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Heine v. Commissioner of Department of Community Affairs of State

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

August 22, 2014

ELLEN HEINE, JOHN AND JANE DOE 1 TO 10, ABC COMPANIES and/or ENTITIES 1 TO 10, JOSEPH FABICS, CHRIS GRIECO, JOHN F. MALONE, CAITLIN RUPPERT, RYAN MOSKOWITZ, and PAUL WONDOWSKY, Plaintiffs,
v.
COMMISSIONER of the DEPARTMENT of COMMUNITY AFFAIRS of the STATE of NEW JERSEY, JOHN and JANE DOE 1 to 10, ABC COMPANIES and or ENTITIES 1 to 10, THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, BERGEN COUNTY D.Y.F.S., Defendants.

OPINION

KEVIN McNULTY, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court upon a motion for judgment on the pleadings, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P 12(c), and in the alternative for summary judgment, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, brought by the Defendant, the Commissioner of the Department of Community Affairs of the State of New Jersey ("DCA" or the "Department"), Docket No. 40 ("Def. Br."). Pro Se Plaintiffs Ellen Heine and Joseph Fabics have opposed the motion. Docket Nos. 44, 46, 47, 48. For the reasons set forth below, I will dismiss the Complaint in its entirety as against DCA. Five of the six counts in the Complaint are barred by the Eleventh Amendment; the remaining count, No. 3, fails to state a claim.

I. BACKGROUND

On September 14, 2011, Plaintiffs Ellen Heine, Joseph Fabics, Chris Grieco, John Malone, Caitlin Ruppert, Ryan Moskowitz, and Paul Wondowsky[1] initiated this matter in this Court. On December 9, 2013, Plaintiffs filed the Sixth Amended Complaint ("Complaint"), which is the currently operative pleading. That Complaint alleges six counts against DCA, all related to the Department's regulation of rooming and boarding homes in New Jersey.

Plaintiffs are alleged to be owners, beneficiaries, note holders, and tenants of 515 Van Bussum Avenue in Garfield, New Jersey, as well as members of the "Citizen's Homeowners Association." Plaintiffs are either owners or tenants of dwellings that were cited by the DCA for violations of the New Jersey Rooming and Boarding House Act ("RBHA"), N.J.S.A. 55:13B-1-16-specifically, for operating a rooming house without a license. The RBHA is administered by the DCA Bureau of Rooming and Boarding House Standards (the "Bureau").[2]

The Complaint alleges that the Bureau's regulatory enforcement of rooming and boarding houses in New Jersey is discriminatory and violative of federal and state law and the United States Constitution. The Complaint is brought against the Commissioner of DCA in his official capacity. Compl., Parties ¶ 2.[3] Plaintiffs have also named the State of New Jersey and the Bergen County DYFS as Defendants.[4] Plaintiffs seek eight million dollars in compensatory damages for these violations.

Plaintiffs bring claims under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 (Counts 1, 2, 4, 6); the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD") (Counts 1, 4, 5); the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") (Count 3); and the Fair Housing Act ("FHA") (Counts 4, 5). All of them are pleaded solely as claims for damages. The six counts of the Complaint are as follows:

(1) The Department's regulatory actions are discriminatory, in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the NJLAD, N.J.S.A. §§ 10:5-12(g) (unlawful employment practice or unlawful discrimination) and 10:5-12.5(a) (discrimination in regulation of land use and housing) (Count 1);

(2) The Department's regulatory actions violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution (Count 2);[5]

(3) The DCA's regulatory actions violate the ADA (Count 3);

(4) The DCA's enforcement discriminates against "individuals in their free expression of the family unit and family life, " in violation of the FHA, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq., 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and the NJLAD §§ 10:5-12.5 and 10:5-12 (Count 4);

(5) The Department "is practicing discrimination and selective enforcement in the regulation of land use and housing' in violation of the NJLAD, N.J.S.A. § 10:5-12.5(a), and is practicing "Hate Crimes of Marital Status Discrimination" in violation of the NJLAD, § 10:5-12(g) and the FHA (Count 5);

(6) The definitions of "boarding house" and "single room occupancy" under the RBHA are unconstitutional and the RBHA violates the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments as well as "Federal Anti-discrimination and eviction laws" (Count 6).[6]

DCA submits that the Complaint must be dismissed because (1) the claims are barred by the Eleventh Amendment; (2) the claims have been adjudicated in state court and are therefore barred by the doctrines of res judicator and collateral estoppel; (3) there is no constitutional basis for the due process and illegal search claims; and (4) the state's actions were dictated by statute, not discriminatory animus.

DCA has submitted this motion as one for judgment on the pleadings under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). To the extent that the motion relies "upon matters outside the record, i.e., the State court actions, " however, "the Department respectfully request[s] that the motion to dismiss be treated as one for summary judgment pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56." Def. Br. at 8. As set forth below, I have declined that ...


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