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Robinson v. Cusack

July 10, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dora L. Irizarry, U.S. District Judge


On November 14, 2005, plaintiff brought suit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Joan A. Cusack and David N. Green in their individual and official capacities as employees of the New York State Crime Victims Board ("CVB"), challenging the constitutionality of New York Executive Law § 632-a ("Section 632-a"). Plaintiff claims that the application of Section 632-a violates the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution and the doctrine of preemption, and constitutes an ex post facto law in violation of Article I of the U.S. Constitution. Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief, and an injunction prohibiting defendants from enforcing Section 632-a against him and all others similarly situated.*fn1 Plaintiff further seeks an award of compensatory and punitive damages.

Defendants now move to dismiss plaintiff's complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1), or in the alternative, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). On January 25, 2007, the court held oral argument on defendants' motion to dismiss, at which time the court invited the parties to submit supplemental memoranda of law addressing the potential applicability of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine in the instant case. For the reasons set forth below, defendants' motion to dismiss is granted, and plaintiff's complaint is dismissed in its entirety.

I. Background

A. New York Executive Law § 632-a

In response to efforts by convicted serial killer David Berkowitz to profit from the sale of book and movie rights to his story, the New York State legislature enacted Executive Law § 632-a (commonly referred to as "The Son of Sam Law") in 1977. The original Son of Sam Law required any party contracting with an accused or convicted person for a depiction of his crime to submit to the CVB a copy of the contract, and any payments that the accused or convicted person would receive under that contract. The CVB was required to hold those funds in an escrow account "for the benefit of and payable to any victim . . . provided that such victim, within five years . . . br[ought] a civil action . . . and recover[ed] a money judgment." If no action was commenced during that five-year period, the funds were released to the accused or convicted person.

In 1991, the United States Supreme Court struck down that version of the Son of Sam law as violative of the First Amendment because it "singled out speech on a particular subject for a financial burden that it places on no other speech and no other income." Simon & Schuster, Inc. v. Members of New York State Crime Victims Bd., 502 U.S. 105, 123, 112 S.Ct. 501, 116 L.Ed. 2d 476 (1991). To remedy that constitutional infirmity, in 1992 the New York legislature enacted a new version of the statute that broadened its scope to include any income generated from a crime.

In June 2001, the New York State legislature further amended the statute to address the concern that violent criminals received substantial sums of money from civil lawsuits or other sources years after being convicted of their crime(s), but while still in state custody, yet the victims of their crimes were otherwise barred by the statute of limitations from suing to recover compensation from those funds. See Governor's Mem. Approving S. 5110-A (June 25, 2001), reprinted in Legislative Bill Jacket for ch. 62 (2001), and Governor's Program Bill Number 29 regarding S. 5110-A (2001). In its current form, even after all other relevant statute of limitations have expired, the law provides the victim of a felony an additional three years from the time he or she discovers that the convicted person received "funds of a convicted person" or obtained or generated "profits from a crime" to file a civil action. See N.Y. Exec. Law § 632-a(3). The limitations period is revived each time a crime victim discovers that a convicted person has received funds or obtained profits from a crime.*fn2 "Funds of a convicted person" broadly encompasses "all funds and property received from any source by a person convicted of a specified crime, . . . excluding child support and earned income," where such person (i) is an inmate, (ii) is on parole or under other supervision, or (iii) has been in prison or under supervision within the last three years. Id. at § 632-a(1)(c). "Specified crimes" include violent felonies and certain other serious crimes. Id. at § 632-a(1)(e). The first $1000.00 of a judgment obtained against an inmate is protected from recovery, as well as the first ten percent of compensatory damages if the funds were acquired by the defendant pursuant to a judgment obtained after the effective date of the 2001 amendments. Id. at § 632-a(3); N.Y. C.P.L.R. § 5205(k) (McKinney 2001).

In addition, Section 632-a createsa notification scheme whereby any person or entity paying "profits of a crime" or "funds of a convicted person" in excess of $10,000 is obligated to notify the CVB. Id. at § 632-a(2)(a). The CVB, in turn, must notify the convicted person's known victims. Id. at § 632-a(2)(c). Upon receiving notice or otherwise discovering funds of a convicted person, a crime victim may then either file a civil suit against the convicted person or notify the CVB of his or her intention to do so within the three-year period. Id. at § 632-a(4). The CVB shall then take necessary action to, among other things, guard against the wasting of assets that may constitute funds of a convicted person or profits of a crime. Id. at § 632-a(5). The statute allows the CVB to seek the provisional remedies of attachment, injunction, receivership and notice of pendency on behalf of the crime victim. Id. at § 632-a(6).

B. The Instant Action

In 2000, plaintiff was convicted of a sexual abuse crime and sentenced to a term of six years. (Harben Decl. Ex. E.) Also in 2000, plaintiff filed a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City of New York and New York City police officers. The parties allegedly settled that suit for $28,500.00, of which plaintiff received $17,947.42 on August 6, 2002, while incarcerated at Bare Hill Correctional Facility in Malone, New York. (Compl. ¶¶ 16-20.) On or about January 10, 2003, the CVB sought a preliminary injunction restraining the proceeds of plaintiff's settlement on behalf of a victim of one of plaintiff's crimes. (Id. at ¶ 22.) Justice Joseph C. Teresi of the New York Supreme Court, Albany County issued an Order and Judgment for Preliminary Injunction on April 11, 2003. (See Compl. ¶ 24; Harben Decl. Ex. D.) On June 4, 2003, Justice Teresi denied plaintiff's application to have the April 11, 2003 order reversed. (See Harben Decl. Ex. E.) Plaintiff did not appeal. (Compl. ¶ 25.)

When plaintiff first initiated this lawsuit, he sought to attack the preliminary injunction issued by Justice Teresi on April 11, 2003. However, plaintiff later agreed to settle claims raised by one of the victims of his crimes, which resulted in a portion of the restrained funds being paid to one of plaintiff's rape victims, with plaintiff being allowed to retain $3,500.00 of the funds for himself. The preliminary injunction was lifted and the action brought by the CVB was dismissed. A Stipulation of Settlement was "So Ordered" by Justice Teresi on May 24, 2006, resulting in the restrained funds being released in order to pay the settlement. (Defs.' Suppl. Mem. Ex. A.) Because the settlement had not been reached when the complaint in the instant action was filed, the complaint makes no mention of this state court judgment.

II. Discussion

A. Standard for a Motion ...

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