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Neroni v. Becker

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 5, 2014

FREDERICK J. NERONI, Plaintiff,
v.
CARL F. BECKER et al., Defendants.

TATIANA NERONI, ESQ., Neroni Law Office, Delhi, NY, for Plaintiff.

DOUGLAS J. GOGLIA, New York State Attorney General, ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, Assistant Attorney General, The Capitol, Albany, NY, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

GARY L. SHARPE, Chief Magistrate 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.) On December 21, 2012, the court granted defendants' motion to dismiss. (Dkt. No. 19.) On appeal, the Second Circuit affirmed in part, but vacated the court's decision to abstain from Neroni's constitutional claims pursuant to Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971), and remanded the case with instructions to reconsider this issue. (Dkt. No. 42.) For the reasons that follow, the court concludes that abstention remains proper.

II. Background[1]

A. Facts

This action is predicated, in part, on the alleged unconstitutional application of New York statutes in an underlying state civil action, Mokay v. Mokay , No. 2007-695, in which Neroni, a former attorney, is a defendant. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 1-28.) In Mokay, the children of a former Neroni client brought suit against him in Delaware County, alleging, among other things, a violation of N.Y. Judiciary Law § 487, which generally states that an attorney who intentionally deceives the court or a party is both guilty of a misdemeanor and liable to the injured party for treble damages in a civil proceeding. ( Id. ¶¶ 6, 9); see also Mokay v. Mokay, 67 A.D.3d 1210, 1211 (3d Dep't 2009).

At the time this action was commenced, Justice Becker presided over the underlying state claim in his role as Acting Supreme Court Justice. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 8, 44.) After the instant action was commenced, however, Justice Becker recused himself from the state action. (Dkt. No. 7, Attach. 1 at 1.) Ultimately, in Mokay, partial summary judgment on the question of § 487 liability was entered against Neroni and subsequently affirmed by the Appellate Division, Third Department. (Am. Compl. ¶ 7); see also Mokay, 67 A.D.3d at 1211-13. A trial on the issue of damages remains pending. (Dkt. No. 7, Attach. 1 at 4; Dkt. No. 45 at 4.) Ultimately, Neroni was disbarred based in large part on the misconduct at issue in Mokay. See In re Neroni, 86 A.D.3d 710, 710-11 (3d Dep't 2011).

B. Procedural History

On August 6, 2012, Neroni moved for various forms of preliminary and permanent injunctive relief by order to show cause. (Dkt. No. 4.) After the court denied that application, (Dkt. No. 6), defendants moved to dismiss Neroni's complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and (6). (Dkt. No. 7.) In response, Neroni moved to amend his complaint and for partial summary judgment. (Dkt. No. 12.)

On December 21, 2012, the court granted Neroni's motion to amend, deemed his amended complaint filed, denied his partial motion for summary judgment, and granted defendants' motion to dismiss. (Dkt. No. 19.) First, the court dismissed Neroni's constitutional claims after finding that it must, under the doctrine set forth in Younger, abstain from considering those claims. (Dkt. No. 19 at 5-9.) Second, the court held that Neroni's claims for retrospective relief relating to Justice Becker are barred by the Eleventh Amendment and his claims for prospective injunctive relief fail because Neroni could not demonstrate irreparable harm or success on the merits. ( Id. at 9-11.)

Neroni appealed, (Dkt. No. 30), and while his appeal was pending, the Supreme Court decided Sprint Communications, Inc. v. Jacobs, 134 S.Ct. 584, 591 (2013), which clarified the limited circumstances under which abstention is proper. Consequently, the Second Circuit affirmed the court's dismissal of Neroni's requests for prospective and injunctive relief relating to Justice Becker, but vacated the court's decision to abstain from Neroni's constitutional claims pursuant to Younger, and remanded with instructions to consider whether abstention remains appropriate in light of the Supreme Court's recent decision in Sprint. (Dkt. No. ...


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