United States District Court, D. Connecticut
RULING ON DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS
Charles S. Haight, Jr. Senior United States District Judge
Anaid El brings this action against Judge Stuart Rosen,
Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Michael
Byzdyra, Assistant State Attorney Sara Greene, Officer
William Whitehead, and Mayor Jay Moran (collectively, the
“Defendants”) to challenge a judgment of
conviction for operating an unregistered and uninsured motor
vehicle, as well as the subsequent administrative suspension
of Plaintiff's driver's license for failure to pay
fines associated with her conviction. Plaintiff requests that
this Court intervene in the state action to reinstate her
driver's license and vacate the fines levied against her.
Plaintiff also demands money damages and costs. Finally, she
seeks injunctive and declaratory relief finding that
Connecticut's statutes mandating the registration and
insurance of motor vehicles is unconstitutional, and
prohibiting the imposition of penalties for failure to
register or insure vehicles by individuals not engaged in
January 29, 2019, Defendants Judge Stuart Rosen, Connecticut
Department of Motor Vehicles Commissioner Michael Byzdyra,
and Assistant State Attorney Sara Greene (collectively, the
“State Defendants”) filed a motion to dismiss
Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1),
(5), and (6). They argue that: (1) Plaintiff's claims
against Judge Rosen and Attorney Greene are barred by
absolute immunity; (2) Plaintiff's claims against all
State Defendants in their individual capacities are barred by
qualified immunity; (3) all of Plaintiff's claims against
the State Defendants in their official capacities are barred
by the Eleventh Amendment; (4) Plaintiff's claims
challenging her conviction for failure to register or insure
her vehicle are foreclosed under the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine; (5) Plaintiff has failed to state any claim against
the State Defendants for which relief may be granted; and (6)
the court lacks personal jurisdiction over any State
Defendant because Plaintiff has not properly served them.
February 4, 2019, Defendants Officer Whitehead and Mayor
Moran (collectively, the “Municipal Defendants”)
filed their own motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint
pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), (5), and (6). Their
arguments largely mirror those made by the State Defendants.
Specifically, they contend that: (1) Plaintiff's claims
are barred by Heck v. Humphrey and the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine; (2) the court lacks
personal jurisdiction over any City Defendant because
Plaintiff has not properly served them; (3) Plaintiff has
failed to state any claim against the State Defendants for
which relief may be granted; and (4) Plaintiff's claims
against all City Defendants in their individual capacities
are barred by qualified immunity.
this Court does not have jurisdiction over Plaintiff's
claims, the Defendants' motions to dismiss are GRANTED
and the case is DISMISSED.
allegations set forth in the Complaint, taken as true for
purposes of this ruling, are summarized as follows.
April 7, 2016, Officer Whitehead, an East Hartford police
officer, observed Plaintiff pulling a motor vehicle into a
private driveway. Doc. 1 (“Compl.”) at 2. Officer
Whitehead spoke with the Plaintiff, who admitted that she did
not have automobile insurance. Id. Consequently,
Officer Whitehead issued Plaintiff a citation for operation
of a motor vehicle without registration or insurance in
violation of Connecticut General Statutes §§
14-12c, 14-213b, and 38a-371. The citation informed Plaintiff
that she was required to “attend a meeting on the
25th of April at Manchester company building or a
‘warrant' would be issued for [her] arrest.”
Id. Plaintiff did not attend the
“meeting” at the specified location, and instead
mailed a “rebuttal” to her citation. Id.
She also filed a civil action in state court challenging her
citation, which was dismissed for insufficient service of
process. Id. Plaintiff subsequently brought a
federal habeas corpus action in this Court challenging the
citation, which was dismissed. Id.
2018, a notice to appear in state court was mailed to
Plaintiff at an “outdated mailing location.”
Id. at 3. After Plaintiff failed to appear, the
court issued Plaintiff a bail commissioner's letter.
Id. Plaintiff then appeared at court on June 4,
2018, and a trial was held on November 16, 2018. Id.
Judge Rosen presided over the trial, and Attorney Greene
presented the state's case against Plaintiff.
Id. Officer Whitehead appeared as a witness against
trial, Plaintiff questioned Officer Whitehead, but declined
to present a defense or agree to be questioned because she
believed that it was “not a fair and impartial
hearing.” Id. Judge Rosen found Plaintiff
guilty of operating a motor vehicle without registration or
insurance, and imposed a fine of $290. Id. Plaintiff
was provided notice of her right to appeal the judgment
within 20 days, but did not do so. Id. at 3-4.
November 17, 2018, the DMV sent a notice to Plaintiff
informing her that her driver's license would be
suspended effective December 17, 2018, “as a result of
a ‘conviction of operating without required insurance,
'” and that restoration of her license would
require payment of a $175 restoration fee. Id. at 4.
The notice also advised Plaintiff that she could request an
administrative hearing to contest the suspension.
Id. Plaintiff sent a request directly to
Commissioner Byzdyra seeking to contest the suspension.
Id. Commissioner Byzdyra did not respond.
December 12, 2018, Plaintiff filed the present Complaint.
See Doc. 1. The next day, Plaintiff filed a motion
for an “Emergency Stay/Protective Order, ” in
which she requested “a stay” against the
“proposed suspension” of her driver's license
(the “TRO Motion”). Doc. 5 at 1. The Court denied
that motion, finding that Plaintiff had failed to allege
facts sufficient to demonstrate a likelihood of irreparable
harm. Doc. 8. On December 17, 2018, Plaintiff filed a motion
seeking reconsideration of the Court's denial of her TRO
Motion. Doc. 13. The Court denied that motion as well. Doc.
principally alleges that the state cannot require her to
register or insure her vehicle because the is not using the
vehicle in a “commercial capacity.” Compl. at 6.
Specifically, Plaintiff contends that the government cannot
require private citizens not engaged in commercial activity
to register or insure their vehicles because to do so would
infringe on those individual's constitutional right to
travel and the United States Motor Vehicle Safety Program.
She further alleges that the state court proceedings before
Judge Rosen and subsequent revocation of her driver's
license violated her due process rights and her
federal court generally may not rule on the merits of a case
without first determining that it has jurisdiction over the
category of claim in suit (subject-matter jurisdiction) and
the parties (personal jurisdiction).” Sinochem
Int'l Co. v. Malaysia Int'l Shipping Corp., 549
U.S. 422, 430-31, 127 S.Ct. 1184, 167 L.Ed.2d 15 (2007)
(citing Steel Co. v. Citizens for Better Env't,
523 U.S. 83, 93-102, 118 S.Ct. 1003, 140 L.Ed.2d 210 (1998)).
Although a court is free to “choose among threshold
grounds” for dismissing an action provided that none
involve “a judgment on the merits, ” id.
at 431 (internal quotation marks omitted), “the proper
course” is to dismiss an action for lack of
jurisdiction if the “court can readily determine that
it lacks jurisdiction over the cause or the defendant,
” id. at 436.
the circumstances of this case, the Court will first address
the Defendants' objections to personal jurisdiction, then
turn to subject matter jurisdiction and absolute immunity.
Consideration of these threshold jurisdictional issues alone
is sufficient to decide Defendants' motions.
Defendants have moved to dismiss this action for improper
service under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(5). Specifically, they claim
that Plaintiff failed to comply with the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure and Connecticut state law by effectuating
service on each Defendant at his or her workplace.
absence of proper service, a district court lacks personal
jurisdiction over those defendants not properly served.
Licci ex rel. Licci v. Lebanese Canadian Bank, SAL,
673 F.3d 50, 59 (2d Cir. 2012); Omni Capital Int'l,
Ltd. v. Rudolf Wolff & Co., Ltd., 484 U.S. 97, 104,
(1987) (“Before a federal court may exercise personal
jurisdiction over a defendant, the procedural requirement of
service of summons must be satisfied.”). Once validity
of service has been challenged, plaintiff bears the burden of
proving service of process was adequate, Khan v.
Khan, 360 Fed.Appx. 202, 203 (2d Cir. 2010),
“through specific factual allegations and any
supporting materials, ” Kwon v. Yun, No.
05-CV-1142, 2006 WL 416375, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 21, 2006).
Furthermore, a defendant's “actual notice” of
a complaint does not cure otherwise defective service: the
Complaint must have been properly served in
accordance with state and federal law. See, e.g.,
Weston Funding, LLC v. Consorcio G Grupo Dina, S.A. de C.
V., 451 F.Supp.2d 585, 589 (S.D.N.Y. 2006).
analyzing a motion under Rule 12(b)(5), the Court must look
to the service requirements set forth in Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 4. Rule 4(e)(2) sets forth three specific
ways in ...