The opinion of the court was delivered by: WOLIN
This case requires the Court as a matter of first impression to determine whether the entire controversy doctrine applies to actions initiated before an administrative agency where the agency is unable to award compensatory and punitive damages to the claimant.
Subsumed within this issue is New Jersey's policy that a plaintiff select the forum with the widest possible relief or lose the right to obtain specific relief in a separate judicial proceeding before a court of competent jurisdiction, either state or federal.
Before the Court is defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiff's complaint for failure to comply with New Jersey's entire controversy doctrine and for failure to state a cause of action. The Court has decided this motion on the written submissions of the parties pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant defendants' motion to dismiss.
Contemporaneous with the filing of the order to show cause, Kelly and the PBA elected to file an unfair labor practice charge with PERC
wherein Kelly alleged that he was subjected to disciplinary actions in retaliation for his union activities as PBA president. Kelly contended that the defendants' proposed disciplinary proceeding violated the New Jersey Employer-Employee Relations Act, N.J.S.A. 34:13A-1, et seq. (the "Act") and his First Amendment right of free speech. (Def.'s Ex. A.) Defendants agreed to postpone the disciplinary hearing pending the disposition of the unfair labor practice charge.
In May 1995, PERC issued its opinion that the Borough had violated the Act. PERC then ordered that the pending disciplinary proceeding against Kelly be withdrawn, that defendants cease and desist from interfering with or discriminating against the PBA or Kelly, and that Kelly's record be expunged of any related discipline. With respect to Kelly's First Amendment claim, PERC merely noted that the hearing examiner had declined to address it. Neither the PBA nor Kelly sought appellate review of PERC's decision and order which dismissed certain of their claims and declined to address Kelly's First Amendment claim.
While the unfair labor practice charge was still pending with PERC, Kelly filed the instant action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("section 1983") alleging that defendants' conduct violated his rights under the Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments. In this action Kelly is seeking compensatory damages for pain and suffering, punitive damages, and attorneys' fees. Such remedies were not available to him under the Act.
Defendants move to dismiss this action because Kelly voluntarily and knowingly elected to litigate his First Amendment claim and his claims under the Act before PERC, which he was not required to do.
Subsequently, he named Sprague as a party defendant and brought his Fifth, Sixth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment claims in this Court to obtain additional remedies. It is this fragmented presentation of claims that defendants contend violates the entire controversy doctrine. Defendants alternatively contend that the Court should dismiss Kelly's section 1983 claims for failing to state a claim.
A. New Jersey's Entire Controversy Doctrine
New Jersey's entire controversy doctrine is a strict application of the rule against splitting a cause of action, "reaching more broadly than the same cause of action requirement of the traditional res judicata doctrine."
Electro-Miniatures Corp. v. Wendon Co., Inc., 889 F.2d 41, 44 (3d Cir. 1989) (citation and quotation marks omitted); Bennun v. Rutgers State University, 941 F.2d 154, 163 (3d Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 1066, 112 S. Ct. 956, 117 L. Ed. 2d 124 (1992). The doctrine holds that "the adjudication of a legal controversy should occur in one litigation in only one court" and that "all parties involved in the litigation should at the very least present in that proceeding all of their claims and defenses that are related to the underlying controversy." Kozyra v. Allen, 973 F.2d 1110, 1111 (3d Cir. 1992) (citation omitted). The entire controversy doctrine also:
encompasses the mandatory joinder of parties. To the extent possible courts must determine an entire controversy in a single judicial proceeding and that such a determination necessarily embraces not only joinder of related claims between the parties but also ...