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KWASNIK v. LEBLON

October 20, 2005.

MAREK A. KWASNIK, Plaintiff,
v.
HON. VINCENT LEBLON, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: STANLEY CHESLER, District Judge

OPINION

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.

BACKGROUND

  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 injunctive relief.

  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 Plaintiff's appeal.

  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 ...


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