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Briksza v. Moloney

June 19, 2009

THOMAS BRIKSZA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DAN MOLONEY; LIFFEY VAN LINES AND STORAGE, INC.; NEW YORK STORAGE, INC.; JOHN DOES 1-12 DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolfson, United States District Court Judge

OPINION

Presently before the Court is a motion by Defendants, Dan Moloney, as an individual and owner/operator of New York Storage, Inc., Liffey Van Lines and Storage, Inc., and New York Storage, Inc. (collectively, "Defendants"), to dismiss pro se Plaintiff's, Thomas Briksza, ("Plaintiff" or "Briksza"), Complaint, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Defendants also move for sanctions against Briksza under Fed. R. Civ. P. 11. In his Complaint, Plaintiff asserts numerous state law claims, including extortion, theft, larceny, fraud, negligence, and racketeering. Plaintiff also alleges that Defendants engaged in a conspiracy against him in violation of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO"), 18 U.S.C. § 1961, et seq., by committing fraud stemming from the taking of his property following the foreclosure of his "place of work" in New York. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's claims, but the Court does not impose sanctions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 11.

I. Background and Procedural History

Since Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's claims pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the following version of events assumes all factual allegations by Plaintiff to be accepted as true. For the purpose of deciding this Motion, the Court will refer to Plaintiff's Complaint. Because Plaintiff's Complaint does not sufficiently allege the facts upon which his claims are based, the Court also refers to the facts alleged by Plaintiff in his action in the Supreme Court of New York, New York County, Briksza v. New York Storage, Inc., Liffey Van Lines and Storage, Dan Moloney, et. al., No. 111320/05 (Sup. Ct., N.Y. County 2005), and the disposition thereof.*fn1

From Plaintiff's numerous allegations stated in his Complaint, and the public record, the Court discerns that this instant action arises from Defendant's removal of certain property which Plaintiff claims to have owned that was located at his former place of employment,Theater Workshop Entertainment ("Theater"). (Compl. ¶ 1, April 10, 2008). Plaintiff seeks damages for the loss of this property.

On December 16, 2004, Theater entered into a Stipulation of Settlement ("Settlement") with the Long Island Rail Road Company ("LIRR") arising out of a foreclosure action. (Ex. B). Pursuant to the Settlement, Theater was to vacate the premises upon which it was located by January 31, 2005*fn2. Id. In exchange for Theater's vacating and delivery of the premises, Theater's past debt to LIRR of $9,656.69 would be waived. Id. ¶ 7. Theater also agreed that any property left on the premises after vacating would be deemed abandoned. Id. ¶ 7. Plaintiff does not contest the facts of the Settlement.

Allegedly, upon the foreclosure of Theater and pursuant to the Settlement, Defendants were hired to remove the remaining property, which included Plaintiff's alleged property, on or about February 5, 2009. (Compl. ¶ 3; Ex. B). Defendants were not informed whether Plaintiff had any legal interest in the property, and Plaintiff made no immediate objections to the property's removal. Id.

At some point thereafter, Plaintiff attempted to recover his alleged property located at the New York Storage facility from Defendants. (Compl. ¶ 5; Ex. C). According to Plaintiff, Defendants asked him to pay $1,500 for their services. (Compl. ¶ 5). Plaintiff, however, alleges that Defendants were prepaid for their work in removing the property, and no payment was due from Plaintiff to Defendants. (Compl. ¶ 3). Plaintiff alleges that the Theater's landlord was responsible for payment for Defendant's services, and that Plaintiff was not required to pay Defendants. (Compl. ¶ 1).

Defendants informed Plaintiff of their intent to auction the property, pursuant to the Settlement, which deemed the property in question as abandoned subsequent to January 31, 2005. (Ex. B). According to Plaintiff, he signed a contract and agreed to pay a deposit "under duress," because he feared losing his property through an auction. (Ex. C). Ultimately, it appears that Plaintiff never secured a return of the property he alleges to have owned.

After a series of improperly served actions, on August 15, 2005, Plaintiff filed a complaint in New York Supreme Court, Nassau County, to recover his property, and to enjoin Defendants from auctioning off that property. (Ex. C); (P Opp. ¶ 4, Jan. 13, 2009). The Honorable Judith J. Gische of the Supreme Court of New York ("Judge Gische") held an evidentiary hearing in response to Plaintiff's action on November 17, 2005. (Ex. D). Judge Gische dismissed Plaintiff's claim, because he failed to prove that he owned the subject property. Id. Plaintiff appealed this decision to the New York Court of Appeals, but his appeal was denied because proof of ownership could not be established. (Ex. E).

On April 10, 2008, Plaintiff filed the instant complaint, in which he claims Defendants engaged in extortion, larceny, theft, negligence, and fraud, alleging that Defendants continued to unlawfully demand payment from Plaintiff. (Compl. p. 4). Additionally, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants have an ongoing scheme to deprive him of his lawful rights. (Id. ¶ 4). Plaintiff claims that he does not challenge the validity of the New York decision, but seeks both actual and punitive damages, the return of his property or the alleged replacement cost in the amount of $200,000, and any other relief the Court deems proper. Id. ¶ 3. Plaintiff alleges that the Court has diversity jurisdiction over the present action because, in addition to satisfying the amount in controversy requirement, he is a New Jersey resident, and Defendants are New York residents. (Id. ¶ 1).*fn3

On July 25, 2008, Defendants filed an Answer, asserting numerous affirmative defenses, including lack of personal and subject matter jurisdiction, and a counterclaim for sanctions under Rule 11, alleging malicious abuse of process. (Answer p. 3). On December 12, 2008, Defendants filed this motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) because Plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel, and asserting that the court should impose sanctions against Plaintiff. (Def.'s Motion Dismiss, Dec. 12, 2008).

In opposition to Defendant's Motion, Plaintiff filed an affidavit.*fn4 For the following reasons, the Court grants Defendants' Motion to dismiss, and denies Defendants' request for Rule 11 sanctions.

II. Discussion

A. Jurisdictional Issues

1. Rooker-Feldman Doctrine as Basis for Dismissal

Although Defendants do not move to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine, the Court raises this issue sua sponte. "Under the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a district court... lacks subject matter jurisdiction, if the relief requested effectively would reverse a state court decision or void its ruling." Taliaferro v. Darby Twp. Zoning Bd., 458 F.3d 181, 192 (3d Cir. 2006). This doctrine is a narrow one, and "applies only to cases brought by 1) state-court losers 2) complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments 3) rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and 4) inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments." Id.

More simply stated, Rooker-Feldman bars a federal proceeding when "entertaining the federal court claim would be the equivalent of an appellate review" of the state judgment. Allah v. Whitman No. 02-4247, 2005 WL 2009904, at *4 (D.N.J. Aug. 17, 2005) (quoting FOCUS v. Alleghany County Court of Common Pleas, 75 F.3d 834, 840 (3d Cir.1996)). Thus, a cause of action asserted in federal court that ultimately seeks to vacate the decision or reasoning of a state court is barred under Rooker-Feldman. Desi's Pizza, Inc. v. City of Wilkes-Barre, 321 F.3d 411, 419-20 (3d Cir. 2001) (Rooker-Feldman bars those claims that "[are] inextricably intertwined with [the] state adjudication, meaning that federal relief can only be predicated upon a conviction that the state court was wrong.").

Although Plaintiff claims that he is not challenging the New York State Court decision, in actuality, Plaintiff is doing exactly that. First, Plaintiff lost in the New York State Courts. Here, Plaintiff complains of injuries that were caused by the dismissal of his state court case, including the loss of any claim over the property or any claim for damages against Defendants. The adjudication of the New York State Court proceeding was prior to the filing of this action. Finally, in order for Plaintiff to succeed on any of his claims, the Court would have to find that Plaintiff did own the property in question, essentially reviewing and rejecting the state court's judgment. Given that Plaintiff's present claims ...


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