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THOMPSON v. IRWIN

September 8, 2005.

STEVEN C. THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
v.
DEBRA IRWIN, Defendant.



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

OPINION AND ORDER ADOPTING THE REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION OF THE MAGISTRATE JUDGE
This matter comes before the Court on the objections of Plaintiff Steven C. Thompson (hereinafter "Plaintiff") to the July 19, 2005 Report and Recommendation of United States Magistrate Judge Ronald D. Hedges regarding the Defendant Debra Irwin's (hereinafter "Defendant") motion to dismiss the Complaint under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Pursuant to Local Civil Rule 72.1(c)(2), this Court has conducted a de novo review of Magistrate Judge Hedges' July 19 Report and Recommendation to which Plaintiff has objected. For the reasons set forth below, the objections of Plaintiff will be overruled, and the Court grants Defendant's motion to dismiss.

STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

  A detailed factual background of this case is set forth in the July 19, 2005 Report and Recommendation, and will not be repeated here, except where necessary to provide context for the de novo review of Magistrate Judge Hedges' Report and Recommendation. Plaintiff commenced this action against Defendant on December 30, 2004, alleging violations of state and federal law, specifically, the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J.S.A. § 10:5-1 et seq.; the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.; Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq.; and Criminal Conspiracy to Interfere with Civil Rights, 18 U.S.C. § 245(b)(2)(B).

  On February 18, 2005, Defendant filed a motion to dismiss, which was opposed by Plaintiff. The matter was referred to Magistrate Judge Hedges, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), Rule 72(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Rule 72.1(a)(2) of the Local Civil Rules, and on July 19, 2005 a Report and Recommendation was issued. In his July 19 Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Judge Hedges considered the Defendant's motion to dismiss, solely on judicial immunity grounds, and concluded that Defendant was entitled to judicial immunity because her "decision regarding the accommodations was a judicial act. . . ." (July 19, 2005 Report and Recommendation, at 4). Hence, Magistrate Judge Hedges recommended that this Court grant Defendant's motion to dismiss.

  Pursuant to L. Civ. R. 72.1(c)(2), Plaintiff filed objections to Magistrate Judge Hedges' Report and Recommendation within ten days of service. The substance of Plaintiff's objections are the same as the arguments he made in his opposition to the motion to dismiss. Plaintiff also argues that the Report and Recommendation should be completely disregarded because "Judge Hedges does not have the power to be fair and impartial and he does what Judge Martini instructs him to do. . . ."*fn1 (Plaintiff's Letter dated July 28, 2005, at 2). As explained below, this Court must review the Defendant's motion de novo and owes no deference to Magistrate Judge Hedges' Report and Recommendation. In doing so, this Court has reviewed all of the submissions, the cases cited by the parties and in the Report and Recommendation, and conducted its own research on the issues raised in the Defendant's motion to dismiss and in Plaintiff's objections.

  LEGAL DISCUSSION

  A. Standard of Review

  When the magistrate judge addresses motions that are considered "dispositive," such as to grant or deny a motion to dismiss, a magistrate judge will submit a Report and Recommendation to the district court. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72; L. Civ. R. 72.1(a)(2). The district court may then "accept, reject or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate [magistrate judge]. The judge may also receive further evidence or recommit the matter to the magistrate [magistrate judge] with instructions." 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); see also L. Civ. R. 72.1(c)(2). Unlike an Opinion and Order issued by a Magistrate Judge, a Report and Recommendation does not have force of law unless and until the district court enters an order accepting or rejecting it. United Steelworkers of Am. v. N.J. Zinc Co., Inc., 828 F.2d 1001, 1005 (3d Cir. 1987).

  The standard of review of a Magistrate Judge's determination depends upon whether the motion is dispositive or non-dispositive. With respect to dispositive motions, the district court must make a de novo determination of those portions of the Magistrate Judge's Report to which a litigant has filed an objection. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(C); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); L. Civ. R. 72.1(c)(2); see also State Farm Indem. v. Fornaro, 227 F. Supp. 2d 229, 231 (D.N.J. 2002); Zinberg v. Washington Bancorp, Inc., 138 F.R.D. 397, 401 (D.N.J. 1990) (concluding that the court makes a de novo review of the parts of the report to which the parties object). Here, Plaintiff objects to the entire Report and Recommendation that dismissed his case on judicial immunity grounds. Therefore, this Court will examine the present motion to dismiss under a de novo standard of review. In conducting this review, the Court "owes no deference to the Magistrate Judge's findings and conclusions." Taberer v. Armstrong World Indus., Inc., 954 F.2d 888, 904 (3d Cir. 1992).

  B. Standards Governing Judicial Immunity

  Generally, "judges are absolutely immune from liability for damages for acts committed within their judicial discretion." Johnson v. State of N.J., 869 F. Supp. 289, 293 (D.N.J. 1994) (citing Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 359 (1978)). A judge will not be deprived of this immunity even when the action was taken in error, done maliciously or was in excess of his or her authority. Id. This immunity performs a vital role in our democracy in preserving the independence of judicial decision making. The immunity is not designed for the personal benefit of judges, but rather for the benefit of the public at large. It assures that judges decide cases independently and without fear of lawsuits, retaliation or other reprisals. See Hawkins v. Harris, 661 A.2d 284, 288 (N.J. 1995); see also Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967).

  Judicial immunity applies where (1) the conduct complained of was a judicial act, (i.e., an act that a judge would normally perform in his or her judicial capacity) and (2) the judge had subject matter jurisdiction at the time of his or her action (i.e., the parties were properly before the judge in the judge's judicial capacity). Stump, 435 U.S. at 360; K.D. v. Bozarth, 713 A.2d 546, 549 (N.J. Super. Ct. App. Div. 1968); see also Barrett v. Harrington, 130 F.3d 246, 255 (6th Cir. 1997) (relied on by Plaintiff Thompson). C. Objections to Magistrate Judge Hedges' Report and Recommendation

  Plaintiff objects to the Report and Recommendation by first arguing that Defendant is not entitled to judicial immunity because she was acting in an administrative capacity when she denied his request for a reasonable accommodation and when she disclosed his disability to his adversary. Plaintiff cites Gregory v. Thompson, 500 F.2d 59 (9th Cir. 1974), in support of his argument that judges do not have judicial immunity in every situation in which they exercise their authority to control the courtroom. Gregory, however, is distinguishable in that the judge physically assaulted Gregory after he refused to leave the courtroom, pushed him, threw him on the floor, jumped on him, and beat him. Id. at 61. Faced with these facts, the Ninth Circuit reasonably held that "[t]he decision to personally evict someone from a courtroom by the use of physical force is simply not an act of a judicial nature, and is not such as to require insulation in order that the decision be deliberately reached." Id. at 64. Here, the facts and the Plaintiff's allegations are substantially different. Gregory is thus inapplicable.

  The allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint center on a letter to the municipal court dated December 1, 2004 which was not copied to Plaintiff's adversary. In said letter, the Plaintiff set forth that he suffers from exertion angina and exertion dyspnea and requested that the trial be adjourned for sixty days, and that accommodation be made for his disability. Defendant, the municipal court judge presiding over Plaintiff's case, granted an adjournment and postponed the trial. However, Defendant did not rule on the Plaintiff's accommodations request at that time. Instead, Plaintiff alleges, on the first day of trial, in ruling on the accommodations request, Defendant disclosed Plaintiff's disability to opposing counsel, over Plaintiff's objections. Attached to Plaintiff's opposition to the motion to dismiss were portions of the transcript of the aforesaid proceeding. Pages six ...


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