United States District Court, D. New Jersey
September 15, 2005.
ROY F. SUTTON, Plaintiff,
NEW CENTURY FINANCIAL SERVICES; PRESSLER & PRESSLER; GERALD J. FELT, ESQUIRE; STEVEN P. McCABE, ESQUIRE; ROBERT P. BEAKLEY, ESQUIRE; JEFFREY J. WALDMAN, ESQUIRE; and DARYL F. TODD, J.S.C., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: DICKINSON DEBEVOISE, Senior District Judge
This matter is before the Court on Defendants', the Honorable
Daryl F. Todd, Sr., Robert P. Beakley, Jeffrey J. Waldman
(together "Defendants"), motion to dismiss Plaintiff's, Roy F.
Sutton, Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).
Plaintiff filed his Complaint with this Court on June 20, 2005
alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practice Act,
violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, breach of an insurance contract,
breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. He
seeks the entry of an order 1) enjoining enforcement of an
arbitration judgment, 2) granting compensatory and punitive
damages, and 3) costs and attorneys fees under
15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3). On July 28, 2005, Defendants filed their motion to
dismiss Plaintiff's claims for alleged violations of
42 U.S.C. § 1983.
The following facts are those alleged in the Complaint and must
be accepted as true for the purposes of the motion. Plaintiff
obtained a GM credit card from Household Bank of Nevada ("HBN")
and maintained disability and life insurance coverage with the
card through Household Life Insurance ("HLI"), a subsidiary of
HBN. On August 1, 1999, Plaintiff was involved in a motor vehicle
accident and became disabled. Upon becoming disabled, Plaintiff
exercised the credit disability coverage associated with the GM
After the accident, HLI made partial and late payments and its
actions resulted in Plaintiff incurring late fees and over the
limit charges. Plaintiff alerted HBN and HLI of his concerns
after which the late fees and over-limit charges were removed.
HBN eventually lowered Plaintiff's credit limit, closed Plaintiff's account and placed
it in collection; but it continued to charge Plaintiff for the
credit disability insurance, over-limit charge and late charge
Defendant New Century Financial Services purchased HBN's bad
debt, and on July 23, 2004, through its attorneys, Defendants
Presler & Presler, it filed a collection action in the Superior
Court of New Jersey, Special Civil Part, seeking an award of
$4,569.52. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed his answer and
counterclaim and moved for transfer of the action to the Law
Division.*fn1 On September 26, 2004 Judge William Todd
granted Plaintiff's motion to transfer the matter to the Law
When Plaintiff received notice that Judge Todd would be
handling pretrial matters, he moved for recusal because Judge
Todd had previously presided over a personal injury motor vehicle
case. In or around March 2005, Judge Todd denied that motion as
well as Plaintiff's subsequent motion for reconsideration, noting
that there was no reason the court could not be fair and
impartial in the matter.
Plaintiff then served Defendants with discovery requests and
when Defendants failed to answer, he moved to compel discovery.
Judge Todd denied Plaintiff's motion to compel and an arbitration
hearing was scheduled for March 24, 2005. Prior to the
arbitration hearing, on February 11, 2005, Plaintiff filed a
motion to compel discovery, extend discovery, adjourn arbitration
and for leave to amend counterclaim. On or about March 21, 2005,
Judge Todd denied Plaintiff's motion in toto.
On March 22, 2005, Plaintiff withdrew his counterclaim. On
March 24, 2005, attorney Steven McCabe of Pressler & Pressler appeared before defendants
Beakley and Waldman, both arbitrators for the Superior Court of
New Jersey. At the hearing, Defendant New Century Financial
Services was awarded a total of $4,014.64. On or about May 27,
2005, Judge Todd entered an order confirming the arbitration
Plaintiff contends, inter alia, that "[t]he entry of judgment
. . . without jurisdiction was done with malice, intent, willful,
reckless, wanton disregard for plaintiff's rights and guarantees
under the Fourteenth Amendment and for the purpose [of]
obtaining payment of a known illegal debt and are outrageous,
reprehensible, and so deliberately and egregiously done as to
shock the conscience", and "Defendant Judge and Members of the
Bar have encouraged, tolerated, ratified and/or have been
deliberately indifferent to cited misconduct of private party,
New Century, and as such have abused the public trust and their
sworn oath." Complaint ¶¶ 60-61.
Defendants advance three defenses which are the grounds for
their motion to dismiss: 1) this Court lacks subject matter
jurisdiction over this matter according to the Rooker-Feldman
abstention doctrine, 2) they are entitled to judicial immunity
and 3) they are entitled qualified immunity.
A. Standard Motion to Dismiss
Pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint shall be dismissed for
failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted only if
a court finds "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can
prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle
him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 46 (1957);
Johnsrud v. Carter, 620 F.2d 29, 33 (3d Cir. 1980); Craftmatic
Sec. Litig. v. Kraftsow, 890 F.2d 628, 634 (3d Cir. 1989). Allegations
contained in the complaint will be accepted as true, Cruz v.
Beto, 405 U.S. 319, 322 (1972), and the plaintiff shall be
"given the benefit of every favorable inference that can be drawn
from those allegations." Schrob v. Catterson, 948 F.2d 1402,
1405 (3d Cir. 1991). The court is limited to facts contained and
alleged in the complaint and may not consider facts raised for
the first time by parties in legal briefs. Hauptmann v.
Wilentz, 570 F. Supp. 351, 364 (D.N.J. 1983), aff'd without
opinion, 770 F.2d 1070 (3d Cir. 1985). The Court will accept as
true and view in the light most favorable to the non-moving
party, in this case Plaintiff, the allegations contained within
the Complaint. Doug Grant, Inc. v. Greate Bay Casino Corp.,
232 F.3d 173, 183-84 (3d Cir. 2000).
B. § 1983
To state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must prove
a violation of a right secured by the United States Constitution
and the laws of the United States and show that the alleged
deprivation was committed by a person acting under color of state
law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988). Success in a §
1983 action requires proof of actual and specific conduct by a
state actor which violated a plaintiff's constitutional or
federal statutory rights.
Plaintiff alleges Defendants denied him due process of law in
violation of the Fourteenth Amendment when Beakley and Waldman
entered judgment against him and when Judge Todd signed the
confirmation of the arbitration award.*fn2 It is unnecessary
to address the merits of Plaintiff's claims, because the doctrine
of judicial immunity requires that the Complaint against these three defendants be dismissed.
C. Absolute Immunity
Judicial immunity benefits the "public, whose interest it is
that the judges should be at liberty to exercise their functions
without fear of consequences." Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547,
554 (1967); Dole Food Co. v. Patrickson, 538 U.S. 468, 479
(2003). Absolute judicial immunity is needed because the burden
of litigation may lead to intimidation. Clinton v. Jones,
520 U.S. 681, 721 (1997). 42 U.S.C. § 1983 does not impose liability
on individuals entitled to judicial immunity. Briscoe v. LaHue,
460 U.S. 325, 334 (1983); Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. at 554.
"[J]udicial immunity is not overcome by allegations of bad faith
or malice," and a judge will not be deprived of immunity if he
acted in error or if his actions exceeded his authority. Mireles
v. Waco, 502 U.S. 9, 11(1991); Pierson v. Ray,
386 U.S. at 554.
Plaintiff contends that Judge Todd committed a property
deprivation without jurisdiction and due process. The allegations
of the Complaint establish that Judge Todd took the following
actions in Plaintiff's case: 1) he granted Plaintiff's request to
transfer his case to the law division, 2) he denied Plaintiff's
motion for recusal, 3) he denied Plaintiff's motion for
reconsideration of the order denying Plaintiff's request for
recusal, 4) he denied Plaintiff's motion to compel discovery, 5)
he denied Plaintiff's motion to compel discovery, extend
discovery, adjourn arbitration and for leave to amend
counterclaim, and 6) he entered an order confirming the
arbitration award. All of the aforementioned are acts that might
ordinarily be performed within Defendant Todd's capacity as a
judge. Accordingly, Judge Todd is entitled to judicial immunity
in this case. Plaintiff counterclaimed for an amount of loss sufficiently
great so that this case had to be transferred from the Small
Claims Court to the Law Division of the Superior Court, in which
the arbitration proceeding was pursued. He asserts that when two
days before the scheduled arbitration hearing he voluntarily
dismissed his counterclaim the case should have been transferred
back to the Small Claims Court and the arbitrators lost
jurisdiction to proceed. Under New Jersey Court Rules, however,
in order to remove a matter from arbitration a party must submit
a certification to the arbitration administrator within fifteen
days of the scheduling of the case for arbitration. R.
4:21A-1(c)(1). If a party seeks to remove a case from arbitration
subsequent to fifteen days after the notice of hearing, a formal
motion must be made to the Civil presiding Judge or designee. R.
4:21A-1(c)(2). Plaintiff took neither of those steps, and
consequently the case remained in arbitration, notwithstanding
the fact that in view of the lesser amount in controversy it
could have been heard in the Small Claims Court.*fn3 Judge
Todd, throughout the course of this case, including his signature on
the arbitration award, was performing normal judicial functions
within his jurisdictional powers. He performed these functions in
his court or chambers, and they centered around Plaintiff's case
then pending before him. In these circumstances he is entitled to
absolute judicial immunity, and the Complaint against him must be
The Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held that
arbitrators are entitled to immunity analogous to judicial
immunity. See Cahn v. Int'l Ladies' Garment Union, 311 F.2d 113
(3d Cir. 1962). In Cahn, the defendant, an arbitrator, decided
a dispute between an employer and union. The plaintiffs brought
suit alleging, inter alia, that the defendant engaged in
unlawful activities by compelling plaintiffs to adhere to and
maintain certain contract provisions that violated federal
statutes. The Court of Appeals held:
[T]he allegations of the said paragraphs are based
upon the conduct of the appellee in his capacity as
arbitrator; that in so functioning he was performing
quasi-judicial duties and was * * * clothed with
immunity, analogous to judicial immunity, against
actions brought by either of the parties arising out
of his performance of his * * * duties. Id. at 115.
Under the Court of Appeals holding in Cahn, Defendants
Beakley and Waldman are also entitled to immunity analogous to
judicial immunity and will be dismissed from the case.
For the reasons set forth above the Complaint against Judge
Todd and Defendants Beakley and Waldman will be dismissed with
prejudice. An appropriate order will be entered.*fn4
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