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Stephens v. Sullivan & Cromwell LLP

United States District Court, S.D. New York

April 9, 2015

SULLIVAN & CROMWELL LLP, et al., Defendants.


LORNA G. SCHOFIELD, District Judge.

Plaintiff, who is an attorney appearing pro se, brings this action asserting forty-three purported causes of action, including claims of employment discrimination. Plaintiff paid the requisite filing fees to file this action. Plaintiff's claims against (i) the New York State Supreme Court, (ii) the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, (iii) Justice Louis York, [1] (iv) Norman Goodman, (v) Helen Muller, and (vi) Susanna Rojas are dismissed sua sponte with prejudice. Plaintiff is directed to show cause why the remainder of her claims should not be dismissed with prejudice under the doctrines of qualified immunity and claim preclusion and under the absolute litigation privilege.

I. Background

Plaintiff, a former contract attorney for Defendant Sullivan & Cromwell LLP ("S&C") from June 2004 to July 2010, brings this action alleging, among other things, discrimination on the basis of "Religion, Sex, and Race and for Retaliation, Breach of Contract, Fraud, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress, and Defamation of Character."

In 2013, Plaintiff commenced a separate action in New York State Supreme Court, New York County, against Defendants S&C, Legal Options Inc. ("Legal Options"), Caplan & Ross LLP ("C&R"), the New York City Commission on Human Rights ("NYCCHR"), 29 named individual Defendants, and 50 Doe Defendants, alleging various forms of employment discrimination. Plaintiff's state-court complaint, which was 413 pages long, consisting of 1, 899 paragraphs alleging discrimination, was dismissed by judgment dated April 11, 2014, and entered on April 18, 2014. That judgment noted explicitly that the complaint was "dismissed on the merits." Plaintiff filed an appeal, her appeal was dismissed, and her time to file any further appeal has expired.

In August 2014, Plaintiff commenced this action in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division. In December 2014, Defendants S&C, Paul Hastings LLP ("Paul Hastings"), Patrick Shea, Legal Options, C&R, Brian Caplan, and Jonathan Ross, filed motions to dismiss this action because, inter alia, the Complaint was barred by res judicata. The Northern District of Georgia then transferred the case to this Court.

Plaintiff's Complaint in this action is 612 pages long and includes nearly 2, 300 allegations and over 150 exhibits. Except for minor word changes, every allegation in Plaintiff's state-court complaint is contained in her Complaint in this action. In addition to those allegations, Plaintiff now complains about the proceedings in state court, including the actions of the judge, clerks of court, chambers staff, court reporters, and the attorneys for the defendants in those proceedings.

II. Standard of Review

A court has the authority to dismiss a frivolous complaint sua sponte, even when the plaintiff has paid the filing fee. Fitzgerald v. First E. Seventh St. Tenants Corp., 221 F.3d 362, 363-64 (2d Cir. 2000) (per curiam). A claim is "frivolous when either: (1) the factual contentions are clearly baseless, such as when allegations are the product of delusion or fantasy; or (2) the claim is based on an indisputably meritless legal theory." Livingston v. Adirondack Beverage Co., 141 F.3d 434, 437 (2d Cir. 1998) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The Court is ordinarily obliged to construe pro se pleadings liberally, Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009), but this special solicitude is not extended to an attorney representing herself, Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 102 (2d Cir. 2010); Holtz v. Rockefeller & Co., 258 F.3d 62, 82 n.4 (2d Cir. 2001).

III. Discussion

A. Eleventh Amendment

Plaintiff's claims against the New York State Supreme Court and the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, are barred by the Eleventh Amendment. "[A]s a general rule, state governments may not be sued in federal court unless they have waived their Eleventh Amendment immunity, or unless Congress has abrogated the states' Eleventh Amendment immunity...." Gollomp v. Spitzer, 568 F.3d 355, 366 (2d Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks and brackets omitted). "The immunity recognized by the Eleventh Amendment extends beyond the states themselves to state agents and state instrumentalities that are, effectively, arms of a state." Id. (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). The New York State Unified Court System "is unquestionably an arm of the state, ' and is entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity." Id. at 368 (internal citation omitted). New York has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity to suit in federal court, and Congress did not abrogate the states' immunity in enacting 42 U.S.C. § 1983 or any other statute that Plaintiff cites in her Complaint. See Trotman v. Palisades Interstate Park Comm'n, 557 F.2d 35, 40 (2d Cir. 1977). Plaintiff's claims against these Defendants are therefore barred by the Eleventh Amendment and are dismissed.

B. Judicial Immunity

Plaintiff's claims against Justice York are barred by judicial immunity. Judges are absolutely immune from suit for damages for judicial acts performed in their judicial capacities. Mireles v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11 (1991) (per curiam) ("[J]udicial immunity is an immunity from suit, not just from the ultimate assessment of damages."); see also Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 355-56 (1978) ("[J]udges... are not liable... for their judicial acts, even when such acts are in excess of their jurisdiction, and are alleged to have been done maliciously or corruptly." (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 553-55 (1967) (holding that judicial immunity applies under § 1983). "Without insulation from liability, judges would be subject to harassment and intimidation and would thus lose that independence without which no judiciary can either be respectable or useful." Young v. Selsky, 41 F.3d 47, 51 (2d Cir. 1994) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Because "the scope of the judge's jurisdiction must be construed broadly where the issue is the immunity of the judge, " Stump, 435 U.S. at ...

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