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Tate v. State

July 17, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Katharine S. Hayden, U.S.D.J.


This matter comes to the Court upon a pro se petition for a writ of mandamusand an application for emergent injunctive relief filed by John Tate against the State of New Jersey, the Superior Court of Morris County, certain officials of the Morris County Prosecutor‟s Office, and the New Jersey Division of Youth & Family Services.*fn1 The action arises from pending state criminal charges of sexual abuse of a former foster child from August 1999 through November 1999. Tate recently pleaded guilty to these charges, and has filed prolix and voluminous supporting documents in this Court about the proceedings in the state court. He requests this Court to enjoin (or alternatively issue a writ of mandamus to stay) his sentencing, which, according to his papers, is scheduled to go forward today, July 17, 2009. He also seeks an order vacating his guilty plea in the state court.

The asserted bases for Tate‟s petition include his allegations that: (1) respondents have failed to adjudicate certain motions filed on his behalf; (2) respondents have destroyed or spoliated certain evidence related to his defense; (3) respondents have caused him involuntarily to plead guilty to the state criminal charges; and (4) delays in the state-court proceedings have violated his constitutional rights to due process and a speedy trial.

A party seeking temporary or preliminary injunctive relief must demonstrate that: (1) there is a reasonable probability of success on the merits; (2) the movant will be irreparably injured if relief is not granted; (3) the relative harm to the movant in the absence of relief is greater than the harm that will be sustained by the non-movant if relief is granted; and (4) the public interest favors the injunction. Central Jersey Freightliner, Inc., v. Freightliner Corp., 987 F. Supp. 289, 295 (D.N.J. 1997). As the Court discusses below, Tate cannot-as a matter of law-succeed on the merits. A temporary restraining order is therefore inappropriate, and the actionwill be dismissed. See Hill Int'l v. Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp., 957 F. Supp. 548, 562 (D.N.J. 1996) (Simandle, J.) (denying injunctive relief where plaintiff had "no prospect of success on the merits").

Tate seeks a writ of mandamus pursuant to the 28 U.S.C. §§ 1361 and 1651.*fn2 The former provision authorizes district courts to issue such a writ "to compel an officer or employee of the United States or any agency thereof to perform a duty owed to the plaintiff." 28 U.S.C. § 1361 (emphasis added). It does not permit mandamus to issue out of this Court against state officers named as respondents in this action. See Richardson v. New Jersey, No. 07-3482, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 58104, at *2 (D.N.J. Aug. 9, 2007) (Martini, J.); Jenkins v. Gregoria, No. 06-5163, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80143, at *5 (D.N.J. Nov. 2, 2006) (Pisano, J.); see also Davis v. Lansing, 851 F.2d 72, 74 (2nd Cir. 1988); Haggard v. Tennessee, 421 F.2d 1384, 1386 (6th Cir. 1970).

The latter provision-known as the All Writs Act-similarly permits a district court to "issue all writs necessary or appropriate in aid of their respective jurisdictions and agreeable to the usages and principles of law." 28 U.S.C. § 1651(a). Section 1651 permits this Court to issue a writ of mandamus in aid of its own jurisdiction, but-like § 1361-does not confer upon it the authority to compel state judicial officers to act in matters pending in those officers‟ courts. See, e.g., In re Grand Jury Proceedings, 654 F.2d 268, 278 (3d Cir. 1981); Miller v. New Jersey, No. 07-460, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50048, at *7-8 n.1 (D.N.J. Jul. 1, 2008) (Cooper, J.); Bronson v. Sup. Ct. of Pa., No. 89-5552, 1989 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10083, at *1 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 28, 1989); In re Campbell, 264 F.3d 730, 731 (7th Cir. 2001). Nor may the Court issue the writ "against state officials for violations of their duties under state law." Coniston Corp. v. Village of Hoffman Estates., 844 F.2d 461, 469 (7th Cir. 1988); Miller, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 50048, at *7-8 n.1; Jenkins, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEIS 80143, at *5.*fn3

Finally, construing Tate‟s pro se petition liberally as a request for injunctive relief that the Court would otherwise have jurisdiction to grant, abstention under Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971) is appropriate. Younger held that, absent extraordinary circumstances, a federal district court must abstain from enjoining pending state criminal prosecutions pursuant to concerns of equity, comity, and federalism. Id. at 41. "Younger "and its progeny espouse a strong federal policy against federal-court interference with pending state judicial proceedings absent extraordinary circumstances." Kendall v. Russell, No. 08-1212, 2009 U.S. App. LEXIS 15390, at *37 (3d Cir. Jul. 13, 2009) (Fisher, J., dissenting) (quoting Middlesex County Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 431 (1982)). Three requirements must be satisfied before a district court may abstain under Younger: "(1) there are ongoing state proceedings that are judicial in nature; (2) the state proceedings implicate important state interests; and (3) the state proceedings afford an adequate opportunity to raise federal claims." Id. at *9-10(majority op.) (citing Matusow v. Trans-County Title Agency, LLC, 545 F.3d 241, 248 (3d Cir. 2008)); see also Schall v. Joyce, 885 F.2d 101, 106 (3d Cir. 1989).

This case presents a classic Younger fact pattern; because the prerequisites for abstention are present and no exceptions apply, the Court will abstain. First, Tate admits that state proceedings are now ongoing (the instant petition asks that they be stopped), and it is beyond cavil that those criminal proceedings are judicial in nature. See, e.g., Coruzzi v. New Jersey, 705 F.2d 688, 690 (3d Cir. 1983) (identifying "traditional indicia of a judicial action"). Second, as Younger itself demonstrates, when a state acts to ensure compliance with its own criminal statutes, important state interests are implicated. See Younger, 401 U.S. at 43-54; Anthony v. Gerald Council, 316 F.3d 412, 421-22 (3d Cir. 2003) ("Under the Younger doctrine, when a state seeks to vindicate its own policies as a party to a pending state proceeding, an important state interest often is implicated."). Third, it is Tate‟s affirmative burden "to show "that state procedural law bar[s] presentation of [his] [federal] claims.‟" Schall, 885 F.2d at 107 (quoting Pennzoil Co. v. Texaco, Inc., 481 U.S. 1, 14 (1987) (emphasis added)). Although he argues that respondents have not addressed certain motions under New Jersey law attacking the pending charges against him, he has failed to demonstrate that the applicable state law does not afford him the opportunity to assert federal claims in support of his cause. The more appropriate avenue to address these alleged failures, rather, is a direct appeal in state court.*fn4

Even if, as is the case here, the required three predicates exist, Younger abstention is inappropriate if the federal plaintiff can establish that: (1) the state proceedings are being undertaken in bad faith or for purposes of harassment; or (2) some other extraordinary circumstances exist, such as proceedings pursuant to a flagrantly unconstitutional statute, such that deference to the state proceeding will present a significant and immediate potential for irreparable harm to the federal interests asserted. See Middlesex, 457 U.S. at 435; Younger, 401 U.S. at 49-50, 53-54; Schall, 885 F.3d at 106. No extraordinary circumstances exist here, however, that vitiate the interests of comity and federalism that abstention would promote. Tate‟s guilty plea undermines any potential argument that the prosecution was brought in bad faith or with intent to harass. Furthermore, he posits no argument that the statute to which he pleaded guilty is "flagrantly unconstitutional" or that deference to the state criminal proceeding will present a "significant and immediate potential for irreparable harm" to his federal constitutional rights.


For the aforementioned reasons, a writ of mandamus may not issue out of this Court to stay the state criminal proceedings now pending against Tate.*fn5 Moreover, compelling interests of comity, federalism, and equity require this Court to abstain from entertaining Tate‟s emergent petition, in deference to the state criminal proceedings. Because Tate is not entitled to the relief he seeks under any factual circumstances, emergent relief is inappropriate. Tate‟s various motions will be denied, and the matter will be dismissed.*fn6

For the foregoing reasons, and good cause appearing,

It is on this 17th day of July, 2009, hereby

ORDERED that the Amended Petition for a Writ of Mandamus [D.E. # 2] is ...

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