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Walter Hidalgo and Michelle Hidalgo v. State of New York

November 17, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Lindsay, Magistrate Judge:


Before the court, on referral from District Judge Seybert, is the plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction directing the defendants to immediately cease and desist from pursuing a support proceeding in the Suffolk County Family Court against Walter Hidalgo. For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned recommends that the injunction be denied.


In January 2008, the plaintiff, Walter Hidalgo, married the plaintiff, Michelle Hidalgo. See Complaint at ¶ 20. Michelle Hidalgo is the biological mother of Lanasia J, who was previously a ward of the state and has now returned to live with the plaintiffs. Id. at ¶ 22. Lanasia J. is not the biological child of Walter Hidalgo and had not been adopted by him. Id. at ¶ 24. In August 2011, an Order of Support was entered in the Family Court against Michelle Hidalgo, requiring her to provide $75 weekly, retroactive to November 22, 2010. Id. at ¶ 26. Subsequent to the entry of that order, the defendant, Department of Social Services, commenced a support proceeding against Walter Hidalgo, pursuant to Family Court Act sections 413, 415-416, 421-424, 432, 440 and 571 and Social Services Law sections 101, 102, and 111-g. Id. at ¶ 27. The petition alleges that Walter Hidalgo has failed to provide fair and reasonable support for Lanasia J. since November 22, 2010. Id. The proceeding is scheduled for November 22, 2011.

The plaintiffs claim that Family Court Act § 415 and Social Services Law § 101, which state that stepparents are responsible for the support of children who are receiving, or are liable to become in need of, public assistance, violate the Equal Protection and Privileges and Immunities Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. Specifically, the plaintiffs argue that the laws infringe on the fundamental right to marry by creating an economic obligation upon persons choosing to marry a person who has a child who is, or is liable to become, a public charge. The plaintiff Walter Hidalgo further argues that laws violate his right to equal protection and substantive due process because he is being treated differently than (1) single persons who are in committed relationships with other people who have children who are on public assistance, (2) married persons who adopt such children, (3) persons who divorce and have such children, and (4) stepparents that are not impoverished so are unlikely to have stepchildren in need of public assistance. The plaintiffs seek to permanently enjoin the defendants from conducting support proceedings against stepparents such as Walter Hidalgo.


"Any request for injunctive relief against a state proceeding instantly brings into focus the important doctrines of federalism and abstention."*fn1 Oxford House, Inc. v. City of Albany, 819 F. Supp. 1168, 1171 (N.D.N.Y. 1993). "In examining these doctrines, the court first turns to a statutory prohibition of federal injunctions of state court proceeding - the Anti-Injunction [Act]." Id. The Anti-Injunction Actprovides:

A court of the United States may not grant an injunction to stay proceedings in a State court except as expressly authorized by Act of Congress, or where necessary in the aid of its jurisdiction, or to protect or effectuate its judgments.

28 U.S.C. § 2283. "The purpose of the Anti-Injunction Act is to forestall the inevitable friction between the state and federal courts that ensues from the injunction of state judicial proceedings by a federal court." Baumgarten v. County of Suffolk, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 39229 * 6 (E.D.N.Y. Feb. 20, 2007)(citing Vendo Co. v. Letkro-Vend Corp., 433 U.S. 623 (1977)). As explained by the Supreme Court:

A federal court does not have inherent power to ignore the limitations of § 2283 and to enjoin state court proceedings merely because those proceedings interfere with a protected federal right or invade an area pre-empted by federal law, even when the interference is unmistakably clear. Rather, when a state proceeding presents a federal issue, even a preemption issue, the proper course is to seek resolution of that issue by the state court.

Id. (citing Chick Kam Choo v. Exxon Corp., 486 U.S. 140. 140-50 (1988). Accordingly, the court cannot stay the Family Court proceeding unless one of the three exceptions applies.

A. "Expressly Authorized by Act of Congress"

The first exception permits a federal court to enjoin a state proceeding when expressly authorized by Act of Congress. Mitchum v. Foster, 407 U.S. 225 (1972). The Supreme Court has held that actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 may fall within the phrase "except as expressly authorized by Act of Congress." Id. at 226. "In so concluding," the Supreme Court stated that it was not qualifying "in any way the principles of equity, comity, and federalism that must restrain a federal court when asked to enjoin a state court proceeding." Id. at 243. It decided only that "the District Court in [that] case was in error in holding that, because of the anti-injunction statute, it was absolutely without power . . . to enjoin a proceeding pending in a state court under any circumstances whatsoever." Id.

The threshold question of when the court should abstain from exercising jurisdiction over actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 has divided courts in this circuit. The Second Circuit cited to Mitchum for the proposition that the Anti-Injunction Act was inapplicable in actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Texaco, Inc. v. Pennzoil, Co., 784 F.2d 1133 (2d Cir. 1986). Texaco concerned mandatory provisions of Texas law governing enforcement of money judgments. Concluding that the Anti-Injunction Act was not intended to force a § 1983 claimant to vindicate federal rights in state court, the Court added that an injunction was proper in that case given the fact that it would not interfere with an ongoing state court proceeding or otherwise offend basic principles of comity. Id. at 1149-50. The Supreme Court reversed the holding in Texaco based upon principles of federalism as enunciated in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971).See Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1 (1987). While not addressing the applicability of the ...

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