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Ong v. Superior Court of Hudson County

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

January 8, 2018

JOHANNA ONG, DR. BEVERLY ONG, Plaintiffs,
v.
SUPERIOR COURT OF HUDSON COUNTY, et at, Defendants.

          OPINION

          Kevin McNulty United States District Judge

         The plaintiffs, Johanna Ong and Dr. Beverley Ong, bring this action against a number of State officials and entities. In an opinion and order filed on June 5, 2017 (ECF nos. 36, 37), the Court granted the motion of defendants Hudson County Sheriffs Office (the "Sheriff), the Hudson County Correctional Center ("HCCC"), and the Jersey City Medical Center ("JCMC") to dismiss all claims, on statute of limitations grounds. Familiarity with that opinion is assumed.

         Now before the Court is a motion (ECF no. 51) to dismiss the Complaint[1]for lack of jurisdiction and for failure to state a claim, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6), filed by four other defendants (the "Movants"}. Those Movants are the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Hudson County (the "Superior Court"); the Hudson County Prosecutor's Office (the "Prosecutor's Office"); the State Department of Human Services ("NJDHS"); and Trenton Psychiatric Hospital ("TPH"). For the reasons stated herein, the motion will be granted.

         I. FACTS

         This litigation grew from a bitter dispute between plaintiffs, the Ongs, and their neighbors, the Pasdars, [2] that started in 2006. The particular focus of the Ongs' Complaint here is their treatment in connection with criminal charges of harassment, criminal mischief, and assault on sheriffs officers in 2012. (ECF No. 3 at 3-8).

         On May 29, 2012, the Ongs appeared before Judge Joseph Isabella, J.S.C., for sentencing on charges of harassment and criminal mischief. (ECF No. 3-1 at 30-82; ECF No. 3-1 at 4). The Ongs allege that after the sentencing, they were "tortured" by sheriffs officers on the "9th floor in the Superior Court of Hudson County" and that Assistant Prosecutor Leonardo Rinaldi hid and failed to turn over to defense counsel video of the torture. (ECF No. 3 at 4-5; ECF No. 3-1 at 111).

         On November 1, 2013, Johanna Ong appeared before Judge Frederick Theemling, J.S.C., in connection with charges of aggravated assault against a sheriffs officer arising from the May 29, 2012 incident at the courthouse. (ECF No. 3-1 at 1-3). Judge Theemling ordered Johanna Ong to be examined by a qualified psychiatrist to determine whether she was sane at the time of the offense and whether she was fit to proceed. (ECF No. 3 at 4; ECF No. 3-1 at 1-3). Johanna Ong alleges that after this court appearance, Sheriffs Officers "pushed" her and "dragged" her by her hair. (ECF No. 3 at 4-5).

         Johanna Ong was transported to the Jersey City Medical Center ("JCMC") for a psychiatric evaluation that lasted six days. (ECF No. 3 at 5). She was then transferred to Trenton Psychiatric Hospital for further evaluation for a period of twenty days. (ECF No. 3 at 5). Ms. Ong alleges that she was committed for a total of thirty-three days, which was in excess of the authorization in Judge Theemling's Order that she be committed for "a period not exceeding thirty (30) days." (ECF No. 3 at 4-7; ECF No. 3-1 at 1-3).

         On October 10, 2014, Judge Martha Royster, J.S.C, dismissed the charges against Johanna Ong stemming from the May 29, 2012 incident on the basis that "defendant will not regain [her] fitness to proceed to trial." (ECF No. 3 at 1, 7; ECF No. 3-1 at 254). Similar charges against Beverly Ong were dismissed on motion of Assistant Prosecutor Rinaldi. (ECF No. 3-1 at 256-57).

         On October 7, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a 245 page Complaint in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. (ECF No. 1). On October 17, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a 267 page Amended Complaint. (ECF No. 3). As stated in my earlier opinion, the allegations do not tie particular causes of action to particular defendants.

         The claims against the Superior Court and the HCPO would necessarily arise from the actions of the Superior Court Judges and Assistant Prosecutor Rinaldi during die prosecution of Plaintiffs on the charges of harassment, stalking, etc., of their neighbors, and the ensuing charges of aggravated assault on a sheriffs officer. (See ECF No. 3 at 3-10). The likely gravamen of these claims would be a deprivation of Plaintiffs' constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and perhaps the State-law tort of assault.

         As against the NJDHS and TPH, the Ongs are alleging that their commitment for psychiatric observation was unlawful, or unlawfully extended, and that they were mistreated. In relation to certain codefendants, I determined in my prior opinion that the "likely basis for such a claim would be a deprivation of constitutional rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and/or state-law personal injury tort claim." (ECF No. 36 at 5).

         II. Standard on a Motion to Dismiss

         A. Rule 12(b)(1)

         A motion to dismiss for lack of subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 12(b)(1) may be raised at any time. Iwanowa v. Ford Motor Co., 67 F.Supp.2d 424, 437-38 (D.N.J. 1999). Rule 12(b)(1) challenges are either facial or factual attacks. See 2 JAMES WM. MOORE, MOORE'S FEDERAL PRACTICE § 12.30[4] (3d ed. 2007). The defendant may facially challenge subject matter jurisdiction by arguing that the complaint, on its face, does not allege sufficient grounds to establish subject matter jurisdiction. Iwanowa, 67 F.Supp.2d at 438. Under this standard, a court assumes that the allegations in the complaint are true, and may dismiss the complaint only if it appears to a certainty that die plaintiff will not be able to assert a colorable claim of subject matter jurisdiction. Id.

         The Movants' argument that they are immune from suit based on the Eleventh Amendment is postured as a facial challenge to the jurisdictional basis of the Complaint. Accordingly, the Court will take the allegations of the Complaint as true. See Gould Elecs., Inc. v. U.S., 220 F.3d 169, 178 (3d Cir. 2000).

         B. Rule 12(b)(6)

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In deciding a motion to dismiss, a court must take all allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975); Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998); see also Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) ("reasonable inferences" principle not undermined by later Supreme Court Twombly case, infra).

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a) does not require that a complaint contain detailed factual allegations. Nevertheless, "a plaintiffs obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief requires more than labels and conclusions, and formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." BellAtl. Corp. v. Twombly,550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, the factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiffs right to relief above a speculative level, such that it is "plausible on its face." See Id. at 570; see alsoUmland v. PLANCO Fin. Serv., Inc.,542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). A claim has "facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal,556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, ...


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