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Brown v. Sutton

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

May 8, 2017

DAVEN BROWN, Plaintiff,
SUZANNE SUTTON, et al., Defendants.


          Victor A. Bolden United States District Judge

         Daven Brown (“Plaintiff”), currently incarcerated at Cheshire Correctional Institution (“Cheshire”), filed this Complaint pro se, bringing claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (“Section 1983”). Mr. Brown's Complaint was filed on April 24, 2017, ECF No. 1, and his motion to proceed in forma pauperis was granted on April 27, 2017, ECF No. 6. He brings claims against First Assistant Disciplinary Counsel Suzanne Sutton, Assistant Disciplinary Counsel Beth L. Baldwin, Investigator James Bender, Chief Disciplinary Counsel Patricia A. King, Reviewing Committee Attorney Joseph D. Fotti, Grievance Attorney Gail S. Kotowski, Bar Counsel Member Christopher L. Slack, Reviewing Committee Member John Doe, State Trooper Fratellenico, and Sergeant Supervisor Gunsalus[1] (collectively, “Defendants”). Mr. Brown challenges the way Defendants handled his grievance for attorney misconduct relating to a charge of violation of probation.


         Under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the Court must review prisoner civil complaints and dismiss any portion of the complaint that is frivolous or malicious, that fails to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or that seeks monetary relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         In reviewing a pro se complaint, the Court must “liberally construe [the] pleadings, ” and interpret the complaint to “raise the strongest arguments it suggests.” Abbas v. Dixon, 480 F.3d 636, 639 (2d Cir. 2007); see also Tracy v. Freshwater, 623 F.3d 90, 101-03 (2d Cir. 2010) (discussing special solicitude that courts ought to show to pro se litigants). Although detailed allegations are not required, the complaint must still include sufficient facts to afford the defendants fair notice of the claims and the grounds upon which they are based and to demonstrate a right to relief. Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555-56 (2007). Conclusory allegations are not sufficient. See Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). The plaintiff must plead “enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.


         Mr. Brown alleges that he was charged with violation of probation, which he alleges “never happen[ed].” Compl. at 8, ECF No. 1. He alleges that he hired an attorney to represent him on the violation charge and that the attorney charged him $5, 000 as well as additional money to hire a private investigator. Id. Mr. Brown alleges that the attorney that he hired never actually retained a private investigator despite charging Mr. Brown for the expense. Id. Mr. Brown further alleges that “[t]he investigation officer never got proper documentation of [the violation of probation], ” despite the attorney charging him the expense. Id.

         In 2014, Mr. Brown alleges that he filed a grievance against that attorney with the Bar Association, alleging misconduct and a violation of ethics codes. Compl. at 8. He alleges that the Disciplinary Counsel refused “[t]o properly investigate” his allegations and improperly “dismiss[ed] [his] complaint” against the attorney. Id.

         Mr. Brown further alleges that the “state trooper[s] also closed the case without proper paperwork.” Compl at 8. He further alleges that “[a]ll the people mention[ed] in my case intentionally conspired to cover up a crime.” Id.


         A review of Mr. Brown's Complaint and his allegations shows that Mr. Brown's claims are a challenge to a state disciplinary proceeding that he initiated against his attorney and a challenge to the actions of state police troopers in closing an underlying criminal case. See Compl. at 8. For the reasons described below, even when the Court construes Mr. Brown's Complaint “liberally”, Abbas, 480 F.3d at 639, Mr. Brown cannot state a claim on either of these grounds, and the Court therefore dismisses his Complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A.

         A. Grievance Complaint

         Defendants Sutton, Baldwin, Bender, King, Fotti, Kotowski, Slack, and Doe (collectively, the “Disciplinary Counsel Defendants”) appear to have been involved in the grievance complaint Mr. Brown filed against his attorney. Mr. Brown's claim against them stems from his belief that his grievance complaint was not handled properly. As explained below, the Court concludes that Mr. Brown's claim against the Disciplinary Counsel Defendants is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923).

         “The Rooker-Feldman doctrine . . . is confined to cases of the kind from which the doctrine acquired its name: cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries causes by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments.” Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Industries Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). The Second Circuit has “specifically determined that federal courts are precluded by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine from reviewing a claim attacking a state court's decision regarding the discipline of an attorney.” McKeown v. New York ...

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