August 9, 2013
PAUL S. BEATTY, Plaintiff-Appellant,
GAIL GRUNDITZ HANEY, LOUIS PASHMAN, JULIANNE K. DECORE, RICHARD J. ENGELHARDT, MICHAEL J. SWEENEY, Defendants-Respondents.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted July 16, 2013
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Atlantic County, Docket No. L-8083-11.
Paul S. Beatty, appellant, pro se.
John J. Hoffman, Acting Attorney General, attorney for respondents (Melissa H. Raksa, Assistant Attorney General, of counsel; Kelly A. Samuels, Deputy Attorney General, on the brief).
Before Judges Ashrafi and St. John.
Plaintiff Paul S. Beatty appeals from dismissal of his complaint pursuant to Rule 4:6-2(e) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. We affirm.
When deciding whether a cause of action was properly dismissed under Rule 4:6-2(e), we must "search the complaint in depth and with liberality to ascertain whether the fundament of a cause of action may be gleaned even from an obscure statement of claim, opportunity being given to amend if necessary." Printing Mart-Morristown v. Sharp Elecs. Corp., 116 N.J. 739, 746 (1989) (quoting Di Cristofaro v. Laurel Grove Mem'l Park, 43 N.J.Super. 244, 252 (App. Div. 1957)); accord Banco Popular N. Am. v. Gandi, 184 N.J. 161, 165 (2005). The court's role is simply to determine whether a cause of action is "suggested" by the complaint. Printing Mart, supra, 116 N.J. at 746.
Plaintiff is an attorney, originally licensed in 1967 to practice law in Maryland and admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1990. In 2008, his license to practice law in New Jersey was suspended by the Supreme Court for three months. The suspension resulted from plaintiff's plea of guilty to a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:12-10, a fourth-degree charge of stalking a woman with whom he became acquainted while working as a security guard at the Monmouth Park Racetrack. See State v. Beatty, Docket No. A-0164-11 (App. Div. July 24, 2013).
Plaintiff filed a handwritten complaint in August 2011 in the Law Division against the following defendants: Gail Grunditz Haney, Deputy Clerk of the Supreme Court; Louis Pashman, Chairman of the Supreme Court's Disciplinary Review Board ("the DRB"); Julianne DeCore, Chief Counsel of the DRB; Richard Englehardt, former Counsel to the Director of the Office of Attorney Ethics (the "OAE"); and Michael Sweeney, First Assistant Ethics Counsel of the OAE.
In the first numbered paragraph of his complaint, plaintiff alleged:
The Supreme Court of New Jersey on July 11, 2008 Ordered that Plaintiff be suspended from the practice of law for a period of three months and until further Order of the Court, effective August 13, 2008. Plaintiff remains suspended, because the Defendants as individuals and collectively, have added their own provision, not part of the July 11, 2008 Order, requiring that Plaintiff submit, without a Court Order, to a mental examination, prior to being reinstated to practice law in New Jersey.
Six additional numbered paragraphs of the complaint alleged specific conduct as to each defendant that constituted the core allegation of the first paragraph. The concluding paragraph of the complaint stated plaintiff's request for "judgment against Defendants, jointly and severally, for compensatory and punitive damages, interest, costs of suit and such other relief as the Court deems proper."
In lieu of an answer, defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The Law Division granted the motion and entered an order on December 2, 2011, dismissing plaintiff's complaint with prejudice as to all defendants. In a written statement of reasons for the dismissal, the Law Division cited Rule 1:20-1 and article 6, section 2, paragraph 3 of the New Jersey Constitution as establishing that "any matter regarding discipline of persons admitted to the practice of law is within the sole jurisdiction of the Supreme Court, " and therefore, plaintiff's complaint fails to state a claim upon which the Superior Court can grant relief. We agree with the Law Division's conclusion and order of dismissal.
The New Jersey Constitution gives exclusive jurisdiction and authority to the Supreme Court over the admission and discipline of attorneys in this state.
See In re Logan , 70 N.J. 222, 225 (1976); In re Kerlin , 151 N.J.Super. 179, 184 n.2 (App. Div. 1977). The Constitution states:
The Supreme Court shall make rules governing the administration of all courts in the State and, subject to the law, the practice and procedure in all such courts. The Supreme Court shall have jurisdiction over the admission to the practice of law and the discipline of persons admitted.
[N.J. Const. art. VI, § 2, ¶ 3.]
Rule 1:20, promulgated pursuant to this constitutional authority, established the DRB and the OAE, and it designates their powers and procedures. Pursuant to Rule 1:20-7(e):
Members of the Office of Attorney Ethics, the Disciplinary Review Board, . . . and their lawfully appointed designees and staff, shall be absolutely immune from suit, whether legal or equitable in nature, based on their respective conduct in performing their official duties.
Rule 1:20-7(j)(1) provides that all grievances relating to the processing of an ethics complaint brought against "members of the Office of Attorney Ethics . . . [and] their lawfully appointed designees and staff. . . shall be filed with and considered exclusively" by the DRB. Concerning "other grievances, " Rule 1:20-7(j)(2) provides:
Except as provided in section (1), if a grievance is filed against the Director, Office of Attorney Ethics, ethics counsel or staff, or a member of the Board or Board Counsel or staff, the matter shall be transmitted to the Clerk of the Supreme Court, who shall make any appropriate direction for processing the matter.
Plaintiff's recourse is to submit his grievance to the Clerk of the Supreme Court for processing by the Court. He has no cause of action in the Superior Court for damages arising out of the alleged unauthorized actions of defendants.