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Ruggiere v. Bloomberg

October 9, 2009

JULIUS RUGGIERE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, MAYOR, CITY OF NEW YORK; ROBERT C. NORTH, CHIEF ACTUARY, CITY OF NEW YORK; ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, LEGAL DIVISION, N.Y.C.E.R.S.; WILLIAM C. THOMPSON, COMPTROLLER, CITY OF NEW YORK; DIANE ALESSANDRO, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, N.Y.C.E.R.S, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John Gleeson, United States District Judge

FOR ELECTRONIC PUBLICATION ONLY

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

On May 15, 2009, plaintiff Julius Ruggiere filed this pro se action naming New York City officials as defendants and seeking review of a case first filed in New York Supreme Court. On June 10, 2009, I granted the plaintiff's request to proceed in forma pauperis. On August 27, 2009, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine and for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted as dictated by res judicata. Ruggiere opposed the defendants' motion in writing, and I heard oral argument on the motion on September 25, 2009. For the reasons set forth below, the defendants' motion to dismiss is granted.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are drawn from Ruggiere's pro se complaint, filed May 15, 2009, and documents attached to and incorporated by reference in that complaint, and are assumed to be true for the purposes of this motion. In addition, I address two new claims raised by the plaintiff in his opposition papers to the motion to dismiss.

According to the plaintiff's complaint, "[t]his claim initially arose in the County of Kings, New York State Supreme Court on April 11, 2007." Compl. at 2. Ruggiere alleges that the State of New York and the New York City Retirement System ("NYCERS") failed to properly interpret and apply New York state law.

Ruggiere retired from the New York City Department of Correction in 2001. He asserts that, as of June 1999, correction retirees "who had achieved 20 or more years of 'Allowable Correction Service' (one who had completed 20 or more years of actual uniformed correction service without the aid of any buyback time from other city and state service, unless it was prior New York City Police, Fire and Sanitation service) was entitled to receive a [Correction Officers Variable Supplement Fund] stipend, in addition to their pension." Compl. at 4. Ruggiere asserts that the New York State Legislature subsequently enacted additional laws defining "beneficiary" and permitting certain city workers to apply "Other Credited Service" to their correction service in order "to retire without the full 20 or more years of actual correction service in the uniformed rank." Compl. at 6. Thereafter, NYCERS designated this class of retirees as "beneficiaries" eligible for the Variable Supplemental Fund ("VSF"). Id. Ruggiere asserts that this designation was erroneous.

No retirees received VSF stipends in 2006, because the fund assets were insufficient. See Compl. Ex. 2, Dec. 5, 2006 Letter from Andrew N. Feneck. Ruggiere asserts that reason the funds were insufficient was NYCERS's erroneous decision to enlarge the pool of eligible beneficiaries to include people who qualified due to their "Other Credited Service." Compl. at 8. These retirees, goes the complaint, should never have been made eligible for VSF stipends.

Ruggiere brought an Article 78 proceeding to review the City's determination that the funds were insufficient. In that proceeding, he challenged NYCERS's definition of "beneficiary" and the payments it authorized to the "Other Credited Service" retirees who Ruggiere believes were not entitled to benefits. The New York State Supreme Court, Kings County, denied Ruggiere's petition, and the Appellate Division affirmed the judgment. Ruggiere v. Bloomberg, 865 N.Y.S.2d 560 (2d Dep't 2008). The Court of Appeals denied leave to appeal on January 20, 2009, 11 N.Y.3d 716 (2009), and denied a motion for reargument on March 31, 2009, 12 N.Y.3d 778 (2009).

In this action, Ruggiere reiterates his argument that the City improperly interpreted the provisions of the State Legislature and challenges the New York courts' rulings to the contrary. He alleges that the "New York State Supreme Court's decision not to acknowledge the defendants['] erroneous interpretation and distribution of C.O.V.S.F. to ineligible retirees violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment via violation of the New York State Constitution, Article III, sections 13, 15, 16, and Article I, section 11."*fn1 Compl. at 3-4. In his opposition papers, he asserts that it was not the state court's actions, but rather the steps taken by the defendants that caused the deprivation of his rights under the Equal Protection clause. In addition, Ruggiere raises two new claims in his opposition papers: (1) a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 that the defendants deprived him of his rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; and (2) a claim that the state court colluded with the defendants in failing to adhere to an order to show cause issued by the state court on April 11, 2007, thereby depriving him of his due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

Plaintiff seeks damages for the retirement benefits he says he should have received from 2006 to 2008, legal expenses incurred in prosecuting his claims in state court and further damages for the irreparable harm he says he has suffered. In total, he seeks approximately $100,000 in damages.

DISCUSSION

A. Motion to Dismiss -- Standard of Review

Motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) test the legal, not the factual, sufficiency of a complaint. See, e.g., Sims v. Artuz, 230 F.3d 14, 20 (2d Cir. 2000) ("At the Rule 12(b)(6) stage, 'the issue is not whether a plaintiff is likely to prevail ultimately, but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims.'" (quoting Chance v. Armstrong, 143 F.3d 698, 701 (2d Cir. 1998))). The standards for reviewing a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule ...


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