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Rothman v. City of Northfield

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY


June 10, 2010

SAMANTHA LEA ROTHMAN, MINOR, AND DANIEL ROTHMAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS PARENT AND NATURAL GUARDIAN OF SAMANTHA LEA ROTHMAN PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF NORTHFIELD, CHIEF ROBERT L. JAMES, OFFICER MARTIN PEARY, NORTHFIELD SCHOOL DISTRICT, NORTHFIELD BOARD OF EDUCATION, DR. RICHARD STEPURA, SUPERINTENDENT OF NORTHFIELD SCHOOL DISTRICT, AND LINDA ALBRIGHT, BUSINESS ADMINISTRATOR OF NORTHFIELD: SCHOOL DISTRICT, JOHN DOES (#1-#100), FICTITIOUS NAMES: JOINTLY, SEVERALLY AND/OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE, DEFENDANTS.

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

HONORABLE JOSEPH E. IRENAS

OPINION

This dispute arises out of an alleged altercation between Plaintiff Daniel Rothman and Defendant Officer Martin Peary on January 6, 2009. Rothman, along with his daughter, Samantha Lea, filed a complaint, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging a number of constitutional violations.*fn1 Presently before the Court is a Motion to Dismiss the Second Amended Complaint, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), filed on behalf of Defendants Northfield School District, Northfield Board of Education, Dr. Richard Stepura and Linda Albright (collectively "the School District Defendants").*fn2

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c)(1), the Court will decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the New Jersey state law claims alleged against the School District Defendants, because the claims raise novel and complex state law issues. Thus, the Second Amended Complaint with regards to the School District Defendants shall be dismissed without prejudice.

I.

On January 6, 2009, when Rothman arrived at the Northfield Community School to drop his daughter off at Kindergarten, he found all of the handicapped parking spots occupied. Rothman, who is disabled, pulled his car over in "as unobtrusive a location as possible" to leave it there temporarily and escort his daughter into school. Brief Opposing Defendants Northfield Board of Education, Northfield School District, Superintendent Richard Stepura and Business Administrator Linda Albright's Rule 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss, 3 (hereafter referred to as Plaintiffs' Opposition Br.). Before Rothman left his car, Officer Martin Peary, who was stationed at the Northfield Community School, instructed Rothman to move his car, as it was illegally parked. A physical altercation between Rothman and Officer Peary resulted. The complaint contends Officer Peary forcibly handcuffed and dragged Rothman to Peary's police vehicle before transporting him to the Police Station. Furthermore, the complaint alleges Samantha Lea was left "on the public sidewalk in front of a public school hysterically crying, exposed to the winter elements (cold, wind & rain), without any adult supervision from a parent, teacher or administrator of the school." Second Amended Complaint, Count Two, ¶2.

The First Amended Complaint was dismissed by this Court on September 30, 2009 pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) because the plaintiffs did not present enough factual specificity as to the School District Defendants, to survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. The Court granted Plaintiffs an opportunity to amend and present more factual specifics as to the School District Defendants' role in the incident.

In the Second Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs do not raise the level of specificity in their factual contentions against the School District Defendants (as was expected) but instead only allege state law claims against the School District Defendants.*fn3 They specifically allege that the School District Defendants "grossly breached" their duty pursuant to N.J.S.A. 39:4-207.9,*fn4 on January 6, 2009, "by allowing non-designated vehicles to occupy handicapped parking spaces." Second Amended Comp., Count 15, ¶4. This duty, Plaintiffs contend, represents a ministerial function pursuant to N.J.S.A. 59:2-3(d)*fn5 for which a public entity can be held liable.

Plaintiffs also contend that the School District Defendants "directly and/or indirectly denied to Plaintiff . . . access to the Northfield Community School in violation of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJ LAD"), N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(f)(1)".*fn6

Second Amended Compl., Count 16, ¶5. Finally Plaintiffs contend Defendants Stepura and Albright "by their actions, aided and abetted the violations as set forth above in contravention to N.J.S.A. 10:5-12(e)" and further, that the Northfield School District and the Northfield Board of Education are responsible for the acts of Stepura and Albright under the doctrine of Respondeat Superior. Id. Count 18, ¶2.

II.

When a court has original jurisdiction over a case because of the federal constitutional claims alleged against a defendant, the court "has supplemental jurisdiction 'over all other claims that are so related to claims in the action within such original jurisdiction that they form part of the same case or controversy under Article III of the United States Constitution.'" Lentz v. Mason, 961 F. Supp. 709, 717 (D.N.J. 1997)(quoting 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a)).

Congress provided district courts with the discretion to decline this supplemental jurisdiction in four specific circumstances. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1367(c), it is appropriate for a district court to decline supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims if:(1) the claim raises a novel or complex issue of State law, (2) the claim substantially predominated over the claim or claims over which the district court has original jurisdiction, (3) the district court has dismissed all claims over which it has original jurisdiction, or (4) in exceptional circumstances, there are other compelling reasons for declining jurisdiction. A district court, may, therefore, in its discretion, decline supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims if the claims raise novel or complex issues of state law.*fn7 See Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts v. Mirage Resorts, 140 F.3d 478, 487 (3d Cir. 1998).

"[I]t is clear that this court may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over state law claims involving defendants against whom no federal cause of action is stated, as long as a federal cause of action is stated against another defendant, and the state law claims satisfies the 'same case and controversy' requirement of Article III." Lentz, 961 F. Supp. at 717. "Nevertheless, when all federal claims against a party have been eliminated from a case, the district court may, in its discretion, decline to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims." Id.

"[S]section (c)(1) [of 28 U.S.C. § 1376] indicates and Courts have held that dismissal is proper where exercising jurisdiction over the claims may require the resolution of novel or unsettled questions of state law." Goodwin v. Seven-Up Bottling Co. of Phila., 1996 WL 601683, *6 (E.D.Pa. 1996). The court should make a prudential decision whether to exercise its discretionary supplemental jurisdiction. "[A] district court must take into account principles of judicial economy, and fairness to the litigants." Hollus v. Amtrak Northeast Corridor, 937 F. Supp. 1110, 1120 (D.N.J. 1996)(citing to Borough of West Miffling v. Lancaster, 45 F.3d 780, 788 (3d Cir. 1995)).

III.

As the Plaintiffs specifically state in their Opposition Brief, they "opted not to seek to amend their original federal causes of action against the School District Defendants, but instead sought only to plead, for the first time, New Jersey state law causes of action against the School District Defendants." The factual predicate necessary to determine the merits of Plaintiffs' claims against the School District Defendants is simply that Rothman drove to Northfield Community School and all of the designated handicapped spaces were occupied. No other relevant facts are alleged in the complaint against the School District Defendants.

There does not appear to be any New Jersey court decisions from which a federal court could, with any certainty, conclude that the state would recognize the causes of action asserted by plaintiff.*fn8 ,*fn9 Plaintiffs contend that the School District Defendants denied them access to the Northfield Community School by not ensuring that handicapped spaces were available for their use during the few minutes of each morning when cars arrive en masse to discharge students for a day of schooling. If a court were to find that this legal theory supported a claim upon which relief could be granted, then every school might be legally required to provide an indeterminate and variable number of handicapped spaces and to provide monitors who would somehow make sure that non-handicapped drivers did not briefly park in handicapped spots to drop off their children. This rule of law might impose a significant burden on the State's hundreds of school districts. A state court is in the best position of weigh the legal and policy considerations needed to resolve this issue.*fn10

As the Court stated in its first opinion granting Defendants' first Motion to Dismiss, traffic congestion and lack of available parking spaces would seem to be a continuous problem at most schools, not just Northfield Community School. When parents, school buses and carpools are all dropping children off at the same time, at the same location, there are bound to be instances of traffic congestion and occupied parking spots. As a matter of both comity and deference, evaluating this problem should be left to the purview of the New Jersey state government, including the state judiciary.*fn11

Finally, this Court notes that Plaintiffs' claims against the School District Defendants have nothing to do with the federal claims against Officer Peary. Plaintiffs contend the School District Defendants did not accommodate them as required legally by the state of New Jersey because there were no unoccupied handicapped spots when he arrived at the school. That is the end of the conduct Plaintiff alleges. These allegations are distinct from Plaintiffs' claims against Officer Peary. "To retain supplemental jurisdiction over these claims would bring additional facts not necessary to determining the lawfulness of Plaintiffs' arrest." Crane v. Cumberland county, PA, 2000 WL 34567277, *15 (M.D.Pa 2000).

The Court has not yet reached the merits of the Plaintiffs' claims and thus far discovery has been limited, so Plaintiffs will not be prejudiced by the Court's dismissal of its state law claims. Additionally, a New Jersey court is better suited to determine the merit of these novel claims in light of the real life impact it might have on the school districts of New Jersey and possibly other public entity in the state.

V.

For the reasons stated above and in accordance with 18 U.S.C. 1367(c)(1), the Court declines to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over the New Jersey state law claims against the School District Defendants asserted in the Second Amended Complaint, and these claims will be dismissed without prejudice. Defendants' motion under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) will dismissed as moot. The Court will issue an appropriate order.

JOSEPH E. IRENAS, S.U.S.D.J.


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