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Combier v. State

September 29, 2010

ELIZABETH COMBIER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE STATE OF NEW YORK, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard J. Holwell, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Elizabeth Combier brings this action pursuant to the First, Fifth, Seventh, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution; 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and a number of other federal and state statutes. She alleges a wide-ranging conspiracy to deny probate of her late mother's will in order to steal her mother's estate assets. The defendants include not only her twin sister, her church, its pastor, and its insurance company, but several of the attorneys, court staff, and judges involved with the litigation surrounding her late mother's estate, all of whom she alleges conspired to fabricate a probate case against her, harass her, and ultimately deprive her of property rightfully bequeathed to her in her mother's will. Several defendants have moved to dismiss ([41], [43], [45], [47], [56], [57], [95]), and plaintiff has moved for a default judgment [77], for sanctions [81], for recusal [31], and to vacate this Court's denial of reconsideration on her prior motion for recusal [79]. This opinion disposes with each of these motions.

On August 25, 2010, Magistrate Judge Frank Maas issued a Report and Recommendation (the "Report") recommending that the motions to dismiss be granted and that plaintiff's motions for default judgment, for sanctions, for recusal, and to vacate the denial of reconsideration be denied. After receiving the Report, plaintiff requested more time in which to file objections, and the Court granted an extension of time to file objections until September 20, 2010. Within that period plaintiff timely filed her objections to the Report [100].*fn1 For the reasons set forth below, the Court adopts the Report and dismisses the complaint in its entirety.

BACKGROUND

The allegations underlying the complaint are discussed in the Report, familiarity with which is presumed, and which is attached herewith for ease of reference. A brief summary of the allegations follows here.

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff became involved in three litigations in the New York State courts following the death of her mother in March 1998. In one, plaintiff sued the pastor and associate pastor of the Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York County Supreme Court for wrongfully withholding her mother's ashes from her. (Cl. ¶ 66.) Plaintiff had asked the church to keep the ashes, (Cl. ¶ 62), but while they were in the church's possession Wasserman, the attorney for plaintiff's twin sister, called the associate pastor and told him not to return them to plaintiff. (Cl. ¶ 66.) The church then retained the ashes for eight days longer than plaintiff wanted it to, giving rise to the wrongful retention suit, which plaintiff eventually lost after a jury trial. (Id.) This and related conduct gives rise to the inclusion of pastor Anderson, the Presbytery of New York City, and Guide one Insurance Company -- the presbytery's insurance company, as defendants in this action.

Another litigation arose in March 1998 when plaintiff, represented by Jonathan Landsman, filed a will beneficial to her in Surrogate's Court, New York County, seeking to have it admitted to probate. (Cl. ¶ 26.) The case was initially assigned to the Honorable Renee R. Roth. Although Roth was potentially conflicted out of the case Wasserman contacted a Surrogate's Court employee, Santamarina, and arranged to have the case remain before Judge Roth. (Cl. ¶ 68.) Many years later on July 21, 2006, Judge Roth issued an order "stating that [plaintiff's mother] had died 'intestate' and therefore all [estate property] would now be under the control of the Public Administrator, Ethel Griffin." (Cl. ¶ 73.) Receipt of this order caused plaintiff to go into heart failure, (Cl. ¶ 74), an injury that underlies the damages elements of the complaint's causes of action. After this the will contest was transferred to the docket of Troy Webber, the Acting Surrogate. (Cl. ¶ 78.) This and related conduct gives rise to the inclusion of Judge Roth, Surrogate Webber, Landsman, Santamarina, and others as defendants in this action.

Yet another litigation arose in December 1999 when Wasserman filed a case captioned Danger v. Combier in Supreme Court, New York County. That case alleged that Combier had fraudulently taken money from a trust beneficial to Combier and her twin sister Danger. (Cl. ¶ 71.) The Supreme Court transferred the action to Surrogate's Court to be consolidated with the probate litigation. (Id.) It remained consolidated with the probate action until July 2006, when Judge Roth determined that she had no jurisdiction and returned the case to the Supreme Court, where it was assigned to Justice Karla Moskowitz. (Id.) In December 2007 Justice Moskowitz dismissed the case with prejudice, a decision to plaintiff's benefit. (Id.) This and related conduct gives rise to the inclusion of Justice Moskowitz as a defendant and constitutes some of the basis for the claims against Wasserman and Judge Roth.

Conduct outside of the courts is relevant to this action as well. The Complaint alleges, inter alia, that Wasserman has frequently harassed and threatened plaintiff; that defendant Lawrence Mark has maintained estate property in his garage without properly preserving it; and that numerous high level New York officials are in on the conspiracy to deprive plaintiff of her due process rights and estate property.

B. Procedural History

Plaintiff filed this suit on June 8, 2009, and the Court thereafter referred the case to Magistrate Judge Maas for general pretrial supervision and to report and recommend as to all dispositive motions [16]. Plaintiff filed a motion to oppose that referral on a number of non-meritorious grounds, and the Court denied that motion by order dated October 2, 2009, [20]. Subsequently on November 24, 2009, plaintiff filed the second amended complaint [33]. ("complaint" or "Cl.") All defendants moved to dismiss except Lawrence Mark, who disputes service of process. Although Magistrate Judge Maas ordered that the motions to dismiss be resolved before any other matters [75], plaintiff filed a motion for default judgment against Mark on March 23, 2010, [77], a motion to vacate this Court's denial of reconsideration on the recusal motion on May 07, 2010, [79], and a motion to sanction Mark on May 28, 2010 [81]. On August 25, 2010, Magistrate Judge Frank Maas issued his report, and on September 20, 2010, the Court received plaintiff's objections.

STANDARD OF REVIEW

A district court may designate a magistrate to hear and determine certain motions and to submit to the court proposed findings of fact and a recommendation as to the disposition of the motion. See 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(b)(1). Within fourteen days of service of the ...


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