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Liberty and Prosperity 1776, Inc. v. Corzine

March 3, 2009

LIBERTY AND PROSPERITY 1776, INC., ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
JON CORZINE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

HON. JEROME B. SIMANDLE

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

This dispute arises out of a series of events that took place at a town hall meeting convened by New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine at the Middle Township High School Performing Arts Center (the "PAC") on January 19, 2008. According to Plaintiffs' allegations, Governor Corzine scheduled the town hall meeting to present a financial restructuring and debt reduction plan to the citizens of Middle Township, and to solicit the citizens' feedback regarding the plan. Plaintiffs -- various individuals who opposed the Governor's financial restructuring plan (the "Individual Plaintiffs"), all of whom are members of organizational Plaintiff Liberty and Prosperity 1776, Inc. ("Liberty and Prosperity") -- sought to express their opposition to the Governor's plan through a variety of means, and allege that Defendants violated their First Amendment rights by, inter alia, refusing to permit the Individual Plaintiffs to carry signs and placards into the PAC and preventing the Individual Plaintiffs from distributing leaflets within one hundred yards of the PAC. The State Defendants*fn1 and the Middle Township Defendants*fn2 each moved to dismiss the entirety of Plaintiffs' claims [Docket Items 32 and 34], and the Court heard oral argument as to these motions on February 24, 2009. For the reasons explained below, the Court will grant in part Defendants' motions, and dismiss the remainder of Defendants' motions without prejudice to refiling following Plaintiffs' filing of an amended complaint.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

1. Allegations in the Complaint

On January 19, 2008, New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine convened a town hall meeting at the Middle Township PAC in order to discuss his proposal that the State undertake a financial restructuring and debt reduction plan. (Compl. ¶¶ 43, 49.) According to the Complaint, the Governor had previously "announced his intention to hold town hall meetings in each of the twenty-one counties of the State of New Jersey," and had promoted the meetings "as open public forums . . . [at which] members of the public would be given the opportunity to question Corzine regarding the Corzine [debt reduction] [p]lan and to voice opposing viewpoints . . ." (Id. at ¶¶ 47-48.)

The Individual Plaintiffs harbored such opposing viewpoints, and sought to use the occasion of the town hall meeting to express to Governor Corzine and to members of the public their disapproval of the Governor's plan through "distribution of flyers and literature, display of signs and placards, verbal interaction with other members of the public, and other activities . . ." (Id. at ¶ 51.) According to the Complaint, at the site of the town hall meeting, the Individual Defendants "informed Plaintiffs or caused others to inform them" that Plaintiffs were not permitted to display signs or distribute literature inside the PAC auditorium, and that Plaintiffs were not permitted to engage in such activities within one hundred yards of the PAC entrance. (Id. at ¶ 53.) Plaintiffs further allege that the Individual Defendants had conspired to deprive Plaintiffs of their First Amendment rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985. (Id. at ¶ 85.) Plaintiff Seth Grossman "refused to either move or refrain from displaying a sign or signs or refrain from distributing literature within the public auditorium," and was arrested.*fn3 (Id. at ¶ 55.)

2. Grossman Certification

In response to Defendants' motions to dismiss, Plaintiffs submitted a Certification of Plaintiff Seth Grossman containing allegations of facts not mentioned in the Complaint, the relevant portions of which are summarized below.*fn4 According to Mr. Grossman's Certification, while Plaintiffs were precluded from carrying signs or distributing literature critical of the Governor's financial restructuring plan at the Middle Township town hall meeting, members of a nonprofit organization called Save Our State NJ, Inc. ("Save Our State"),*fn5 were permitted to display signs and banners favoring the plan and to distribute literature in support of the plan inside the PAC. (Grossman Cert. ¶¶ 53-54.) Additionally, according to Mr. Grossman, members of Save Our State, as well as other unspecified organizations that favored the Governor's plan, "were permitted to meet and greet and sign up supporters at a 'registration table' with chairs in front of the hall," while opponents of the plan "were prevented from distributing their literature anywhere inside or outside the meeting hall . . ." (Id. at ¶¶ 55-56.)

B. Procedural History

Plaintiffs filed this action on May 28, 2008, naming as Defendants the State of New Jersey, Governor Corzine, Attorney General Anne Milgram, and the New Jersey State Police (the "State Defendants"); the County of Cape May and Cape May County Sheriff John F. Callinan (the "Cape May Defendants"); the Township of Middle, Middle Township Chief of Police Joseph Evangelista, and Middle Township police officers Paul Fritsch, Scott Webster, James D'Alonzo, and Richard Smedberg (the "Middle Township Defendants"); and the Middle Township Board of Education and its Secretary, Walter Landgraf (the "Board of Education Defendants"). Plaintiffs allege that Defendants violated their right to the freedom of speech, assembly, and to petition the government in violation of the United States Constitution and the New Jersey Constitution (Counts One, Two, Three, Seven, and Eight); that Defendants violated Plaintiff Grossman's right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures in violation of the United States Constitution and the New Jersey Constitution (Counts Four and Nine); and assert claims of civil rights conspiracy pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1985 (Count Five) and refusal to prevent a civil rights conspiracy pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1986 (Count Six).

The State Defendants and the Middle Township Defendants then filed the motions to dismiss and/or for a more definite statement*fn6 presently pending before the Court [Docket Items 32 and 34].*fn7 The Court heard oral argument on these motions on February 24, 2009, and reserved decision.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

On a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim for which relief may be granted, the Court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting Pinker v. Roche Holdings Ltd., 292 F.3d 361, 374 n.7 (3d Cir. 2002)).

While Rule 12(b)(6) does not permit dismissal of a well-pleaded complaint simply because "it strikes a savvy judge that actual proof of those facts is improbable," the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level."

Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234. "To survive a motion to dismiss, a civil plaintiff must allege facts that 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).'" Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007)).

"While a complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations, a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1964-65 (quoting Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286 (1986)).

"[S]tating . . . a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest" the required element. [Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965 n.3.] This "does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage," but instead "simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable ...


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