United States District Court, W.D. New York
DECISION AND ORDER
WILLIAM M. SKRETNY United States District Judge
Allen Herbert brings this suit seeking damages and injunctive
relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for alleged deprivations
of his constitutional rights. Presently before this Court are
Defendants' motions to dismiss, in which they argue that
this Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction under Rule
12(b)(1), and that Plaintiff has failed to state a claim
under Rule 12(b)(6). For the following reasons,
Defendants' motions are granted and the Complaint is
who is “of African and European descent” (Compl.
¶ 20), brings this civil suit against Defendants
Cattaraugus County, Michael Nenno (retired Cattaraugus County
Family Court Judge), Schavon Morgan (Support Magistrate for
Cattaraugus County), Steven Miller (Assistant County Attorney
for Cattaraugus County), and Donna Holiday (an employee of
Cattaraugus County, who is also Plaintiff's mother-in-law
and the foster parent to Plaintiff's minor son).
(Id. ¶¶ 5-10, 25.) Plaintiff alleges that
Defendants incarcerated him and denied him access to his son
due to racial animus.
Plaintiff alleges that, although he was authorized visitation
with his son by an order from the Cattaraugus County Family
Court, Defendants have blocked visitation through his
son's foster care placement. (Id. ¶¶
25-26.) Plaintiff further alleges that the denial of
visitation is a result of Defendants' racial animus, and
that his incarceration was ordered in retaliation for his
attempts to visit his son. (Id. ¶ 27.)
Plaintiff does not make specific allegations of racism
against any Defendant except Holiday,  but alleges
generally that there is a history of discrimination against
Americans of African descent, including separating African
Americans from their children. (Id. ¶¶
the timeline and procedural history are not clear from the
Complaint, it appears that Defendant Morgan initially
recommended Plaintiff be incarcerated for overdue child
support payments at a hearing on June 1, 2015. (Id.
¶ 29.) Judge Ploetz of the Cattaraugus County Family
Court (who is not named as a Defendant here) sentenced
Plaintiff to six months incarceration on August 7, 2015, but
stayed enforcement of the sentence for one year.
(Id. ¶ 29.) Plaintiff alleges that, on December
10, 2015, Defendants Holiday, Miller, and Cattaraugus
County moved to re-open his case, seeking to impose
incarceration and $50, 293.84 in arrears. (Id. ¶
33.) Around the same time, “the
parties”-presumably Plaintiff and Holiday-also
consented to a new visitation order. (Id. ¶
32.) Following a hearing on March 22, 2016, Judge Nenno
sentenced Plaintiff to six-months incarceration, but found
that the amount of unpaid child support was $320, not the
larger amount allegedly demanded by Defendants. (Id.
¶ 35.) Plaintiff alleges that, although Judge Nenno
signed the visitation order agreed by the parties in December
2015, that order was frustrated due to his incarceration.
(Id. ¶¶ 35.) Plaintiff further alleges
that Support Magistrate Morgan denied the petition to assess
$50, 293.84 in arrears and dismissed the petition under which
he was incarcerated at the end of March 2016. (Id.
completed his sentence on July 22, 2016, and contacted
Holiday to visit his son per the controlling Family Court
visitation order. (Id. ¶ 40.) Plaintiff alleges
that Defendants “determined to recommence proceedings
to incarcerate” him after he attempted to contact his
son and, on September 2, 2016, petitioned for Plaintiff's
reincarceration for failure to pay child support during the
period of his confinement. (Id. ¶¶ 41-42.)
At a hearing on February 22, 2017, Defendant Miller, on
behalf of defendants Cattaraugus County and Holiday,
allegedly stated that Plaintiff should be incarcerated for
failure to pay child support. (Id. ¶ 43.)
Plaintiff alleges that “Defendants were and are paid
wages and employment benefits . . . from United States Grants
to New York State to fund public assistance to those unable
to support their minor children.” (Id. ¶
44.) Plaintiff contends that Defendants have refused to
assist him and denied him his constitutional rights, despite
their obligation to assist non-custodial parents in visiting
their children under the terms of the grants. (Id.
Complaint names five causes of action: (1) that
Plaintiff's First and Fourteenth Amendment rights to
associate with his son were violated through Defendants'
actions including prosecution and incarceration; (2) that his
Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to liberty were
violated when he was incarcerated; (3) that his Fifth,
Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendment rights to liberty were
violated due to his race; (4) that his Eighth Amendment right
to be free from cruel and unusual punishment was violated
when he was denied liberty and access to his son; and (5),
that Defendants' current prosecutions have denied him his
Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights to be free from double
jeopardy. The Complaint seeks compensatory damages,
attorneys' fees, and equitable and declaratory relief
against Defendants Cattaraugus County, Miller, and Holiday.
claims are brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. “To
state a valid claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the
plaintiff must allege that the challenged conduct (1) was
attributable to a person acting under color of state law, and
(2) deprived the plaintiff of a right, privilege, or immunity
secured by the Constitution or laws of the United
States.” Whalen v. County of Fulton, 126 F.3d
400, 405 (2d. Cir. 1997) (citing Eagleston v. Guido,
41 F.3d 865, 875-76 (2d Cir. 1994)). Defendants seek
dismissal of the Complaint under Rules 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6),
as well as sanctions and legal fees.
Subject Matter Jurisdition
defeat a motion to dismiss brought under Rule 12(b)(1),
“[t]he plaintiff bears the burden of proving subject
matter jurisdiction by a preponderance of the
evidence.” Aurecchione v. Schoolman Transp. Sys.,
Inc., 426 F.3d 635, 638 (2d Cir. 2005). Where subject
matter jurisdiction is lacking, the suit must be dismissed.
Id. “Although courts are generally limited to
examining the sufficiency of the pleadings on a motion to
dismiss, on a challenge to a district court's subject
matter jurisdiction, the court may also resolve disputed
jurisdictional fact issues by reference to evidence outside
the pleadings.” Licci v. Lebanese Canadian Bank,
SAL, 834 F.3d 201, 211 (2d Cir. 2016).
contend that the Complaint must be dismissed under the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine,  which precludes district
court review of state court judgments due to a lack of
subject matter jurisdiction. Mitchell v. Fishbein,
377 F.3d 157, 165 (2d Cir. 2004); Hoblock v. Albany Cty.
Bd. of Elections, 422 F.3d 77, 83-84 (2d Cir. 2005)
(“Where a federal suit follows a state suit, the former
may be prohibited by the so-called Rooker-Feldman
doctrine in certain circumstances.”). Named for two
Supreme Court cases- Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co.,
263 U.S. 413, 44 S.Ct. 149, 68 L.Ed. 362 (1923), and
District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman,
460 U.S. 462, 103 S.Ct. 1303, 75 L.Ed.2d 206 (1983)-the
doctrine “established the clear principle that federal
district courts lack jurisdiction over suits that are, in
substance, appeals from state-court judgments.” See
Hoblock, 422 F.3d at 84. Because a federal statute, 28
U.S.C. § 1257, “vests authority to review a state
court's judgment solely in th[e] [Supreme] Court, ”
Rooker and Feldman held that district
courts “lacked subject-matter jurisdiction” to
hear cases seeking to “overturn an injurious
state-court judgment.” See Exxon Mobil Corp. v.
Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 291-92, 125
S.Ct. 1517, 1526, 161 L.Ed.2d 454 (2005).
Rooker-Feldman doctrine has four requirements:
“(1) the federal court plaintiff lost in state court;
(2) the plaintiff complains of injuries caused by a state
court judgment; (3) the plaintiff invites the federal court
to review and reject that judgment; and (4) the state court
judgment was rendered prior to the commencement of
proceedings in the district court.” Brodsky v.
Carter, 673 Fed. App'x 42, 43 (2d Cir. 2016).
“Under Rooker-Feldman, a district court may
not review a claim that is ‘inextricably
intertwined' with a state court's judgment.”
Simpson v. Putnam Cty. Nat'l Bank of Carmel, 20
F.Supp.2d 630, 633 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (quoting Feldman,
460 U.S. at 483 n.16); see also Dye v. Virts, No.
03-CV-6273L, 2004 WL 2202638, at *3 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 28, 2004)
(“[W]here a claim is so ‘inextricably
intertwined' with a state court judgment that
‘federal relief can only be predicated upon a
conviction that the state court was wrong' the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine will defeat the court's
jurisdiction over the claim.” (quoting Pennzoil Co.
v. Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 25, 107 S.Ct. 1519, 95
L.Ed.2d 1 (1987)).
determining whether the doctrine applies, the key inquiry is
whether the complaint alleges an injury caused by a state
court judgment.” Brodsky, 673 Fed.Appx. at 43.
Here, the alleged injuries in Counts One, Two, and Four flow
from orders entered in the Cattaraugus County Family Court,
specifically the orders of incarceration. Although Plaintiff
does not challenge the orders themselves, to address his
claims and find that constitutional violations had been
committed, this Court would be required to review and reject
the Family Court's decision to incarcerate the Plaintiff.
With respect to timing, the two orders of ...