McDonald v. Esposito, 20-CV-828 (RPK) (RML)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of New York)
Writing for the CourtRACHEL P. KOVNER, United States District Judge
Docket Number20-CV-828 (RPK) (RML)
Decision Date18 March 2021

and BRIDGET M. DEHMLER, Defendants.

20-CV-828 (RPK) (RML)


March 18, 2021


RACHEL P. KOVNER, United States District Judge:

Pro se plaintiff Stephanie McDonald brings a wrongful foreclosure action against defendants Joseph Esposito; Eric Subin; Shapiro, DiCaro & Barak, LLC; JP Morgan Chase Bank, N.A.; Gary Brunton; and Bridget M. Dehmler. Four defendants move to dismiss the complaint for lack of subject matter jurisdiction based on abstention doctrines. Five defendants also contend that the complaint fails to state a claim. I abstain in part and dismiss the remainder of plaintiff's claims for failure to state a claim.


The following factual allegations are taken from plaintiff's complaint, documents integral to plaintiff's complaint, and documents amenable to judicial notice.

A. Factual Background

Records of the Office of the City Register reflect that plaintiff Stephanie McDonald mortgaged real property at 426 Beach 29th Street, Far Rockaway, NY, 11691 for a $456,090 loan on January 8, 2007. See Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Ex. A at 28-36 (Dkt. #7-2). Defendant Chase Bank was assigned the mortgage on April 10, 2012. See id. at 37. On June 4, 2018, Chase Bank

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filed a foreclosure action in Queens County, alleging that plaintiff failed to make a payment in December 1, 2017. See id. at 20. On September 26, 2019, the state court granted Chase Bank's motion for default judgment. See Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Ex. J. at 1 (Dkt. #7-12). The state court has ordered a referee to determine the amount owed by plaintiff. See id. at 3.

B. Procedural History

On February 14, 2020, plaintiff filed this wrongful foreclosure action in federal court. See Compl. at 7 (Dkt. #1). She named as defendants Joseph Esposito, the judge in the state court action; Eric Subin, the referee in the state court action; Chase Bank, the claimant in the state court action; Gary Brunton, a vice president of Chase Bank; Shapiro, DiCaro & Barak, LLC, the law firm that represented Chase Bank in the state court action; and Bridget M. Dehmler, an attorney who represented Chase Bank in the state court action. See id. at 1-4; Defs.' Mem. of L. in Supp. of Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss Pl.'s Compl. at 2-5 (Dkt. #7-15) ("Defs.' Memo").

The complaint can be read to assert three sets of claims. First, plaintiff asserts that the state-court foreclosure action is invalid because she is a "Moor American National." Compl. at 11. The complaint asserts that this status gives her "superior title by law" to the property, id. at 7, and renders the foreclosure "unconstitutional" as a violation of "Due Process of Law," id. at 10. Plaintiff's opposition further contends that she "is not within the state court[']s jurisdiction" and that the foreclosure action violates the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Pl.'s Mem. of L. in Supp. of Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs' Mot. to Dismiss at 1, 3 (Dkt. #13) ("Plaintiff's Memo").

Second, plaintiff alleges that she is the "paramount title holder" for the underlying property because she "never gave [her] signature [or] consent to contract with any of the" defendants, Compl. at 8, defendants "ha[d] no authority to transfer or modify [her] deed," ibid., and defendants "commit[ted] a vicious cycle of modification schemes through '[l]ies, [t]rickery, and [d]eception,' id. at 7. She therefore asserts that defendants violated several federal civil statutes. See id. at 7-8;

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15 U.S.C. § 1692e (false or misleading representations in debt collection); 18 U.S.C. § 1962 (racketeering); 29 U.S.C. § 701 (Rehabilitation Act); 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (deprivation of civil rights); 42 U.S.C. § 1985 (conspiracy to interfere with civil rights); 34 U.S.C. § 12601 (pattern or practice).

Third, plaintiff alleges that defendants "colluded to steal [her] property." Compl. at 7. She therefore asserts that defendants have violated several federal criminal statutes. See id. at 7-8; 18 U.S.C. § 242 (deprivation of rights under color of law); 18 U.S.C. § 1341 (mail fraud); 18 U.S.C. § 1512 (obstruction of justice); 18 U.S.C. § 3 (accessory liability).

As relief, plaintiff's complaint can be read to request an order that her state-court foreclosure action "be dismissed and expunged." Compl. at 11. Plaintiff also asks that defendants "be found guilty" and that they pay compensatory and punitive damages. Id. at 11-12.

On April 17, 2020, defendant Eric Subin filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. See Notice of Mot. (Apr. 17, 2020) (Dkt. #6). On April 27, 2020, defendants Chase Bank and Brunton moved to dismiss the complaint as well. See Notice of Mot. (Apr. 27, 2020) (Dkt. #7). They invoked the abstention doctrines of Colorado River Water Conservation Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 818 (1976), and Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 91 (1971), and argued that the complaint also failed to state a claim. See Defs.' Memo at 1. On July 1, 2020, defendants Shapiro, DiCaro & Barak, LLC; and Bridget M. Dehmler moved for a pre-motion conference, seeking leave to file a motion to dismiss that incorporated the arguments made by defendants Chase Bank and Brunton. See July 1, 2020 Letter (Dkt. #17). The Court construed this letter as a motion to dismiss incorporating the arguments made by Chase Bank and Brunton. See July 6, 2020 Order.


A motion to dismiss based on the Colorado River abstention doctrine or the Younger abstention doctrine is assessed under the same standard as a motion to dismiss for lack of subject

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matter jurisdiction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1). See United States v. Blake, 942 F. Supp. 2d 285, 292 (E.D.N.Y. 2013). This standard is "essentially identical to the Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) standard," ibid., under which the court must "constru[e] the complaint liberally, accepting all factual allegations in the complaint as true, and drawing all reasonable inferences in the plaintiff's favor," Chambers v. Time Warner, Inc., 282 F.3d 147, 152 (2d Cir. 2002).

To survive a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a complaint must allege "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570 (2007). A claim is plausible "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). This means, for example, that a complaint is properly dismissed where, as a matter of law, "the allegations in a complaint, however true, could not raise a claim of entitlement to relief." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 558. A complaint is also properly dismissed "where the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct." Ashcroft, 556 U.S. at 679.

Plaintiff is proceeding pro se. "It is well established that the submissions of a pro se litigant must be construed liberally and interpreted to raise the strongest arguments that they suggest." Meadows v. United Servs., Inc., 963 F.3d 240, 243 (2d Cir. 2020). "Nonetheless, a pro se complaint must state a plausible claim for relief." Ibid. To assess plausibility, I consider the "allegations on the face of the complaint" as well as "documents that are attached to the complaint, incorporated in it by reference, integral to the complaint, or the proper subject of judicial notice." United States v. Strock, 982 F.3d 51, 63 (2d Cir. 2020) (quotations and marks omitted).


For the reasons explained below, abstention principles bar some but not all of plaintiff's claims. The remaining portions of plaintiff's complaint must be dismissed, however, because they

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fail to state a claim. Plaintiff cannot recover on the grounds that she is a Moorish American National. She has no private cause of action under any federal criminal law. And she has not alleged facts that show the violation of any federal civil law.

I. Plaintiff's claims for injunctive relief are barred by Younger abstention.

Defendants invoke the Colorado River and Younger abstention doctrines. As explained below, Younger bars the subset of plaintiff's claims that seek injunctive relief. But neither Younger nor Colorado River favors abstention regarding the remaining claims.

A. Younger abstention is appropriate concerning plaintiff's requested injunctive relief.

Under Younger, "federal courts should generally refrain from enjoining or otherwise interfering in ongoing state proceedings." Spargo v. N.Y. State Comm'n on Judicial Conduct, 351 F.3d 65, 74 (2d Cir. 2003) (citing Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 43-45 (1971)). Such abstention is limited to three circumstances: "(1) state criminal prosecutions; (2) civil enforcement proceedings; and (3) civil proceedings that implicate a state's interest in enforcing the orders and judgements of its courts." Toczek v. Alvord, No. 19-4003, --- F. App'x ----, 2021 WL 48153, at *1 (2d Cir. Jan. 6, 2021) (citing Sprint Commc'ns, Inc. v. Jacobs, 571 U.S. 69, 72-73 (2013)).

A foreclosure action qualifies as a 'civil proceeding that implicates a State's interest in enforcing the orders and judgments of its courts.'" Newman v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 18-CV-2175, 2019 WL 5694334, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. July 10, 2019); see Plotch v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 2018 WL 344967, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 9, 2018) ("Courts have routinely concluded that a pending state court foreclosure proceedings falls within the third category."), aff'd, 758 F. App'x 221 (2d Cir. 2019); Amissah v. Wells...

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