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Re: Abulkhair v. Page-Hawkins

May 9, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jose L. Linares United States District Judge

C H AM B ER S O F M A R TIN L U T HE R K IN G JR. JOSE L. LINARES FE D E R A L B U IL D IN G & U .S. C OU R T H O USE JU DG E 50 W A L N U T ST ., R O O M 5054 P.O . ox 999 Newark, NJ 07101-0999 973-645-6042



Dear Parties:

This matter comes before the Court by way of: (1) Plaintiff's motion for default judgment as to the Passaic County Board of Social Services, and (2) a joint motion to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) filed by Defendants Jeanette Page-Hawkins and the State of New Jersey. As explained below, Defendants' motion to dismiss has been treated as a motion for summary judgment. The Court has considered the submissions made in connection with both motions. No oral argument was heard. Fed. R. Civ. P. 78. Based on the reasons that follow, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted, Plaintiff's motion for default judgment is denied as moot and the Clerk's Office is directed to close the Court's file in this matter.

A. Background

On January 31, 2010, Plaintiff Assem Abulkhair, proceeding pro se in this matter, filed the instant Complaint against Jeanette Page-Hawkins, the State of New Jersey and the Passaic County Board of Social Services, alleging various constitutional and statutory violations of his rights, as well as negligent infliction of emotional distress. Plaintiff's claims are all premised on the State of New Jersey's recoupment of welfare benefits paid to him (by the Passaic County Board of Social Services) from a subsequent award of social security benefits. (Compl., ¶¶ 7-24). In particular, Plaintiff maintains that the State's recoupment of such funds was unlawful inasmuch as Plaintiff had never signed an agreement to "repay" such benefits. (Compl., ¶¶ 15, 20, 23, 31). This Court's jurisdiction over this matter is premised on 28 U.S.C. § 1331.

B. Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) was filed on March 1, 2011. In connection with said motion, Defendants asked the Court to consider various state court rulings which were not expressly referred to in Plaintiff's Complaint (or attached thereto). Rule 12(d) provides that, "[i]f, on a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) or 12(c), matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court, the motion must be treated as one for summary judgment under Rule 56" and "[a]ll parties must be given a reasonable opportunity to present all the material that is pertinent to the motion." By way of Order dated April 7, 2011, the Court provided such notice to the parties of its intent to treat Defendants' motion as a motion for summary judgment. The parties were afforded an additional period of time in which to submit any additional supporting papers for the Court's consideration. The Court made clear, in its April 7, 2011 Order, that "[i]f the parties wish for the Court to consider any additional supporting papers outside the pleadings, such must be submitted (and received by the Court) on or before April 28, 2011. To be clear, the Court will not accept any further submissions in connection with this motion after close of business day on April 28, 2011." (April 7, 2011 Order). As of today's date, Plaintiff has failed to file any substantive opposition to Defendants' motion, despite confirming receipt of this Court's April 7, 2011 Order. See Docket Entry No. 39.

Defendants seek summary judgment on various grounds, including but not limited to: (1) the Court lacks jurisdiction to entertain this matter pursuant to the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine, and (2) in the alternative, Plaintiff's claims are barred by the doctrine of res judicata because he has already litigated this matter in state court.

1. Rooker-Feldman Doctrine

"The Rooker-Feldman doctrine deprives a federal district court of jurisdiction in some circumstances to review a state court adjudication." Turner v. Crawford Square Apartments III, L.P., 449 F.3d 542, 547 (3d Cir. 2006). The Rooker-Feldman doctrine applies to "cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments." Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005).

Here, although it is undisputed that Plaintiff filed (at least one) suit in state court concerning the same subject matter of this lawsuit prior to the commencement of the instant cause of action,*fn1 Plaintiff's federal Complaint alleges injuries stemming from the State's recoupment efforts, not from the New Jersey Superior Court's judgment(s). Accordingly, the Court cannot conclude that it lacks jurisdiction over this matter by virtue of the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. See, e.g., Great Western Mining & Mineral Co. v. Fox Rothschild LLP, 615 F.3d 159, 167 (3d Cir. 2010) ("When, however, a federal plaintiff asserts injury caused by the defendant's actions and not by the state-court judgment, Rooker-Feldman is not a bar to federal jurisdiction."); Dukes v. Lancer Ins. Co., 390 Fed. Appx. 159, 161-162 (2010) ("In this case, Dukes's complaint alleges injury stemming from Lancer's conduct, not from the New Jersey Superior Court's judgment. Accordingly, we cannot conclude that this case is barred by Rooker - Feldman.").

Based on the reasons that follow, however, the Court does conclude that Plaintiff's Complaint is barred under New Jersey law preclusion principles, specifically, res ...

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