Summary Judgment Affirmed in the Second Circuit in a Constitutional Rights Case

Summary Judgment Affirmed in the Second Circuit in a Constitutional Rights Case

Senior Trial Partner Charles S. Schechter, Partner and Head of Appeals Barbara D. Goldberg, Partner Karen B. Corbett, Associate Victor M. Ivanoff and Appellate Associate Richard Wolf obtained an affirmance of our pre-answer motion dismissing our client psychologist in a constitutional rights case.

Briefly, the pro se plaintiff brought this action against our client defendant psychologist who was appointed by the Westchester County Family Court to perform a forensic evaluation to assist in the determination of various child custody issues between the plaintiff and his ex-wife. Plaintiff alleged that our client defendant psychologist and her employer, while acting under color of state law, violated various constitutional rights and caused him to suffer emotional distress because he alleged our client did not adhere to the precise directives of the Family Court, even though plaintiff never lost custody of his children. Plaintiff asserted causes of action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as state law claims for fraud and negligent infliction of emotional distress.

MCB made a pre-answer motion to dismiss the action. The District Court, in dismissing the action, held that the defendants were not state actors, and that even if they were, they were entitled to absolute immunity under the doctrine of quasi-judicial immunity. The Second Circuit agreed, holding that even assuming the defendants were state actors, they were entitled to quasi-judicial immunity because their acts were “integrally related to an ongoing judicial proceeding,” inasmuch as the Family Court ordered them to conduct an evaluation and prepare a report to aid that court’s decision in a child custody suit.

In support of its determination, the Second Circuit cited McKnight v. Middleton,699 F. Supp. 507, 528 (E.D.N.Y. 2010), affd. 434 Fed. App’x 32 (2ndCir. 2011), which held that court-appointed forensic evaluators in a custody dispute were entitled to quasi-judicial immunity. McKnight, which was discussed in the parties’ Briefs and at the oral argument, was one of the cases which plaintiff insisted were “wrongly decided,” even though the District Court’s determination in that case was affirmed by the Second Circuit.

On plaintiff’s appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued a Summary Order affirming the final Judgment of dismissal entered pursuant to the Opinion and Order of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Hon. Cathy Seibel, J.). The Opinion and Order granted the defendants’ pre-answer motions to dismiss this action for failure to state a cause of action pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 12 (b) (6).