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Brunner v. Alliedsignal

January 17, 2001

THOMAS BRUNNER AND NANCY BRUNNER,
PLAINTIFFS,
V.
ALLIEDSIGNAL, INC., DONNA MASSARI, DARRELL TAYLOR AND JOHN DOES 1-50,
DEFENDANTS.



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

FOR PUBLICATION

HON. STEPHEN M. ORLOFSKY

OPINION

On March 14, 2000, this Court issued an Order to Show Cause pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(c)(1)(B), to consider whether Plaintiffs' counsel, Clifford L. Van Syoc, Esq., ("Mr. Van Syoc"), violated his obligations under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in the course of his representation of Plaintiffs before this Court. For the reasons set forth below, I find that Mr. Van Syoc violated Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(b)(2) by failing to conduct a reasonable inquiry into the applicable law before filing the Complaint seeking relief under the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"), N.J.S.A. § 10:5-1 et seq. As a result, Mr. Van Syoc burdened this Court and Defendants with a meritless claim. Accordingly, I shall sanction Mr. Van Syoc by imposing an admonition and publishing this opinion. Future violations of Rule 11 by Mr. Van Syoc before this Court shall result in more severe sanctions.

I. BACKGROUND

Mr. Van Syoc represents the Plaintiffs, Thomas Brunner ("Brunner"), and his wife, Nancy Brunner ("Mrs. Brunner") (together, "the Brunners") in a suit against Brunner's employer, AlliedSignal, Inc. ("AlliedSignal"), and two of its employees, Darrell Taylor ("Taylor") and Donna Massari ("Massari") (together, "Defendants"). I have thoroughly reviewed the facts on which the underlying claim is based in a separate, unpublished opinion, filed concurrently with this opinion. See Brunner v. AlliedSignal, et. al., January 17, 2001. I will not repeat the facts set forth in that opinion except where necessary to illuminate the issues raised by this Court's Order to Show Cause. In that opinion, I granted Defendants' Motion for Summary judgment on the remaining counts of the Complaint.

On October 13, 1998, Mr. Van Syoc filed a Complaint on behalf of the Brunners in this Court, alleging, inter alia, that Brunner was the victim of employment discrimination. Specifically, the Complaint alleged that during a sixteen-month period of his twenty-six-year term of employment with AlliedSignal, Brunner was discriminated against based on his age and alleged disability, in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq., the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Age Discrimination In Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq.

It is undisputed that Brunner is a resident of Medford, New Jersey. Brunner Affidavit, July 19, 1999, at ¶ 1. Furthermore, it is undisputed that AlliedSignal, Inc., now doing business as Sunoco, maintained its corporate headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey. Id. at ¶ 3. Finally, it is undisputed that Brunner was employed exclusively at the Pennsylvania offices of AlliedSignal for the entire period during which the alleged discrimination occurred. Id.

In a letter dated December 22, 1998, the Defendants' attorney, Gregory C. Parliman, Esq. ("Mr. Parliman") advised Mr. Van Syoc that controlling case law precluded the claims brought by the Plaintiffs under the NJLAD, contained in Counts Two and Three of the Complaint. See Parliman Cert., Exh. 1. Specifically, Mr. Parliman's letter noted that while the Complaint alleged violations of New Jersey state law, because Brunner was employed in Defendants' Pennsylvania office, Pennsylvania law would govern the dispute. Id. Therefore, according to Mr. Parliman's letter, Brunner's attempt to avail himself of the protections of the NJLAD was barred as a matter of law. Mr. Van Syoc did not respond to Mr. Parliman's letter.

On July 29, 1999, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss Counts Two and Three of Brunner's Complaint which were based on the NJLAD. See Defs.' Mot. Dismiss, July 29, 1999. Id. To support their argument that New Jersey law, and therefore the NJLAD, did not apply to Brunner's claims, Defendants relied on the New Jersey Appellate Division's decision in Buccilli v. Timby, Brown, & Timby, 283 N.J. Super. 6 (App. Div. 1995). Buccilli involved a plaintiff who was a resident of New Jersey, and was employed in the Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, offices of a law firm which maintained offices in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Id. at 9. The plaintiff alleged, inter alia, that she was subjected to sexual harassment and a sexually hostile work environment in violation of the "New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq." Id. In granting summary judgment for the Defendant, the Appellate Division held that: "Plaintiff's employment began and ended in Pennsylvania. She worked exclusively in that state and the conduct which she alleges was unlawful occurred there. Only Pennsylvania, not New Jersey, substantive law governs her claims." Id. at 10.

In the papers he filed on behalf of the Brunners in response to the Defendants' motion, Mr. Van Syoc did not address the implications of Buccilli. See Pls.' Mem. Opp. Dismiss at 3. Instead, Mr. Van Syoc argued that this Court should utilize the conflicts of law analysis set forth in an unpublished New Jersey Appellate Division case, McNulty v. Scientific Staffing, Inc., et. al., No. A-004668-97T2 (N.J. Super. App. Div. filed March 12, 1999), to revisit the issue of whether the NJLAD protects New Jersey residents in their out-of-state employment. Id. at 3-5.

On March 14, 2000, this Court filed a Memorandum Opinion and Order granting Defendants' Motion to Dismiss the Second and Third Counts of the Complaint. See Memorandum Opinion and Order, March 14, 2000. In that Opinion, I explained the basis for my holding. See Memorandum Opinion, March 14, 2000 ("Brunner I"). As I noted, "it is well-established in New Jersey that claims of a New Jersey resident, relating to his out-of-state employment, are governed by the law of the state in which that New Jersey resident is employed." Id. at ¶ 4, citing Buccilli, 283 N. J. Super. at 6. In addressing Mr. Van Syoc's contention that this Court should apply the McNulty conflicts of law analysis to re-examine the question of whether New Jersey law governs the terms of a New Jersey resident's employment in Pennsylvania, I noted that unpublished New Jersey state court opinions, such as McNulty, are not controlling in this Court and have no precedential value. Id. at ¶ 5, citing New Jersey Court Rule 1:36-3. *fn1 I further found that even if the McNulty decision were binding on this Court, the outcome, in Brunner's case, would be the same: because Brunner was employed exclusively in Pennsylvania, disputes concerning his employment are governed exclusively by Pennsylvania law. Id. at ¶ 6. Based on the preceding analysis, I dismissed Counts Two and Three of Brunner's Complaint which were based on the NJLAD, for failure to state claim upon which relief may be granted. Id. at ¶ 7.

Along with their Motion to Dismiss Counts Two and Three of the Complaint, Defendants also filed a Motion for Rule 11 Sanctions against Mr. Van Syoc. See Defs.' Motion for Rule 11 Sanctions, July 29, 1999. In support of their Motion for Sanctions, Defendants claimed that Mr. Van Syoc failed to verify the location of Brunner's employment, and ignored Mr. Parliman's letter of December 22, 1998, in which Mr. Parliman asked Mr. Van Syoc to voluntarily withdraw the NJLAD claims alleged in Brunner's Complaint. Id. In response to Defendants' Motion for Sanctions, Mr. Van Syoc argued that the McNulty decision provided a "good faith basis" for Brunner's NJLAD claims. Pls.' Mem. Opp. Dismiss at 6.

As I noted in Brunner I, Rule 11 contains two internal procedural mechanisms designed to prevent abuses of the Rule. Brunner I at ΒΆ 12. First, the motion for sanctions must "be made separately from other motions or requests and [] describe the specific conduct alleged to violate subdivision (b)." Id., citing Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(c)(1)(A). Second, the Rule contains a "safe harbor" provision, which requires the moving party to wait 21 days after serving the motion papers on the party against whom sanctions are requested before filing the motion in District Court. Id. This ...


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