United States District Court, D. New Jersey
McNULTY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Council of New Jersey State College Locals, the Kean
Federation of Teachers, and the American Federation of
Teachers (collectively, "Union Defendants"), with
support from the State of New Jersey, Kean University, Board
of Trustees of Kean University, Kenneth Green, Joy Moskovitz,
Jeffrey Toney, and Dawood Farahi (collectively, "Kean
Defendants"), have moved for sanctions in the form of a
filing injunction and attorneys' fees against the
plaintiff, Dr. Bruce Skoorka, under Rule 11 of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure. Though this motion stems from a
complaint filed in June 2016 (ECF no. 1), it has its roots in
previous cases (both in federal and state court) going as far
back as 2001. After reviewing the actions of Dr. Skoorka in
this case and taking into account his pro se status,
I will deny the motion for sanctions under Rule 11 and will
not at present grant the defendants' request for
attorneys' fees or for a filing injunction.
Summary of Litigation
current iteration of this litigation began with Dr. Skoorka
filing a complaint in the Southern District of New York on
June 2, 2016. (ECF no. I)In this complaint, he makes claims under
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act (42 U.S.C. § 2000e),
the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act
(N.J.S.A. 34:19-1 et seq.), the New Jersey Law
Against Discrimination (N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 et seq.),
the New York City Human Rights Law (Administrative Code of
the City of New York, § 8 et seq.), and the New
York State Human Rights Law N.Y. Exec. Law § 290 et
seq.) (Id. ¶¶ 237-313.) After an initial
screening of the complaint by the Pro Se Litigation Office of
the Southern District (ECF no. 2), the Honorable Ronnie
Abrams concluded that the complaint concerned events
occurring in New Jersey and that Dr. Skoorka's
allegations were insufficient to satisfy Title VII's
venue provisions for the case to proceed in that District.
(ECF no. 3, at 2-3.) She thus transferred the case to this
District sua sponte. [Id.) The Kean Defendants then
moved to dismiss the complaint on a variety of grounds,
including failure to follow a previous order barring the
assertion of new claims, res judicata, and waiver
preemption. (See ECF no. 8.) The Union Defendants
joined the motion, contending that Dr. Skoorka has been
"engag[ing[ in frivolous litigation" and noting
that "[n]ot a single action has ever been fully
adjudicated in his favor." (ECF no. 9.) Dr. Skoorka
opposed the motion (ECF no. 12), but then requested a 120-day
stay on the litigation due to "hardship and
inequity." (ECF no. 16.) That request was denied. (ECF
no. 18.) The motion to dismiss has yet to be decided.
April 2017, the Union Defendants then filed a motion for
sanctions pursuant to Rule 11. (ECF no. 22.) Specifically,
they asked for Dr. Skoorka to be sanctioned for the filing of
the most recent complaint filed in the Southern District, to
pay their attorneys' fees incurred in preparing a
response to that complaint, and to be enjoined from filing
any other action against them without express leave of the
Court. [Id. at 37 (Brief in Support of Motion).) The
Kean Defendants joined the motion, requesting the same
relief. (ECF no. 23.) Both parties cited the tortured legal
history between themselves and Dr. Skoorka in their briefs,
which I will address in more detail below.
History Involving Litigants
litigation history between Dr. Skoorka and both groups of
defendants stretches as far back as 2001. Dr. Skoorka was a
tenured associate professor of Economics and Finance at Kean
University. (McGovern Cert., Ex. A, at 1.) He filed a
complaint in the Law Division of the Superior Court of New
Jersey in Union County, where he complained of religious
discrimination, retaliation for being a whistleblower, and
other unlawful employment actions. (McGovern Cert., Ex. B.)
After various summary judgment decisions and appeals, Dr.
Skoorka lost at trial. See Skoorka v. Kean Univ.
[Skoorka 2015], No. 09-3428, 2015 WL 3533878, at *24
(D.N.J. June 2, 2015).
2007, Mr. Skoorka then filed an action in federal district
court, which was docketed as Civ. No. 07-1629.
Skoorka 2017, at *1 (explaining that the case was
later refiled in 2009 as Civ. No. 09-3428). He again sued the
Kean Defendants and the Union Defendants. Id. Now,
he asserted that the defendants had retaliated against him
for asserting his rights in the previous, unsuccessful state
court action. Id. I partially disposed of that
action on summary judgment. Id. At the time, I
stated that the bulk of Dr. Skoorka's allegations
"fail[ed] to meet the minimal threshold . . . there is
not sufficient evidence to permit an inference that they
occurred at all, that defendants had anything to do with
them, or that they were retaliatory." Id.
(quoting the summary judgment opinion, at page 7, Docket No.
09-3428, ECF nos. 130-31). In 2014, Dr. Skoorka filed a
substantially similar complaint in the District Court for the
Southern District of New York, claiming that it was not
possible for him to obtain a fair hearing of his claims in
New Jersey. Id. at *2 (quoting Mr. Skoorka's
briefin opposition to a motion for transfer). Venue was
immediately transferred back to this district and the
transferred case was assigned to me. Id. This
action, Dr. Skoorka then argued, was (despite all outward
appearances) not a mere duplicate of the 2007 action, but an
update of the claims contained within the 2007 complaint.
consolidated the two actions and permitted Dr. Skoorka to
resubmit an amended version of his complaint, redrafted as an
update of his earlier claims. Id. I specifically
instructed Dr. Skoorka to "state clearly, with dates,
places, and names of participants, the acts that he alleges
post-date those encompassed by the [2007 complaint] . . . and
not rehash the history of events already subject to the [2007
complaint] and summary judgment motions." Id.
at *2-3 (quoting the Consolidation Opinion, Docket No.
14-4561, ECF no. 137). Dr. Skoorka submitted a "First
Supplemental and Amended Complaint." I granted nearly
all of the defendants' motion to dismiss that First
Supplemental and Amended Complaint with prejudice.
Id. at *10.
during those proceedings that Dr. Skoorka filed a
second complaint in the Southern District of New
York. That second complaint, like its predecessor transferred
to this District, is the operative complaint in the
above-captioned action. It is also the subject of this motion
for sanctions, and is referred to herein, unless otherwise
specified, as the "Complaint." Supra
Section I.a. Since the filing of the sanctions motion, both
groups of defendants have brought to my attention to the
filing of still more complaints in other jurisdictions. On
April 10, 2017, Dr. Skoorka filed another complaint against
the same defendants in the Eastern District of New York, with
Docket No. 17-2178. (ECF. no. 30, ex. A.) Then, on July 10,
2017, Dr. Skoorka filed another complaint in the Supreme
Court of the State of New York, County of New York, with
Index No. 100957/17. (ECF no. 36 (attachment).) Although
worded and formatted differently, both complaints make
similar allegations and assert essentially the same causes of
action. (ECF no. 30, ex. A; ECF no. 36 (attachment).)
Rule 11 and Sanctions Standard
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that any
"pleading, written motion, or other paper" filed or
submitted to the Court "not be[ ] presented for any
improper purpose, such as to harass, cause unnecessary delay,
or needlessly increase the cost of litigation."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(b). The goal of Rule 11 is accountability,
Keister v. PPL Corporation, 677 Fed.App'x 63, 68
(3d Cir. 2017), and its central purpose is to deter baseless
filings. Howe v. Litwark, 579 Fed.App'x 110, 115
(3d Cir. 2014) (quoting Cooter & Geil v. Hartmarx
Corp., 496 U.S. 384, 393 (1990)).
this principle be violated and an appropriate sanction
desired, "a motion for sanctions must be made separately
from any other motion and must describe the specific conduct
that allegedly violates [the rule]." R. 11(c)(2). After
notice is served pursuant to Rule 5, a 21 day period is
triggered whereby the party served may withdraw or
appropriately correct the challenged paper or claim.
See R. 11(c)(2). If after notice and a reasonable
opportunity to respond, the court determines that there has
been a violation, the court may impose an appropriate
sanction on the party that violated the rule. R. 11(c)(1).
However, any sanction imposed must be limited to what
suffices to deter repetition of the conduct or comparable
conduct by others similarly situated. R. 11(c)(4). Though the
party moving for the rule may obtain monetary penalties, the
purpose of the rule is not to shift fees. See
Ario v. Underwriting Members of Syndicate 53 at Lloyds for
1998 Year of Account,618 F.3d 277, 297 (3d Cir. 2010)
("Rule 1 l's primary purpose is not wholesale fee