 U.S. 942 (2003); see
Rendell-Baker v. Kohn, 457 U.S. 830, 838 (1982) ("`In cases
under § 1983, "under color" of law has consistently been treated
as the same thing as the "state action" required under the
Fourteenth Amendment.'") (quoting United States v. Price,
383 U.S. 787, 794 n. 7 (1966)); United States v. Int'l Bhd. of Teamsters, 941 F. 2d 1292, 1295 (2d Cir. 1991)
("Because the United States Constitution regulates only the
Government, not private parties, a litigant claiming that his
constitutional rights have been violated must first establish
that the challenged conduct constitutes `state action'.").
to satisfy the state action requirement where the
defendant is a private entity, the allegedly
unconstitutional conduct must be fairly attributable
to the state. Conduct that is ostensibly private can
be fairly attributed to the state only if there is
such a close nexus between the [s]tate and the
challenged action that seemingly private behavior may
be fairly treated as that of the [s]tate itself.
Trancredi, 316 F. 3d at 312 (citations and internal quotation
marks omitted). Plaintiff has failed to allege facts
demonstrating how defendants apparently private parties were
"state actors" for the purpose of § 1983 when they allegedly
violated plaintiff's federally protected rights. Therefore, to
the extent plaintiff raises § 1983 claims against defendants,
such claims are dismissed.
Additionally, to the extent plaintiff raises § 1983 claims in
an attempt to have this Court review and/or intervene in a
pending matter in a New York court, such claims are also
dismissed. In Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), the
Supreme Court held that a "federal court may not enjoin a pending
state criminal proceeding in the absence of special circumstances
suggesting bad faith, harassment or irreparable injury that is
both serious and immediate." Gibson v. Berryhill, 411 U.S. 564, 573-74 (1973) (citing Younger, 401 U.S. at 54). "Younger
abstention also has been extended beyond the ambit of state
criminal prosecutions to state civil proceedings and
administrative proceedings." Washington v. County of Rockland,
373 F.3d 310, 318 (2d Cir. 2004); see also Diamond "D" Constr.
Corp. v. McGowan, 282 F.3d 191, 198 (2d Cir. 2002) ("Younger
generally requires federal courts to abstain from taking
jurisdiction over federal constitutional claims that involve or
call into question ongoing state proceedings."). "Younger
abstention is mandatory when: (1) there is a pending state
proceeding, (2) that implicates an important state interest, and
(3) the state proceeding affords the federal plaintiff an
adequate opportunity for judicial review of his or her federal
constitutional claims." Spargo v. N.Y. State Comm'n on Judicial
Conduct, 351 F.3d 65, 75 (2d Cir. 2003), cert. denied,
541 U.S. 1085 (2004). To the extent there is an ongoing residential
landlord-tenant action pending in Housing Court, where both
plaintiff and defendants are parties, and notwithstanding whether
an important state interest is implicated, plaintiff has failed
to allege facts demonstrating that any of the proceedings held
during the pendency of such an action have been an inadequate
"opportunity for judicial review of his . . . federal
constitutional claims." Spargo, 351 F.3d at 75. Therefore, to
the extent that plaintiff raises § 1983 claims in an attempt to
have this Court review and/or intervene in an ongoing residential
landlord-tenant action pending in Housing Court, where both plaintiff and defendants are parties, such claims are dismissed.
2. Diversity Jurisdiction
With respect to this Court's diversity jurisdiction, "[a] case
falls within the federal district court's `original' diversity
`jurisdiction' only if diversity of citizenship among the parties
is complete, i.e., only if there is no plaintiff and no
defendant who are citizens of the same State." Wis. Dep't of
Corr. v. Schacht, 524 U.S. 381, 388 (1998). In addition, "the
party asserting diversity jurisdiction in federal court has the
burden of establishing the existence of the jurisdictional amount
in controversy." Lupo v. Human Affairs Int'l, Inc.,
28 F.3d 269, 273 (2d Cir. 1994) (citing McNutt v. Gen. Motors Acceptance
Corp. of Ind., 298 U.S. 178, 189 (1936)). Plaintiff has
indicated that he and defendants all reside in New York. (Compl.
at 1). Therefore, to the extent plaintiff's action is based on
this Court's diversity subject matter jurisdiction, it must be
dismissed as well.
Accordingly, the instant action is dismissed with prejudice as
to the purported federal claims and without prejudice to the
state court proceedings. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12 (h)(3).
Although this Court would generally permit amendment of a
fee-paid complaint to cure any defects before dismissing the case
sua sponte, see Hughes v. City of Albany, 76 F.3d 53, 56
(2d Cir. 1996), there is no need to do so here because plaintiff
presents no arguably meritorious issue. Fitzgerald v. First E. Seventh St. Tenants Corp., 221 F.3d 362, 364 (2d Cir. 2000)
(per curiam) ("[W]e hold that district courts may dismiss a
frivolous complaint sua sponte even when the plaintiff has
paid the required filing fee[.]"); Pourzancvakil v. Humphry,
No. Civ. A. 94-CV-1594, 1995 WL 316935, at *8 (N.D.N.Y. May 23,
1995) ("The law in this circuit is that a district court may
sua sponte dismiss a frivolous complaint even if the
plaintiff has paid the filing fee.") (citing Tyler v. Carter,
151 F.R.D. 537, 540 (S.D.N.Y. 1993), aff'd, 41 F.3d 1500 (2d
Cir. 1994)); cf. Pillay v. INS, 45 F.3d 14, 17 (2d Cir. 1995)
(per curiam) (discussing appellate court's inherent authority to
dismiss non-meritorious and/or frivolous fee-paid cases).
The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment
accordingly and shall close this case.