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Galtieri v. New York City Police Pension Fund

United States District Court, S.D. New York

September 15, 2014

JOHN F. GALTIERI, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW YORK CITY POLICE PENSION FUND, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

PAUL G. GARDEPHE, District Judge.

Prose Plaintiff John F. Galtieri brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 28 U.S.C. § 2201. Galtieri seeks a declaratory judgment that he is entitled to withdraw from the pension system administered by the New York City Police Pension Fund (the "Pension Fund" or "PPP"). The Pension Fund has moved for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c). For the reasons set forth below, the Pension Fund's motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND[1]

Plaintiff is a former New York City Police Department ("NYPD") officer. (Declaration of Amy J. Weinblatt ("Weinblatt Deel."), Ex. D: Galtieri v. Galtieri, No. FM-13-1018-00C, slip op. at 2 (N.J.Super. Ct. Ch. Div. June 27, 2007) ("N.J. Sup.Ct. Dec.") (Dkt. No. 33-4)) On February 19, 2009, a jury found Galtieri guilty of second-degree murder in connection with his January 30, 2007 killing of Jeanne Kane ("Kane"), his former wife. (Weinblatt Deel., Ex. G (Kane v. Galtieri, No. 100185/08, slip op. at 2 (N.Y. Sup.Ct. Sept. 7, 2012) ("N.Y. Order Denying Motion to Vacate Attachment") (Dkt. No. 33-7); Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 5) Galtieri is currently serving a sentence of 32 years to life imprisonment in a New York State correctional facility. (Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 5)

The subject of this action is a disability pension administered by the Pension Fund. Plaintiff retired from the NYPD on February 24, 1980, after sustaining injuries in the line of duty, Galtieri v. Kelly , 441 F.Supp.2d 447, 449 (E.D.N.Y. 2006), and he began receiving payments from the PPF that same year. (Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 1) ¶ 5) In May 2009, a restraining order was served on the Pension Fund prohibiting further distributions until the conclusion of a wrongful death action brought by Galtieri's daughter on behalf of herself and her mother's estate. ( Id., Ex. B (Oct. 5, 2011 Pension Fund Ltr.) (Dkt. No. 1-1))

On September 29, 2011, Plaintiff wrote to the Pension Fund stating that he had "decided to withdraw from the... Pension Fund and waive any present or future benefits due my account. Please accept this as Notice and implement my withdrawal from the fund immediately." (Id. ¶ 9 & Ex. A) In an October 5, 2011 letter, the Fund denied Galtieri's request. (Id. ¶ 10 & Ex. B) The Pension Fund explained that Galtieri had

not received pension payments since May 31, 2009 because the Fund was served with a Restraining Order dated May 27, 2009 prohibiting the Fund from making distributions from your retirement allowance until the conclusion of the case, Patricia Kane, as the limited administratrix of the estate of Jeanne Kane and Patricia Kane v. John F. Galtieri. Accordingly, no distributions have or will be made until the case has been resolved.
Further, please be advised that once a member has retired from the Fund, there is not [a] mechanism by which a member may withdraw from the retirement system. The Fund is legally obligated to make pension distributions in accordance with the law. Therefore, when the Restraining Order has been lifted or the Fund receives further Orders from a court of competent jurisdiction, distributions shall resume in accordance with such Order.

(Cmplt., Ex. B (Oct. 5, 2011 Pension Fund Ltr.) (Dkt. No. 1-1) (underlining added))

Plaintiff claims that "the pension he receives is Exempt from Execution, Garnishment, Attachment, Assignment or any other legal process pursuant to The New York City Administrative Code [and the New York and United States Constitutions], " and that the Pension Fund's refusal to permit him to withdraw from the pension system and close his account violates his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. (Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 1) ¶¶ 1, 6, 8, 12)

RELATED LITIGATION

Galtieri has been an active litigant for the past fourteen years. Because his prior litigation is relevant to the Pension Fund's arguments that it is entitled to judgment on the pleadings, these cases are discussed in some detail below.

On January 3, 2000, Galtieri filed a divorce action against Kane in New Jersey. (Weinblatt Deel., Ex. D (N.J. Sup.Ct. Dec.) (Dkt. No. 33-4) at 3) After the New Jersey Superior Court ordered him to pay Kane temporary support and maintenance, Galtieri filed a bankruptcy petition, thereby obtaining a stay of the divorce proceedings. (Weinblatt Deel., Ex. B (Galtieri v. Galtieri, FM-13-1018-00C (N.J. Super Ct. Ch. Div. May 19, 2003) ("Final Judgment of Divorce") (Dkt. No. 33-2)) at 3)) A judgment of divorce was later entered on May 19, 2003, however.[2](Id.) The New Jersey Superior Court ordered Galtieri to pay Kane $2, 200 per month in alimony via garnishment of his monthly Social Security disability benefit payment; fifty percent of the net proceeds from the sale of the marital residence; fifty percent of the net proceeds from a mortgage held by the parties; and $30, 000 for jewelry that Galtieri had taken from Kane. (Id. at 3-4) The court also concluded that Kane suffered from Battered Women's Syndrome and awarded her $400, 000 in damages on her claim of spousal abuse, [3]as well as attorneys' fees and payment of pendente lite support arrears. (Id. at 5-8) The New Jersey Final Judgment of Divorce did not refer to Galtieri's police pension.

After the May 2003 divorce decree, "Galtieri continued to harass [Kane] through frivolous and vexatious litigation in order to deny her the alimony, distribution, and awards she was entitled to." (Weinblatt Deel., Ex. D (N.J. Sup.Ct. Dec.) (Dkt. No. 33-4) at 7) On December 12, 2003, the New Jersey Superior Court issued an amended order directing that Kane's alimony payments be made directly from Galtieri's police pension and social security disability benefits. Plaintiff appealed that order, arguing that his pension "was immune from claims for alimony, because the disability pension was the equivalent of an award for personal injuries." Galtieri v. Kane, A-4026-04Tl, 2005 WL 2757230, at *3 (N.J.Super. Ct. A.D. Oct. 26, 2005). On August 19, 2004, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court affirmed, concluding that Galtieri's claims were meritless. Id.

While the December 12, 2003 appeal was pending, Galtieri moved to vacate the Final Judgment of Divorce on statute of limitations and fraud grounds. That motion was denied by the trial judge, and Galtieri again appealed. In his appeal, Galtieri argued "that the Superior Court of New Jersey lacked jurisdiction to enforce an order against [his pension], and that his disability pension is an asset that is immune from the court's garnishment order." Id . The Appellate Division ruled against Galtieri, finding that he had "had his day in court at both the trial and appellate levels on December 12, 2003, and August 3, 2004, and on August 19, 2004, [where] we affirmed the trial court's order of garnishment from his [police pension] and his social security pension." Id . (alteration in original) (citations omitted).

In January 2005, Judge McGann of the New Jersey Superior Court ordered that $1, 500 of the $2, 200 monthly alimony award be withheld from Plaintiffs PPF pension. Id . The court further ordered that one-half of Galtieri's monthly Social Security disability benefit payment be withheld and paid directly to Kane. (Weinblatt Deel., Ex. C: Jan. 7, 2005 Order (Dkt. No. 33-3) at 1) On March 11, 2005, Judge McCann issued an amended domestic relations ("DRO") order directing the PPF to make the monthly $1, 500 payments to Kane. Galtieri, 2005 WL 2757230, at *3.

In April 2005, Kane "moved to withhold a percentage of Galtieri's Social Security benefits to apply to the shortfall between the $1, 500 previously ordered and the $2, 200 obligation and to reduce the alimony arrears which, at that time, exceeded $50, 000." (Weinblatt Deel., Ex. D (N.J. Sup.Ct. Dec.) (Dkt. No. 33-4) at 8) In opposing Kane's motion, Galtieri threatened to withdraw from the Social Security disability rolls "if the court continues to harass me and grants [Kane's] motion." (Id.) In May 2005, the court ordered that $1, 222 per month be withheld from Galtieri's Social Security disability benefits and paid to Kane to satisfy, in part, Galtieri's alimony obligation of $2, 200 per month, with any excess to be applied to Galtieri's arrears. (Id. at 9) In July 2005, Galtieri withdrew from the Social Security system "in order to prevent [Kane] from receiving the amounts that were being garnished as alimony."[4](Id.) Kane then asked the New Jersey court to order that the entire alimony obligation of $2, 200 per month be paid directly to her from the PPF pension. The court granted that request in August 2005. (Id.) Between October 2005 and December 2006, Galtieri made numerous court filings designed to deprive Kane of payments from the PPF.[5](Id. at 11)

Galtieri also appealed Judge McGann's amended DRO on several grounds, including that "the trial court abused its authority in levying against [his police pension], which [Galtieri claimed] is statutorily protected from garnishment, execution, and levy." Galtieri, 2005 WL 2757230, at *4. In an October 26, 2005 opinion, the Appellate Division rejected all of Galtieri's arguments. The court noted that Galtieri "has avoided paying alimony since it was awarded, and he has continuously filed repetitive litigation in order to do so. The garnishment of [Galtieri's NYPD pension] may be the only way to enforce plaintiffs obligation [to pay alimony]." Id. at *6. The Appellate Division also expressed "concern from the procedural history of this case that plaintiff may be abusing the system. His conduct continually harasses defendant through this unending litigation, as well as wastes both judicial time and resources." Id.

In 2005, while the New Jersey litigation was ongoing, Plaintiff initiated an Article 78 proceeding in New York Supreme Court, New York County, against, among others, the trustees of the Pension Fund. Plaintiff sought "a judgment annulling the actions of [the PPF], with respect to the disbursement of his [pension], " claiming that "such disbursements constitute an illegal garnishment and unlawful taking." Galiteri v. Kelly, No. 108166/05, slip op. at 1 (N.Y. Sup.Ct. Sept. 26, 2005). The Supreme Court dismissed Galtieri's action for lack of jurisdiction. The court noted that it was required to honor the judgments of New Jersey state courts pursuant to the Full Faith and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution, and that "[t]o the extent that petitioner seeks to change or to modify the orders he deems offensive, his remedy is to appeal the New Jersey orders to the appropriate New Jersey courts." Id. at 4-5.

Plaintiff and his new wife, Marilyn Galtieri, then commenced a Section 1983 action in the Eastern District of New York against, among others, the trustees of the Pension Fund, alleging violations of their rights to equal protection and due process under the New York State and U.S. constitutions. See Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 1), No. 05 Civ. 4798 (JFB) (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 11, 2005). The lawsuit sought damages for the claimed illegal garnishment of Galtieri's pension. Galtieri , 441 F.Supp.2d at 449. Galtieri asserted that

[t]he discriminatory conduct complain[ed ofJ... includes: unlawful taking and deprivation of my rights to property, New York City Accident Disability Pension and equal treatment under the laws of the State of New York. The PPF has singled me out and by illegally garnishing my pension has deprived me of equal protection afforded other recipients of accident disability pensions.

Cmplt. (Dkt. No. 1), No. 05 Civ. 4798 (JFB) (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 11, 2005) at ¶ 4.

Judge Bianco determined that he lacked subject matter jurisdiction to hear these claims under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, however, which prohibits a federal court from hearing appeals of state court judgments. Although brought under the guise of Section 1983 and ostensibly directed at the Pension Fund's actions- rather than at the state court judgments themselves-Judge Bianco concluded that "the essence ofth[e] lawsuit is an appeal of the New Jersey court's judgment which ordered that plaintiff John Galtieri's pension be garnished for the purpose of satisfying his alimony obligations." Galtieri , 441 F.Supp.2d at 458. Judge Bianco dismissed the lawsuit on June 19, 2006, as violative of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Id . There was no appeal.

On January 30, 2007, Plaintiff filed a complaint in New York Supreme Court, Richmond County, seeking to enjoin further disbursements from his PPP pension to Kane. (Weinblatt Deel., Ex. D (N.J. Sup.Ct. Dec.) (Dkt. No. 33-4) at 2) That same day, Galtieri murdered Kane, shooting her multiple times in the head while she sat in her car at a Staten Island parking lot waiting for their daughter's bus to arrive.[6](Id.)

In June 2007, Galtieri filed a motion to vacate the May 2005 New Jersey Superior Court order requiring that $1, 222 a month be garnished from his Social Security benefits to pay alimony, arguing that - at the time of Kane's death- he had satisfied his financial obligations to her. (Id. at 14-15) Patricia Kane, the only child of Plaintiff and Jeanne Kane (Id. at 1), filed a cross-motion requesting that the monthly payment now be made to Kane's estate in order to satisfy the arrears and other judgments owed to her mother at the time of her death.[7](Id. at 14) The court issued a judgment in favor of the estate of Jeanne Kane, with Patricia as administratrix, for $620, 727.76, citing case law holding that an action to recover unpaid installments of alimony under a decree of divorce is not abated by the recipient's death, and that the estate may be substituted in decedent's place to pursue the action. (Id. at 20-22) With interest, the judgment amounted to $672, 582.06, payable through continued garnishment of Galtieri's Social Security disability benefits and his PPP pension. (Id. at 23)

After murder charges were brought against Galtieri, his second wife - Marilyn Galtieri - commenced divorce proceedings against him in Florida. Those proceedings resulted in a "Marital Settlement Agreement" in which Marilyn Galtieri was granted a 99.8 percent interest in Plaintiffs PPF pension. (Weinblatt Deel., Ex. G (N.Y. Order Denying Motion to Vacate Attachment) (Dkt. No. 33-7) at 3) This agreement was later incorporated into an April 15, 2009 Florida judgment of divorce. (Id.)

Following her mother's murder, Patricia Kane had filed a wrongful death action against Galtieri on behalf of herself and her mother's estate in New York Supreme Court, Richmond County. On May 27, 2009, after Galtieri had been convicted of second-degree murder, Justice John A. Fusco of New York Supreme Court, Richmond County, issued an ex parte order attaching Plaintiffs pension. That order directed the Sheriff of the City of New York, "[p]ursuant to Sections 6201.4 and 6211 of the Civil Practice Law and Rules[, ]... [to] levy upon any retirement benefits to be paid to, or for the benefit of, the defendant, John F. Galtieri, ... by the New York City Police Pension Fund... up to the amount of $10, 000, 000 and any costs and sheriffs fees."[8] (Weinblatt Deel., Ex. E (Kane v. Galtieri, Index No. 100185/08, slip op. at 1-2 (N.Y. Sup.Ct. May 27, 2009) ("N.Y. Ex Parte Attachment Order") (Dkt. No. 33-5)))

Plaintiff sought to vacate the attachment order, and both the Pension Fund and Marilyn Galtieri were granted leave to intervene in the action. ( Id., Kane v. Galtieri, No. 100185/08, slip op. at 10 (N.Y. Sup.Ct. Mar. 8, 2010) ("Decision Confirming N.Y. Attachment Order") (Dkt. No. 33-5)) In seeking to vacate the attachment order, Plaintiff argued that "his pension is legally and statutorily protected from execution, garnishment, attachment or any other process whatsoever" under the New York City Administrative Code. (Id. at 8) Justice Fusco disagreed, however, noting that "[i]t is well established" under New York law "that [v]ested rights in a non-contributory pension plan are marital property to the extent that they were acquired between the date of the ...


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