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Frederick J. Neroni v. Carl F. Becker et al

December 21, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gary L. Sharpe Chief Judge


I. Introduction

Plaintiff Frederick J. Neroni commenced this action against defendants Carl F. Becker, "in his individual capacity and in his official capacity as Delaware County Surrogate's Court Justice and as Acting Supreme Court Justice, Delaware County," and the State of New York, alleging judicial bias and unconstitutional application of state laws in an underlying and ongoing state action. (Compl., Dkt. No.1 ¶ 4; Am. Compl., Dkt. No. 12, Attach. 2 ¶ 4.) Pending are defendants' motion to dismiss, (see Dkt. No. 7), and Neroni's motion seeking leave to amend his Complaint and for partial summary judgment, (see Dkt. No. 12). For the reasons that follow, Neroni's motion to amend is granted and his Amended Complaint is deemed filed, his motion for partial summary judgment is denied, and defendants' motion to dismiss is granted.

II. Background*fn1

This action is predicated on purported personal vendettas, judicial improprieties, and the unconstitutional application of New York statutes in an underlying civil action in which Neroni is presently a defendant. (See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1-28.) In the underlying state case, the children of a former Neroni client brought suit against him in Delaware County, alleging, inter alia, violation of N.Y. Judiciary Law § 487.*fn2 (See id. ¶¶ 6, 9); see also Mokay v. Mokay, 67 A.D.3d 1210, 1211 (3d Dep't 2009). Partial summary judgment on the question of section 487 liability was entered against Neroni and subsequently affirmed by the Appellate Division, Third Department. (See Am. Compl. ¶ 7); see also Mokay, 67 A.D.3d at 1211-13. A trial on the issue of damages is pending.*fn3 (See Dkt. No. 7, Attach. 1 at 4.)

At the time the instant action was commenced, Justice Becker presided over the underlying state claim in his role as Acting Supreme Court Justice. (See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 8, 44.) Neroni insists, however, that Justice Becker fosters a decades-old bias against him, as evidenced by a litany of personal and professional acts of animus, including: prejudging damages while acting as Surrogate Court Judge; allowing opposing litigants to ignore legal requirements; disparaging Neroni in private and in open court; using body language to show disfavor to Neroni's legal arguments; coaching opposing counsel; unlawfully financing the underlying state action through the award of fees in a Surrogate Court proceeding; and hiding transcripts. (See id. ¶¶ 16-26, 45, 47, 58-106.) After the instant action was commenced, however, Justice Becker recused himself from the state action. (See id. ¶ 56A; Dkt. No. 7, Attach. 1 at 1.)

III. Procedural History

On August 6, 2012, Neroni filed an Order to Show Cause seeking various forms of preliminary and permanent injunctive relief. (See Dkt. No. 4.) After the court denied that request, Justice Becker and the State of New York moved to dismiss Neroni's Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and (6). (See Dkt. No. 7.) In response, Neroni moved to amend his Complaint and for partial summary judgment. (See Dkt. No. 12.)

IV. Standard of Review

The standard of review under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and 56 are well settled and will not be repeated here. For a full discussion of those standards, the court refers the parties to its prior decisions in Ellis v. Cohen & Slamowitz, LLP, 701 F. Supp. 2d 215, 218 (N.D.N.Y. 2010) and Wagner v. Swarts, 827 F. Supp. 2d 85, 92 (N.D.N.Y. 2011), respectively.

V. Discussion

A. Constitutional Arguments

Defendants contend that the abstention doctrine set forth in Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), mandates dismissal of Neroni's constitutional challenges.*fn4 (See Dkt. No. 7, Attach. 1 at 12-13.) Neroni counters that Younger is a "politically tainted" and "shameful" opinion, and that the doctrine of abstention which it articulates "is in itself unconstitutional." (Dkt. No. 12, Attach. 1 at 18.) The court agrees with defendants.

In furtherance of the principles of comity and federalism, "Younger generally prohibits courts from taking jurisdiction over federal constitutional claims that involve or call into question ongoing state proceedings so as to avoid unnecessary friction." Spargo v. N.Y. State Comm'n on Judicial Conduct, 351 F.3d 65, 75 (2d Cir. 2003) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Specifically, Younger mandates abstention "when: (1) there is a pending state proceeding, (2) that implicates an important state interest, and (3) the state proceeding affords the federal plaintiff an adequate opportunity for judicial review of his or her federal constitutional claims." Id. ...

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