The opinion of the court was delivered by: LECHNER
This is an action for emergent relief brought by plaintiffs Alan A. ("Alan A."), Barry B. ("Barry B."), Carl C. ("Carl C."), David D. ("David D."), Jeff J. ("Jeff J."), Kenneth K. ("Kenneth K.")(all fictitious names, collectively, the "Plaintiffs").
Plaintiffs are subject to the requirements of Megan's Law, New Jersey's sex offender registration and notification act, N.J.S.A. 2C:7-1 et seq. ("Megan's Law" or the "Act").
The Defendants in this matter are Peter Verniero, Attorney General of New Jersey, William H. Schmidt ("Schmidt"), Bergen County Prosecutor and Ronald S. Fava ("Fava"), Passaic County Prosecutor (at times, collectively referred to as "Prosecutor").
Jurisdiction is alleged pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1343(3) and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. First Amended Complaint, P 2. Declaratory and injunctive relief is requested pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202. Id., P 3.
On 14 May 1997, Plaintiffs filed the First Amended Complaint. In the First Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs seek: 1) "issuance of a temporary restraining order/preliminary injunction prohibiting the Defendants and anyone acting in concert with them from proceeding with conferences or hearings in state court for the purpose of determining tier classification and manner of community notification in this matter during the pendency of this temporary restraining order/preliminary injunction [("Request to Enjoin State Proceedings")]," 2) "issuance of an immediate temporary restraining order/preliminary injunction prohibiting the Defendants and anyone acting in concert with them from issuing or disseminating in any manner Tier II or Tier III notification regarding members of the Plaintiffs under N.J.S.A. 2C:7-1 et seq. during the pendency of this action or, in the alternative, until fifteen days following the Third Circuits decision in W.P. v. Verniero et al., (Dkt No. 96-5416) [("Request to Enjoin Notification")]", 3) "entry of a declaratory judgment which defines the rights of the Plaintiffs and all members of the Plaintiffs' proposed class and which invalidates Megan's Law as being unconstitutional [("Request for Declaratory Judgment")]". See First Amended Complaint at 17-18. Plaintiffs further request relief from the obligation to post a bond ("Request For Relief from Posting Bond"), an order placing this matter under seal,
an order permitting Plaintiffs to proceed In Forma Pauperis ("Request to Proceed In Forma Pauperis "), and other relief as Plaintiffs may be entitled.
Megan's Law is constitutional. The Plaintiffs have demonstrated no possibility of success on the merits of their claims. Accordingly, for the reasons set forth below, the Request to Enjoin State Proceedings, the Request to Enjoin Notification and the Request for a Declaratory Judgment are denied. The Request for Relief from Posting Bond and the Request to Proceed In Forma Pauperis were not briefed and are not addressed in this opinion.
Each of the remaining Plaintiffs is a resident of the State of New Jersey and was convicted of a sexual offense, as defined in Megan's Law, and has been classified by a county Prosecutor as either a Tier II or Tier III offender. First Amended Complaint, PP 5-9, 16. Each Plaintiff is subject to the notification and tier classification provision of the Act. The date each Plaintiff's offense was committed was on or after the effective date of the Act. Id.
Alan A. is eighteen years old and lives with his father. Alan A. pleaded guilty to Aggravated Sexual Assault for having sex with a twelve year old minor when Alan A. was sixteen years old. Id., P 5. Alan A. was found delinquent as a juvenile and sentenced to two years at a juvenile medium security facility. Id. Alan A. was paroled in 1996. Id.
Barry B. is twenty-three years old and lives with his mother. Id., P 6. Barry B. pleaded guilty to sexual assault for committing a sexual offense against a minor. Barry B. was sentenced to four years probation. Id.
Carl C. is nineteen years old. Carl C. pleaded guilty to aggravated sexual contact. Carl C. was sentenced to three years probation. Id., P 7.
David D. is twenty three years old and lives with his mother and step-father. David D. pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a child by having committed a sexual act against a minor. David D. was sentenced to four years confinement and was paroled in 1996. Id., P 8.
Jeff J. is sixty-three years old. Jeff J. pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a minor. Jeff J. was sentenced to five years probation and directed to have no contact with the victim. Id., P 9.
Kenneth K. is sixty-three years old. Kenneth K. pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a child, a minor household member. Kenneth K. was sentenced to five years probation, no victim contact and counseling. Id., P 10.
As stated, the Defendants are Peter Verniero, the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, who is responsible for implementing and prosecuting Megan's Law on a statewide basis. Id., P 11. The remaining Defendants are Schmidt, the Bergen County Prosecutor and Fava, the Passaic County Prosecutor. Id., PP 12-13.
Megan's Law was enacted on 31 October 1994.
The Act requires certain sex offenders to register with local law enforcement, see N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2, and authorizes law enforcement agencies "to release relevant and necessary information regarding sex offenders to the public when the release of the information is necessary for public protection...." See N.J.S.A. 2C:7-5. The purpose of the registration and subsequent notification is proffered in the first section of the Act:
b. A system of registration of sex offenders and offenders who commit other predatory acts against children will provide law enforcement with additional information critical to preventing and promptly resolving incidents involving sexual abuse and missing persons.
a. Registration Requirement
The Act "requires registration [(the "Registration Provision")] of sex offenders convicted after its effective date and all prior convicted offenders whose conduct was found to be repetitive or compulsive." Doe v. Poritz, 142 N.J. 1, 20, 662 A.2d 367 (1995); see N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2. The sex offenses that trigger the Registration Provision include the crimes of aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, aggravated criminal sexual contact and kidnapping pursuant to paragraph (2), subsection c. of N.J.S.A. 2C:13-1 or an attempt to commit any of these crimes. See N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(a). "For those convicted after [the] effective date, added to the foregoing are various laws, concerning endangering the welfare of a child, luring or enticing, criminal sexual conduct if the victim is a minor, and kidnapping, criminal restraint, or false imprisonment if the victim is a minor and the offender is not the parent," or an attempt to commit any of these offenses.
Doe, 142 N.J. at 20.
The Registration Provision requires the offender to provide to the local law enforcement information such as the offender's name, age, race, gender, date of birth, height, weight, hair and eye color, address of legal and temporary residence, date and place of employment, date and place of conviction, adjudication or acquittal by reason of insanity, indictment number, fingerprints, a brief description of the crime or crimes for which registration is required, as well as other information deemed necessary to assess the risk of the future commission of a crime. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-4(b); Complaint, P 15.
An offender may make an application "to terminate the obligation upon proof that [he or she] has not committed an offense within [fifteen] years following conviction or release from a correctional facility for any term of imprisonment imposed ... and is not likely to pose a threat to the safety of others." See N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(f). The failure of an offender to comply with the Registration Provision is a fourth degree crime. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-2(a).
b. Notification Provision
Pursuant to the notification provision in the Act ("Notification Provision"), local law enforcement agencies are required to give appropriate notification of the offender's presence in the community. Doe, 142 N.J. at 22. Megan's Law provides for three levels of notification based upon the risk of re-offense of the offender (the "Tier Classification").
The Act directed the New Jersey Attorney General to promulgate guidelines and procedures for notification. N.J.S.A. 2C:7-8. The New Jersey Attorney General implemented the Registrant Risk Assessment Scale Manual ("Risk Assessment Manuel") and the Registrant Risk Assessment Scale ("RRAS"). The Risk Assessment Manuel was created "to assist in the implementation of the [RRAS]." See Risk Assessment Manuel, attached to First Amended Complaint as Exhibit G. The Risk Assessment Manuel and the RRAS were designed to provide "an objective standard on which to base the community notification decision mandated by statute and to insure that the notification law is applied in a uniform manner throughout the State." Id.
The Prosecutor of the county where the offender has chosen to reside initiates the Tier Classification process by applying the Risk Assessment Manuel and the thirteen factors provided in the RRAS. Id., P 16. The factors are recognized by experts in the field of risk assessment as reliable predictors of recidivism. Matter of C.A., 146 N.J. 71, 105, 679 A.2d 1153 (1996). The offender is given a score with respect to each factor: low risk (0), moderate risk (1), or high risk (3). See RRAS, attached to First Amended Complaint as Exhibits A through F.
The thirteen factors that comprise the RRAS are organized into four categories: 1) seriousness of the offense, 2) offense history, 3) characteristics of the offender, and 4) community support. First Amended Complaint, P 17. The initial score for each of the thirteen factors is increased by multipliers, which differ by heading; the data are added together for a final risk assessment score ("RRAS Score"). First Amended Complaint, P 18. Only one RRAS exists for all sex offenders registered under the Act. Id., P 19.
The Prosecutor of the appropriate county determines the scope of notification by employing the guidelines promulgated by the New Jersey Attorney General. See Guidelines for Law Enforcement for Notification to Local Officials and/or the Community of the Entry of a Sex Offender into the Community ("Notification Guidelines"), attached to First Amended Complaint as Exhibit H.
Offenders do not participate in the Tier Classification and scope of notification determinations made by the Prosecutor. First Amended Complaint, P 23. An offender is provided written notice of the Tier Classification and is given the opportunity to object and request a hearing (the "Tier Determination Hearing"). Id., P 24. "If such application is made, there will be no notification until and unless affirmed by the court or, if reversed, until and unless the prosecutor provides notification in accord with the reasons for reversal." Doe, 142 N.J. at 31. All of the Plaintiffs in this action have filed requests for judicial review of the Prosecutor's proposed Tier Classification and community notification decision. First Amended Complaint, P 27.
c. Tier Determination Hearing
Upon receipt of an objection to the Tier Classification by the offender, a court immediately sets down a date for a hearing and decision on the issue. Doe, 142 N.J. at 31. The offender, or his or her attorney, is provided full discovery, as is the reviewing judge. 10 April Squitieri Aff., P 17. Full discovery includes everything that was relied upon by the Prosecutor in determining the Tier Classification for the offender. Id.; Doe, 142 N.J. at 31 ("The prosecutor shall forthwith turn over all papers, documents, and other material, including the prosecutor's findings and statement of reasons for the level and manner of proposed notification to the court and to the offender and counsel.").
Pre-Tier Determination Hearing conferences are conducted by the trial court ("First Status Conference"). 10 April Squitieri Aff., P 16. In both Bergen County and Passaic County, the First Status Conference takes place in the judge's chambers. 10 April Eisenberg Aff., P 11; 10 April Squitieri Aff., P 18.
At the First Status Conference, the parties attempt to assess whether, with additional information, they will be able to reach an agreement as to the Tier Classification or whether a full Tier Determination Hearing is required. 10 April Eisenberg Aff., P 11; cf. 10 April Squitieri Aff., P 18. A final tier status may result from the First Status Conference where the parties are in agreement as to the Tier Classification status. 10 April Eisenberg Aff., P 12. "Generally, [however], the First Status Conference results in further investigation...." 10 April Squitieri Aff., P 18.
At the time of the filing of this opinion, the status of the conferences and hearings for each of the Plaintiffs were as follows:
Alan A. scored a 54 making [him] a [Tier II] on the RRAS. [He] was personally served on [27 January 1997] for a [10 February 1997] First Status Conference. At the First Status Conference [Alan A,] set forth [his] contentions, however, since the Tier designation would not change, even if the issues of contention were resolved in [his] favor, a request for an expert was made. The Passaic County Prosecutor's Office did not object and the court granted the request. It was agreed by all parties that a second status conference would not be necessary. The hearing date was set for [1 April 1997]. Due to inclement weather, [Alan A.'s] expert could not appear, so the matter was adjourned to [29 April 1997]. On [29 April 1997], a hearing was held. After a full day of testimony and oral arguments, the matter was adjourned to [2 May 1997] to conclude oral arguments. On [2 May 1997], the Court heard the remainder of oral arguments and permitted [Alan A.] to reopen [his] case to have a witness testify. The Court reserved and scheduled her decision to be rendered on [9 May 1997]. On [9 May 1997], the judge adjourned the hearing to [5 September 1997] on the condition that [Alan A.] enter therapy. On [5 September 1997], the therapist will be required to render a further opinion as to the risk of reoffense.
Barry B. scored an 83 initially, making [him] a [Tier III] on the RRAS. [He] was personally served on [20 February 1997] for a [10 March 1997] First Status Conference. As a result of the First Status Conference, [his] score was amended to a 77, thus [Barry B.] is still a [Tier III]. Several other issues were raised, and the matter was adjourned to [4 April 1997] for a second status conference. The second status conference was further adjourned by the court due to a scheduling problem to [17 April 1997]. On [17 April 1997], a second status conference was held and continued to [18 April 1997]. The matter could not be resolved and a request for an expert was made by [Barry B.] which was not objected to and granted by the court. The matter [was] scheduled for [30 May 1997] for a third status conference to review the expert's findings.
David D scored a 63 making [him] a [Tier II] on the RRAS. [He] was personally served on 11 February 1997 for a 3 March 1997 First Status Conference. At the First Status Conference [David D.] set forth [his] contentions, however, since the Tier would not change even if the issues of contention were resolved in [his] favor, a request for an expert was made. [The Passaic County Prosecutor's Office] objected to the request and on 10 March 1997 oral argument was conducted and the judge denied the request finding that [David D.] failed to meet the minimum requirement to get an expert. On [27 March 1997] a judicial review hearing was conducted and continued to [1 April 1997]. The court ruled that [David D.] was a moderate risk for re-offense and affirmed the Tier designation. The matter was adjourned to [4 April 1997] on the issue of notification. On [4 April 1997] a list of [fourteen] schools/community organizations were submitted to the court and [David D.'s] attorney, along with a map reflecting the zones. The court held that [six] of the [fourteen] schools could be informed. The Order was signed on [7 April 1997]. The Court granted a [two] day stay, the Appellate Division granted a stay pending appeal on [8 April 1997]. Oral argument, via telephone were (sic) held on [14 April 1997]. The Appellate [Division] affirmed the trial court's findings however their decision [was filed on 29 April 1992]. Based on the agreement made in court on [24 April 1997], no notification [was to] occur until the agreed upon time has elapsed. On [30 April 1997], stay pending certification was consented to.
22 May Squitieri Aff., PP 1-3.
Evan E. scored a 44, making [him] a [Tier II] on the RRAS. [He] was personally served on [4 February 1997] for a [24 February 1997] First Status Conference. [Evan E.] failed to appear and a default judgment was requested but it was denied. The court mailed [Evan E.] a letter giving [him] a new date on [24 March 1997]. On [24 March 1997], [Evan E.] appeared with [his] attorney. The matter was conferenced. As a result of the status conference, the score was changed to a 36, a [Tier I], thus the matter was concluded.
Frank F. scored a 51, making [him] a [Tier II] on the RRAS. [He] was personally served on [29 January 1997] for a [10 February 1997] First Status Conference. At the First Status Conference several issues were discussed and further investigation became necessary. The matter was set down for a second status conference for [24 February 1997]. At the second status conference the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office changed [Frank F.'s] score from a 51 to a 41, but [he] was still a [Tier II]. A request for an expert was made which was not objected to by the Passaic County Prosecutor's Office and was granted by the judge. The final hearing was set for [21 March 1997]. At the final hearing, the court concluded that despite the [Frank F.'s] score, [he] was a low risk for re-offense. Thus the judge made [him] a [Tier I], and the matter was concluded.
Gary G. scored a 45, making [him] a [Tier II] on the RRAS. [He] was personally served on [16 January 1997] for a [3 February 1997] First Status Conference. [Gary G.] failed to appear for the First Status Conference. The judge requested that [the Prosecutor's Office] reach out to [Gary G.] to inform [him] of the new date. That request was carried out. On [18 February 1997, Gary G.] appeared without an attorney. [He] was directed to go to the public defender's office to apply for an attorney and the First Status Conference was adjourned to [24 March 1997]. At the First Status Conference, the case settled and although [he] is classified as a [Tier II], only [his] family and law enforcement were . . . to be told. The settlement was placed on the record and approved by the court. Thus, the matter was concluded.
Harry H. scored a 45, making [him] a [Tier II] on the RRAS. [Harry H.] was personally served on [26 February 1997] for a [21 March 1997] First Status Conference. At the First Status Conference several issues were brought to the attention of the Unit Attorney and the judge. The matter was adjourned to [11 April 1997] for a second status conference for further investigation. A conference was held on [11 April 1997] prior to the hearing and [Harry H's] score was lowered to a 41. At the hearing the judge held that the Prosecutor's Office did not meet its prima facie burden as to criteria number one, degree of force, therefore the score was changed to a 36, a tier [I]. Thus, the matter was concluded.
Irving I. scored a 43, making [him] a [Tier II] on the RRAS. [He] was personally served on [13 March 1997] for [a 4 April 1997] First Status Conference. The First Status Conference was adjourned by the Court due to scheduling problems. It was adjourned to [17 April 1997]. As a result of the First Status Conference on [17 April 1997], the Prosecutor's Office amended the score from 43 to 39. An expert was requested by [Irving I.] which was not objected to by the Prosecutor's Office and the request was granted by the Court. On [2 May 1997], a hearing was conducted and the Court held that [Irving I.] was a 39, however, based upon the expert report, [he] was held to be a Tier [I] low risk. Thus, the matter was concluded.
5 May Squitieri Aff., PP 4-8.
Jeff J. scored a 50, making [him] a [Tier II] on the RRAS. [Jeff J.] was personally served on [13 March 1997] for [a 4 April 1997] First Status Conference. The First Status Conference was adjourned by the Court due to scheduling problems. It was adjourned to [17 April 1997]. On [17 April 1997], a request for an expert was made by [Jeff J.] which was not objected to by the Prosecutor's Office and the request was granted. The matter was initially adjourned to [8 May 1997], however a further adjournment was granted at [Jeff J.'s] request since the expert's report was not ready. The matter was initially adjourned to [22 May 1997] however pursuant to the Court's request, it was adjourned to [13 June 1997].
Kenneth K. scored a 52, making [him] a [Tier II] on the RRAS. [Kenneth K.] was personally served on [13 March 1997] for [a 4 April 1997] First Status Conference. The First Status Conference was adjourned by the Court due to scheduling problems. The matter was adjourned to [17 April 1997]. On [17 April 1997] the First Status Conference was held and a request for an expert was made by [Kenneth K.] which was not objected to by the Prosecutor's Office and the request was granted by the Court. The second status conference was scheduled for [23 May 1997], however, pursuant to the Court's request, the matter was adjourned to [13 June 1997].
22 May Squitieri Aff., PP 27-36.
At the preliminary conference, it was agreed that in order to properly assess [Carl C.'s] Tier a current therapist's report, verification of employment and residence were required. Accordingly, Judge Ciolino carried the matter until [8 April 1996]. Subsequently, due to Judge Ciolino's retirement and re-assignment of Megan's Law responsibilities to Judge William Meehan, P.J.S.C., the matter was adjourned to [2 May 1997].
10 April Eisenberg Aff., P 18.
A conference was held on [6 May 1997, before the Honorable William C. Meehan, P.J.S.C. As a condition of probation, [Carl C.] was ordered-to atten sex offender therapy. A report from his therapist noted he has recently been discharged from group therapy for the second time due to [his] lack of cooperation. As a result, Probation has indicated its intention to charge [Carl C.] with a violation of probation and to require [him] to attend individual therapy with a new therapist. It was agreed that [Carl C.'s] counsel will request that the new therapist provide the court with an evaluation. It was agreed the matter would be adjourned until [3 June 1997] at which time a hearing [would] be conducted.
7 May Eisenberg Aff., P 3.
A hearing was held before the Honorable William C. Meehan, P.S.J.C. on [3 June 1997]. At that time, the court ordered that [Carl C.] be classified as a Tier I with a review in six months to determine [Carl C.'s] participation and progress in counselling (sic). Because [Carl C.] recently moved to Passaic County, the matter was transferred to Passaic County to determine the scope of notification.
4 June Eisenberg Aff., P 3. It appears because Carl C. has moved to Passaic County, "the whole process begins anew" and a Tier Classification must be given from Passaic County. See 20 June Tr. at 6.
At the Tier Determination Hearing, the offender has the right to be represented by counsel, or if he or she cannot afford it, to have counsel assigned by the court. 10 April Squitieri Aff., P 15. At the Tier Determination Hearing, conducted in camera, the Prosecutor must demonstrate that the evidence "justifies the proposed Tier Classification and manner of notification." Doe, 142 N.J. at 31-2. The burden of persuasion then shifts to the offender to demonstrate by a preponderance that the evidence does not conform to the laws and guidelines. Id., at 32. "The court's determination is independent and based on its own review of the case on the merits." C.A., 146 N.J. at 84.
Orders from the trial court which allow for notification contain a provision stating such orders shall not become effective until the expiration of two business days after the date of the execution of the order. See Outline of Procedure for Hearings on Objections to Megan's Law Tier 2 and Tier 3 Classification and Manner of Notification Determinations ("Outline of Procedures"), attached to First Amended Complaint as Exhibit P, at 4. The offender may appeal the decision rendered at the Tier Determination Hearing. Doe, 142 N.J. 1 at 32, 662 A.2d 367.
A. Abstention Under Younger Doctrine or Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
As a threshold matter, it must be determined whether the Younger abstention doctrine or the Rooker-Feldman doctrine precludes the exercise of subject matter jurisdiction in this matter. See Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 27 L. Ed. 2d 669, 91 S. Ct. 746 (1971); Rooker v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 68 L. Ed. 362, 44 S. Ct. 149 (1923); District of Columbia Ct. of App. v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 75 L. Ed. 2d 206, 103 S. Ct. 1303 (1983). The courts which have addressed these issues have held the two doctrines do not preclude consideration of the constitutional claims brought against Megan's Law in Federal court. See W.P., 931 F. Supp. 1187, 1189 (D.N.J. 1996); E.B. v. Poritz, 914 F. Supp. 85 (D.N.J. 1996); Michael M. et al. v. Verniero et al., 1997 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 12596, Civ. No. 97-2435, slip op. at 25-26 (D.N.J. 29 May 1997).
The Supreme Court has "emphatically reaffirmed 'the fundamental policy against Federal interference with state criminal prosecutions,'"
See Mitchum v. Foster, 407 U.S. 225, 230, 32 L. Ed. 2d 705, 92 S. Ct. 2151 (1972)(citing Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. at 46); NYLife Distributors, Inc. v. Adherence Group, Inc., 72 F.3d 371, 376 & n.8 (3d Cir. 1995), cert. denied, U.S. , 116 S. Ct. 1826, 134 L. Ed. 2d 931 (1996); see Quackenbush v. Allstate Ins. Co., U.S. , 116 S. Ct. 1712, 1721, 135 L. Ed. 2d 1 (1996); Marks v. Stinson, 19 F.3d 873, 882 (3d Cir. 1994). Pursuant to the principles of equity and comity in the Federal system, the Court has held that, "apart from 'extraordinary circumstance,' a Federal court may not enjoin a pending state prosecution or declare invalid the statute under which the prosecution was brought." Lake Carriers' Ass'n v. MacMullan, 406 U.S. 498, 509, 32 L. Ed. 2d 257, 92 S. Ct. 1749 (1972)(citing Younger, 401 U.S. at 37; Samuels v. Mackell, 401 U.S. 66, 73, 27 L. Ed. 2d 688, 91 S. Ct. 764 (1971)).
Extraordinary circumstances exist where irreparable injury is "both great and immediate," Younger, 401 U.S. at 46, for example where the state law is "flagrantly and patently violative of express constitutional prohibitions," id. at 53 (citation omitted), or where there is a showing of "bad faith, harassment, or ... other unusual circumstances that would call for equitable relief." Id. at 54.
"The principle underlying Younger and Samuels is that state courts are fully competent to adjudicate constitutional claims, and therefore a Federal court should, in all but the most exceptional circumstances, refuse to interfere with an ongoing state criminal proceeding." Doran v. Salem Inn, Inc., 422 U.S. 922, 930, 45 L. Ed. 2d 648, 95 S. Ct. 2561 (1975). This rule has been held to apply equally to requests for post-trial intervention by the Federal courts, before the petitioner has exhausted appellate remedies. See Huffman v. Pursue Ltd., 420 U.S. 592, 608, 43 L. Ed. 2d 482, 95 S. Ct. 1200, reh'g denied, 421 U.S. 971, 95 S. Ct. 1969, 44 L. Ed. 2d 463 (1975).
See also New Orleans Public Service, Inc., 491 U.S. 350, 369, 105 L. Ed. 2d 298, 109 S. Ct. 2506.
The Supreme Court expanded the Younger doctrine to incorporate state civil proceedings which implicate important state interests. See, e.g., Quackenbush, U.S. at , 116 S. Ct. at 1721 (1996)(citing Huffman, 420 U.S. at 592; Juidice v. Vail, 430 U.S. 327, 51 L. Ed. 2d 376, 97 S. Ct. 1211 (1977)); Middlesex County Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 432, 73 L. Ed. 2d 116, 102 S. Ct. 2515 (1982); FOCUS v. Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, 75 F.3d 834, 843 (3d Cir. 1996). Abstention by a Federal court is proper where three elements are present: "(1) the ongoing state proceedings are 'judicial' in nature; (2) the proceedings implicate important state interests; and (3) the proceedings afford an adequate opportunity to raise the Federal claims." Olde Discount Corp. v. Tupman, 1 F.3d 202, 211 (3d Cir. 1993), cert. denied, 510 U.S. 1065, 126 L. Ed. 2d 704, 114 S. Ct. 741 (1994) (citing Middlesex County Ethics Comm., 457 U.S. at 432).
The Defendants argue the relief Plaintiffs seek would obstruct either the state court proceedings or the enforcement of the state court decision which is "'an integral part of the state's judicial process for Younger purposes.'" Opposition Brief at 6 (quoting Marks, 19 F.3d at 883; Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 13-14, 95 L. Ed. 2d 1, 107 S. Ct. 1519 (1987)). Defendants further argue the Plaintiffs are free to raise their constitutional challenges at the scheduled hearings and to seek review of any adverse decision before the Appellate Division and New Jersey Supreme Court. Id.
One of the prerequisites to application of the Younger doctrine requires that there be "an adequate opportunity for redress of [a plaintiff's] constitutional claims" in a state court proceeding. W.P., 931 F. Supp. at 1195 (quoting Bongiorno v. Lalomia, 851 F. Supp. 606, 613 (D.N.J.), aff'd, 39 F.3d 1168 (3d Cir. 1994)). In Doe, the New Jersey Supreme Court addressed the same constitutional issues raised in the instant matter. See Doe, 142 N.J. at 26-8 (recognizing that "decision will affect all sex offenders covered by the laws" because plaintiff's claims were the same as any offender could assert). Subsequent state courts have declined to address an offender's constitutional arguments in light of the Doe decision. See In the Matter of G.B., 286 N.J. Super. 396, 402, 669 A.2d 303 (App.Div.)("We need not address registrant's constitutional arguments. The Supreme Court in Doe rejected these arguments. The Court held that [Megan's Law] was constitutional, subject to judicial review before notification."), aff'd, 147 N.J. 62, 685 A.2d 1252 (1996); State of New Jersey in the Interest of B.G., 289 N.J. Super. 361, 373-74, 674 A.2d 178 (App. Div.)(with regard to constitutional issues raised by offender, court noted: "[The] Supreme Court in [Doe ] has decided these issues and we cannot further consider the issues at this time."), certif. denied, 145 N.J. 374, 678 A.2d 714 (1996).
2. Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine is also inapplicable. Pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, "Federal district courts lack subject matter jurisdiction to review final adjudications of a state's highest court or to evaluate constitutional claims that are inextricably intertwined with the state court's [decision] in a judicial proceeding." FOCUS, 75 F.3d at 840 (quoting Blake v. Papadakos, 953 F.2d 68, 71 (3d Cir. 1992)(quoting Feldman, 460 U.S. at 483 n.16)(internal quotation marks omitted)). See also Ernst v. Child and Youth Serv. Of Chester County et al., 108 F.3d 486, 491 (3d Cir. 1997). "The existence of a state court judgment ... bars the Federal proceeding under Rooker-Feldman only when entertaining the Federal court claim would be the equivalent of an appellate review of that order." Id.; Ernst, 108 F.3d at 491 ("It is improper for Federal district courts to exercise jurisdiction over a case that is the functional equivalent of an appeal from a state court judgment.").
The Plaintiffs in the instant matter do not seek review of the result of a Tier Determination Hearing, but rather allege those proceedings are unconstitutional. The Plaintiffs were not parties in Doe, the State court decision which held Megan's Law to be constitutional. Accordingly, the issues in the instant matter are ...