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JOHNSON v. NEW JERSEY

November 30, 1994

CARL I. JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ALFRED M. WOLIN

 WOLIN District Judge

 This matter comes before the Court on the motion of certain defendants to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. Defendants State of New Jersey, New Jersey Superior Court, Administrative Office of the Courts and four state court judges argue that the doctrines of judicial immunity and sovereign immunity warrant dismissal of the complaint as to them.

 This motion raises several complex issues of Eleventh Amendment jurisprudence, many of which are issues of first impression in this Circuit. As the Third Circuit held: "Any step through the looking glass of the Eleventh Amendment leads to a wonderland of judicially created and perpetuated fiction and paradox." Spicer v. Hilton, 618 F.2d 232, 235 (3d Cir. 1980). This Court will walk through the "wonderland" of Eleventh Amendment law in search of answers.

 BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff Carl I. Johnson was a defendant in a divorce and child custody action brought in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Essex County. During his divorce and custody proceeding, plaintiff lost custody of his children to his wife. Aggravated by the results of his divorce and custody proceeding, plaintiff filed this lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, and 1985, inter alia. Plaintiff named as defendants the State of New Jersey, *fn1" Superior Court of New Jersey, *fn2" Administrative Office of the Courts, *fn3" Essex County Probation Department, *fn4" Honorable Herbert S. Glickman, J.S.C., Honorable Katherine G. Hayden, J.S.C., Honorable Stephen Skillman, J.A.D. and Honorable Charles E. Villanueva, J.A.D, (hereinafter referred to collectively as "defendant judges") Janie Edwards, *fn5" Z. Smith *fn6" and Theresa M. Johnson. *fn7"

 In Count I of his complaint plaintiff alleges the Superior Court of New Jersey and the defendant judges violated his right to due process and equal protection of the laws under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. Specifically plaintiff complains that these defendants require "fathers but not mothers to submit affidavits setting[] forth why it is in the best interest of the children for fathers to have custody of the children and the refusal to consider Plaintiff['s] . . . application for custody." (Complaint, P 29).

 In addition, in Count I, plaintiff alleges that defendant Essex County Probation Department deprived him of his "liberty, freedom from being threatened with arrest and being thrown in jail without due process of law." (Complaint, P 31). Plaintiff complains that the Essex County Probation Department notified him that "if he did not abide by the rules of the Essex County Probation Department his case would be returned to" the Superior Court. (Complaint, P 31). Plaintiff also alleges that defendant Janie Edwards, an employee of the Essex County Probation Department, violated his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process by "threatening to have plaintiff immediately arrested and thrown in jail." (Complaint, P 31).

 In Count II of his complaint plaintiff alleges that the State of New Jersey, Superior Court of New Jersey and the defendant judges "violated plaintiff's rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1981 by denying plaintiff the right to give evidence and to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings by requiring plaintiff, a member of the distinct class of fathers, to submit an affidavit in order for his application for custody of his children to be considered and not requiring the same" of his wife, or mothers as a class. (Complaint, P 35). Plaintiff also alleges a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 because his wife, a part of the class of mothers, was "granted a divorce without having to prove any of her allegations." (Complaint, P 35). Plaintiff also alleges a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 because defendant Essex County Probation Department and Janie Edwards threatened "plaintiff, a member of the distinct class of fathers, with immediate arrest and being thrown in jail without a prior hearing before a court, a court order or a warrant of arrest." (Complaint, P 37).

 In Count III plaintiff uses the allegations described supra in Count II to allege violations of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Superior Court of New Jersey, the Essex County Probation Department, the defendant judges and Janie Edwards.

 In Count IV plaintiff uses the allegations described supra in Count II to allege violations of his constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1985 against the defendant judges.

 In Count V plaintiff alleges he was libeled by the Administrative Office of the Courts, Essex County Probation Department and Z. Smith when these defendants acted in concert to report his failure to pay child support to credit bureaus and lending institutions.

 In each count of his complaint Plaintiff seeks declaratory relief, compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys fees, costs, interest, injunctive relief and "such other and further relief as plaintiff may be entitled to." (Counts I - V).

 The current motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) was brought on behalf of the State of New Jersey, Superior Court of New Jersey, Administrative Office of the Courts, Honorable Herbert S. Glickman, J.S.C., Honorable Katherine G. Hayden, J.S.C., Honorable Stephen Skillman, J.A.D. and Honorable Charles E. Villanueva, J.A.D. Defendants Essex County Probation Department, Janie Edwards, Z. Smith and Theresa M. Johnson did not bring a motion to dismiss.

 DISCUSSION

 I. Standard of Review

 In determining whether a complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must limit its consideration to the facts alleged in the complaint. Biesenbach v. Guenther, 588 F.2d 400, 402 (3d Cir. 1978). Moreover, in its examination of the complaint, the Court is required to accept all of the allegations contained therein and all inferences arising therefrom as true. Hishon v. King & Spalding, 467 U.S. 69, 73, 81 L. Ed. 2d 59, 104 S. Ct. 2229 (1984). If plaintiff can prove any set of facts in support of his claim that would entitle him to relief, his complaint should not be dismissed. Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46, 2 L. Ed. 2d 80, 78 S. Ct. 99 (1957); D.P. Enterprises, Inc. v. Bucks County Community College, 725 F.2d 943, 944 (3d Cir. 1984).

 It is recognized that pro se submissions "must be held to 'less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers.'" Estelle v. Gamble, 429 U.S. 97, 106, 50 L. Ed. 2d 251, 97 S. Ct. 285, (1976) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. at 45-46); see also Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520, 30 L. Ed. 2d 652, 92 S. Ct. 594 (1972). Therefore, this Court will endeavor to construe plaintiff's complaint in a light most favorable to the plaintiff.

 This Court will first examine plaintiff's claims against the defendant judges. Because plaintiff seeks both damages and injunctive relief, this Court will examine each of these issues separately. The Court then will examine plaintiff's claims against the State of New Jersey and the Administrative Office of the Courts.

 II. Claims Against Defendant ...


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