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Wingate v. Quattrochi

United States District Court, E.D. New York

May 15, 2014

BLAKE WINGATE, Plaintiff, [1]
v.
VINCENT T. QUATTROCHI; Supreme Court Clerk Kings JOHN DOE; Supreme Court Clerk Queens JOHN DOE; Supreme Court Clerk Richmond JOHN DOE; Supreme Court Clerk New York; Criminal Clerk of Kings County Court; ADA CARROLL KELLY, Richmond; Judge RENZI (phonetic), Richmond; Judge BONNIE WITTNER, New York; ADA JENNIFER DOLLE, New York; ADA BRAZINSKI, Kings; Judge E. FOLEY, Kings; ALICIA FOY, ADA Kings; ADA DIANNA MEGIAS, Queens; ADA GLUSBAND, JONATHAN, Kings; RHONDA A. GEROMINO, Kings Paralegal ADA; Judge MATTHEW A. SCIARRINO, JR.; Judge K. HOLDER, Queens; Judge E. HART, Queens; Judge M. SCIARRINO, Kings; Judge R. KALISH, Kings; Judge C. WALKER, Kings Criminal; ADA CHRISTOPHER LIN, New York; Judge T. FARBER, New York; Judge MEGAN TALLMER, Bronx; Judge JAMES KINDLER; ELAINE K. YACYSHYN; Writ Court Judge, Bronx; Judge ROTKA, Queens; ROY S. NIR, Queens; RICC Clerk; Dietician JOY YOUNG; Justice STOLZ; ADA DEVINE HOLLIS; ADA SCOTT LEE; City of New York, Personally and Capacity of Office, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

ALLYNE R. ROSS, District Judge.

On April 17, 2013, plaintiff Blake Wingate, currently incarcerated at the Ronald N. Davoren Complex on Rikers Island, filed this pro se action against 35 defendants, including judicial officers, court employees, and prosecutors, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and other federal statutes. Plaintiff seeks damages and injunctive relief. The court grants plaintiff Wingate's request to proceed in forma pauperis. The complaint is dismissed as set forth below.

Background

While it is very difficult to discern the claims raised in plaintiff's complaint, he appears to allege that the New York state courts have refused to issue decisions on petitions for a writ of habeas corpus that he has filed in state court. Compl. at 8. Plaintiff raises a host of challenges to his state court proceedings and appears to assert, among other issues, that a judge refused to allow him to represent himself at an arraignment, id. at 14; that district attorneys, defense attorneys, and judges improperly allowed him to be prosecuted, id. at 16; that clerks issued defective orders, id. at 18; and that the state court improperly transferred his habeas corpus petition to the same jurisdiction that had originally violated his rights, id. at 21. Plaintiff further alleges that he has been denied a special diet for his allergies, id. at 20, that he was exposed to methane gas while detained on Rikers Island, id. at 21, and that he was forced to work without being paid minimum wage, id. at 29. Plaintiff has several cases pending before the New York State courts. See https://iapps.courts.state.ny.us/webcrim attorney/DefendantSearch (Case Nos. 2013KN082448, XXXXX-XXXX, 2014QN003827) (last visited May 14, 2014.

Standard of Review

In reviewing the complaint, the court is mindful that plaintiff is proceeding pro se and that his pleadings should be held "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 9 (1980); accord Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 94 (2007); Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009). A complaint, however, must plead "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Igbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). Although all allegations contained in the complaint are assumed to be true, this tenet is "inapplicable to legal conclusions." Id.

Nonetheless, the court must screen a civil complaint brought by a prisoner against a governmental entity or its agents and dismiss the complaint or any portion of the complaint if the complaint is "frivolous, malicious, or fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted." 28 U.S.C. §1915A(a) & (b)(1); see Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007). Moreover, pursuant to the in forma pauperis statute, the court must dismiss the action if it determines that it "(i) is frivolous or malicious; (ii) fails to state a claim on which relief may be granted; or (iii) seeks monetary relief against a defendant who is immune from such relief." 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B).

Discussion

A. Judicial Immunity

Plaintiff names as defendants at least fourteen state court judges: Judges Quattrochi, Renzi, Wittner, Foley, Sciarrino, Holder, Hart, Kalish, Walker, Faber, Tallmer, Kindler, Rotka, and Stolz (the "Judicial Defendants"). Compl. at 14, 17. Judges have absolute immunity from suit for judicial acts performed in their judicial capacities. Bliven v. Hunt, 579 F.3d 204, 209 (2d Cir. 2009); see also Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991) (per curiam) ("[J]udicial immunity is an immunity from suit, not just from ultimate assessment of damages."); Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356 (1978). This absolute "judicial immunity is not overcome by allegations of bad faith or malice." Mireles, 502 U.S. at 11. Nor can a judge "be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error... or was in excess of his authority." Id. at 11 (quoting Stump, 435 U.S. at 356).

To the extent that the court can identify the claims raised in plaintiffs complaint, he appears to raise challenges to his arraignment and prosecution in New York state court and to the New York state court's handling of his habeas corpus petitions. Since all of these alleged acts of wrongdoing by the Judicial Defendants are judicial acts performed in their judicial capacities, plaintiffs claims against these defendants are foreclosed by absolute immunity and are dismissed. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A; 1915(e)(2)(B).

Plaintiff also includes unidentified clerks employed by the Office of Court Administration ("OCA") and the Supreme Court of the State of New York, including Kings, Queens, Richmond, and New York counties. Absolute judicial immunity is not limited to judges. Court clerks also enjoy judicial immunity where their acts are of a judicial nature. Rodriguez v. Weprin, 116 F.3d 62, 66 (2d Cir. 1997). For their performance of ministerial functions, they are entitled to qualified immunity. Id . Here, plaintiff does not allege any facts against any of the clerks that would suggest he raises any claims other than in their official, quasi-judicial capacities. To the extent that plaintiffs complaint appears to raise claims regarding the clerks' processing of his habeas corpus petitions and issuance of defective orders, this conduct is judicial in nature and is immune from suit. See Peker v. Steglich, 324 F.Appx. 38, 39-40 (2d Cir. 2009) (finding that a judicial law clerk's "perform[ance of] a task that was basic and integral to the judicial function, namely the processing of an appeal, " constitutes judicial, rather than ministerial, conduct).

Moreover, the Eleventh Amendment protects a state against suits brought in federal court by citizens of that state, regardless of the nature of the relief sought. Alabama v. Pugh, 438 U.S. 781, 782 (1978). This absolute immunity which states enjoy under the Eleventh Amendment extends to both state agencies and state officials sued in their official capacities. Richards v. State of N.Y. Appellate Div., Second Dep't, 597 F.Supp. 689, 691 (E.D.N.Y. 1984). To the extent that a state official is sued for damages in his or her official capacity, that official is entitled to invoke the Eleventh Amendment immunity belonging to the state. Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 25 (1991); Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166-67 (1985).

Because plaintiffs claims against these clerks are also brought against them in their official capacity, they are construed as claims against the State of New York and must be dismissed. Tarka v. Armstrong, No. 01 Civ. 5605(LAK)(FM), 2002 WL 31778895, at ...


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