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Speth v. Goode

June 23, 2010


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



This case involving Plaintiff, Dr. Speth, and his eligibility to be a State Medical Examiner, is based on events going back to 1991. The Court stayed the claims in this case and closed the docket while various state proceedings were pending, but reopened the docket in 2007 based on Plaintiff's representation that the state proceedings had been terminated by a consent decree. The matter is now before the Court on Defendants' motion to dismiss, in support of which Defendants argue that the remaining claims are either still appropriately stayed despite the consent decree, or else moot, and separately that they are barred by the statute of limitations [Docket Item 82]. For the reasons explained below, the Court will dismiss those claims accruing before January 5, 1993, lift the stay with respect to Counts II and III, and dismiss the claims other than Counts II and III as abandoned.*fn1


This controversy began in 1991, and the entire history of the dispute will not be recounted here. In 1991, one of the defendants, Robert Goode, then New Jersey State Medical Examiner, began an investigation of Plaintiff Claus P. Speth, then Gloucester County Medical Examiner. See Speth v. Goode, No. 95- cv-264, Slip. Op. at 2 (D.N.J. Apr. 28, 1995). The investigation resulted in a 117-page report, the "Goode Report," identifying numerous deficiencies with Plaintiff's conduct as a medical examiner.

Because of the information collected in the Goode Report, on April 10, 1992, Goode suspended Plaintiff from practice within the State Medical Examiner System for a period of one year, and required him to take remedial steps prior to seeking reinstatement. Plaintiff did not complete these steps because, he claims, Defendant Natarajan - another official in the state office - refused to schedule the training. The creation and distribution of the Goode Report, Plaintiff's suspension from medical examiner practice, and the refusal to permit Plaintiff to complete the remedial training constitute the alleged conduct from which the claims currently under review arise.

A. Three State Proceedings and the Federal Case

The present motion involves the interaction between various state proceedings and this case. The first proceeding is the state's administrative proceeding involving Plaintiff's medical examiner eligibility. Plaintiff appealed his eligibility status as Medical Examiner to the Office of Administrative Law ("OAL"), moving for emergent relief which was denied. [Docket Item 50, "Foster Aff., Ex-E".] On December 5, 1994, before the merits of the claim could be reached, Plaintiff voluntarily withdrew his appeal. [Id., "Foster Aff., Ex-F."]

The second proceeding is this federal suit, which Plaintiff brought on January 5, 1995 based on, among other things, his allegation that Defendants improperly denied him his medical examiner eligibility and failed to permit him to complete the requirements for restoration of his eligibility to be a state medical examiner.

A third proceeding is Plaintiff's criminal case. On October 5, 1995, Plaintiff was indicted for witness tampering during a criminal investigation of an autopsy he had performed in private practice in 1993. He was convicted in 1997. As the result of a stay entered in the federal case because of the criminal proceedings on the witness tampering charge, the federal case was inactive until the state criminal proceedings concluded on October 3, 2003.

Finally, there was a fourth proceeding, a state administrative proceeding regarding Plaintiff's medical license. On February 24, 1998, the State Board of Medical Examiners filed a Complaint seeking to suspend Plaintiff's medical license as a result of his criminal conviction. On June 10, 1998, Plaintiff voluntarily surrendered the medical license while the appeals of his criminal conviction were pending. When, in 2003, Plaintiff had exhausted his criminal appeals, he sought reinstatement of his license.

B. Stay of Federal Case

Both the medical examiner eligibility proceedings from which Plaintiff withdrew and the medical license proceedings he reinstated in 2003 were ongoing when Plaintiff's case in this Court was first reopened on November 10, 2003. After dismissing many of Plaintiff's claims on the merits, the Court entered a stay regarding the remaining claims because of the pending state proceedings. The claims were stayed "pending conclusion of state administrative and appellate judicial remedies to restore such eligibility and medical licensure." See Speth v. Goode, No. 95-cv-264, Slip. Op. at 33 (D.N.J. Dec. 29, 2004).

The Court found that, for Younger abstention purposes, an administrative proceeding is "pending" when the state proceeding was terminated prematurely, or the litigant failed to appeal. Because important state interests were implicated by the medical examiner eligibility procedure, and there was no suggestion that Plaintiff could not have presented the ...

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