United States District Court, S.D. New York
JOAN C. LIPIN, Plaintiff,
DAVID E. HUNT, et al., Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
RICHARD J. SULLIVAN, District Judge.
Plaintiff Joan C. Lipin, proceeding pro se, has a long and well-documented history of vexatious litigation relating to claims originating a decade ago in Maine probate court. Specifically, Plaintiff's disagreement with the probate of her father's will has triggered a seemingly never-ending stream of duplicative, unmeritorious, and barely comprehensible filings in various venues against an ever-growing ensemble of parties involved in the probate and subsequent litigation, including judges, attorneys, court clerks, and others.
As the latest installment in this saga, Plaintiff brings this action - at least the tenth case she has initiated based on these same claims - against ten Defendants, including the Clerk of Court for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, Catherine O'Hagan Wolfe. In an Order dated September 18, 2014, the Court granted Defendant Wolfe's motion to dismiss the Complaint and issued a filing sanction against Plaintiff (Doc. No. 107.) The Second Circuit - which, like several other courts, has an active filing sanction of its own against Plaintiff pertaining to these same claims - affirmed this Court's Order on November 26, 2014. (Doc. No. 120.)
Now before the Court are motions from all but one of the remaining Defendants - Defendant David E. Hunt has not appeared in this action - to dismiss the Complaint and for sanctions. (Doc. Nos. 32, 37, 42, 67, 72, & 84.) For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants Defendants' motions to dismiss with prejudice and denies the motions for sanctions. The Court also dismisses sua sponte Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Hunt with prejudice.
Plaintiff's notorious record of vexatious litigation against anyone even tangentially connected to the administration of her late father's estate has been recounted many times before and does not need to be chronicled at length here. As Judge Holwell noted back in 2008, "[f]or several years, [Plaintiff] has unsuccessfully asserted title to certain assets claimed by [her father's] estate, including an antique coin collection stored in Denmark and real property located at... Hio Ridge Shores South, Bridgton, Maine (the Moose Pond Property')." Lipin v. Sawyer, 2009 WL 2432633, at *1. Specifically, Judge Holwell continued, Plaintiff "has asserted ownership to the coin collection and Moose Pond Property in at least eight actions. No court has ever found that [P]laintiff has any rights to the coin collection or the Moose Pond Property." Id. Plaintiff, who claims to be a law school graduate (see Compl. ¶ 157), has unsuccessfully and repeatedly litigated these claims in state, federal, and Swedish courts. Lipin v. Sawyer, 2009 WL 2432633, at *1. Moreover, even a brief review of Plaintiffs filings reveals that they are not vehicles for recovery, but rather are designed to harass defendants and the courts. Furthermore, Plaintiffs alarming record of sanctionable, litigious conduct is not limited to matters concerning her father's estate.
On January 30, 2014, Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a summons and complaint ("Complaint") against ten Defendants in New York State Supreme Court, New York County, thereby circumventing filing injunctions issued by both the Southern District of New York and the Second Circuit, which then applied only to future litigation filed in federal courts. See In re Joan C. Lipin, Nos. 11-147-cv, 11-213-cv, 11-1384-cv, 11-1492-cv (2d Cir. May 7, 2012) ("[T]he Clerk of the Court is hereby directed to refuse to accept any further submission from [Plaintiff] in the matters related to her deceased father's estate or estate property, or actions taken in connection with legal proceedings involving that estate or estate property, unless she first obtains leave of the Court to make such a filing."); Lipin v. Hunt, 573 F.Supp.2d at 845-46 (Holwell, J.) ("[Plaintiff] is enjoined from further litigation of any claims... in connection with her father's estate or estate property... without first obtaining leave of this Court....").
The ten Defendants in the case at bar are: (1) Danske Bank - a bank organized under the laws of Denmark where a safe deposit box purportedly containing Plaintiff's father's antique coin collection was held; (2) Francis J. Earley - Danske Bank's counsel; (3) Ulf Bergquist - a Swedish attorney appointed by a Swedish Probate Court as executor of Plaintiff's father's estate in Sweden; (4) Bergquist Advokatbyrd AB - Bergquist's law firm; (5) Evelyn F. Ellis - Plaintiff's sister-in-law and the Special Administrator of Plaintiff's father's estate appointed by the Cumberland County Probate Court in Maine; (6) David E. Hunt - Ellis's counsel; (7) David A. Berger - counsel for some of Plaintiff's adversaries in prior litigation; (8) Allegaert Berger & Vogel LLP - Berger's law firm; (9) Mark K. Anesh - counsel for the judge who presided over the probate of Plaintiff's father's will and estate in subsequent litigation; and (10) Catherine O'Hagan Wolfe - Clerk of Court for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
On February 20, 2014, Defendant Wolfe removed the action to this Court (Doc. No. 2), and on February 24, 2014, Plaintiff filed a motion to remand this case to state court and for sanctions (Doc. No. 3). In an Order dated March 10, 2014, the Court denied Plaintiff's motions. (Doc. No. 28.) On March 27, 2014, all but one of the Defendants moved to dismiss this action. (Doc. Nos. 32-34 (Danske Bank and Earley), 35 & 36 (Wolfe), 37, 40, & 41 (Anesh), 42, 47, & 48 (Bergquist Advokatbyrd AB, Bergquist, Ellis, Berger, and Allegaert Berger & Vogel LLP).) Defendant Hunt has not entered an appearance or filed a motion to dismiss. On April 17, 2014, purportedly in response to these motions, Plaintiff filed a 196-page submission entitled "Declaration of the Plaintiff in Opposition to the... invalid, vexatious, and illegal motions filed by the Defendants in violation of Section 487 of the New York Judiciary Law, and in further support of Plaintiffs pending motions... for summary remand of the litigation to the New York Supreme Court, New York County, " and on May 13, 2014, Plaintiff also filed a 30-page submission entitled "Declaration of the Plaintiff in further support of her consolidated Opposition filed on 4/7/2014, to the five vexatious motions filed by the Defendants herein, with malicious intent to deceive, to obstruct justice, and to commit a fraud upon the court concerning the invalid removal of the action from the New York Supreme Court, and in support of the Plaintiff's pending motions for the summary remand of the litigation to the New York Supreme Court, New York County" (Doc. Nos. 58 & 80 (emphasis and capitalization removed)). Plaintiff has docketed several other lengthy submissions which she also claims are in opposition to Defendants' motions to dismiss. (Doc. Nos. 59, 89-91.) All of the Defendants except for Wolfe and Hunt submitted reply briefs. (Doc. Nos. 65, 66, & 71.)
In addition to their motions to dismiss, all but one of the Defendants moved for sanctions against Plaintiff pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11. (Doc. Nos. 67 & 68 (Danske Bank and Earley), 38, 39, 44-46 (Wolfe), 84-86 (Anesh), 72-74 (Bergquist Advokatbyth AB, Bergquist, Ellis, Berger, and Allegaert Berger & Vogel LLP).) On May 23 and 27, 2014, Plaintiff filed motions in opposition to Defendants' sanctions briefs. (Doc. Nos. 88-91.) All of the Defendants except for Wolfe and Hunt submitted reply briefs. (Doc. Nos. 92, 93, & 101.) Even though the two briefing schedules issued by the Court did not provide for sur-reply filings (Doc. Nos. 56 & 82), Plaintiff nonetheless submitted five sur-reply briefs (Doc. Nos. 95, 96, 98, 99, & 102).
In addition to the above-referenced filings, it is worth noting that over the course of this action, Plaintiff has docketed dozens of frivolous submissions which fill thousands of pages. By way of example, such filings include: (1) an 80-page submission entitled "Plaintiff's (a) objection to the ultra vires order... by the district court judge notwithstanding Plaintiff's motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 144, ... and (b) reply to the unethical, threatening letter, signed by Defendant Attorney Anesh, with malice, and in view of his own gain, and without standing, that was received after business hours..." (Doc. No. 69 (capitalization removed)); (2) a 92-page submission entitled "Reply Declaration to the ex parte letters sent @ 2:57 p.m. on 4/24/2014, as a pattern and practice of attorney Chaudhury who colluded to steer the litigation to Hon. Richard J. Sullivan, who is subject to disqualification, as mandated in Plaintiff's motion pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 144" (Doc. No. 70 (emphasis and capitalization removed)); (3) a 29-page submission entitled "Declaration of Plaintiff to object to continuing ex parte communications by the Defendant David A. Berger who colluded to steer unlawfully removed litigation to the Hon. Richard J. Sullivan who is mandated to proceed no further in this litigation, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 144, as a result of Plaintiffs pending motions... and request for summary remand to the New York Supreme Court" (Doc. No. 79 (capitalization removed)); and (4) a 147-page submission entitled "Declaration of Plaintiff in support of her motion to disqualify Judge Sullivan, restore the case to the calendar, vacate his orders, and to remand the litigation to the New York Supreme Court" (Doc. No. 118 (capitalization removed).).
In an Order dated September 18, 2014, the Court dismissed the Complaint with respect to Wolfe, granted Wolfe's motion to issue a filing sanction against Plaintiff, but declined to hold Plaintiff in civil contempt. (Doc. No. 107.) In that same Order, the Court denied "as facially meritless and frivolous, " "any of Plaintiffs [remaining] filings... docketed as motions, such as Plaintiffs motion to Chief Judge Preska [and] the Assignment Committee' (Doc. No. 29 (emphasis removed))...." (Id. at 3.) The Second Circuit - which, like several additional courts, has an active filing sanction of its own against Plaintiff pertaining to claims concerning her deceased father's estate - affirmed the September 18, 2014 Order on November 26, 2014. (Doc. No. 120.)
A. Motions to Dismiss
1. Legal Standard
To survive a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a complaint must "provide the grounds upon which [the] claim rests." ATSI Connc'ns, Inc. v. Shaar Fund, Ltd., 493 F.3d 87, 98 (2d Cir. 2007); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2) ("A pleading that states a claim for relief must contain... a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief...."). To meet this standard, plaintiffs must allege "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. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). In reviewing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, a court must accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the plaintiff. ATSI Commc'ns, 493 F.3d at 98. However, that tenet "is inapplicable to legal conclusions." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678. Moreover, a court need not credit "legal conclusions, deductions or opinions couched as factual allegations." In re NYSE Specialists Sec. Litig., 503 F.3d 89, 95 (2d Cir. 2007) (citation and internal ...