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Riley v. State of New Jersey Agencies

May 29, 2007


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


This matter comes before the Court on the motion [Docket Item 16] of Defendants - former Attorney General of New Jersey Zulima V. Farber, Superior Court Judge John J. Lindsay, Chief of Probation for Gloucester County Robert Miles, Gloucester County Probation Officer Edward Sedlak, Camden County Probation Officer Mark Whitman, and the State of New Jersey (hereafter the "State Defendants") -- to dismiss the Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). This Court also considers the motion of Plaintiff, Kevin J. Riley, for judgment on the pleadings, filed March 15, 2007 [Docket Item 36], which the Court will consider also as opposition to the State Defendants' motion to dismiss. The State Defendants have themselves submitted opposition to Plaintiff's motion by letter dated April 11, 2007. Plaintiff also requested on April 20, 2007 [Docket Item 44], that a letter to Allan E. Richardson, Esquire (attorney for former Defendant Frank Brown), dated September 7, 2006, from Guy W. Killen, Esquire, which Mr. Riley refers to as the "Scibal letter," also be considered in connection with his motion for judgment on the pleadings.

In their motion to dismiss, the State Defendants argue, among other things, that collateral estoppel arising from Plaintiff's previous adverse judgment in the Supreme Court of New Jersey arising from the same facts and circumstances and Eleventh Amendment immunity preclude this action. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant the motion to dismiss and will deny Plaintiff's motion for judgment on the pleadings.


A. Facts*fn1

Plaintiff brings suit against various public officials, alleging that they negligently mismanaged his child and spousal support records. In his Amended Complaint, Plaintiff seeks monetary damages for the resulting alleged violations of his civil rights, including the loss of employment, suspension of his driver's license, and subsequent arrest. Additionally, Plaintiff seeks expungement of his driver's record and any criminal or incarceration records that resulted from the alleged negligence of state officials.

Plaintiff's claims stem from his interactions with the Glassboro police department, New Jersey court system and the New Jersey Probation department between 1995 and 2004. In 1995, Plaintiff alleges Glassboro police filed a domestic violence complaint against him based on allegedly false statements by the Plaintiff's ex-wife. (Pl.'s Am. Compl. ¶ 2.) Plaintiff alleges he was summoned to court in 1996 and told to bring evidence that he was paying child and spousal support to his ex-wife. (Id. ¶ 6.) After the hearing, Plaintiff alleges that the Gloucester County Probation Department wrongfully notified his employer that, due to non-payment of support, Plaintiff's commercial driver's license had been suspended. (Id. ¶ 7.) As a result, Plaintiff claims he was fired from his job as a commercial truck driver and remained unemployed until 2002. (Id.)

In 2001, Plaintiff alleges that his ex-wife remarried, the two children he shared with his ex-wife were emancipated, and his ex-wife requested the Gloucester County Probation Office end any child or spousal support being charged to Plaintiff. (Id. ¶ 8.) However, in 2002 and 2003, the Gloucester County Probation Department continued to charge Plaintiff with failure to pay child and spousal support. (Id. ¶¶ 9, 11.) Police stopped Plaintiff in 2003 for driving on a license suspended for failure to pay child support and arrested him on a bench warrant tied to the support. (Id. ¶ 10.) When Plaintiff appeared in New Jersey Superior Court for the bench warrant and support claims, he alleges that Probation Officer Sedlak entered a false docket number onto Plaintiff's support case. (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff claims the false docket number prevented him from clearing up any confusion with the Motor Vehicle Commission over his support obligations, and as a result, his driver's license remained in suspended status. (Id. ¶ 12.) In late 2003, Plaintiff attempted to clear up any confusion about support obligations with the Camden County Probation Department. (Id. ¶ 13.) However, since Plaintiff's case file with the allegedly false docket number indicated Plaintiff was still failing to pay support, Camden County Probation Officer Whitman had him arrested. (Id.) Finally, in 2004, Plaintiff was again stopped by police and arrested for a fugitive warrant tied to his failure to pay child support. (Id. ¶ 16.)

Plaintiff alleges the various public officials and agencies named as Defendants collectively violated his civil rights.*fn2

Specifically, he claims Superior Court Judge John J. Lindsay improperly found Plaintiff guilty of a Domestic Violence charge in 1995 and, as a result, erred in giving Plaintiff's ex-wife exclusive possession of Plaintiff's home. (Pl.'s Am. Compl. ¶¶ 3-4.) Additionally, Plaintiff's complaint names Gloucester County Chief of Probation Robert Miles, alleging that in 1996 Miles' agency acted improperly when its officers erroneously suspended Plaintiff's driver's license due to non-payment of child support. (Id. ¶¶ 6-7.) Plaintiff's complaint also names Gloucester County Probation Officer Edward Sedlak, alleging Sedlak wrongfully submitted an order for spousal support in 2003 after Plaintiff's marriage had been dissolved, repeatedly suspended Plaintiff's driver's license, and changed the Docket numbers on Plaintiff's spousal support cases, which caused Plaintiff to be arrested in 2003. (Id. ¶¶ 8-12.) Similarly, the Plaintiff alleges Camden County Probation Officer Mark Whitman also violated Plaintiff's rights in 2003 by using the false Docket numbers on Plaintiff's spousal support case, which allegedly caused Plaintiff to be arrested in August 2004 and September 2005. (Id. ¶¶ 13-17.)

B. Prior Proceeding*fn3

This suit represents Plaintiff's second attempt to sue New Jersey probation officials for negligence and violations of his civil rights resulting from the alleged mismanagement of his support records. In January 2005, Plaintiff filed a Complaint in state court against Gloucester County Probation Officers Sedlak and Banff, and Camden County Probation Officer Mark Whitman. The suit alleged a violation of Plaintiff's civil rights through the mismanagement of his support case, which allegedly led to his arrest and imprisonment, and the suspension of his driver's license. (Super. Ct. Tr. at 27-31.) Defendants in the state court suit responded with a motion to dismiss and on April 28, 2006, Judge Little of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division granted Defendants' motion, dismissing Plaintiff's civil rights claim in light of the Defendants' immunity as state officials and dismissing Plaintiff's negligence claim for failure to comply with the notice provisions of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 59:8-8. (Super. Ct. Tr. at 29-30.)

In dismissing Plaintiff's negligence and civil rights claims, the New Jersey Superior Court held that Defendants were immune from suit for two reasons. First, the named Probation Officers in the state court dismissal were entitled to Eleventh Amendment immunity as officers of the state. (Super. Ct. Tr. at 27-28.) See Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 66-71 (1989) ("a suit against a state official in his or her official capacity is not a suit against the official but rather is a suit against the official's office," barred by the Eleventh Amendment state immunity). Second, the state court dismissed the suit on immunity grounds because the Probation Officers were entitled to ...

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