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Clinton v. Broome County Dep't Social Services


August 17, 2007


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



Plaintiff commenced this action pro se pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 contending that the actions of the Broome County Department of Social Services ("BCDSS") and one of its caseworkers, Defendant Rebecca Herman, violated his constitutional rights to due process, equal protection, and access to courts causing him to suffer emotional damages and placing his children's "safety and well being" in peril. See Compl. [dkt. # 1].*fn1

Defendant BCDSS*fn2 moves pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 to dismiss the action against it on the grounds that (1) the Rooker-Feldman doctrine deprives the Court of subject matter jurisdiction over the action, and (2) the action is barred by res judicata and/or collateral estoppel. Plaintiff has not opposed the motion.


Defendant BCDSS has filed and served a motion for summary judgment upon Plaintiff. Plaintiff has not opposed the motion and his time do so has expired. In accordance with the Local Rules pertaining to motions for summary judgment, Defendant's motion includes a "Notification of the Consequences of Failing to Respond to a Summary Judgment Motion" and a "Statement of Undisputed Material Facts." See dkt. # 12-7, # 12-8. Due to Plaintiff's failure to respond to Defendant's motion, the properly supported facts set forth in Defendant's "Statement of Undisputed Material Facts" are deemed admitted. See N.Y.N.D.L.R. 7.1(a)(3). These properly supported facts, relevant to the instant motion, are as follows:

1. That on July 25, 2005, Broome County Family Court held a hearing regarding the custody of Plaintiff's two children (Behnke Affidavit Para 7, Exhibit C).

2. That Plaintiff appeared at that hearing and was represented by an attorney. (Exhibit C).

3. That after a hearing and due deliberation and with the consent of the parties to that proceeding, Broome County Family Court granted custody of the Plaintiff's two children to their mother. The Court's Order was entered on August 5, 2005. (Behnke Affidavit Para 7 and 8, Exhibit C).

4. The Plaintiff appealed that Order to the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division Third Department. (Exhibit D).

5. The Plaintiff was represented by an attorney on the appeal (Exhibit D).

6. That in a Memorandum and Order entered November 30, 2006, the Appellate Division affirmed the decision of Broome County Family Court. (Behnke Affidavit Para 9, Exhibit D).

7. That the Appellate Division found that the Plaintiff was afforded an opportunity to voice his objection to the proposed custody determination on the record at the Broome County Family Court hearing and that Family Court did not err in making its custody determination. (Behnke Affidavit Para 9, Exhibit D).

Def. Statement of Undisputed Material Facts, ¶¶ 1-7.

In the Complaint, Plaintiff contends that BCDSS and Defendant Herman's "decisions" to return custody of Plaintiff's children to their mother, as was ordered by the Broome County Family Court on August 5, 2005, violated Plaintiff's constitutional right to due process, equal protection of the law, and access to the courts. See Compl. Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and "a hearing to determine [the] safety of my children and possible custody." Id.


a. Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, "federal district courts lack jurisdiction over suits that are, in substance, appeals from state-court judgments." Hoblock v. Albany County Bd. of Elections, 422 F.3d 77, 84 (2d Cir. 2005)(citing, inter alia, Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280 (2005); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413(1923); District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983)). The Rooker-Feldman doctrine "'is confined to cases of the kind from which the doctrine acquired its name: 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.'" Hoblock, 422 F.3d at 85 (quoting Exxon Mobil, 544 U.S. at 284).

To assert jurisdiction under this circumstance "would be an exercise of appellate jurisdiction," with which district courts are not vested, as appellate review is vested solely in the Supreme Court. Rooker, 263 U.S. at 416; see also Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, 481 U.S. 1, 24 (1987) (Marshall, J., concurring). Constitutional claims presented in district court that are "inextricably intertwined" with state court judgments are also prohibited. [ District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 483, n. 16 (1983)]; [Elmasri v. England, 111 F. Supp.2d 212, 218 (E.D.N.Y.2000)]. A federal claim "is inextricably intertwined" with the state-court judgment if "the federal claims succeeds only to the extent that the state court wrongly decided the issues before it." Pennzoil, 481 U.S. at 25 (Marshall, J., concurring).

Puletti v. Patel, 2006 WL 2010809, at * 5 (E.D.N.Y. July 14, 2006).

It is clear from the allegations in the Complaint that Plaintiff's alleged injuries arise from the Broome County Family Court custody order, and that he seeks to relitigate and reverse that order.

Further, as noted by the decision of the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department, Plaintiff's contention that he was not afforded an adequate opportunity to voice his objection to the Family Court custody order was rejected. Plaintiff's present claims of denial of due process and access to the courts are encompassed within this determination and seek, in essence, to reverse the state-court judgment. Thus, the claims are inextricably intertwined with the state-court judgment. See Hoblock, 422 F.3d at 86-87 (A federal claim asserting an injury based on a state judgment and that, in essence, seeks reversal of that judgment, is "inextricably intertwined" with the state judgment even if not raised during the state proceeding.)

To the extent Plaintiff asserts a legally plausible equal protection claim,*fn3 the injury of which he complains is the effect of the state-court judgment. Consequently, this claim also is inextricably intertwined with the state-court judgment. Id.


Plaintiff's claims asserted in the Complaint are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Thus, the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the action. Broome County Department of Social Services' motion for summary judgment [dkt. # 12] is GRANTED and the action against this defendant is DISMISSED. In addition, the claims against Rebecca Herman, which are one and the same as the claims against Broome County Department of Social Services, must also be DISMISSED sua sponte for lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Clerk of the Court is directed close the file in this matter.


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