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Steven Jude Hoffenberg v. Jeff Grondolsky et al

February 7, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Renee Marie Bumb, United States District Judge


This matter comes before the Court upon Plaintiff's submission of two motions, one titled "Motion for Reconsideration," see Docket Entry No. 85, and another titled "Motion in the Recusal of Judge Bumb," see Docket Entry No. 86.

On January 14, 2011, this Court issued a memorandum opinion and accompanying order detailing the lengthy history of this matter and the deficiencies of Plaintiff's fourth amended complaint. See Docket Entries Nos. 60 and 61. In accordance with the warning thrice given by this Court to Plaintiff, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's amended complaint and imposed a limited order of preclusion with regard to Plaintiff's future filings of non-emergent pro se, in forma pauperis civil complaints. See id. Plaintiff timely appealed this Court's decision. See Docket Entries Nos. 64 and 65.

On June 9, 2011, the Court of Appeals affirmed this Court's dismissal of Plaintiff's fourth amended complaint and as well as this Court's denial of Plaintiff's demands for this Court's recusal. See Docket Entry No. 70. The Court of Appeals decision read, in pertinent part, as follows:

Hoffenberg is presently confined at FCI-Fort Dix in New Jersey, where he is serving a twenty-year sentence imposed by the District Court for the Southern District of New York in 1997 following his plea of guilty to conspiracy to violate the securities laws and other offenses. . . .

We will summarily affirm the dismissal of Hoffenberg's fourth amended complaint with prejudice because his appeal of that aspect of the District Court's order presents "no substantial question." To the extent that certain claims for relief can be gleaned from the language of Hoffenberg's overwrought pleadings, the District Court properly concluded that he failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. . . . Hoffenberg's attempts at pleading were neither short nor plain, and the District Court fairly characterized them as "volumes of self-serving patchy tirades." Hoffenberg's inexplicable failure to plead in conformity with the rules, despite four chances to amend, supports the denial of further leave to amend. We conclude that the fourth amended complaint was properly dismissed with prejudice.

Finally, we consider the District Court's decision to restrict Hoffenberg's right to file future suits in the District of New Jersey. We have held that "a continuous pattern of groundless and vexatious litigation can, at some point, support an order against further filings of complaints without the permission of the court." Courts must remain mindful, however, that "[a]ccess to the courts is a fundamental tenet of our judicial system," and "legitimate claims should receive a full and fair hearing no matter how litigious the plaintiff may be." Significantly for purposes of the present case, we have explained that an injunction against future filings "should not be imposed by a court without prior notice and some occasion to respond." The District Court here gave notice to Hoffenberg that his failure to plead in compliance with the Rules of Civil Procedure would result in "sanctions." But the District Court did not afford notice of the particular [limited preclusion] order that it intended to enter placing restrictions upon Hoffenberg's right to file suit. As a result, Hoffenberg did not have an opportunity to object before the order was entered. As we have explained, "[i]f the circumstances warrant the imposition of an injunction, the District Court must give notice to the litigant to show cause why the proposed injunctive relief should not issue. This ensures that the litigant is provided with the opportunity to oppose the court's order before it is instituted." Given the absence of proper notice here, we will vacate the injunction imposed and remand so that Hoffenberg can be afforded an opportunity to respond. We express no view on whether Hoffenberg's conduct, in this case or in the others cases cited by the District Court, would support entry of an order restricting his right to file future litigation. That issue is best left to the District Court in the first instance, in the sound exercise of its discretion, after it considers Hoffenberg's objections and weighs them against the record and the need to curtail potentially abusive future litigation. We do note that "Hoffenberg has had a history of mental illness dating back to a hospitalization in 1970, which included electro-convulsive therapy, anti-psychotic medications such as thorazine, and the mood stabilizer lithium. He was diagnosed at that time as manic depressive." There is no record before this Court as to whether Hoffenberg's mental health offers any explanation for his actions in this proceeding, or in the two other proceedings that the District Court cited as evidence of his "abuse of legal process" in the District of New Jersey. We leave it to the District Court to determine whether Hoffenberg's mental health is at all relevant or should have any bearing on whether to restrict his right to file future litigation.

Hoffenberg v. Bumb, 2011 U.S. App. LEXIS 11741 (3d Cir. June 9, 2011) (citations and parenthetical explanations omitted, footnote 4 incorporated in the main text).

In accordance with the Court of Appeals mandate, on August 19, 2011, this Court issued an Order reciting to Plaintiff the terms of its limited order of preclusion. The Court also directed Plaintiff to show cause as to why this limited order of preclusion should not be entered against him. See Docket Entry No. 74.

On August 25, Plaintiff moved this Court for an extension of time to submit his response to the Court's order to show cause, see Docket Entry No. 78; Plaintiff's motion to that effect was granted. See Docket Entry No. 79.

21. On November 9, 2011, the Clerk received Plaintiff's submission; that submission read, in its entirety, as follows:

Re Hoffenburg v Judge Bumb et al "Appeal Mandate"

Case Number 09 civ 4784 "Settlement Offer" in the Pending Plaintiff December 2011 Filing

(1) the "Benefit of Justice Demands," this "Settlement Offer," in the Plaintiff December 2011, "Filing."

(2) That the "Filing" by the Plaintiff, in December 2011, in the Open Remand Mandate, Should Be Settled as "Case Closed," with "No ...

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