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Szymonik v. State

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 15, 2019

PETER T. SZYMONIK and MONICA L. SZYMONIK, Plaintiffs,
v.
STATE OF CONNECTICUT, JORGE SIMON, LESLIE OLEAR, GEORGE JEPSEN, KEITH YAGALOFF, and GRANT MILLER Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OF DECISION

          MICHAEL P. SHEA, U.S.D.J.

         Plaintiffs Peter T. Szymonik and Monica L. Symonik (“the Szymoniks”) bring this action against the State of Connecticut, three Connecticut state court judges, the Attorney General of Connecticut (collectively “the State Defendants”), and Attorney Keith Yagaloff, who represented Mr. Szymonik's ex-wife in their marriage dissolution proceeding. The Szymoniks allege that the state court judges violated their constitutional rights by requiring Peter Szymonik to obtain leave of the presiding judge before filing motions in family court, denying Peter Szymonik's request for leave to file a motion for assignment of counsel, and denying Monica Szymonik's motion to intervene in the marriage dissolution proceeding. They assert that the Attorney General violated their rights by declining to intervene in the family court case on behalf of Peter Szymonik. Finally, they allege that Attorney Yagaloff is liable because the leave-to-file procedures have not applied to him. The State Defendants move to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and for insufficient service of process. (ECF No. 34.) Attorney Yagaloff moves to dismiss only for insufficient service of process. (ECF No. 33.) I find that the Court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to review these claims under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. Further, the Eleventh Amendment bars suit against the State of Connecticut and the Attorney General in his official capacity, the state court judges are entitled to absolute judicial immunity, the Attorney General is entitled to quasi-judicial immunity, and the complaint fails to state a claim against Attorney Keith Yagaloff. Accordingly, the motions to dismiss are GRANTED and the case is DISMISSED.

         I. Background

         This case arises out of a marriage dissolution proceeding between Peter Szymonik and Stephanie Szymonik. Although the dissolution action was filed in 2006 and the marriage was dissolved in 2008, litigation between the former spouses has continued for the past ten years. (See State Court Docket, ECF No. 34-3.) On August 30, 2012, Judge John Carbonneau entered an order prohibiting either party in the post-dissolution proceedings from filing “any motions with the Court without the prior express written approval of the Presiding Judge.” (the “Pre-Filing Injunction”) (Filing Order, ECF No. 34-2 at 2.) The Szymoniks allege that no judge enforced the Pre-Filing Injunction until March of 2015. (Amended Compl., ECF No. 30 at 11; Plaintiffs' Response Brief, ECF No. 55 at 14.)

         The Szymoniks assert that their requests for leave to file motions since March 2015 have been denied, including by judges other than the presiding judge. (Amended Compl., ECF No. 30 at 8.) In contrast, Attorney Yagaloff has been permitted to file motions without first requesting leave. (Id. at 9.) The Szymoniks allegedly contacted the Attorney General to request that his office intervene on their behalf in the family court proceeding. (Id. at 14-15.) The office refused their request. (Id.) Finally, the Szymoniks assert that the state court erroneously denied Monica Szymonik's motion to intervene in the marriage dissolution action. (Id. at 24.)

         The Szymoniks allege that the Pre-Filing Injunction violates their right to petition the government under the First Amendment. They also allege that the Defendants' violated their right to equal protection under the Fourteenth Amendment by treating them differently than similarly situated litigants in family court. They filed this action in federal court seeking the following relief: (1) a declaratory judgment that the Pre-Filing Injunction violated Mr. Szymonik's right to due process; (2) a declaratory judgment that the state court erred in refusing to allow Monica Szymonik to intervene in the proceeding; (3) “[a]n immediate prejudgment injunction” prohibiting the state court from enforcing the Pre-Filing Injunction; (4) “[a]n immediate prejudgment injunction ordering that Peter Szymonik be allowed to engage counsel of his choosing to represent him in matters before the state court”; and (5) attorney's fees. (Id.)

         II. Legal Standard

         A “case is properly dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1) when the district court lacks the statutory or constitutional power to adjudicate it.” Nike, Inc. v. Already, LLC, 663 F.3d 89, 94 (2d Cir. 2011). The “plaintiff asserting subject matter jurisdiction has the burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that it exists.” Luckkett v. Bure, 290 F.3d 493, 497 (2d. Cir. 2002). “In resolving a motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction under Rule 12(b)(1), a district court . . . may refer to evidence outside the pleadings.” Makarova v. United States, 201 F.3d 110, 113 (2d Cir. 2000). The court must construe the complaint liberally and accept all factual allegations as true. Ford v. D.C. 37 Union Local 1549, 579 F.3d 187, 188 (2d Cir. 2009).

         When the defendants raise a challenge to the sufficiency of process, the plaintiff bears the burden of proving its adequacy. See Mende v. Milestone Technology, 269 F.Supp.2d 246, 251 (S.D.N.Y. 2003). A Rule 12(b)(5) motion to dismiss will be granted if the plaintiffs fail to serve a copy of the summons and complaint on a defendant pursuant to Rule 4 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rzayeva v. United States, 492 F.Supp.2d 60, 74 (D.Conn.2007). Rule 4(m) provides that, if service is not made upon a defendant within 90 days after the filing of the complaint, the court “shall dismiss the action without prejudice as to that defendant or direct that service be effected within a specified time.”

         The Court must construe pro se pleadings liberally, Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 72 (2d Cir. 2009), and interpret them to raise the “strongest arguments that they suggest.” Triestman v. Fed. Bureau of Prisons, 470 F.3d 471, 472 (2d Cir. 2006). To plead a cognizable legal claim, however, a pro se plaintiff must meet the standard of facial plausibility. See Hogan v. Fischer, 738 F.3d 509, 515 (2d Cir. 2013) (“[A] pro se complaint must state a plausible claim for relief.”) (citing Harris v. Mills, 572 F.3d 66, 73 (2d Cir. 2009)). “A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged.” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009). “[T]he tenet that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions.” Id.at 678.

         III. Discussion

         A. Insufficient Service of Process

         The State Defendants and Attorney Yagaloff assert that the Szymoniks failed to effectuate service in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 4. That rule provides

If a defendant is not served within 90 days after the complaint is filed, the court-on motion or on its own after notice to the plaintiff-must dismiss the action without prejudice against that defendant or order that service be made within a specified time. But if the plaintiff shows good cause for the failure, the court must extend the time for service for an appropriate period.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 4(m). State officials may be served by (1) “delivering a copy of the summons and of the complaint to [the state's] chief executive officer; or (2) “serving a copy of each in the manner prescribed by that state's law for serving a summons or like process on such a defendant.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 4(j). Connecticut law provides that a state official may be served by delivering the summons and complaint in person to the Attorney General or sending those documents to the Attorney General by certified mail. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-64.

         An individual defendant may be served (1) in accordance with the law of the state where the district court is located or where service is made; (2) by delivering the summons and complaint personally; (3) by leaving a copy of the summons and complaint at the individual's usual place of abode with someone of suitable age and discretion who resides there; or (4) by ...


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