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Claus Peter Speth v. Robert Goode

January 20, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jerome B. Simandle


SIMANDLE, District Judge:


This matter is before the Court on two motions: Plaintiff's motion to lift the stay in this case and reinstate the stayed counts [Docket Item 129]; and Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to all claims based on the statute of limitations [Docket Item 131].*fn1 The principal issues to be decided are whether Plaintiff may rely on the continuing violation doctrine to make his claims timely, and whether a stay continues to be warranted and within the power of the Court. For the reasons explained below, the Court finds that Plaintiff may not rely on the continuing violation doctrine or related doctrines, making some of his claims untimely, and the Court finds that the stay should be lifted. Consequently, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Defendants' motion and grant Plaintiff's motion.


A. Dr. Goode's Report and the Letter of Ineligibility

This case is about Plaintiff Dr. Speth's allegations of a sprawling "bureaucratic vendetta" against him lasting over a decade and purportedly involving the acts of various state officials who defamed and undermined him. Although Plaintiff has pleaded facts going back many decades, for our purposes, the relevant facts appear to begin in 1992. In February of that year, Plaintiff withdrew himself from consideration for reappointment as the Gloucester County Medical Examiner upon learning he would not win a reappointment vote. (Id. ¶ 124.)*fn2

Plaintiff believed he would not be reappointed because the State Medical Examiner, Defendant Dr. Goode, had informed the County of a lengthy report that Dr. Goode had composed criticizing Plaintiff's suitability as a medical examiner. (Id. ¶¶ 120-124.)

Shortly thereafter, Dr. Goode withdrew Dr. Speth's eligibility to serve as County Medical Examiner in the State of New Jersey, and suspended for one year his "eligibility to conduct death investigations under the auspices of the Medical Examiner System in New Jersey, and to serve as a designated pathologist." (Sept. 3, 2010 Gross Decl. Ex. A ("April 10, 1992 Letter of Ineligibility"), Docket Item 104.)*fn3 The Letter of Ineligibility set various conditions for reinstatement of eligibility, including remedial training. (Id.) Dr. Speth challenges the accuracy of Dr. Goode's report, the allegedly defamatory contents and re-distribution of which, along with the April 10, 1992 Letter of Ineligibility, form the basis for many of Dr. Speth's subsequent claims.

B. The Puttorak Autopsy

After leaving the state examiner system in 1992, Dr. Speth began performing private death investigations. In one such investigation in 1993, Plaintiff examined various specimens on behalf of the estate of the deceased, Ronald Puttorak. (First Am. Compl. ¶ 157.) Defendant Natarajan, the official medical examiner in the case, had previously completed the formal autopsy and had concluded that the cause of death was suicide. (Id. ¶ 158.) Plaintiff claims that he discovered hemorrhage-bearing tissue and a fracture which Natarajan had missed, and which was inconsistent with the finding of suicide. (Id. ¶ 165.) Plaintiff was observed by the morgue attendant to be "picking with his fingers at the tissue surrounding the hyoid bone." See Speth v. Goode, No. 95-cv-264, Slip. Op. at 8 (D.N.J. Apr. 28, 1995). Shortly thereafter, the Essex County Prosecutor began investigating whether or not Plaintiff had tampered with the evidence. This criminal investigation ultimately resulted in Dr. Speth's indictment and conviction, discussed below.*fn4

C. The Spencer Trial

According to Dr. Speth, in March 1994, attorney Francis

Monahan contacted Dr. Natarajan, who by that time was acting as interim State Medical Examiner, to determine if Dr. Speth could examine evidence in her possession relating to the prosecution of his client, Tracy Spencer. (First Am. Compl. ¶ 185.) Natarajan denied Monahan's request and, according to Monahan, tried to convince him not to use Plaintiff as an expert by stating that Plaintiff was under criminal investigation. (Id. ¶¶ 185-86.)

Monahan nevertheless hired Plaintiff, and Natarajan, represented by Deputy Attorney General Marsetta Lee, appeared before the judge in the case against Tracy Spencer to voice her concerns about the possibility of Plaintiff handling the evidence. (Id. ¶ 187.) Plaintiff contends that Defendant Lee's presentation was ex parte and in camera and was made in an effort to enjoin Plaintiff from ever serving as an expert in any case involving Medical Examiner System evidence. (Id. ¶ 188.)

Plaintiff claims that Natarajan complained to the judge that Plaintiff had sued the State Medical Examiner, and made disparaging remarks about Plaintiff. (Id. ¶¶ 188-191.) The judge declined to impose the blanket relief sought by the Attorney General, and instead ordered that Plaintiff could examine the evidence by watching the approved Medical Examiner perform the necessary work. (Id. ¶¶ 193-96.)

In addition to this incident, the only one that has ever been explained in any detail, Plaintiff also alleges that the Goode Report and Letter of Ineligibility were used on other occasions as a basis to attack his credibility as an expert witness. (Third Am. Compl. ¶ 15.)

D. The Federal Complaint and Plaintiff's Indictment

Plaintiff did not file his federal complaint in this matter until January 5, 1995. The voluminous initial complaint included claims for defamation, constitutional violations, and tort claims related to the harm to Plaintiff's economic interests. Much of that first complaint consisted of Plaintiff's explanation for why Dr. Goode had a vendetta against him, going back to professional conflicts from the 1980s.*fn5 The complaint named as defendants Geetha Natarajan, Richard T. Carley (who is since deceased and who Plaintiff has agreed to dismiss), and Deputy Attorney General Marsetta Lee, in addition to Dr. Goode and the State of New Jersey. Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint on March 9, 1995 [Docket Item 3], making minor changes such as adding general allegations regarding unidentified persons' use of the letter of ineligibility to attack Plaintiff's credibility as an expert witness. (First Am. Compl. ¶ 137.)

On October 5, 1995, the Essex County Prosecutor's Office indicted Plaintiff for criminal conduct related to the Puttorak autopsy and for interfering with the official investigation of that conduct. Speth v. Goode, Civil No. 95-264, Slip Op. at 11 (D.N.J. December 29, 2004) (citing February 19, 2004 Foster Aff. Ex. G ("Indictment"), Docket Item 42). The indictment included three counts: third degree tampering with a witness, based on Dr. Speth's attempt in April 1994 to persuade Defendant Natarajan to withhold testimony or physical evidence in the criminal proceeding; fourth degree tampering with physical evidence based on his conduct during the 1993 medical examination; and fourth degree false swearing based on his report from the 1993 examination. (Id.)

On November 9, 1995, this federal civil case was stayed - the first of two stays in this case - pending the outcome of Plaintiff's state criminal matter. The parties agreed that the statutes of limitations would be tolled "from the date of filing of the original complaint until thirty days after final disposition of" the criminal case and "during the pendency of any proceedings on any motion to reinstate this proceeding." (Defs.' Ex. D "Stipulation of Nov. 9, 1995".) Plaintiff was convicted of third degree tampering with a witness on October 28, 1997. (February 19, 2004 Foster Aff. Ex. H ("Sentence"), Docket Item 42.) The other two charges resulted in a deadlocked jury and were eventually dismissed upon Plaintiff's formal demand for a speedy retrial. The criminal matter was finally concluded on October 3, 2003. This case was reopened on November 10, 2003 [Docket Item 35].

On January 29, 2004, Plaintiff moved for leave to file a Second Amended Complaint with supplemental claims [Docket Item 38]. The Second Amended Complaint as proposed was extremely lengthy. At oral argument on the motion on April 16, 2004, Plaintiff agreed to file a Third Amended Complaint that better complied with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure's requirements for concise and clear pleadings. [Docket Items 46 & 48.] Consequently, the Second Amended Complaint was never actually filed, and the Third Amended Complaint was filed on April 29, 2004 [Docket Item 47]. The Third Amended Complaint - which is the currently operative document - took the notion of being concise to an extreme, removing most of the factual basis for the various claims made, relying on fact-denuded allegations such as that "defendants, as public officials, published numerous assertions that plaintiff was professionally incompetent," without reference to particular instances or explanations of the content of the ...

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