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Elizabeth Renner, Pro Se v. Referee Stanton

May 7, 2013

ELIZABETH RENNER, PRO SE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
REFEREE STANTON,
JUDGE STEPHEN BOGACZ, JUDGE SIDNEY STRAUSS, JUDGE MARYELLEN FITZMAURICE, JUDGE JONATHAN LIPPMAN, JUDGE WILLIAM MASTRO, JUDGE SHERRI ROMAN, JUDGE SANDRA SGROI, JUDGE JEFFREY LIEBOWITZ, JUDGE PAMELA JACKMAN BROWN, JUDGE JEREMY WEINSTEIN, UNIFIED COURT SYSTEM, NEW YORK STATE, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Pro se plaintiff Elizabeth Renner ("Plaintiff") filed the instant action against Julie Stanton, New York State Family Court Referee of Queens County; the Hon. Stephen Bogacz and the Hon. Maryellen Fitzmaurice, New York State Family Court Judges of Queens County; the Hon. Sidney Strauss, the Hon. Jeffrey Liebowitz, and the Hon. Pamela Jackman Brown, Justices of the New York State Supreme Court, Queens County; the Hon. Jeremy Weinstein, Administrative Judge of the New York State Supreme Court, Queens County; the Hon. Sandra Sgroi, the Hon. William Maestro, and the Hon. Sherri Roman, Justices of the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Second Department; the Hon. Jonathan Lippman, Chief Judge of the New York State Court of Appeals; the Unified Court System; and New York State (collectively, "Defendants"). The complaint alleges violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for orders issued in Plaintiff's child custody and divorce proceedings. For the reasons set forth below, the complaint is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff brings this pro se action against judges and a referee who presided over Plaintiff's child custody and divorce proceedings in New York State courts. (Compl. at 1-2.) *fn1

Specifically, Plaintiff alleges the judges and referee: were biased against her, failed to recuse themselves when she requested them to, engaged in ex parte communications and issued "ex parte orders," refused to "correct" orders that allegedly harmed Plaintiff and her children, failed to timely consider motions and issue orders, did not grant her motions, refused to arbitrate claims that her attorneys had extorted legal fees, denied her appeal in the New York State Court of Appeals, and the appellate courts refused to reverse the rulings of the lower courts. (Id. at 4-14.) In addition, Plaintiff alleges the Unified Court System and New York State failed to: properly train its judges and referees, select judges who are qualified, or remove "bad judges" from the bench. (Id. at 13.) Plaintiff seeks monetary damages and injunctive relief barring Referee Stanton and Judge Bogacz from presiding over any of Plaintiff's cases going forward and vacating the past decisions of Referee Stanton. (Id. at 7, 9.)

DISCUSSION

Pro se complaints are held to less stringent standards than pleadings drafted by attorneys and the court is required to read Plaintiff's pro se complaint liberally and interpret it as raising the strongest arguments it suggests. Sealed Plaintiff v. Sealed Defendant #1, 537 F. 3d 185, 191-93 (2d Cir. 2008). Moreover, at the pleadings stage, the court must assume the truth of "all well-pleaded, nonconclusory factual allegations" in the complaint. Kiobel v. Royal Dutch Petroleum Co., 621 F. 3d 111, 123 (2d Cir. 2010) (citing Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678-79 (2009)). However, a pro se plaintiff must still plead sufficient facts to state a claim that is plausible on its face. See Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F. 3d 471, 474-75 (2d Cir. 2006).

A.Legal Standard

It is axiomatic "that federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction and lack the power to disregard such limits as have been imposed by the Constitution or Congress." Durant, Nichols, Houston, Hodgson & Cortese-Costa P.C. v. Dupont, 565 F. 3d 56, 62 (2d Cir. 2009) (quotation marks omitted). "If subject matter jurisdiction is lacking and no party has called the matter to the court's attention, the court has the duty to dismiss the action sua sponte." Id.; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(h)(3) ("If the court determines at any time that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction, the court must dismiss the action."). The Second Circuit has "emphasize[d] the need for parties and for district courts to take a hard look at jurisdictional issues early in the litigation." Wynn v. AC Rochester, 273 F. 3d 153, 159 (2d Cir. 2001).

Federal subject matter jurisdiction exists only where the action presents a federal question pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331 or where there is diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332. See Petway v. N.Y.C. Transit Auth., 2010 WL 1438774, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 7, 2010), aff'd, 450 F. App'x. 66 (2d Cir. 2011). Federal question jurisdiction is invoked where the plaintiff's claim arises "under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." 28 U.S.C. § 1331. A case arises under federal law within the meaning of the general federal question statute only if the federal question appears in the facts of the plaintiff's well pleaded complaint. See Louisville & Nashville R.R. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149 (1908).

B.Domestic Relations Exception

Plaintiff fails to establish any basis for this Court's subject matter jurisdiction and instead sets forth claims related to domestic relations matters, namely divorce and child custody proceedings. Federal courts generally lack subject matter jurisdiction over such claims pursuant to the domestic relations exception. "So strong is [the Supreme Court's] deference to state law in this area that [the Supreme Court has] recognized a 'domestic relations exception' that 'divests the federal courts of power to issue divorce, alimony, and child custody decrees.'" Elk Grove Unified Sch. Dist. v. Newdow, 542 U.S. 1, 12-13 (2004) (quoting Ankenbrandt v. Richards, 504 U.S. 689, 703 (1992)). The exception further counsels that "it might be appropriate for the federal courts to decline to hear a case involving 'elements of the domestic relationship,' even when divorce, alimony, or child custody is not strictly at issue." Id. at 13 (quoting Ankenbrandt, 504 U.S. at 705). Plaintiff alleges constitutional violations, invoking the jurisdiction of this Court under federal question jurisdiction. However, "[d]istrict courts in this Circuit have held that the exception includes civil rights actions directed at challenging . . . domestic relations proceedings." Awan v. Kramer, 2012 WL 5426088, at *3 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 7, 2012) (citing Mitchell-Angel v. Cronin, 1996 WL 107300, at *2 (2d Cir. Mar. 8, 1996)).

As Plaintiff challenges the orders made in child custody and divorce proceedings, this Court lacks jurisdiction over Plaintiff's claims. See Schottel v. Kutyba, 2009 WL 230106, at *1 (2d Cir. Feb. 2, 2009) (plaintiff's claims "begin and end in a domestic dispute" and state courts are better suited to that adjudication); Sullivan v. Xu, 2010 WL 3238979, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 13, 2010) (dismissing action as barred by the domestic relations exception, because "[a]lthough plaintiff invokes his constitutional rights, the substance of his ...


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