An attorney’s suit against the Grievance Committee for the Ninth Judicial District ended with a summary order by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirming the lower court’s dismissal Wednesday in Li v. Lorenzo, 16-3530.
In early September 2016, Chief U.S. Judge Colleen McMahon for the Southern District of New York issued a five-page dismissal of Feng Li’s pro se suit against the Grievance Committee for the Ninth Judicial District, as well as a number of its members, notably chief of counsel Gary Casella and deputy chief of counsel Faith Lorenzo.
Li was sanctioned by the grievance committee earlier this year with a three-year suspension over $1.1 million in misappropriated legal fees in a state Supreme Court suit in Queens. At the same time, he was disbarred in New Jersey over the same action.
Two initial suits over the New Jersey disbarring were filed in Manhattan federal court. Both were dismissed. The suit against the New York grievance committee and its members was filed in June 2016. In her five-page dismissal, McMahon ruled that the 11th Amendment barred plaintiff’s claims against a state agency in federal court.
The judge said that Li’s 11 causes of action were also previously or could have been previously asserted in the prior suits, precluding them. McMahon found, then, that plaintiff failed to state a claim.
On appeal, the panel of U.S. Circuit Judges Dennis Jacobs, Jose Cabranes and Richard Wesley of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed McMahon’s decision, finding she correctly applied the constitutional preclusion, as New York did not waive its right to immunity. The 11th Amendment likewise would bar Li’s injunctive and declaratory relief.
However, the panel noted that claims against Casella and Lorenzo, in their individual capacities, remained. These, too, were dismissed by the panel. Since both “held roles functionally comparable” to prosecutors, empowered by the Brooklyn-based Appellate Division, Second Department, the panel found they were entitled to prosecutorial immunity.
An attempt to reach Li by phone for comment was unsuccessful.
Attorneys did not appear in the action on behalf of the defendants.