United States District Court, D. New Jersey
September 15, 2005.
JOSEPH GHANEM, Plaintiff,
SOMERSET COUNTY PROBATION DEPT.; DENISE GHANEM; CHILD SUPPORT ENFORCEMENT UNIT, STATE OF FLORIDA, DEPT. OF REVENUE, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ANNE THOMPSON, Senior District Judge
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
This matter comes before the Court on Defendants Child Support
Enforcement Unit, State of Florida, Department of Revenue's
(hereinafter "State of Florida") and Somerset County Probation
Department's (hereinafter "Somerset") Motions to Dismiss
Plaintiff's Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P.
12(b)(1), 12(b)(2), and 12(6). Additionally, Plaintiff has
cross-moved for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56.
The Court has decided this motion after reviewing the submissions
of the parties. Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78, no oral argument
was heard. For the following reasons, Defendants' motions are
granted and Plaintiff's cross-motion is denied.
On December 7, 2004, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint
alleging that his former spouse, Denise Ghanem, knowingly executed false affidavits
against him for child support and alimony arrears in the State of
Florida. According to Plaintiff, no Florida court entered an
order for child support or alimony arrears. Plaintiff alleges
that the State of Florida did not conduct a proper calculation of
arrears, but merely forwarded the fraudulent affidavits and a
petition to the State of New Jersey, where Plaintiff resided, for
enforcement of arrears in excess of $40,000. In enforcing the
allegedly fraudulent affidavits, Defendant Somerset County
obtained court approval to levy more than 65% of Plaintiff's
weekly paycheck. Plaintiff contends that such a levy violated the
Federal Consumer Credit Act. According to Plaintiff, in March
2004, Defendant Somerset County incarcerated Plaintiff for owing
$2,500 in arrears notwithstanding his production of evidence to
Counts one, two, and three of Plaintiff's seven count Amended
Complaint claim that all Defendants violated 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Count four is a claim for punitive damages against Defendant
Ghanem, and Count five claims that the State of Florida and
Defendant Ghanem's conduct constituted defamation. Count six
alleges abuse of process against all Defendants, and Count seven
states a cause of action for false arrest solely against
Defendant Somerset. Defendants Somerset and the State of Florida
now move to dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1), 12(b)(2) and 12(b)(6) allow a
defendant to move for a dismissal based upon a lack of subject
matter jurisdiction, lack of personal jurisdiction, and the
pleader's failure to state a claim upon which relief can be
granted, respectively. In deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant
to any of these federal rules, all allegations in the complaint
must be accepted as true and viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff.
See Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 48 (1957); Miller Yacht
Sales, Inc. v. Smith, 384 F.3d 93, 97 (3d Cir. 2004); Mortensen
v. First Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 549 F.2d 884, 891 (3d Cir.
Plaintiff's claims against the Department of Revenue must be
dismissed. The Department of Revenue is a state agency within the
State of Florida and, as an arm of the state, it is entitled to
Eleventh Amendment immunity. See Hans v. Louisiana,
134 U.S. 1, 17 (1890); Melo v. Hafer, 912 F.2d 628, 635 (3d Cir. 1990)
(stating that the Eleventh Amendment "has been interpreted to bar
suits for monetary damages by private parties in federal court
against a state or against state agencies."). Because the State
of Florida has not waived its Eleventh Amendment immunity, all of
Plaintiff's claims against the Department of Revenue are
Additionally, it is settled that a plaintiff is collaterally
estopped from bringing a § 1983 action when it attempts to
re-litigate issues already decided in prior state proceedings.
See Anela v. City of Wildwood, 790 F.2d 1063, 1068 (3d Cir.
1987). The doctrine of collateral estoppel applies where the
issue before the court was litigated in a prior proceeding, was
determined by a valid final judgment, and was essential to that
judgment. See Haize v. Hanover Ins. Co., 536 F.2d 576, 579
(3d Cir. 1976).
All of the issues supporting Plaintiff's claims were previously
litigated in the Superior Court of New Jersey. The essential
holding of the Superior Court's decision was that Plaintiff was
in violation of a Florida court order of support and alimony.
Plaintiff's claims here are premised on his assertion that he was
not in violation of such a support order. Plaintiff is therefore
collaterally estopped from bringing those claims.
Likewise, the Rooker-Feldman doctrine prevents this Court from
acting as an appellate court for actions already decided in state court. See Rooker
v. Fidelity Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413 (1923); District of
Columbia Court of Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462 (1983).
"[T]he Rooker-Feldman doctrine precludes lower federal court
jurisdiction over claims that were actually litigated or
`inextricably intertwined' with adjudication by a state's
courts." ITT Corp. v. Intelnet Int'l Corp., 366 F.3d 205, 207
(3d Cir. 2004). "[A] federal action is inextricably intertwined
with a state adjudication, and thus barred in federal court under
Feldman, `where federal relief can only be predicated upon a
conviction that the state court was wrong.'" Parkview Assoc.
P'ship v. City of Lebanon, 225 F.3d 321, 325 (3d Cir. 2000).
Here, Plaintiff's claims are inextricably intertwined with a
state adjudication, because a verdict in Plaintiff's favor on any
of his claims would essentially overturn a previous state court
holding. All of Plaintiff's claims against Defendant Somerset
County Probation Department must therefore be dismissed.
For these reasons,
It is on this 15th day of September 2005,
ORDERED that Defendants' Motions to Dismiss [18, 21] are hereby
GRANTED; and it is further
ORDERED that Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment 
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