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SUTTON v. SUTTON

October 18, 1999

ROY F. SUTTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
RONALD W. SUTTON, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PERSONAL REPRESENTATIVE OF THE ESTATE OF CO-TRUSTEE LORETTA E. SUTTON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge.

OPINION

The instant case arises from a series of transactions and various lawsuits dating back to 1985 and it requires this court to explore the limitations upon its ability to entertain newly pleaded federal claims relating to a seemingly endless series of matters previously litigated in the state courts. As discussed herein, all of the claims and issues within this have been, or could have been, decided in the three previous federal lawsuits and other state court actions that this estate debate has engendered. Pro se plaintiff Roy F. Sutton filed this lawsuit against Ronald W. Sutton, individually and as personal representative of the Estate of Co-Trustee Loretta E. Sutton; Philip J. Perskie, Esq.; Goldenberg Mackler Sayegh & Mintz, a PC ("Goldenberg"); Frederic L. Shenkman, Esq.; George L. Seltzer, Esq.; City of Atlantic City, by and through Sidney Magen, Yvonne Preston, Sidney Trusty ("the Alcoholic Beverage Commissioners" or "ABC Commissioners"); and the Estate of Roy C. Sutton ("the Estate"). According to the Complaint, filed February 8, 1999,

  * defendants Ronald and Loretta Sutton
  ("the Co-Trustees"), Perskie, Goldenberg,
  Shenkman, and Seltzer, conducted
  the affairs of the Estate as a
  racketeering enterprise that has violated
  the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt
  organization Act ("RICO"),
  18 U.S.C. § 1961, et seq.;
  * the Co-Trustees, together with Perskie,
  Goldenberg, Shenkman, and Seltzer
  conspired "to maintain . . . control of
  [] the Estate, through a pattern of racketeering
  activity such as mail fraud and
  retaliation against a victim, within the
  meaning of" 18 U.S.C. § 1962 (d);
  * defendants City of Atlantic City, the
  ABC Commissioners, Ron Sutton, the
  Estate of Co-Trustee of Loretta Sutton,
  Goldenberg, and Shenkman are liable
  under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for acting under
  color of state law to deprive him of his
  property right in a liquor license (or, in
  the alternative, that the allegations underlying
  this claim are predicate acts of
  mail fraud);
  * Ron Sutton and Seltzer breached
  their fiduciary duties to plaintiff under
  state law;
  * the Estate breached its fiduciary
  duty to plaintiff in 1974 when Roy C.
  Sutton purchased land for the benefit
  and use of his corporation but put it
  solely in Roy C. Sutton's name; and
  * the Estate was unjustly enriched by
  plaintiffs services without reasonable
  pay.

(See Complaint, Cts. I-VI.) Plaintiff seeks an accounting of, and constructive trust for, the Estate; imposition of equitable liens; indemnification of losses payable from the Estate due to defendants' conduct; inheritance disbursement under Roy C. Sutton's will, trebled; pay for services; a return of a sanction against plaintiff in another case; and other damages.

Now before this Court are motions filed by each of the defendants to dismiss the plaintiffs complaint. Because the parties attached exhibits to the moving papers, and because all parties and the court rely upon these documents, the motions will be converted to motions for summary judgment so that the exhibits may be considered. Defendants argue that plaintiffs claims are barred by res judicata and collateral estoppel, that the complaint should be dismissed due to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, and that plaintiff has failed to state a claim under § 1983 because none of the defendants acted under color of state law. For the reasons stated herein, this Court agrees with defendants, and this case will be dismissed.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

Roy C. Sutton ("the Decedent") owned a piece of real estate in Atlantic City and a liquor license, in which he gave plaintiff a 6.7% interest. Decedent also owned an abutting tract of land, known as Hahn Place, which was used as a parking lot. In early 1985, the Decedent purchased with some of his own money and with other money that he intended as gifts for his children, an additional abutting tract of land to be used as a parking lot; each of his children had a 1/6 interest in this land (hereinafter referred to as "the Parking Lot"). When the Decedent died later that year, 93.3% of the Melody Lounge and the liquor license passed to the Decedent's wife, Loretta, 6.7% of the Melody Lounge and the liquor license passed to plaintiff, 100% of Hahn Place passed to Loretta, and each of the six children still owned a interest in the Parking Lot.

Most of Decedent's children believed that their interest in the Parking Lot should be treated as partial satisfaction of bequests made to them in the will, but plaintiff disagreed. After an informal agreement failed, a formal accounting application was filed with the Bankruptcy Court. The Estate and its Co-Trustees were represented by Philip J. Perskie. Plaintiff, through his attorney George Seltzer (now a judge), filed an exception. A consent order dated May 6, 1988, placed on the record by the parties, settled the matter: instead of the $6,400 to which the informal agreement would have entitled him, plaintiff would receive $75,000 "without offset" (in addition to his interest in the Parking Lot and his 6.7% interest in Sy Cur, Inc., the corporation which owned the Melody Lounge and its liquor license) in exchange for a release of any further claim against the estate. The consent order also noted that the six children would sell the Parking Lot for $650,000.

Sometime thereafter, plaintiff came to believe that the defendants engaged in the conspiracy to violate tax laws; he wrote the Atlantic County prosecutor, the New Jersey Attorney General, and others about it to no avail. He then went to the Probate Court to vacate the consent order, but that was denied, as was reconsideration. Plaintiff did not take an appeal. Instead, on May 29, 1990, he filed a lawsuit in federal court ("First Federal Suit") against Perskie, Perskie's law firm, the Estate's accountants, the Estate's attorney, the Estate, and the Co-Trustees, alleging violations of tax laws and plaintiffs First Amendment rights. Judge Joseph H. Rodriguez granted a motion to dismiss, holding that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, discussed infra, bars review of the state court's approval of the settlement and that the First Amendment claim is inextricably intertwined with the validity of the consent order. Sutton v. Estate of Boy C. Sutton, No. 90-2090 (D.N.J. Aug. 6, 1990). The Third Circuit affirmed, Sutton v. Estate of Roy C. Sutton, No. 90-5772 (3d Cir. Jan. 25, 1991), rehearing en bane was denied, id. (3d Cir. Feb. 26, 1991), and the U.S. Supreme Court denied certiorari, Sutton v. Estate of Roy C. Sutton, 500 U.S. 944, 111 S.Ct. 2243, 114 L.Ed.2d 484 (1991).

Unsatisfied, on August 11, 1991, plaintiff filed another suit in federal court before Judge Rodriguez (the "Second Federal Suit"), based on the same facts but with two judges, the New Jersey Attorney General, and the Atlantic County Prosecutor as additional defendants, and with additional claims based on § 1983 and RICO. Judge Rodriguez dismissed the matter sua sponte for lack of subject matter jurisdiction, noting that this was just an attempt to attain federal jurisdiction in what was essentially relitigation of the adjudicated state court action; merely alleging that federal questions are involved, he said, is insufficient to convert a state law claim. Sutton v. Estate of Roy F. Sutton, No. 91-2694, mem. order at 4 (D.N.J. April 30, 1992) (memorandum order dismissing case). The Third Circuit affirmed, Sutton v. Estate of Roy C. Sutton, 975 F.2d 1552 (3d Cir. 1992), and the Supreme Court denied certiorari, Sutton v. Estate of Roy C. Sutton, 506 U.S. 1038, 113 S.Ct. 823, 121 L.Ed.2d 694 (1992).

Still unsatisfied, plaintiff filed another suit in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division; Perskie and the Co-Trustees were named in the suit ("Law Division Action"). Sutton v. Pershie & Nekmad Law Firm, No. ATL-L-001228-93 (N.J.Super. Ct. Law Div. filed March 16, 1993). Judge Williams dismissed much of the lawsuit on a motion to dismiss, including counts for unlawful accounting, fraudulent contracting/retaliatory firing, malicious loss of prospective economic advantage, waste, breach of fiduciary duty, malicious interference with a prospective economic advantage, quantum meruit, and corporate opportunity. Id. (N.J.Super. Ct. Law Div. May 10, 1993) (order denying change of venue and dismissing certain counts of complaint with prejudice). Almost a year later, Judge Williams granted summary judgment for the defendants on the remaining claims, including wrongful settlement/conversion (against Perskie and ...


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