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Gerster v. Lindsley

March 21, 2006

WAYNE GERSTER, AND GERSTER FARMS, INC., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DEMING LINDSLEY, AND THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION, DEFENDANTS.*FN1



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Thomas J. McAVOY, Senior United States District Judge

DECISION & ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiffs Wayne Gerster and Gerster Farms, Inc. ("Plaintiffs") commenced the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging deprivations of federally protected rights by various state and municipal defendants. See generally Compl. [dkt. #1]. Defendants New York State Department of Environmental Conservation ("DEC") and DEC Environmental Conservation Officer Lt. Deming Lindsley (collectively "Defendants") move for: 1) dismissal of the action pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and (6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure; 2) sanctions pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1927; 3) attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988; and 4) an order, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1651, barring Plaintiffs from filing future claims based on the facts underlying the Complaint without prior Court approval. Plaintiffs: 1) oppose the motion; 2) filed a cross-motion for expedited discovery; and 3) filed an Amended Complaint. For the reasons that follow, the Defendants' motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART. Plaintiffs' cross-motion for expedited discovery is DENIED.

II. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs brought this action alleging, among other things, that Defendants violated Plaintiffs' civil rights in the course of the DEC's administration and enforcement of State solid waste laws and regulations. Plaintiffs' claims are based on alleged regulatory and enforcement actions directed at Plaintiffs' handling, storage, recycling and/or disposal of wood and other types of solid waste at Plaintiffs' "farm" located in Delaware County, New York. This has been a long standing dispute between Plaintiffs and Defendants and has been the subject of prior litigation in this Court, see Gerster v. County of Delaware, 3:01-CV-1003 (N.D.N.Y.)("Gerster I"), and in the courts and administrative agencies in the State of New York. See Compl. ¶¶ 9-88. In the Complaint, Plaintiffs seek $5,000,000 in compensatory damages, $50,000,000 in punitive damages, and attorney's fees. See Compl. p. 18.

Defendants argue in their motion to dismiss that the claims against them are: 1) barred by the doctrine of res judicata; 2) untimely under the three year statute of limitations applicable to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims; 3) barred by the Eleventh Amendment; and 4) otherwise fail to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. See Defs. Mem. L. p. 9-10.*fn2 In opposition to the motion, Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint seeking, inter alia, injunctive and declaratory relief against the DEC, and alleging that their damages claim is only against Defendant Lindsley in his individual capacity. See Am. Compl. [dkt. # 21]. In addition, the Amended Complaint asserts facts that occurred after Plaintiffs filed their Complaint. Id. ¶¶ 112-124. Plaintiffs have also included constitutional challenges to several provisions of the New York State Environmental Law, and solid waste and wetlands regulations. Id.; see Jacobs Aff. §§ 2, 4-5.*fn3 The cross-motion for discovery merely seeks expedited discovery "to prevent delay in the preparation of the case for trial." Jacobs Aff. § 6.

In reply, Defendants contend, inter alia, that: 1) the Eleventh Amendment bars Plaintiffs' claims for injunctive relief against the State; 2) qualified immunity shields Defendant Lindsley from Plaintiffs' individual capacity claims; 3) all claims against Lindsley are barred by the statute of limitations; 4) various abstention doctrines require dismissal of Plaintiffs' constitutional challenges; 5) Plaintiffs' constitutional challenge to ECL § 3-0301(2)(g) is a supplemental claim requiring leave of the Court to assert but, because Plaintiffs failed to obtain such leave, the claim should not be considered; 6) Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint contains frivolous claims and, therefore, supports Defendants' motion for sanctions and an injunction barring Plaintiffs from filing further litigation without prior court approval; and 7) Plaintiffs' cross-motion for expedited discovery should be denied.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Eleventh Amendment

The Court will first address the Eleventh Amendment arguments.

1. Claims for Monetary Relief Against the State

Defendants correctly argue that a claim for monetary relief against the State of New York, a state official acting in an official capacity, or one of its agencies, is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See Aiken v. Nixon, 236 F. Supp.2d 211, 226-28 (N.D.N.Y. 2002), aff'd 80 Fed. Appx. 146, 2003 WL 22595837 (2d Cir. Nov. 10, 2003). Inasmuch as New York has not waived its immunity from a Section 1983 damages award, that much of the case seeking monetary damages against the State, Defendant Lindsley in his official capacity, or the DEC is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. See id. (citing Pennhurst State School & Hospital v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100-01 (1984); Jones v. New York State Div. Of Military & Naval Affairs, 166 F.3d 45, 49 (2d Cir. 1999); Kostok v. Thomas, 105 F.3d 65, 68 (2d Cir. 1997); Trotman v. Palisades Interstate Park Commission, 557 F.2d 35, 39 (2d Cir. 1977); Baird v. New York State Exec. Department, 1998 WL 690951 * 2 (N.D.N.Y. September 28, 1998)). Therefore, and the in event that the Complaint is not deemed amended and superseded (discussed infra), any such claims are dismissed.

2. Amendment to Complaint

In response to the Defendants' motion to dismiss, Plaintiffs filed and served an Amended Complaint. Plaintiffs contend that the Amended Complaint was filed "as of right" because Defendants had not answered by the time the Amended Complaint was filed. See Jacobs Aff. ¶ 4. As indicated above, Defendants argue that the Plaintiffs' constitutional challenge to ECL § 3-0301(2)(g) in the Amended Complaint is a supplemental claim requiring a motion and leave of the Court, but that ...


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