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Schoenefeld v. State

February 8, 2010



Ekaterina Schoenefeld ("Plaintiff") filed this action for equitable relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983") in the Southern District of New York on April 1, 2008, alleging that § 470 of the New York State Judiciary Law*fn1 ("§ 470"), on its face and as applied, violates her rights under Article IV, § 2 ("Privileges and Immunities Clause"), the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment ("Equal Protection Clause"), and Article I, § 8 ("Commerce Clause") of the Constitution of the United States. See Compl. (Dkt. No. 1); Am. Compl. (Dkt. No. 4). Plaintiff brought this action naming thirty-seven defendants including: the State of New York; the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department ("the Appellate Division"); the Appellate Division Committee on Professional Standards ("Committee on Professional Standards"); New York State Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo; eleven Justices of the Appellate Division; Appellate Division Clerk Michael J. Novack; and twenty-one members of the Committee on Professional Standards. See generally Am. Compl. All individual Defendants were sued in their official capacity only. Id. On April 16, 2009, the Honorable Naomi Reice Buchwald, acting pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a), granted Defendant's motion to transfer venue to the Northern District of New York. See Mem. and Order (Dkt. No. 17). Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. Dkt. No. 20.


Plaintiff is a 2005 graduate of Rutgers University School of Law and is admitted to practice law in New York, New Jersey, and California. Compl. ¶ 5. She is a solo practitioner with a residence and law office in Princeton, New Jersey. Pl.'s Mem. of Law in Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss the Am. Compl. in its Entirety (Dkt. No. 26) ("Pl.'s Mem").

Plaintiff alleges that while attending a continuing legal education course on June 5, 2007, she "learned for the first time that, according to § 470 of the New York Judiciary Law which is applicable to nonresident New York attorneys only, she may not practice law in the State of New York unless she maintains an office located in the state." Am. Compl. ¶ 17. Though this provision has never been enforced against Plaintiff, she has allegedly refrained from accepting cases that would have required her to practice in New York courts due to her knowledge of, and respect for the law. Pl.'s Mem. at 5.

Plaintiff, appearing pro se, filed this suit alleging that § 470 violates her right to enjoy the privileges and immunities of citizenship as guaranteed in Article IV, § 2 of the Constitution of the United States. She claims that § 470 "effectively imposes a residency requirement on nonresident attorneys . . . when it requires them to maintain a full-time office in the State in order to practice law there" and does not require the same of resident attorneys. Am. Compl. ¶ 21. Plaintiff further alleges that § 470 violates her Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights by imposing different requirements on resident and nonresident attorneys, namely that nonresidents only are required maintain a New York office in order to practice within the state. Id. ¶ 27. Finally, Plaintiff claims that § 470 places burdens on interstate commerce in violation of Article I, § 8 of the Constitution. Id. ¶ 29. Plaintiff claims that the each of the named Defendants, in his or her official capacity, has "some connection with the enforcement of" § 470 and are thus susceptible to suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Pl.'s Mem. at 18-20. Plaintiff seeks the following declaratory and injunctive relief: (1) an order permanently enjoining Defendants from enforcing § 470 and declaring it unconstitutional; (2) reasonable attorney's fees and costs; and (3) "such other and further relief as this Court deems meet and just." Am. Compl. ¶¶ A-C.

Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint in its entirety pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). Specifically, Defendants assert that: (1) pursuant to Rule12(b)(1), the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction on the grounds that the case is not ripe; (2) pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) Defendants State of New York, the Appellate Division, and the Committee on Professional Standards do not qualify as "persons" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (3) pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Plaintiff has failed to plead sufficient facts linking the named Defendants to the alleged constitutional violations. Mem. of Law in Supp. of Defs'. Mot. to Dismiss the Am. Compl. in its Entirety (Dkt. No. 20-2) ("Defs.' Mem.") at 1.


A. Standard of Review

In reviewing a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), a court "must accept as true all material factual allegations in the complaint, but [it is] not to draw inferences from the complaint favorable to plaintiffs." J.S. ex rel. N.S. v. Attica Cent. Schs., 386 F.3d 107, 110 (2d Cir. 2004). A court "may consider affidavits and other materials beyond the pleadings to resolve the jurisdictional issue, but [it] may not rely on conclusory or hearsay statements contained in the affidavits." Id.

When considering a motion to dismiss under 12(b)(6), a district court must accept the factual allegations made by the non-moving party as true and "draw all inferences in the light most favorable" to the non-moving party. In re NYSE Specialists Sec. Litig., 503 F.3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 2007). "The movant's burden is very substantial, as '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.'" Log On America, Inc. v. Promethean Asset Mgmt. L.L.C., 223 F. Supp. 2d 435, 441 (S.D.N.Y. 2001) (quoting Gant v. Wallingford Bd. of Educ., 69 F.3d 669, 673 (2d Cir. 1995) (internal quotation and citations omitted)). In order to survive a motion to dismiss, "a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.'" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, __ U.S. __, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007)). A court should "begin by identifying pleadings that, because they are no more than conclusions, are not entitled to the assumption of truth." Id. Next, if plaintiff provides well-pleaded factual allegations, "a court should assume their veracity and then determine whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement to relief." Id.

B. Plaintiff's Claim is Ripe

Where defendants' move for dismissal under both Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6), a court must consider the alleged lack of subject matter under Rule 12(b)(1) first. Rhulen Agency, Inc. v. Alabama Ins. Guar. Ass'n, 896 F.2d 674, 678 (2d Cir. 1990). Ripeness is a constitutional prerequisite to a federal court's exercise of jurisdiction. Fed. Election Comm'n v. Cent. Long Island Tax Reform Immediately Comm., 616 F.2d 45, 51 (2d Cir. 1980). A case must be ripe before a federal court has jurisdiction to grant either injunctive or declaratory relief. Williamson v. Village of Margaterville, 1993 WL 133719 at *1 (N.D.N.Y. April 23, 1993) (citing Int'l Tape Mfrs. Ass'n v. Gerstein, 494 F.2d 25 (5th Cir. 1974). Ripeness exists where the controversy is "definite and concrete, touching the legal relations of parties having adverse interests." Aetna Life Ins. Co. of Hartford, Conn. v. Haworth, 300 U.S. 227, 240-41 (1937). Where a plaintiff seeks a declaratory judgment, the Constitution requires "a real and substantial controversy admitting of specific relief through a decree of conclusive character." Id. at 241.

Defendants argue that Plaintiff has failed to show any likelihood of her practicing law in New York or of § 470 being enforced against her, and, therefore, claim Plaintiff has failed to demonstrate that any real, substantial dispute admitting of specific relief exists. Defs'. Mem. at 5.

Plaintiff correctly notes that she need not violate and be prosecuted for the violation of a statute in order to maintain an action challenging the statute's constitutionality. See Babbit v. United Farm Workers Nat'l Union, 442 U.S. 289, 298 (1979) (internal citations omitted). Plaintiff has alleged that she is in compliance with all requirements applicable to New York attorneys, has been solicited to take cases that would require her to practice in New York courts, and has refused to take these cases only because she does not have a New York office and does not wish to violate ยง 470. See generally Am. Compl.; Pl.'s Mem. She has alleged sufficient facts for the Court to find a ...

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