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Hathaway v. Hathaway

April 5, 2007

BRION J. HATHAWAY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KAREN O. HATHAWAY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Pro se Plaintiff Brion J. Hathaway ("Plaintiff") commenced this action on January 9, 2007 against Karen O. Hathaway ("Defendant") alleging violations of his due process and equal protection rights as protected by the United States Constitution. For the reasons set forth below, the Court DISMISSES the Complaint with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that, after being married for thirty-three years, he and his wife divorced in July 2003. Plaintiff contends that the New York State court's decision regarding the equitable distribution of assets between Plaintiff and Defendant violated his Constitutional rights based on due process and equal protection grounds.

More specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the state court awarded him "only" 30% of the marital assets, less than 10% of the 5,000 shares of Goldman Sachs stock awarded to the parties by Defendant's employer, and no financial support even though his wife was earning millions of dollars on Wall Street. (Compl. ¶¶ 4, 5.) Plaintiff asserts that "if [he] were a woman, rather than a stay-at-home dad, he would not have received the lop-sided verdict that is apparently based on reverse discrimination." (Id. ¶ 4.) Moreover, Plaintiff argues that his due process rights were violated by the New York State court's refusal "to review plaintiff's case or give plaintiff an opportunity to be heard on appeal . . . ."*fn1 (Id. ¶ 5.)

Plaintiff seeks monetary damages of $250,000.00 and 2,100 shares of Goldman Sachs stock, worth approximately $420,000.00.

DISCUSSION

It is well-settled that the Court is required to read the Plaintiff's pro se Complaint liberally. See Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9, 101 S.Ct. 173, 66 L.Ed. 2d 163 (1980); Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21, 92 S.Ct. 594, 30 L.Ed. 2d 652 (1972) (stating that pro se complaints are held to "less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers"); McEachin v. McGuinnis, 357 F.3d 197, 200 (2d. Cir. 2004) ("[W]hen the plaintiff proceeds pro se, . . . a court is obliged to construe his pleadings liberally, particularly when they allege civil rights violations."). In addition, the Court must weigh the factual allegations in the Complaint in favor of Plaintiff. See Denton v. Hernandez, 504 U.S. 25, 32, 112 S.Ct. 1728, 118 L.Ed. 2d 340 (1992). Moreover, at this stage of the proceedings, the Court assumes the truth of the allegations in the Complaint. See Hughes, 449 U.S. at 10. Nevertheless, the Court finds the Complaint must be DISMISSED for the reasons set forth below.

I. Rooker-Feldman

Plaintiff essentially seeks to have this Court review and modify or invalidate a state-court judgment. This Court, however, lacks subject matter jurisdiction to review that decision. Pursuant to what is commonly known as the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, federal district courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over suits that are, in substance, appeals from state-court judgments. Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 414-415, 44 S.Ct. 149, 68 L.Ed. 2d 362 (1923); District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 103 S.Ct. 1303, 75 L.Ed. 2d 206 (1983). The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is limited 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. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284, 125 S.Ct. 1517, 161 L.Ed. 2d 454 (2005). Accordingly, there are four requirements for the application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine: (1) the federal-court Plaintiff must have lost in state court; (2) the Plaintiff's injuries must be caused by the state court judgment; (3) the Plaintiff's claims must invite the district court to review and reject that state court judgment; and (4) the state-court judgment must have been rendered prior to the commencement of the district court proceedings. Hoblock v. Albany County Bd. of Elections, 422 F.3d 77, 85 (2d Cir. 2005).

Here, Plaintiff was the state-court loser in the Family Court or Supreme Court proceedings to the extent that he was dissatisfied with the decision relating to the distribution of the marital assets; and the judgment in those proceedings were rendered prior to the commencement of this action. Accordingly, application of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine to the instant case turns upon the second and third requirements.

Federal suits that raise some independent claim that was not the result of the state-court judgment "are outside Rooker-Feldman's compass even if they involve the identical subject matter and parties as previous state-court suits." Hoblock, 422 F.3d at 86. However, a Plaintiff cannot avoid the application of Rooker-Feldman simply by presenting in federal court a legal theory not raised in state court. See id. Rather, district courts lack subject matter jurisdiction of federal constitutional claims that are "inextricably intertwined" with a challenged state-court judgment, even if such claims were not raised in the state court. Id. (citing Feldman, 460 U.S. at 483-484 n. 16). In other words, district courts lack jurisdiction "over challenges to state court decisions arising out of judicial proceedings, 'even if those challenges allege that the state court's action was unconstitutional.'" Walker v. Feller, No. CV-05-2689, 2005 WL 1971862, at * 4 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 16, 2005)(quoting Feldman, 460 U.S. at 486).

A. Injury Caused By State-Court Judgment

The Second Circuit has provided the following formula to determine whether a Plaintiff is complaining of an injury ...


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