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Custin v. Wirths

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 31, 2014

JOHN M. CUSTIN, Plaintiff,
v.
HAROLD J. WIRTHS, State of New Jersey Commissioner of Labor; JOSEPH SIEBER, GERALD YARBROUGH, JERALD L. MADDOW, New Jersey Board of Review; HILDA S. SOLIS, U.S. Secretary of Labor; SETH D. HARRIS, Acting U.S. Secretary of Labor, and JANE OATES, U.S. Assistant Secretary of Employment and Training Administration Defendants.

OPINION

KEVIN McNULTY, District Judge.

This action was filed by John M. Custin, pro se, against the Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Labor ("NJDOL"); three NJDOL officials who sat on its Board of Review (collectively with the Commissioner, the "State Defendants"); and the current and former United States Secretary of Labor and the Assistant Secretary of Employment and Training Administration (collectively, the "Federal Defendants"). Mr. Custin filed this action, which alleges constitutional and statutory violations, after a series of unfavorable eligibility determinations by the NJDOL, in which he was denied certain unemployment benefits. The State Defendants ask this Court to abstain from exercising jurisdiction, citing Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). The Federal Defendants move to dismiss Mr. Custin's claims for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and failure to state a claim. As explained below, I will deny the State Defendants' motion. I will grant the motion of the Federal Defendants, and dismiss Mr. Custin's claims against them.

Facts and Administrative History

Mr. Custin worked at Wal-Mart from April 2008 through April 2010. His employment was terminated on April 26, 2010.

i. First Administrative Action

Following that termination, Mr. Custin filed a claim for unemployment benefits. On May 13, 2010, the NJDOL found him eligible.

Wal-Mart initiated an administrative action when it appealed Mr. Custin's eligibility determination to the Appeals Tribunal of the NJDOL. In a telephonic hearing, it claimed that Mr. Custin was a repeated no-show who did not calf in his absences, pursuant to Wal-Mart's standard operating procedures. Mr. Custin claimed that there were problems with the call-in number and that Wal-Mart advised him he was "re-hirable" in his exit interview. The Appeals Tribunal found that Wal-Mart had discharged him for misconduct. It ruled that Mr. Custin was disqualified from receiving benefits, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 43:21-5(b), for the period from April 18, 2010 to May 29, 2010.

Mr. Custin appealed to the NJDOL's Board of Review, which affirmed the ruling of the Appeals Tribunal. He then appealed to the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, contending that he had been denied due process. The Appellate Division affirmed the Appeals Tribunal's disqualification finding, and declined to consider the due process issue because Mr. Custin did not raise it before the Appeals Tribunal.

ii. Second Administrative Action

Mr. Custin then initiated a short-lived second administrative action before the Appeals Tribunal. Based on the disqualification ruling in the first administrative action, NJDOL had requested that he refund $1, 285 in benefits that he received in May 2010. Custin filed, but then withdrew, an appeal of NJDOL's refund request.

iii. Third Administrative Action

From May 29, 2010, through December 3, 2011, Mr. Custin received unemployment benefits up to the maximum amount of $6682, plus each allowable tier of "emergency unemployment compensation? Then, on December 4, 2011, he filed a claim for extended benefits. The NJDOL rejected this claim, pursuant to N.J.S.A. § 43:31-24.19(g), because Custin had not earned any wages since his initial claim in April 2010.[1] In December 2011, he appealed this denial to the Appeals Tribunal, which affirmed that ineligibility finding in February 2012. He further appealed to the Board of Review, which remanded the matter for a new hearing. In September 2012, the Appeals Tribunal once again affirmed the ineligibility finding. Mr. Custin did not appeal this third administrative action to the Superior Court.

iv. Fourth Administrative Action

In March of 2012, Mr. Custin filed a transitional' claim, seeking benefits going forward, on the theory that he had now earned wages that would requalify him for benefits. The new alleged wages consisted of funds that he obtained through settlement of a separate discrimination lawsuit against Wal-Mart. The NJDOL rejected his claim. On March 28, 2012, he initiated a fourth administrative action by appealing this rejection to the Appeals Tribunal. On August 30, 2012, the Appeals Tribunal affirmed the ineligibility finding, finding that the funds he obtained in the settlement were not re-qualifying wages under NJSA § 43:21-4(e)(6).[2] Mr. Custin did not appeal further.

v. Fifth Administrative Action

Finally, on December 30, 2012, Mr. Custin filed a new claim seeking to establish a new "base year" on which to base further benefits. NJDOL reasoned that his eight weeks of work at Target Corp. in late 2012 did not constitute a sufficient number of "base weeks" and did not yield sufficient "base wages" to re-entitle him to unemployment benefits, and declared him ineligible on January 23, 2013. Mr. Custin appealed to the Appeals Tribunal. On March 19, 2013, the Appeals Tribunal affirmed the ineligibility finding.

Mr. Custin and the State Defendants dispute whether he further appealed that March 19, 2013 determination. The State Defendants contend that Mr. Custin appealed it by letter dated August 12, 2013, Mr. Custin vehemently denies this. The parties have placed the relevant papers before me, and 1 will make preliminary findings on this issue, for purposes of this motion. ( See pp. 4-5, infra. )

The State Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

The State Defendants offer a single argument in support of their Motion to Dismiss: that this Court must abstain from exercising jurisdiction over Mr. Custin's claims against them pursuant to Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971). Younger abstention is appropriate, they argue, because there is a pending state proceeding, judicial in nature, in which Mr. Custin can assert the same legal claims he brings here. Applying the Younger line of cases, I find the State Defendants' argument to be inadequate.

A federal court must abstain from exercising jurisdiction where 1) there is a pending state proceeding 2) implicating important state interests and 3) providing an adequate opportunity to raise constitutional challenges. Middlesex County Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982) (citing Younger). As the moving party, the state bears the burden of demonstrating that these circumstances exist, See, e.g., Durga v. Bryan, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 106862, *7-8 (D.N.J. Oct. 5, 2010)(Brown, C.J.)("Axiomatically, the State, as the moving party, bears the burden of production and persuasion to prevail in the present motion. That burden is especially critical in the present matter, where the State asks this Court to sidestep its virtually unflagging' obligation to ...


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