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Marangos v. Swett

April 28, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wolfson, nited States District Judge


Presently before the Court is a motion filed by Defendant New Jersey Superior Court Judge Michael A Guadagno ("Judge Guadagno" or "Defendant"), to dismiss all claims of Plaintiff Vassos Marangos, pro se, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)6. Plaintiff alleges, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1983, that Defendant violated his First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment Rights by denying Plaintiff's numerous motions arising from his matrimonial proceeding filed in the New Jersey Superior Court, Monmouth County. In addition, Plaintiff alleges violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1962(c), Plaintiff contending that Judge Guadagno, along with others, conspired to ruin him financially through a fraudulent scheme arising from Plaintiff's refinancing of his home. Finally, Plaintiff asserts several state law claims against Judge Guadagno, including negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.*fn1 For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Judge Guadagno's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's federal and state claims with prejudice.

I. Background and Procedural History

Since Judge Guadagno moves to dismiss Plaintiff's claims pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the following version of events assumes Plaintiff's allegations to be true.

Plaintiff Vassos Marangos' ("Marangos") and Cecily Catherine Swett's*fn2 ("Swett") second judgment for divorce was entered before the Honorable Alexander Lehrer ("Judge Lehrer") in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Monmouth County on January 17, 2006. (Compl. ¶ 16.) After Judge Lehrer removed himself from the matter,*fn3 Judge Guadagno was assigned to Plaintiff's matrimonial case. (Id. ¶ 29.) Although Plaintiff was represented by counsel in his matrimonial case, Plaintiff is proceeding in the present matter as a pro se litigant.*fn4

Defendant filed a court order on June 7, 2006, revising Plaintiff's child visitation schedule from an alternate month schedule to an alternate weekend schedule and granted oral argument to Swett. (Id. ¶¶ 30, 46.) Plaintiff filed two motions "in the fall of 2006," one of which was to increase the visitation schedule of this order due to Plaintiff's changed circumstances. (Id. ¶¶ 46-47.) Plaintiff alleges that Judge Guadagno was compelled by Judge Lehrer "and/or others" to retaliate against Plaintiff because his motions exposed corruption in Freehold, New Jersey. (Compl. ¶ 47.) Judge Guadagno repeatedly denied oral argument on this motion, and filed an order without oral argument on October 31, 2006, denying Plaintiff's Motion for Change of Circumstances for Lack of Jurisdiction. (Compl. ¶ 47.) In turn, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Reconsideration of the October 31, 2006 Order. (Compl. ¶ 48.)

Plaintiff's motions were delayed and rescheduled by Judge Guadagno three times. (Compl. ¶ 49.) On January 11, 2007, Plaintiff learned from Judge Guadagno's law clerk that Judge Guadagno would be denying Plaintiff's Motion for Oral Argument. (Compl. ¶ 50.) Plaintiff then wrote a letter to Judge Guadagno asking him not to file an order and to allow him enough time to file a Motion to Recuse the Judge. (Compl. ¶ 50.) In this letter, Plaintiff wrote, "the situation has reached such catastrophic levels with the loss of his children and the financial situation that the involvement of the prosecutor was unavoidable." (Compl. ¶ 50.) Judge Guadagno interpreted Plaintiff's letter as a threat and referred the matter to the State Police. On January 11, 2007, two law enforcement officers visited Plaintiff at his place of employment regarding the letter. (Compl. ¶¶ 51-53.) On January 11, 2007, Judge Guadagno filed an order denying both of Plaintiff's motions without oral argument and threatened Plaintiff with sanctions if he filed another motion. Plaintiff alleges the denial was nothing more than "a well-planned, premeditated and a deliberate act to prevent [P]laintiff from presenting facts in person that would have compelled the Court to apply the law." (Compl. ¶¶ 54-55.) By denying Plaintiff's motions, Plaintiff alleges that Judge Guadagno "[deprived Plaintiff] of even a hearing regarding his parental rights, knowing Plaintiff was on the brink of financial collapse, and then contacting the State [P]olice and ruining [P]laintiff's profession constitutes also child abuse and endangering the welfare of minors." (Compl. ¶ 58) (emphasis in original).

On March 14, 2007, Monmouth County Probation, the child support agency, commenced a hearing for the child support arrears arising from Plaintiff's divorce proceedings. (Compl. ¶ 61.) Due to the complexity of the issues, this hearing was terminated by the Child Support Hearing Officer, at Plaintiff's request, to have the matter heard by a Family Court Judge, that being Judge Guadagno. (Compl. ¶ 65.) At this hearing, Judge Guadagno addressed Swett's application for Plaintiff's arrest without informing Plaintiff of his right to appointed counsel and also "remind[ed Plaintiff] there were consequences of filing an appeal." (Compl. ¶¶ 65-66.) In addition, Judge Guadagno asked for Land Option's phone number in order to instruct Land Option to distribute to Swett a portion of Plaintiff's funds held in escrow. (Compl. ¶ 67.) On March 12, 2007, Judge Guadagno ordered the remainder of the funds held by Land Options to be held in escrow for later resolution. This order also directed Plaintiff to comply with Judge Lehrer's March 31, 2006 order to send Swett Fidelty IRA statements within 48 hours. (Compl. ¶¶ 68, 71.) Plaintiff complied with this order on March 15, 2007. (Compl. ¶ 72.)

On March 26, 2007,*fn5 Judge Guadagno sent a letter to Plaintiff indicating that it had come to the court's attention that Plaintiff was not complying with the March 14, 2007 order. (Compl.¶ 75.) Plaintiff alleges that Judge Guadagno could have only obtained that information by communicating ex parte with Swett. (Compl. ¶ 75.) On March 30, 2007, Plaintiff sent a letter to Judge Guadagno informing him that companies, such as Fidelity IRA, only issue quarterly statements. (Compl. ¶ 77.) On April 19, 2007, Judge Guadagno sent a letter to Plaintiff informing him that a representative from Fidelty had informed the Court that monthly statements could be issued upon request. (Compl. ¶ 78.) In this letter, Judge Guadagno also gave permission to Swett to subpoena Fidelity IRA to acquire monthly statements from the start of the divorce action in February 2004 to the statement of March 2007. (Compl. ¶ 80.)

Plaintiff then filed the post-judgment motion required by the previous judgment of divorce to resolve all outstanding issues and enforce all clauses in the divorce judgment. (Compl. ¶ 83.) This motion was scheduled for June 15, 2007. (Compl. ¶ 83.) Swett communicated to Judge Guadagno that she did not receive the motion material, but Plaintiff alleges Swett did not communicate this to Plaintiff. (Compl. ¶ 88.) In a June 12, 2007 letter, Judge Guadagno informed Plaintiff that the motion would be dismissed if he did not provide proof that the motion material was sent to Swett. (Compl. ¶ 88.) Plaintiff provided evidence of three different delivery methods and the motion was rescheduled for July 13, 2007. (Compl. ¶ 89.) At the July 13, 2007 hearing, "Judge Guadagno agreed. . .that $35,000.00 could be deducted from the Fidelty IRA account for the children's school tuition paid by [P]laintiff for three consecutive years." (Compl. ¶ 90.) On July 16, 2007, Judge Guadagno filed an order that both parties submit further proofs, specifically cancelled checks, to substantiate that the bills for school, medical, and other expenses of the children, submitted with the previous motion, were indeed paid and to submit any other contested issues. (Compl. ¶ 91.)

Judge Guadagno allegedly called Land Options again to get the precise amount of the money being held in escrow. (Compl. ¶ 92.) Judge Guadagno used these numbers to file an order on August 24, 2007 giving Swett $40,148.08 and the remainder of the funds to Plaintiff. (Compl. ¶ 92.) Plaintiff alleges that Judge Guadagno could not have gotten the amounts contained in this order unless he acted improperly by "manipulat[ing] the numbers even interpreting non-existent money, disregarding most clauses in the judgment of divorce[,] including medical expenses and child care expenses, disregarding the evidence (the cancelled checks) and ignoring the evidence provided that Swett already stole more than $61,000 from secret bank accounts Swett withheld from the judgment." (Compl. ¶ 93.)

On December 13, 2007, Plaintiff filed this Complaint in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey seeking "declaratory and injunctive relief determining Judge Guadagno to be unfit to serve in the judiciary and enjoining him from serving as a Judge,"*fn6 $20,000,000.00 in compensatory damages, $100,000,000 in punitive damages, treble damages, interest and costs of suit, counsel fees, and any other relief the Court may deem proper.*fn7 Judge Guadagno filed this Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), on March 27, 2008. Plaintiff filed a cross-motion for the appointment of a special prosecutor on April 7, 2007, which Plaintiff withdrew with this Court's approval on September 16, 2008.

II. Discussion

A. Standard of Review

When reviewing a motion to dismiss on the pleadings, courts "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, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (citation and quotations omitted). Recently, in Bell Atlantic Corporation v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955 (2007), the Supreme Court clarified the 12(b)(6) standard. Specifically, the Court "retired" the language contained in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957), that "a complaint should not be dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Id. at 1968 (quoting Conley, 355 U.S. at 45-46). Instead, the factual allegations set forth in a complaint "must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. at 1965. As the Third Circuit has stated, "[t]he Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: 'stating . . . a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' the required element. This 'does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead 'simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234 (quoting Twombly, 127 S.Ct. at 1965).

B. Judicial Immunity

The Court first notes that Plaintiff's complaint is a voluminous, meandering, and often venomous attack on the defendants in what appears to be an attempt to re-litigate a divorce case not decided in his outright favor, a product of some unsubstantiated conspiracy between wholly unrelated actors whose sole purpose was allegedly to destroy Plaintiff financially and emotionally.*fn8 Plaintiff alleges numerous violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by Judge Guadagno in his complaint,*fn9 including: (1) violation of Plaintiff's First Amendment right to access to the courts (Compl. ¶ 110); (2) violation of Plaintiff's Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by engaging in ex parte communications and making certain judicial determinations (Compl. ¶ 111); (3) violation of Plaintiff's First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights by committing felony child abuse in his official capacity (Compl. ¶ 112); (4) violation of Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment rights by allowing Plaintiff's property "to be usurped and stolen" (Compl. ¶ 113); and (5) violation of Plaintiff's Sixth and Fourteenth Amendment rights by not allowing him the right to appointed counsel (Compl. ¶ 114).

Judge Guadagno contends that all the above claims fall within the ken of absolute judicial immunity. See Figueroa v. Blackburn, 39 F. Supp. 2d 479, 484 (D.N.J. 1999), aff'd, 208 F.3d 435 (3d Cir. 2000) ("It is a well-established principle of Angelo-American jurisprudence that judges are generally afforded absolute immunity from civil suits for money damages") (citations omitted). The protection of judicial immunity, though ostensibly for the protection of judges, is in fact "for the benefit of the public, whose interest it is that the judges should be at liberty to exercise their functions with independence and without fear of consequences." Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 554 (1967) (internal quotation marks omitted). "If judges were personally liable for erroneous decisions, the resulting avalanche of suits, most of them frivolous but vexatious, would provide powerful incentives for judges to avoid rendering decisions likely to provoke such suits." Forrester v. White, 484 U.S. 219, 226-27 (1988).

Courts have repeatedly emphasized the extensive scope of judicial immunity, holding that immunity applies "'however injurious in its consequences [the judge's action] may have proved to the plaintiff'." Gallas v. Supreme Court, 211 F.3d 760, 769 (3d Cir. 2000) (quoting Cleavinger v. Saxner, 474 U.S. 193, 199-200)). "Disagreement with the action taken by the judge . . . does not justify depriving that judge of his immunity. . . . The fact that the issue before the judge is a controversial one is all the more reason that he should be able to act without fear of suit." Stump, 435 U.S. at 363-64. Further, highlighting its expansive breadth, the court explained "the public policy favoring the judicial immunity doctrine outweighs any consideration given to the fact that a judge's errors caused the deprivation of an individual's basic due process rights." Figueroa, 39 F. Supp. 2d at495.

The doctrine, albeit expansive, is not without its limits. In Figueroa, the court outlined judicial ...

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