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Amato v. McGinty

United States District Court, N.D. New York

June 2, 2017

FRANCES AMATO; JOHN DOE, progeny minor child; ADRIENNE AUCHMOODY; TONI JEAN KULPINSKI; VLADIMIR KULPINSKI; MICHAELA KULPINSKI; MICHELLE ARZOLA; JANE DOE, minor child; and JOHN DOE, minor child of Michelle Arzola, Plaintiffs,
v.
JUDGE ANTHONY MCGINTY, individually and as Ulster County Family Court Judge; ATTORNEY ANDREW GILDAY, individually and as a public defender of New York; AMY INGRAM, state attorney for the child; PATRICK V. BEESMER, individually; and PAMELA AUGUSTINE, individually, Defendants.

          FRANCES AMATO Plaintiff, pro se

          ADRIENNE AUCHMOODY; TONI JEAN KULPINSKI; VLADIMIR KULPINSKI; MICHAELA KULPINSKI; MICHELLE ARZOLA; Plaintiffs, pro se

          MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

          Mae A. D'Agostino, U.S. District Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Pro se Plaintiff Frances Amato ("Plaintiff Amato") and various members of her family, also proceeding pro se, commenced the instant action on May 26, 2017, alleging various constitutional violations, a state law tort claim, and also seeking injunctive relief. See generally Dkt. No. 1. Currently before the Court is Plaintiffs' request for a temporary restraining order ("TRO"). See Dkt. No. 8.

         II. BACKGROUND

         This action arises out of Plaintiff Amato's involvement in custody proceedings before the Ulster County Family Court regarding Plaintiff Amato's child. See Dkt. No. 1 at 3. The other Plaintiffs in this action appear to all be related to Plaintiff Amato and her child. See Id. at 2-3. Plaintiffs have sued five Defendants, including Family Court Judge Anthony McGinty - the judge presiding over the custody proceedings; Andrew Gilday - the public defender assigned to the child's father in the custody proceedings; Amy Ingram - the appointed attorney for the child during the proceedings; Patrick Beesmer - the child's father; and Pamela Augustine - Mr. Beesmer's "paramour" as Plaintiff Amato describes her. See Id. at 3-4. The crux of Plaintiff Amato's claims is that Defendants violated her constitutional rights when Mr. Beesmer was awarded custody of their child. The complaint is full of general and conclusory allegations of wrongdoing by Defendants. Of course, the Court has construed Plaintiffs' claims liberally given their pro se status.

         Although the allegations in Plaintiffs' complaint are somewhat difficult to decipher, it appears that Plaintiff Amato alleges that she was retaliated against during the custody proceedings as a result of her outspoken criticism of Judge McGinty prior to those proceedings. See Id. at 7. As a result, during the custody proceedings, Plaintiff Amato claims that Judge McGinty "denied [her] rights to proper serving process, denied any evidence into the court for purpose of record, [and] [d]enied the serious risk and harm to [her] child." Id. Plaintiff Amata also complains that Judge McGinty engaged in "[h]ighly abusive treatment" and "[c]aused [e]xtreme pain and suffering and trauma to all plaintiffs by violating our constitutional rights." Id. at 6.

         Plaintiffs further allege that Ms. Ingram, the child's attorney, violated Plaintiffs' constitutional rights when she "never returned calls to [Plaintiff Amato] and ignored all abuse to family and child." Id. at 11. Plaintiffs alleges that Mr. Beesmer and Ms. Augustine conspired with the other Defendants to deprive Plaintiffs of their constitutional rights. See Id. at 4. Plaintiffs do not appear to allege anything specific against Mr. Gilday, but Plaintiffs generally allege that Mr. Gilday effectively participated in the "kidnaping and endangerment of a minor" and that he subjected Plaintiffs to "cruel and unusual punishment, " along with the other Defendants. Id. at 8, 11. Plaintiffs purport to bring claims for First and Fourteenth Amendment violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"), and also claim that Defendants are liable for "intentional and negligent emotional distress." Id. at 4, 24.

         III. DISCUSSION

         "Temporary restraining orders . . . and preliminary injunctions are extraordinary and drastic remedies." Lawrence v. Zee, No. 16-CV-1515, 2016 WL 1690669, *1 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 26, 2016) (citation omitted). The standards for granting either a TRO or a preliminary injunction require the moving party to demonstrate "(1) irreparable harm in the absence of the injunction and (2) either (a) a likelihood of success on the merits or (b) sufficiently serious questions going to the merits to make them a fair ground for litigation and a balance of hardships tipping decidedly in the movant's favor." Id. (quoting County of Nassau, N.Y. v. Leavitt, 524 F.3d 408, 414 (2d Cir. 2008)). Moreover, "[t]he movant must carry the burden of persuasion by a clear showing[.]" Id.

         In the present matter, Plaintiffs fall well short of establishing the standards for a TRO. At the outset, it appears that the custody proceedings have concluded.[1] If the proceedings have concluded, Plaintiff's claim for a TRO restoring custody of her child is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. "Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a district court lacks 'subject matter jurisdiction over claims that effectively challenge state court judgments.'" Arena v. Dep't of Soc. Servs. of Nassau Cty., 216 F.Supp.2d 146, 151 (E.D.N.Y. 2002) (quoting Kropelnicki v. Siegel, 290 F.3d 118, 128 (2d Cir.2002)). "The Second Circuit has recently stated that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars a district court from reviewing a family court's determinations regarding custody, neglect and visitation where those issues have been decided after providing the plaintiff a full and fair opportunity to litigate those issues." Id. at 152 (citing Phifer v. City of New York, 289 F.3d 49, 57 (2d Cir.2002)). In this case, Plaintiffs merely seek review of the family court's determination regarding custody in the requested TRO. Although Plaintiffs make conclusory allegations that Judge McGinty acted with bias, Plaintiff Amato has completely failed to demonstrate that she was deprived of a full and fair opportunity to litigate the custody issues in family court. Every indication is that Plaintiff Amato is merely upset about the result of the custody proceedings. Accordingly, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents the Court from issuing the requested TRO, which would require the Court to review a state court judgment.[2]

         If, on the other hand, the proceedings are still ongoing, Younger abstention is appropriate and the Court will not grant the requested injunctive relief. See Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). "Younger requires federal courts to abstain from exercising jurisdiction over claims that implicate ongoing state proceedings." Torres v. Gaines, 130 F.Supp.3d 630, 635 (D. Conn. 2015). This doctrine "applies if the federal action involves ongoing: (1) 'state criminal prosecutions'; (2) 'civil proceedings that are akin to criminal prosecutions'; or (3) civil proceedings that 'implicate a State's interest in enforcing the orders and judgments of its courts.'" Id. at 636 (quoting Sprint Commc'ns, Inc. v. Jacobs, 134 S.Ct. 584, 588 (2013)). "If the federal action falls into one of these three categories, a Court may then consider the additional factors described in Middlesex Cnty. Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 102 S.Ct. 2515, 73 L.Ed.2d 116 (1982)." Id. Since the Supreme Court's decision in Sprint, several courts in this Circuit have held that Younger abstention applies in similar circumstances as this case. See id.; see also Graham v. N.Y. Ctr. for Interpersonal Dev., No. 15-CV-00459, 2015 WL 1120120, *2-3 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 12, 2015) (holding that the plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief were barred by Younger where the plaintiff sought to challenge ongoing family court proceedings regarding the loss of custody of her son). Moreover, like in Graham, the Middlesex factors[3] weigh in favor of invoking Younger abstention in this case.

         Even if the Court had the authority to grant the requested TRO, the Court would decline to do so since Plaintiffs have not established a likelihood of success on the merits or sufficiently serious questions going to the merits. Since most, if not all, of Plaintiffs' claims arise out of the underlying custody proceedings, it is likely that all of their claims are barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Moreover, generally speaking, ...


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