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HUGHES v. LIPSCHER

September 8, 1989

MARIE WILLIAMS HUGHES and JOSEPH P. HUGHES, Plaintiffs,
v.
ROBERT D. LIPSCHER, individually and in his official capacity as Director of the Administrative Office of the Courts, State of New Jersey, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: POLITAN

 NICHOLAS H. POLITAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

 This matter comes before the Court on plaintiff's application for a preliminary and permanent injunction to prevent enforcement of New Jersey Supreme Court Municipal Bulletin Letter #5/6-77 which prohibits marriages and certain other relationships between municipal court clerks and police officers working in the same municipality. Plaintiff also seeks a declaration that the Bulletin Letter is unconstitutional on its face and as applied to the facts of this case. Defendants have filed a cross-motion urging this Court to abstain from reaching the merits of plaintiff's application, or in the alternative, for summary judgment.

 Since the very beginning of time, marriage has been one of the fundamental cornerstones of all mankind. The right to marry is so fundamental and important to our society that the Supreme Court has recognized it as being implicit within the Constitutional framework. With a fundamental right of such importance, to have this Court or any Court for that matter, interfere with, impede or penalize two persons desiring to enter into that relationship, requires a compelling state interest of great magnitude. Even in such cases, all reasonable alternative avenues to satisfy that compelling state interest must be explored and rejected before such a regulation can pass Constitutional muster. The Court should encourage legitimate marriage, not discourage it. Broad brush regulations, such as the one in the case at bar, suggest mechanical, computer-like answers to human problems of constitutional dimensions, without giving proper consideration to balancing the importance of this "vital personal right essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men" *fn1" with the compelling state interest. That balance clearly tips in favor of the right to marry and, as such, requires that the regulation in question be declared unconstitutional.

 The essential facts of this case are not disputed. In 1975, plaintiff Marie Williams became employed as a clerk typist in the Borough of North Arlington Municipal Court. On July 29, 1981, she was appointed to the Civil Service permanent position of Municipal Court Clerk by Borough Resolution, retroactive to April 21, 1981. Plaintiff Joseph Hughes obtained employment with the Police Department of the Borough of North Arlington on December 5, 1971. From December 1971 through March 1983, he held the rank of patrolman. In March 1983 Joseph Hughes was promoted to the rank of Detective with the North Arlington Police Department. Since that time, he has been exclusively assigned to the Detective Bureau which investigates primarily criminal offenses of an indictable nature. These offenses are routinely prosecuted in the Superior Court of New Jersey and unless downgraded, are beyond the jurisdiction of the Municipal Court.

 In May 1977 the Supreme Court, through the Administrative Office of the Courts, issued a directive through Municipal Court Bulletin Letter #5/6-77 which provides:

 
SPOUSE, PARENT OR CHILD OF LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICER SERVING AS COURT CLERK OR DEPUTY COURT CLERK.
 
The Supreme Court has considered various problems that may arise when the spouse or parent or child of an enforcement officer serves as a court clerk or deputy court clerk in a municipal court where the officer serves on the police force in that municipality. The Court has indicated that after August 1, 1977 no court clerk or deputy court clerk of a municipal court may be appointed or designated if that person has a spouse, parent or child who is or becomes a police officer serving on the police force in that municipality. If such situations exist on or before August 1, 1977 they may continue provided that court clerks or deputy court clerks of any municipal court should not prepare or complete the jurat on any complaint or sign any arrest warrant nor fix bail involving any local, county or state officer who is his or her spouse, parent or child. In these situations, the court clerk or deputy court clerk, who is not so related to the officer should perform these acts. If necessary, the judge or acting judge should be called to perform these acts.
 
All municipal courts, regardless of size, should have a deputy court clerk, who can act in conflict situations noted above and, of course, when the court clerk is sick, on vacation or otherwise unable to perform required duties.

 In their Complaint, plaintiffs allege that Bulletin Letter #5/6-77 directly and significantly interferes and infringes upon their constitutionally protected rights of privacy, family association and marriage in a manner that fails to advance a compelling state interest by narrowly tailored means. In addition, plaintiffs maintain that Bulletin Letter #5/6-77 violates the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by creating a classification that prohibits certain family relationships between Municipal Court Clerks and police officers, while allowing other family relationships of a similar nature in the same job categories. Plaintiffs also state a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 for a deprivation of federal rights under color of state law. *fn2" Finally, plaintiffs allege that the terms of Bulletin Letter #5/6-77 violate the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1, et seq., which specifically prohibits discrimination based on "marital status", and their state constitutional rights under Article I, para. 1 of the New Jersey Constitution.

 At the outset, defendants argue that this Court should abstain from hearing plaintiffs' claims based on the doctrine of abstention as set forth in Railroad Commission of Texas v. Pullman, 312 U.S. 496, 85 L. Ed. 971, 61 S. Ct. 643 (1941), and Burford v. Sun Oil Company, 319 U.S. 315, 87 L. Ed. 1424, 63 S. Ct. 1098 (1943). *fn3" In their view, plaintiffs must bring a state court action and ultimately seek the opinion of the state Supreme Court sitting in its adjudicative rather than its rule making capacity before filing for relief in this Court.

 Abstention from the exercise of federal jurisdiction is the exception, not the rule. See Colorado River Water Cons. Dist. v. United States, 424 U.S. 800, 813, 47 L. Ed. 2d 483, 96 S. Ct. 1236 (1976). Generally, federal courts should fully adjudicate claims that are properly presented and that are within the court's jurisdiction. Abstention can be justified only in exceptional circumstances presented "in a narrow range of special cases." United States v. Pittsburgh, 757 F.2d 43, 45 (3d Cir. 1985).

 In general, Burford abstention is appropriate when a federal court is presented with highly complex and technical state regulatory schemes usually administered by specialized state regulatory agencies. See United Services Auto. Ass'n v. Muir, 792 F.2d 356, 364 (3d Cir. 1986), cert. denied sub nom Grode v. United Services Auto. Ass'n., 479 U.S. 1031, 93 L. Ed. 2d 832, 107 S. Ct. 877 (1987). In Burford itself, the federal court was required to interpret state regulations governing oil and gas conservation and the drilling of wells. See 319 U.S. at 318. Because federal intervention would likely have disrupted the specialized system ...


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