United States District Court, S.D. New York
January 12, 2015
Mycola Panchisak, Plaintiff,
the State of New York, Defendant
Mycola Panchishak, Plaintiff, Pro se, New City, NY.
For The State of New York, Defendant: Michael Adam Berg, Office of the Attorney General, New York State, New York, NY.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
ALISON J. NATHAN, United States District Judge.
Before the Court is Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), and failure to state a claim, Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth herein, the motion is GRANTED.
Plaintiff Mycola Panchisak is an active user of the New City, New York Public Library. He alleges that for several years he was systematically and publicly harassed by employees of the New City Library who wrongly accused him in front of other customers of being overdue on a number of DVDs that he had checked out from the Library. Plaintiff apparently complained to the administration of the Library and suggested that they install what he refers to as cheap and effective digital cameras and scanners in the drop boxes that he believes would rectify the allegedly false accusations of delinquency.
On December 17, 2012, Plaintiff filed suit in small claims court against the " Administration of New City Library." In that action, Plaintiff sought an order requiring the New City Library to stop harassing Plaintiff, install a digital video camera and scanner to record when DVDs are returned to the Library's drop box, and reimburse him for $889.65, which apparently represented the portion of Plaintiff's property taxes that made their way to the Library for the years 2010, 2011, and 2012. Plaintiffs action was dismissed by the Honorable Howard Gerber of the Town of Clarkstown Justice Court by a Notice of Small Claims Judgment dated June 11, 2013. See Berg Deck Ex. A.
Rather than appeal that judgment, Plaintiff filed a new action in New York State Supreme Court, Rockland County on July 15, 2013. The underlying dispute remained the same as the Small Claims Court action, but this time Plaintiff named the New City Library, the Library's director, the Town of Clarkstown, and the Town's supervisor as defendants. He also increased the amount of reimbursement sought to $32, 890.29, which apparently represented the amount of town and school taxes that Plaintiff paid in 2010, 2011, and 2012, and also sought $10, 000, 000 in compensation and punitive damages. On February 19, 2014, the Honorable Margaret Garvey, Justice of the Supreme Court, granted a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs claims on the basis of res judicata against the New City Library and its director. See id. She also granted a motion for summary judgment brought by the remaining Defendants for failure to state a claim, because the Town of Clarkstown and its supervisor have no responsibility for the New City Library, and for failure to comply with the notice-of-claim requirements under New York's General Municipal Law § 50-i. See id.
Rather than appeal that judgment, Plaintiff filed the present action in federal court, this time against the State of New York only. In his Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that he was repeatedly denied his constitutional right to a full and fair opportunity to be heard because he was denied the opportunity to try his civil case to a jury. On April 11, 2014, Defendant filed the present motion to dismiss, Dkt. No. 6, and the Declaration of Michael A. Berg containing true and correct copies of Plaintiff's earlier state court filings and judgments, Dkt. No. 7. On the same day, Defendant also provided notice to Plaintiff pursuant to Local Rule 12.1 regarding the possibility of conversion of its motion to dismiss to a motion for summary judgment. Dkt. No. 9. Plaintiff filed an opposition to the Defendant's motion on May 12, 2014 and attached additional documents outside the pleadings in support of his claims. Dkt. No. 14. The motion was fully briefed following the filing of Defendant's reply on May 21, 2014. Dkt. No. 15.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
" Dismissal under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) is appropriate when a defendant raises claim preclusion . . . as an affirmative defense and it is clear from the face of the complaint, and matters of which the court may take judicial notice, that the plaintiffs claims are barred as a matter of law." Conopco, Inc. v. Roll Int'l, 231 F.3d 82, 86 (2d Cir. 2000) (citing Day v. Moscow, 955 F.2d 807, 811 (2d Cir. 1992)). " In determining whether plaintiffs' claims [are] barred by res judicata, the district court [may] properly consider documents expressly referenced in the amended complaint and materials in the public record that are subject to judicial notice." Kiryas Joel Alliance v. Vill. of Kiryas Joel, 495 F.App'x 183, 187 n.2 (2d Cir. 2012) (citing Blue Tree Hotels Inv. (Can.), Ltd. v. Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide, Inc., 369 F.3d 212, 217 (2d Cir. 2004) (noting that courts " may also look to public records including complaints filed in state court, in deciding a motion to dismiss")).
But Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12 and 56 together also suggest that if a district court considers matters outside the pleadings, converting a motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment is proper so long as the opposing party is given proper notice of the conversion. McCoy v. Goord, 255 F.Supp.2d 233, 251 (S.D.N.Y. 2003) (Chin, J.) (citing Villante v. Dep't of Corr. of City of New York, 786 F.2d 516, 521 (2d Cir. 1986)); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(d). Here, conversion of Defendant's motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment is proper because Defendant submitted and referenced documents outside of the pleadings. Moreover, pursuant to Local Rule 12.1, Defendant provided Plaintiff with notice, Dkt. No. 9, that the Court might treat Defendants' motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) as a motion for summary judgment. See, e.g., Hernandez v. Coffey, 582 F.3d 303, 308 n.2 (2d Cir. 2009) (citing cases finding that a Local Rule 12.1 Notice provides sufficient notice to pro se parties).
Summary judgment shall be granted if there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A genuine dispute as to any material fact exists " if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S.Ct. 2505, 91 L.Ed.2d 202 (1986). On a motion for summary judgment, a court views all evidence in the light most favorable to the non-movant, Overton v. N.Y. State Div. of Military & Naval Affairs, 373 F.3d 83, 89 (2d Cir. 2004), and " resolve[s] all ambiguities and draw[s] all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought, " Sec. Ins. Co. of Hartford v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 391 F.3d 77, 83 (2d Cir. 2004).
Plaintiff's Complaint does not speak in terms of claims or causes of action, so it is not entirely clear what relief he seeks from the State of New York and on what grounds. His primary contention appears to be that he believes he was wrongly denied his right to a civil jury trial, but he also suggests that he may have other constitutional claims against the State based on his lack of an opportunity to be heard in his various state causes of action.
A. Plaintiff Fails to State a Claim on Which Relief Can Be Granted
Beginning with Plaintiff's claim that he was denied the right to a jury trial for his causes of action in state court, the Supreme Court has expressly held that the Seventh Amendment right to a trial by jury in civil cases does not apply to civil trials in state courts. Osborn v. Haley, 549 U.S. 225, 252 n.17, 127 S.Ct. 881, 166 L.Ed.2d 819 (2007) (noting the " Seventh Amendment. . . is inapplicable to proceedings in state court" (citing Minneapolis & St. Louis R. Co. v. Bombolis, 241 U.S. 211, 217, 36 S.Ct. 595, 60 L.Ed. 961 (1916)); see also GTFM, LLC v. TKN Sales, Inc., 257 F.3d 235, 240 (2d Cir. 1996) (" The Seventh Amendment has not, however, been applied to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment and hence does not require that jury trials be held in proceedings in State tribunals." (citing Gasperini v. Ctr. for Humanities, Inc., 518 U.S. 415, 418, 116 S.Ct. 2211, 135 L.Ed.2d 659 (1996); Curtis v. Loether, 415 U.S. 189, 192 n.6, 94 S.Ct. 1005, 39 L.Ed.2d 260 (1974); Walker v. Sauvinet, 92 U.S. 90, 92, 23 L.Ed. 678 (1875)). Therefore, Plaintiff's claim that he was denied a right to a jury trial in his civil case fails for the simple reason that there is no such constitutional right. In any event, even if there were such a right, dismissal of a complaint based on a meritorious motion to dismiss would not violate that right.
B. Plaintiff's Claims Are Barred by the Eleventh Amendment, the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine, and Res Judicata
To the extent Plaintiff asserts any other claim against the State of New York based on Justice Garvey's February 19, 2014 order dismissing his claims, such claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, and res judicata .
Although not expressly stated in Plaintiff's Complaint, his claim for violations of his constitutional rights based on Justice Garvey's disposition of his case can be properly construed as a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. But as a general matter, under the Eleventh Amendment, " states enjoy sovereign immunity from suit in federal court, even if the claim arises under federal law." KM Enters, v. McDonald, 518 F.App'x 12, 13 (2d Cir. 2013) (citing U.S. Const, amend. XI; Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706, 727-28, 119 S.Ct. 2240, 144 L.Ed.2d 636 (1999)). The Eleventh Amendment may not be a bar to certain suits where the states have waived their immunity, but New York has not waived sovereign immunity for § 1983 claims. Trotman v. Palisades Interstate Park Comm'n, 557 F.2d 35, 40 (2d Cir. 1977) (stating that New York has waived sovereign immunity only to the extent that suit is brought pursuant to Section 8 of the New York Claims Act in the Court of Claims). Similarly, the Eleventh Amendment may not be a bar to certain suits where Congress has expressly abrogated the states' immunity, but § 1983 is not an express abrogation of sovereign immunity. See, e.g., Will v. Mich. Dep't of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-71, 109 S.Ct. 2304, 105 L.Ed.2d 45 (1989) (holding that in passing Section 1983 Congress did not express an intent to abrogate the states' sovereign immunity). Therefore, because New York is entitled to sovereign immunity under the Eleventh Amendment, and because Plaintiffs claim does not fall within any exceptions to that rule, this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear Plaintiff's claims brought pursuant to § 1983 against New York State.
In addition, if Plaintiff found fault with the resolution of his small claims action or state court action, the proper course was to appeal those dispositions, not seek review of those rulings in federal court. To the extent Plaintiff does seek review of those state-court rulings in federal court, such claims are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, which bars federal court review of " 'cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments.'" Hoblock v. Albany Cnty. Bd. of Elections, 422 F.3d 77, 85 (2d Cir. 2005) (quoting Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284, 125 S.Ct. 1517, 161 L.Ed.2d 454 (2005)).
Finally, because Plaintiff's Complaint is premised on, if not entirely duplicative of, his Small Claims Court action, his action is independently barred by the doctrine of res judicata, as Justice Garvey similarly concluded in his proceeding before the New York State Supreme Court.
For the reasons stated herein, Defendant's motion to dismiss is converted to a motion for summary judgment and is GRANTED. Plaintiff's Complaint is therefore dismissed with prejudice. This Memorandum and Order resolves Dkt. No. 6, and the Clerk of Court is directed to close the case. The Court further finds pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(a)(3) that any appeal from this Order would not be taken in good faith.