United States District Court, D. New Jersey
September 8, 2005.
STEVEN C. THOMPSON, Plaintiff,
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
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.
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
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
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 through seven of the transcript reveal that Defendant
explained to Plaintiff on the record that the December 1 letter
was an ex parte communication with the Court that had to be
disclosed to Plaintiff's adversary. (Tr. at 6-7).
Plaintiff's Complaint also alleges that Defendant unlawfully
failed to have an "interactive conference" with Plaintiff.
Plaintiff's argument that the Court was somehow obligated to
engage in an interactive process regarding his request for an
accommodation is without merit. By way of regulation, the ADA
only requires the use of an "interactive process" in the
employment context. 29 C.F.R. § 1630.2(o)(3); Taylor v.
Phoenixville Sch. Dist., 184 F.3d 296, 311 (3d Cir. 1999). In
such a case, the employer and employee meet to determine an
appropriate reasonable accommodation in the employee's work
environment. No case or statutory law has been cited to this
Court supporting Plaintiff's argument that a judge, presiding
over a trial, must engage in the ADA's "interactive
The argument that Defendant's denial of Plaintiff's request for
an accommodation was not done in the Defendant's judicial
capacity, also fails as the municipal court transcript
demonstrates the opposite was the case. In this case, Plaintiff
presented portions of the municipal court transcript as
supporting evidence to his opposition to the motion to dismiss.
Generally, when deciding a motion to dismiss, material beyond the
pleadings should not be considered.*fn3 Doe v. Div. of
Youth & Family Servs., 148 F. Supp. 2d 462, 481 (D.N.J. 2001) (citing
In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1426
(3d Cir. 1997)). However, viewing the facts in a light most
favorable to the Plaintiff the Court has reviewed said
transcript. The transcript reveals the following colloquy during
the course of the municipal court trial:
MR. THOMPSON: Well, I note my objection that you
failed to provide a reasonable accommodation, Your
THE COURT: What reasonable accommodation did you
MR. THOMPSON: I set them forth in my letter and you
THE COURT: Sir, what is the reasonable accommodation?
This court is handicap accessible.
MR. THOMPSON: Excuse me, the statute is cited, Your
THE COURT: Sir, what is not a reasonable
accommodation for you?
MR. THOMPSON: A reasonable accommodation, can I put
it on the record, Your Honor.
THE COURT: What is sir, what is not the reasonable
accommodation that you don't have here (sic)?
MR. THOMPSON: First of all I don't want to be rushed
(Tr. at 19).
MR. THOMPSON: As another accommodation, Your Honor,
could we stop moving from one thing to another until
I get through my testimony?
THE COURT: Sir, they objected to your testimony.
That's not a means of accommodation. . . . (Tr. at 50).
MR. THOMPSON: I'm not feeling well, Your Honor, can
we take a break?
THE COURT: Sir, we're continuing no, we're not
taking a break, sir.
MR. THOMPSON: Would you make that accommodation for
me, Your Honor?
THE COURT: Sir, I'm not taking a break. We have done
very little. I have other cases on for trial, let's
(Tr. at 64).
MR. THOMPSON: I need a break, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Well, how long a break do you need?
MR. THOMPSON: About a 10 minute break, Your Honor.
THE COURT: Well, I'll give you five minutes, so I can
deal with the other two cases, because obviously
they're not going to get reached today. I'll give you
a five minute break. And I'll also tell you, we're
going to go about about another hour in this
MR. THOMPSON: That's plenty of time, Your Honor.
(Tr. at 66).
Both elements necessary to establish judicial immunity are
easily satisfied here. As for the first element, Defendant's
control over her courtroom and whether or not to break during a
judicial proceeding are surely within the scope of functions that
are "normally performed by a judge." Stump, 435 U.S. at 362;
Sheppard v. Maxwell, 384 U.S. 333, 358 (1966) (a judge acts in
a judicial capacity when exercising control of the judge's
courtroom). As demonstrated by the above colloquy, Plaintiff made
his accommodations request to Defendant as the judge presiding
over his case. As for the second element, the parties were
appearing before the Defendant for a trial in an action brought
by Plaintiff. Under the circumstances, it is undisputed that
Defendant had jurisdiction to hear the lawsuit before her.
N.J.S.A. 2B:12-17. Thus, Defendant meets the second element
because she had subject matter jurisdiction at the time of her actions.
Defendant's disclosure of Plaintiff's ex parte communication to
Plaintiff's opposing counsel, and Defendant's alleged subsequent
denial of the request for accommodation, were clearly within the
scope of Defendant's judicial capacity.
Plaintiff's objection to Magistrate Judge Hedges not having
oral argument on this motion, is rejected. As stated in Appendix
2 of the New Jersey Federal Practice Rules, Magistrate Judge
Hedges' practice is that, "Parties should assume that there is no
oral argument." This is also this Court's practice and is not
unusual. In fact, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78 specifically
provides for this. Plaintiff availed himself of the opportunity
to submit written opposition to Defendant's motion, which was
received and considered by Magistrate Judge Hedges. Therefore,
Plaintiff's objection is without merit.
Also, in his objection to the Report and Recommendation,
Plaintiff, for the first time, takes issue with Magistrate Judge
Hedges presiding over this case as a magistrate judge. This
argument is not only untimely, but lacks basis. It is well known
that Magistrate Judge Hedges is the magistrate judge assigned to
work not only with Judge Martini, but also with this Court. If
the Plaintiff had an issue with Magistrate Judge Hedges being
involved in his case, a proper motion should have been made when
this matter was first reassigned to this Court. Also, despite
Plaintiff's argument that his motion for Judge Martini's recusal
"did include or should have included Judge Hedges," it did not.
The Court has thoroughly reviewed Plaintiff's motion for Judge
Martini's recusal, and while the allegations in said motion do
allege some improprieties by Magistrate Judge Hedges, nowhere in
that motion was any request made for Magistrate Judge Hedges'
recusal. Therefore, this objection by Plaintiff is rejected. In
any event, as previously stated, 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, so any concerns
about Magistrate Judge Hedges' involvement with this case are
Lastly, in Plaintiff's objection he concludes by stating that
"Judge Hedges failed to address the other issue as set forth in
Mr. Thompson's complaint these matters are to [be addressed]
before the Honorable Jose L. Linares, U.S.D.J." (Pl.'s Objection,
at 7). Although Plaintiff fails to articulate what he is talking
about when he references "the other issue," the Court has
reviewed the Complaint and concludes that the only other issue
that is mentioned in the Complaint is Count Six asserting a
violation of 18 U.S.C. § 245(b)(2)(B) for conspiracy to harass
and intimidate. Pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 242, a violation of
section 245(b)(2)(B), as alleged by Plaintiff, would be grounds
for criminal penalties as a result of a willful violation of a
constitutional right under color of law. It is well established,
however, that a violation of this section is not grounds for
civil liability. Dugar v. Coughlin, 613 F. Supp. 849, 852
(S.D.N.Y. 1985) ("Sections 241, 242, and 245 relate to
deprivation of civil rights, however there is no private right of
action under any of these statutes."); People ex rel. Snead v.
Kirkland, 462 F. Supp. 914 (E.D. Pa. 1978) (18 U.S.C. § 245 does
not confer substantive rights nor private action for damages);
Dodge v. Nakai, 298 F. Supp. 17 (D.C. Ariz. 1968)
(18 U.S.C. § 245 does not create civil cause of action). In addition, any
common law tort that could be discerned from such an alleged
violation would, under the facts of this case, be subject to
judicial immunity. Since Plaintiff cannot assert such a claim in
a civil action, and any common law tort would be subject to
judicial immunity, this Court also dismisses Count Six. CONCLUSION
Having reviewed Magistrate Judge Hedges' Report and
Recommendation and the record of this case, including the
Plaintiff's objections and Defendant's response thereto, this
Court: (1) rejects Plaintiff's objections to the Report and
Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Hedges dated July 19, 2005;
(2) adopts Magistrate Judge Hedges' Report and Recommendation
granting Defendant's motion to dismiss; and (3) Count Six,
although not addressed by Magistrate Judge Hedges' in the Report
and Recommendation, is dismissed for failure to state a claim.
For the reasons set forth above, it is on this 8th day of
September, 2005, hereby:
ORDERED that Plaintiff's objections to the Report and
Recommendation of Magistrate Judge Hedges dated July 19, 2005 are
hereby REJECTED; and it is further
ORDERED that Defendant's motion to dismiss is hereby GRANTED;
and, it is further
ORDERED that Civil Action No. 04-6453 is hereby DISMISSED and
the case is now CLOSED.
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