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Wolfson v. Ernst

United States District Court, S.D. New York

July 7, 2015

STANLEY WOLFSON, Plaintiff,
v.
TODD A. ERNST and ERNST ARCHITECT, PLLC, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

JOHN G. KOELTL, District Judge.

The plaintiff Stanley Wolfson brought this action against defendants Todd Ernst and Ernst Architect, PLLC in the New York State Supreme Court, New York County. Wolfson alleged that the defendants aided and abetted a fraud on this Court in a case in which Wolfson was the defendant. See Sorenson v. Wolfson, No. 10cv4596, ___ F.Supp. 3d ___, 2015 WL 1454498 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 31, 2015).

The defendants removed the case to this Court and then filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court then ordered supplemental briefing on whether this Court has subject matter jurisdiction over the case. For the reasons explained below, this case is remanded to the New York State Supreme Court, New York County.

I.

Todd Ernst is an architect and principal of Ernst Architect PLLC. Compl. ¶ 22. Bridge Capital Corporation ("Bridge Capital"), of which Wolfson is the sole shareholder, hired Ernst to design architectural plans for condominium units in a building owned by Bridge Capital (the "Building"). Compl. ¶¶ 1, 22. Sigurd Sorenson agreed to purchase three units in the Building from Bridge Capital. In 2004, Sorenson also hired Ernst to create plans for the units that he wished to purchase. Compl. ¶¶ 34, 39

The deal between Sorenson and Bridge Capital fell through, igniting a wave of litigation among Sorenson, Wolfson, Bridge Capital, and others. This Court heard one of those cases. In that action, Sorenson alleged, in part, that Wolfson infringed Sorenson's copyright in the architectural plans for Unit 7A of the Building-one of the units that Sorenson had intended to purchase. After a bench trial, this Court dismissed the copyright claim with prejudice. Sorenson, 2015 WL 1454498, at *11-18. The Court concluded that Ernst, not Sorenson, was the author of the Unit 7A plans. Id. at *11-13.

Wolfson asserts two claims here, both of which turn on affidavits signed by Ernst. In those affidavits, Ernst swore that neither he nor any of his employees had an ownership interest in the Unit 7A plans in which Sorenson claimed a copyright. He also claimed to be a mere scrivener for Sorenson. Compl. ¶¶ 2, 9-10. The first cause of action alleges that Ernst aided and abetted Sorenson's filing of a fraudulent copyright action against Wolfson and other defendants. Compl. ¶¶ 123-24, 128. The second cause of action again alleges that Ernst aided and abetted Sorenson's "fraud on the court" by submitting the false affidavits. Compl. ¶¶ 136, 145, 148. At bottom, the plaintiff contends that the Court would have dismissed Sorenson's copyright claim at the summary judgement stage, but for Ernst's affidavits. Compl. ¶¶ 142-43. For both claims, Wolfson seeks only money damages. Compl. ¶¶ 134, 149.

Neither cause of action alleges that Ernst violated any federal law.

II.

The Court has an independent obligation to determine if it has subject matter jurisdiction. See Arbaugh v. Y & H Corp., 546 U.S. 500, 506 (2006). The general removal statute, 28 U.S.C. § 1441(a), grants district courts jurisdiction over state court actions that originally could have been brought in federal court. The Court must construe § 1441(a) narrowly, resolving any doubts against removability. Lupo v. Human Affairs Int'l, Inc., 28 F.3d 269, 274 (2d Cir. 1994).

The parties agree that the Court does not have diversity jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a) because the parties are citizens of New York. Compl. ¶¶ 21-22.

Both parties, however, assert that this court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1338. Section 1331 provides federal district courts with jurisdiction over "civil actions arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." And § 1338(a) provides federal courts with exclusive jurisdiction over "any claim for relief arising under any Act of Congress relating to patents, plant variety protection, or copyrights."

A.

Under the canonical well-pleaded complaint rule, "a suit arises under' federal law for 28 U.S.C. § 1331 purposes only when the plaintiff's statement of his own cause of action shows that it is based upon federal law.'" Vaden v. Discover Bank, 556 U.S. 49, 60 (2009) (alteration omitted) (quoting Louisville & Nashville R.R. Co. v. Mottley, 211 U.S. 149, 152 (1908)). The same is true for § 1338(a): jurisdiction extends to cases in which the complaint alleges a cause of action created by an "Act of Congress relating to patents, plant variety protection, copyrights and trademarks, " § 1338, or in which the "plaintiff's right to relief necessarily depends on resolution of a substantial question of federal law in that federal law is a necessary element of one of the well-pleaded ...


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