United States District Court, D. New Jersey
October 20, 2005.
MAREK A. KWASNIK, Plaintiff,
HON. VINCENT LEBLON, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: STANLEY CHESLER, District Judge
This matter comes before the Court on the appeal of an August
2, 2005 Order issued by the Honorable Tonianne J. Bongiovanni,
U.S.M.J. denying Plaintiff's Motion for Leave to File an Amended
Complaint.*fn1 For the reasons discussed below, Magistrate
Judge Bongiovanni's Order is affirmed.
This case arises out of a child custody dispute litigated in
New Jersey State Court. The Plaintiff filed the original
Complaint in this matter on August 15, 2003 (docket entry # 1).
On or about May 2, 2005, Plaintiff filed a motion with the Court
seeking leave to amend his Complaint to add additional defendants.*fn2
Specifically, Plaintiff sought to add as defendants: (1) Judge
Robert Fall and Judge Anthony Parillo, both Appellate Division
Judges of New Jersey Superior Court; (2) Justice Deborah Poritz,
Justice Virginia Long, Justice Jaynee LaVecchia, Justice James
Zazzali, Justice Barry Albin, Justice John Wallace, and Justice
Roberto Rivera-Soto, all New Jersey Supreme Court Justices; (3)
U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales; (4) Avivith Oppenheim;
(5) Ewa Skwarcynska; (6) the Supreme Court of New Jersey; (7)
United States Congress; and (8) the New Jersey State Legislature.
Defendants filed no opposition to Plaintiff's Motion.
Judge Bongiovanni denied Plaintiff's motion on the ground that
amendment to the Complaint would be futile. Judge Bongiovanni
held: (1) the additions of Judge Fall and Parillo as well as
Justices Poritz, Long, La Vecchia, Zazzali, Albin, Wallace and
Rivera-Soto as defendants futile because each are protected by
the doctrine of absolute judicial immunity; (2) the New Jersey
Supreme Court and State Legislature is protected from suit by
Eleventh Amendment immunity; (3) Plaintiff's proposed claims
against Ewa Skwarcynska and Avivith Oppenheim are barred by the
running of the applicable two-year statute of limitations period;
(4) Plaintiff's proposed claims against Attorney General Alberto
Gonzales and the United States Congress fail to state a claim
upon which relief could be granted. Plaintiff filed the instant
appeal on August 15, 2005. DISCUSSION
A. Standard of Review
The standard of review of a magistrate judge's decision depends
upon whether the issue addressed was dispositive or
non-dispositive. Andrews v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.,
191 F.R.D. 59, 67 (D.N.J. 2000). A district court may reverse a
magistrate judge's determination of a non-dispositive issue only
if it is "clearly erroneous or contrary to law."
28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); see also Lithuanian Commerce Corp. v. Sara Lee
Hosiery, 177 F.R.D. 205 (D.N.J. 1997).
Motions to amend are treated as non-dispositive matters in this
Court. Gutierrez v. Johnson & Johnson, 227 F.R.D. 255 (D.N.J.
2005). Review of a Magistrate Judge's legal determinations,
however, is plenary. Sidali v. I.N.S., 914 F. Supp. 1104, 1111
(D.N.J. 1996). The decision to deny Plaintiff's Motion for leave
to amend addressed legal issues in the context of what is
essentially a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss determination.
Therefore, this Court will give the August 2, 2005, Order of
Magistrate Judge Bongiovanni plenary review.
B. Plaintiff's Appeal
Judge Bongiovanni denied Plaintiff's motion to amend his
complaint on the basis of futility. Under Federal Rule of Civil
Procedure 15(a), leave to amend pleadings is generally freely
given. Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182 (1962). A court,
however, may nonetheless deny a motion to amend if such amendment
would be futile. Alvin v. Suzuki, 227 F.3d 107, 121 (3d. Cir.
2000). In determining futility, the court must consider whether the complaint, as amended, would survive a
motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief
could be granted. Id. at 121. Plaintiff disputes Judge
Bongiovanni's determination that amendments to the Complaint
would be futile.
I. Plaintiff's Claims Against Judicial Officers
Judge Bongiovanni found Plaintiff's claims against Judges Fall
and Parillo, and Justices Poritz, Long, La Vecchia, Zazzali,
Albin, Wallace and Rivera-Soto futile because as judges and
justices they are protected by judicial immunity. Plaintiff
argues that this determination is incorrect because judicial
immunity does not provide immunity when a judge or justice is
disregarding the law, or when a plaintiff is seeking prospective
It is well settled that judges are "generally afforded absolute
immunity from civil suits for money damages." Figueroa v.
Blackburn, 208 F.3d 435 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Mireles v.
Waco, 502 U.S. 9 (1991)). "The doctrine of judicial immunity is
founded upon the premise that a judge, in performing his or her
judicial duties, should be free to act upon his or her
convictions without threat of suit for damages." Figueroa,
208 F.3d at 400. So sacrosanct is judicial immunity that judges "are
not liable to civil actions for their judicial acts, even when
such acts are . . . alleged to be done maliciously or corruptly."
Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 355-56 (1978). Indeed, a judge
may only be held civilly liable in two circumstances: (1) when
the judge was not operating in his or her judicial capacity, and
(2) when the action was taken in the "complete absence of all
jurisdiction." Id. at 360; see also Figueroa v.
Blackburn, 39 F. Supp. 2d 479, 485-86 (D.N.J. 1999). Plaintiff's complaint, as amended, did not allege
any actions by the judicial defendants taking them outside of the
realm of judicial immunity. Each of the allegations in the
proposed Amended Complaint challenged conduct by the Judges taken
in their roles as adjudicators. For example, the allegations in
Count Eight of the proposed Amended Complaint contend that Judges
Fall and Parillo "in course of adjudicating Plaintiff's appeal . . .
have conspired" violating Plaintiff's right to equal
treatment and due process. Likewise, Plaintiff's proposed claims
against the justices of the New Jersey Supreme Court allege
constitutional violations caused by defendants declining to hear
Despite Plaintiff's argument on appeal, the fact that Plaintiff
was seeking prospective injunctive relief also does not eliminate
the protection afforded by judicial immunity. Traditionally,
although claims for money damages have been barred by judicial
immunity, claims for prospective injunctive relief have been
permitted under § 1983 against judicial officers acting in their
official capacity. See Pulliam v. Allen, 466 U.S. 522, 541-42
(1984). In 1996, however, Congress passed the Federal Courts
Improvement Act of 1996 ("FCIA") and legislatively reversed
Pulliam in several respects. Significantly, the FCIA amended §
1983 to provide that "injunctive relief shall not be granted" in
any § 1983 action "against a judicial officer for an act or
omission taken in such officer's judicial capacity . . . unless a
declaratory decree was violated or declaratory relief was
unavailable." Pub.L. No. 104-371, Title III, 110 Stat. 3854.
Plaintiff's proposed complaint does not allege that the named
judges or justices violated a declaratory decree or that
declaratory relief was unavailable to him. Accordingly, the doctrine of absolute judicial immunity bars
Plaintiff's claims against those judges and justices he sought to
add to his complaint and amendment would be futile. This Court is
satisfied that the ruling of the Magistrate Judge is correct and
will be upheld.
II. New Jersey Supreme Court and State Legislature
Judge Bongiovanni held Plaintiff's proposed claims against the
New Jersey Supreme Court and State Legislature futile as barred
by the Eleventh Amendment.
The Eleventh Amendment prohibits suits against state
governments by a state's own citizens, by citizens of another
state, or by citizens of foreign countries. Alden v. Maine,
527 U.S. 706 (1999). The New Jersey Supreme Court, as part of the
judicial branch of the New Jersey State government, "is an
integral part of the State of New Jersey" for purposes of the
Eleventh Amendment and is entitled to share in the State's
sovereign immunity. Johnson v. State of New Jersey,
869 F. Supp. 289, 296-97 (D.N.J. 1994). Likewise, New Jersey has not
waived its sovereign immunity with regard to suits brought in
federal courts against its court system or its legislature.
Because Plaintiff's claims against the New Jersey Supreme Court
and Legislature are barred by Eleventh Amendment state sovereign
immunity, addition of these claims by way of Amended Complaint is
futile. Therefore, this Court finds that Judge Bongiovanni's
decision was correct.
III. Defendants Avivith Oppenheim and Ewa Skwarczynksa
Judge Bongiovanni held Plaintiff's proposed claims against
Avivith Oppenheim and Ewa Skwarczynska were barred by the running
of the applicable two-year statute of limitations period. N.J. Stat. Ann. 2A:14-2 (West 2005).
Plaintiff argues that his claims against these defendants relate
back to August 15, 2003, the filing of the original Complaint in
this matter and are, therefore, timely. (Pl. Br. 31.)
Amendment of a pleading relates back to the date of the
original pleading when "the claim or defense asserted in the
amended pleading arose out of the conduct, transaction, or
occurrence set forth or attempted to be set forth in the original
pleading." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(2). Amendment of a pleading will
also relate back when a party is seeking to amend a misnamed
defendant. Under Rule 15(c)(3), an amended pleading will relate
back when the amendment changes the party name and the party has
received notice, will not be prejudiced, and "knew or should have
known that, but for a mistake concerning the identity of the
proper party, the action would have been brought against the
party." Fed.R.Civ.P. 15(c)(3).
Plaintiff's claims against these defendants do not relate back
to the filing date of the original Complaint. The claims asserted
against these defendants are separate and distinct from those
asserted in Plaintiff's original Complaint and do not arise out
of the conduct set forth therein as required for relation back
under Fed.R.Civ.Proc. 15(c)(2). Additionally, Plaintiff does
not seek to add these defendants to correct a mistake of identity
in the original Complaint. Plaintiff is merely seeking to add
entirely new and unrelated claims against new defendants and
therefore, these proposed amendments will not relate back to the
date of the original Complaint.
Plaintiff contends that his injury accrued on March 20, 2002
when the New Jersey trial court entered their final judgment. In
Plaintiff's proposed Amended Complaint, however, Count Twelve alleges these defendants "deliberately
procured misrepresentation . . . through false certification" in
filing a motion to compel Plaintiff to pay child support. The
ruling on this motion in New Jersey State Court was made on
November 15, 2001. It is not necessary for this Court to
determine on which date Plaintiff's alleged injury accrued. Even
assuming Plaintiff's injury accrued at the date he suggests,
March 20, 2002, these claims would nonetheless be time barred
under the applicable two-year statute of limitations with the
filing date of his Amended Complaint on May 2, 2005.
Therefore, this Court is satisfied that Judge Bongiovanni's
determination, that addition of these defendants would be futile,
IV. Claims Against United States Attorney General Alberto
Gonzales and the United States Congress
Count Fourteen of Plaintiff's proposed complaint seeks an
injunction against U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales
("Gonzales") to prevent the enforcement of Title 18 U.S.C. § 228
because it is unconstitutional.*fn3 Judge Bongiovanni found
Plaintiff's proposed claims futile because they failed to state a
claim upon which relief could be granted. Plaintiff contends that
this ruling was erroneous, arguing that he possesses the
requisite standing to bring these claims.
This Court finds that Plaintiff's proposed claims fail to state
a claim upon which relief can be granted. Plaintiff provides no
basis for finding that § 228 itself is unconstitutional. Plaintiff argues that because the federal
statute authorizes the government to enforce a state child
support award without first determining its validity, Plaintiff's
Due Process rights will be violated. Plaintiff's main contention
is that the underlying state award of child support may be
invalid making its enforcement under § 228 unconstitutional.
Plaintiff, however, asserts no grounds under which § 228 itself
should be found to be unconstitutional. His challenge is only to
the validity of the underlying state judgment. Accordingly, this
Court finds that Judge Bongiovanni's decision was correct.
Furthermore, this Court questions whether Plaintiff's proposed
claim is ripe for judicial review. The ripeness doctrine seeks to
separate claims that are premature for review because the alleged
injury is speculative, from cases appropriate for judicial
review. Abbott Labs. v. Gardner, 287 U.S. 136, 148 (1967). No
enforcement action has been commenced or even threatened against
the Plaintiff under § 228. Plaintiff argues only that he is in
"fear" that "prosecution . . . by federal government is
imminent. . . ." (Pl. Br. 34.) Additionally, Plaintiff has not
made a showing of sufficient hardship to warrant this Court to
conduct preenforcement review of the statute. See Abbot Labs.,
287 U.S. at 149 (holding that in deciding whether a case is ripe
a court must consider "the hardship to the parties of withholding
court consideration," and "the fitness of the issues for judicial
decision."). Therefore, this Court affirms Judge Bongiovanni's
Having reviewed the parties' submissions both to this Court and
to the Magistrate Judge, for the reasons set forth below, and for
good cause shown, this Court affirms the Magistrate Judge's
August 2, 2005 Order. An appropriate form of order will be filed
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