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GRODJESKI v. TOWNSHIP OF PLAINSBORO

June 16, 1983

Michael GRODJESKI, Plaintiff,
v.
The TOWNSHIP OF PLAINSBORO, a municipal corporation of the State of New Jersey, The Plainsboro Township Police Department, Clifford Maurer, Gary R. Coderoni, Larry Runge, J. Rosiak and others individually and officially in their respective capacities as officers of the Plainsboro Township Police Department, The Trenton Times, a Delaware Corporation, Allbritton Communications Co. and Joseph Allbritton, W. Dean Singleton, Walter Herring and Kurt Heine, individually and in their official respective capacities as owners, president, managing editor and reporter for the Trenton Times, The Capitol City Publishing Co., Inc., a New Jersey Corporation doing business as The Trentonian, Ralph Ingersoll, Edward Hoffman, Emil Slaboda, Robert Zera and Ed Leefeldt, individually and in their official respective capacities as owner, publisher, editor, managing editor and reporter for The Trentonian, The Princeton Packet, a Delaware Corporation, The Princeton Packet, Inc., James Kilgore, Richard Willever and James Greiff, individually and in their official respective capacities as publisher, owner, executive editor and reporter for the Princeton Packet, The Associated Newspaper Carriers of New Jersey, a New Jersey Corporation doing business as The Associated Press, Michael Bezdek and Thomas Slaughter, individually and in their official respective capacities as editor and chief of bureau for the Associated Press, and John Coe, Mary Doe and Stephen Roe, 1-20, and other individuals as yet unknown, names being fictitious, individually and as agents, servants and employees of the Trenton Times, The Trentonian, The Princeton Packet and The Associated Press, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: THOMPSON

 This lawsuit arose out of plaintiff Michael Grodjeski's arrest in February 1982 for allegedly making harassing telephone calls and otherwise acting as a "Peeping Tom" in a series of incidents. Plaintiff claims that a number of police officials ["police defendants"] wrongfully assaulted, arrested, and searched him. Grodjeski also asserts that the police defendants and a variety of news organizations reporting the events ["media defendants"] libeled him.

  The precise nature of the causes of action asserted and their jurisdictional predicates is not clear from the face of the complaint. Jurisdiction is asserted under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343(3). Claims against the police defendants stemming from the arrest, alleged beating and improper search fall within 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Although a libel claim is asserted against the police defendants under state law, plaintiff contends in his brief in opposition to this motion that a "fair" reading of the complaint indicates that a § 1983 claim has been asserted based upon the libel charges because plaintiff has been deprived of his ability to make a living as an attorney as a result of the defamation. The significance of this proposed interpretation of the complaint is that plaintiff seeks to pend his claims against the media defendants to the libel claim against the police officials. Since Grodjeski is attempting to invoke this court's pendent party jurisdiction over the media defendants for his libel claims against them, as will be discussed shortly, there must be a substantial federal claim to which the libel claims are pended. The issue presented by the instant motion by the media defendants to dismiss the claims against them for lack of subject matter jurisdiction is whether the doctrine of pendent jurisdiction may be extended to confer jurisdiction over these non-federal defendants as to whom no independent basis for jurisdiction exists in an action based upon § 1983. If so, the court must decide if it will exercise its discretion to invoke pendent jurisdiction.

 It is a fundamental precept of our judicial system that the federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. In determining whether this court has jurisdiction over the claims against the media defendants, the court must undertake a three-tiered analysis. First, it must determine whether it has the Article III power to exercise jurisdiction over the claims. See United Mine Workers v. Gibbs, 383 U.S. 715, 86 S. Ct. 1130, 16 L. Ed. 2d 218 (1966). Second, it must determine whether Congress in the statutes conferring jurisdiction has not expressly or by implication negated the existence of jurisdiction. Aldinger v. Howard, 427 U.S. 1, 18, 96 S. Ct. 2413, 2422, 49 L. Ed. 2d 276 (1976). Third, it must decide whether as a matter of discretion the power should be exercised. Gibbs, supra, 383 U.S. at 726, 86 S. Ct. at 1139. These issues will be addressed seriatim.

 A. Article III Considerations

 In order to have the power to adjudicate the claims in question, the federal claim to which plaintiff seeks to pend his state claims must be substantial. In addition, the state and federal claims must derive from "a common nucleus of operative fact" such that plaintiff "would ordinarily be expected to try them all in one judicial proceeding." Id. at 725, 86 S. Ct. at 1138.

 The libel claims against the media defendants do not derive from a common nucleus of operative fact with plaintiff's § 1983 claims against the police defendants for assault, improper arrest and unlawful search. The complaint is not clear as to the nexus between the libel claims against the two sets of defendants. It would appear, however, that plaintiff is contending that the media defendants received the information from the police defendants and libeled him in publishing that information. The two sets of libel claims would appear to arise out of the same operative facts and it would not be unreasonable to expect that the claims would be tried in one forum.

 The parties dispute whether the libel claims against the police defendants constitute a substantial federal question. Plaintiff has not stated explicitly in his complaint that a § 1983 claim exists against the police defendants for libel. Although not specifically set forth as a federal claim, it would appear that the allegations may set forth a viable claim under that statute.

 To state a cause of action under § 1983, plaintiff must allege conduct under color of state law depriving him of a right, privilege or immunity secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. Reputation alone does not constitute the liberty or property considerations sufficient to trigger due process rights under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Paul v. Davis, 424 U.S. 693, 96 S. Ct. 1155, 47 L. Ed. 2d 405 (1976).

 A cognizable liberty interest appears only when an individual's reputation is stigmatized in connection with the denial of a particular constitutional guarantee or a more tangible interest. Id. at 700-01, 96 S. Ct. at 1160. New Jersey does not recognize reputation as a constitutionally protectible interest. See Maressa v. New Jersey Monthly, 89 N.J. 176, 445 A.2d 376 (1982). Even if New Jersey recognized a property interest in goodwill of a business, as plaintiff claims, plaintiff has not set forth a claim for loss of goodwill. There is no existing private practice with goodwill to lose.

 Plaintiff's claim of loss of employment as an attorney presents a closer issue. In Paul, the Court rejected plaintiff's assertion that loss of future employment opportunities resulted in a constitutional deprivation. In the present case, as in Paul, there has been no change in plaintiff's status. Cf. Bd. of Regents v. Roth, 408 U.S. 564, 92 S. Ct. 2701, 33 L. Ed. 2d 548 (1972); Wisconsin v. Constantineau, 400 U.S. 433, 91 S. Ct. 507, 27 L. Ed. 2d 515 (1971). There is no statement in the complaint that plaintiff was fired from his public employment as a result of the alleged defamation by the police officials. The ability to engage in one's livelihood, if completely foreclosed by the state's action in libeling a person, may rise to the level of a constitutionally protected interest. While plaintiff's reputation alone may not be constitutionally cognizable in New Jersey, it would appear that the ability to engage in one's livelihood is. The court need not resolve this constitutional issue, however, both because the complaint does not make the allegations with the requisite specificity and, as discussed infra, the court has concluded that Congress has negated the existence of jurisdiction in this matter.

 B. Jurisdictional Grants

 Prior to Aldinger, supra, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit extended the scope of pendent jurisdiction to pendent party cases. See, e.g., Curtis v. Everette, 489 F.2d 516 (3d Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 416 U.S. 995, 94 S. Ct. 2409, 40 L. Ed. 2d 774 (1974); Nelson v. Keefer, 451 F.2d 289 (3d Cir.1971). In Aldinger, however, the Supreme Court rejected the application of pendent party jurisdiction when asserted against a municipal corporation in an action brought pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1343(3) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In determining that Congress had by implication negated the existence of jurisdiction over such a claim, the Court noted that under the then-current interpretation of § 1983 neither substantive liability under that section nor federal jurisdiction under its jurisdictional counterpart extended to municipal corporations. The Court concluded, therefore, that allowing the plaintiff to sue the municipality in federal court on the related state claim would violate the intent of Congress. 427 U.S. at 17, 96 S. Ct. at 2421. The Court stated:

 
Parties such as counties, whom Congress excluded from liability in § 1983, and therefore by reference in the grant of jurisdiction under § 1343(3), can argue with a great deal of force that the scope of that "civil action" over which the district courts have been given statutory jurisdiction should not be so broadly read as to bring them back within that power merely because the facts also give rise to an ordinary civil action against them under state law. In short, as against a plaintiff's claim of additional power over a "pendent party," the reach of the statute ...

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