United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage
July 1, 2005.
CANDACE J. CAPOFERRI, Plaintiff,
ROBERT CAPOFERRI, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBERT KUGLER, Magistrate Judge
[EDITOR'S NOTE: This case is unpublished as indicated by the issuing court.] OPINION
In this diversity case, plaintiff Candace Capoferri ("Candace")
sues her ex-husband, defendant Robert Capoferri ("Robert"), along
with defendants Patricia Gatto,*fn1 Joseph Capoferri
("Joseph"), and Frank Comparri, for fraud, conversion,
conspiracy, and accomplice liability. Candace's claims arise out
of actions allegedly taken by the defendants during Candace and
Robert's 1999 divorce. This matter comes before the Court upon
(1) Robert's motion to dismiss the Amended Complaint and (2)
Comparri's motion to join in Robert's motion.
Robert moves to dismiss the Amended Complaint on four grounds.
First, Robert argues that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine precludes this Court from exercising jurisdiction over Candace's
claims. Second, Robert argues that "domestic relations are
governed by state law." Third, Robert argues that Candace has a
remedy in the New Jersey courts. Fourth, Robert argues that the
statute of limitations has expired on Candace's claims.
For the reasons expressed in this opinion, (1) Comparri's
motion to join in Robert's motion will be granted, and (2)
Robert's motion to dismiss (in which Comparri joins) will be
I. AMENDED COMPLAINT
The following factual allegations are taken from the Amended
Complaint and the exhibits attached to Robert's motion to
Robert and Candace were married on August 12, 1995. Candace
moved out of the marital home in late 1998. Robert filed for
divorce on January 26, 1999.
In early February 1999, the parties reconciled and Candace
moved back into the marital home. Unbeknownst to Candace, though,
Robert filed a motion for summary judgment in the divorce case on
March 3, 1999. Robert's motion requested enforcement of a
purported August 9, 1995 antenuptial agreement ("Agreement"). The
Agreement substantially limited the assets to which Candace would
otherwise be entitled under New Jersey law if the marriage ended. Although Robert certified that the Agreement
had voluntarily been entered into by both parties, the signature
on the Agreement was not Candace's. Candace never received notice
of Robert's motion to enforce the Agreement.
On April 27, 1999, Comparri a friend of Robert's filed an
affidavit of service stating that he had served a summons and
copy of the divorce complaint on Joan Demarco, Candace's mother,
on April 21, 1999. However, neither Candace nor her mother ever
received the papers.
On May 13, 1999, having found that Candace had notice of the
proceedings and that Candace and Robert had voluntarily entered
into the Agreement, the Honorable Max A. Baker ordered that the
Agreement was enforceable and would remain in full force and
On June 8, 1999, Robert requested that the Agreement be
incorporated into a final judgment of divorce. Although Candace
never received notice of the request, a return receipt for the
notice was signed by Gatto, an employee of Robert, on June 9,
On July 2, 1999, Judge Baker entered a final judgment of
divorce. Judge Baker found that Candace had been served with the
summons and complaint on April 21, 1999. Once more finding that
Candace and Robert had freely and voluntarily entered into the
Agreement, Judge Baker ordered that Candace and Robert were divorced and that the Agreement would be part of the final
Candace never received a copy of the final order of divorce. A
return receipt for the final order was signed on August 3, 1999
by Joseph Capoferri, Robert's brother and employee.
Candace learned for the first time that she was divorced, and
that equitable distribution had been adjudicated, on July 19,
2001. She now argues that the defendants intentionally prevented
her from receiving notice of the divorce proceedings and
appearing therein to defend her financial interests. Further, she
alleges, Robert intentionally caused a fraudulent antenuptial
agreement to be incorporated into the final judgment of divorce.
Candace demands money damages from the defendants under theories
of fraud, conversion, conspiracy, and accomplice liability.
In support of his motion to dismiss, Robert first argues that
the Rooker-Feldman doctrine precludes this Court from
exercising jurisdiction in this case. According to several recent
Third Circuit cases, that doctrine "bars federal jurisdiction
under two circumstances: if the claim was `actually litigated' in
state court or if the claim is `inextricably intertwined' with the state adjudication." ITT Corp. v. Intelnet
Int'l Corp., 366 F.3d 205, 210 (3d Cir. 2004); see Desi's
Pizza, Inc. v. City of Wilkes-Barre, 321 F.3d 411 (3d Cir.
2003). According to Robert, Candace's claims are "inextricably
intertwined" with the parties' divorce in state court.
However, in March 2005, the Supreme Court clarified that the
Rooker-Feldman doctrine "is confined to cases of the kind
from which the doctrine acquired its name: cases brought by
state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court
judgments rendered before the district court proceedings
commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of
those judgments." Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus.
Corp., 125 S. Ct. 1517, 1521-22 (2005). The doctrine "merely
recognizes that 28 U.S.C. § 1331 is a grant of original
jurisdiction, and does not authorize district courts to exercise
appellate jurisdiction over state-court judgments, which Congress
has reserved to [the Supreme Court]. . . ." Verizon Md. Inc. v.
Pub. Serv. Comm'n of Md., 122 S. Ct. 1753, 1759 n. 3 (2002)
(citing 28 U.S.C. § 1257(a)); see Exxon Mobil,
125 S. Ct. at 1526. Thus, the doctrine applies only to those cases in which the
"loser in state court invites [the] federal district court to
overturn [the] state-court judgment." Id. at 1524 n. 2
While Rooker-Feldman precludes a district court from overturning a state-court judgment, it does not "stop a district
court from exercising subject-matter jurisdiction simply because
a party attempts to litigate in federal court a matter previously
litigated in state court." See Exxon Mobil,
125 S. Ct. at 1527. "If a federal plaintiff `presents some independent claim,
albeit one that denies a legal conclusion that a state court has
reached in a case to which he was a party . . ., then there is
jurisdiction and state law determines whether the defendant
prevails under principles of preclusion.'" Id. (quoting GASH
Assocs. v. Village of Rosemont, 995 F.2d 726, 728 (7th Cir.
Here, Candace's complaint does not invite this Court to
exercise appellate jurisdiction over the state divorce proceeding
and the collateral remedies awarded therein under New Jersey
family law. Rather, the complaint presents independent claims
under state law theories of fraud, conversion, conspiracy, and
accomplice liability. Although Candace's claims may require
findings (1) that Candace lacked notice of the state proceedings
and (2) that the Agreement was invalid, and although the state
court explicitly found otherwise (see Def.'s Br. Exs. K, L, O),
"[p]reclusion . . . is not a jurisdictional matter."*fn2
See Exxon Mobil, 125 S. Ct. at 1527. Because the Amended
Complaint presents independent claims rather than inviting this Court to
exercise appellate jurisdiction over the state proceedings,
Rooker-Feldman does not preclude this Court from exercising
subject matter jurisdiction over Candace's claims. Thus, Robert's
first argument fails.
III. DOMESTIC RELATIONS AND STATE LAW
Second, Robert argues that the Amended Complaint should be
dismissed because "domestic relations are governed by state law."
However, Robert cites only one case in support of his argument,
and that case is inapposite. See Boggs v. Boggs,
117 S. Ct. 1754, 1758 (1997) (holding that ERISA preempted "a state law
allowing a nonparticipant spouse to transfer by testamentary
instrument an interest in undistributed pension plan benefits").
Candace's complaint does not invite this Court to decide issues
of marital status, alimony, or custody. Compare In re Burrus,
10 S. Ct. 850 (1890) (holding that the federal courts lack
jurisdiction over custody disputes). Rather, it invites this
Court to decide tort claims, albeit ones that arose against the
backdrop of a domestic relations dispute, and some that are
brought by one former spouse against another. Robert cites no
caselaw for the proposition that the federal courts may not
exercise diversity jurisdiction under such circumstances.
Therefore, Robert's second argument fails. IV. REMEDY IN THE STATE COURTS
Third, Robert argues that the Amended Complaint should be
dismissed because Candace might obtain a remedy in the New Jersey
courts. However, Robert cites no caselaw for the proposition that
federal diversity jurisdiction is limited to cases in which no
remedy might be had in state court. Therefore, Robert's third
V. STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS
Fourth, Robert argues that Candace's claims are barred by
N.J.S.A. 2A:14-2, which provides a two-year statute of
limitations on tort claims for "an injury to the person."
However, Candace's claims are not for injuries to her person.
Rather, her claims are for injuries to her property, for which
New Jersey law provides a six-year statute of limitations. See
N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1. Therefore, Robert's fourth argument fails.
Comparri's motion to join in Robert's motion will be granted.
Robert's motion to dismiss (in which Comparri joins) will be
denied. The accompanying Order shall issue today.