Thursday, October 26, 2006

Second Circuit Applies Younger Abstention Doctrine in Affirming Dismissal of Vexatious Litigant's Sanctions Appeal

Per Kaufman v. Kaye, --- F.3d ---, 2006 WL 2873043 (2d Cir. Oct. 10, 2006):

. . . Kaufman . . . notes that a $10,000 sanction was imposed on him by the Second Department for pursuing a frivolous appeal. This fine was imposed, according to Kaufman, "because the panel was not neutral and was biased against [him]."

Kaufman's complaint sought: (i) a declaration that the system for assigning cases among panels of judges in the Second Department of the Appellate Division violates the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment; (ii) an injunction requiring the New York state legislature to establish a new system of assigning appeals in the Second Department; (iii) vacatur of a number of Second Department decisions adverse to Kaufman; and (iv) vacatur of sanctions the Second Department has imposed on him.

Judge Trager granted appellees' motion to dismiss the complaint. He held that Kaufman's request for reversal of previously rendered decisions of the Second Department was barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, see District of Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 103 S.Ct. 1303, 75 L.Ed.2d 206 (1983), Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 44 S.Ct. 149, 68 L.Ed. 362 (1923), and that his challenge to the Second Department's procedures failed because the federal Due Process Clause does not require random assignment of judges. Judge Trager also noted that, if the cases were purposely assigned to particular justices, doing so was reasonable because "the justices know the underlying factors of the cases and can more quickly dispose of a plaintiff's motion." Kaufman v. Kaye, 2005 WL 1923561 at *4 (E.D.N.Y.2005).

Kaufman brought the present appeal. Counsel for Kaufman explained at oral argument that he now seeks only a declaratory judgment that the non-transparent, non-random assignment procedures in the Second Department violate the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment and an injunction requiring the State of New York to establish a new system for assigning appeals in the Second Department.

Even the relief now sought by Kaufman would be so intrusive in the administration of the New York court system that we must, based on applicable precedent, abstain. Under a controlling decision of the Supreme Court, federal courts may not entertain actions, like the present one, that seek to impose "an ongoing federal audit of state ... proceedings." O'Shea v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 500, 94 S.Ct. 669, 38 L.Ed.2d 674 (1974). In O'Shea, the plaintiffs sought injunctive relief against the allegedly racially discriminatory administration of the criminal justice system in an Illinois county. Id. at 491-92. The Court held in part that "an injunction aimed at controlling or preventing the occurrence of specific events that might take place in the course of future state criminal trials" would lead to the precise federal interference in state judicial proceedings that Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 S.Ct. 746, 27 L.Ed.2d 669 (1971), was designed to prevent. 414 U.S. at 500.


We see little difference between the relief sought here and that sought in O'Shea . . . . To be sure, as appellant argues, the relief he now seeks in the federal courts would, if granted, leave "the state judiciary . . . free to craft a remedy in the first instance." Appellant's Reply Br. At 27. However, any remedy fashioned by the state would then be subject to further challenges in the district court. Appellant--or any state court litigant dissatisfied with the panel of judges assigned to his or her appeal--could raise compliance issues under the putative federal injunction claiming that the state court's chosen remedy violated the Constitution or the terms of that injunction. Such challenges would inevitably lead to precisely the kind of "piecemeal interruptions of ... state proceedings" condemned in O'Shea. In short, we cannot resolve the issues raised here as to present assignment procedures without committing to resolving the same issues as to the remedy chosen by the state and as to the subsequent case-by-case implementation of the assignment procedures in the Second Department. This is exactly what O'Shea forbids.


At 11:19 AM, Blogger GTriest said...

Another nail in the destruction of federal civil remedy for unconstitutional state actions.

The whole freekin idea of ยง1983 avenue to the federal court WAS exactly to address problems like this.
A person cannot get constitutional relief in the state systems, so he invokes his federal rights in federal court.
The allergy that federal courts now have to even touching a state legal structure or activity is appalling.
Gone are the days when federal courts struck sense into the apparatchik ways of embedded state power structures, whether they be legislative, judicial or administrative.
Now US citizens have been robbed of any teeth they once had in correcting rogue state actors.
The Younger abstention made nominal sense in its original form - no federal review of an ongoing state criminal case, but look what they've done to it since, effectively the wholesale abdication of supervisory power over errant and unconstitutional state deprivations of federal law.


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