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Somerset v. State

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

June 20, 2018

THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, et al., Defendants.



         The plaintiff, Jerry Somerset, maintains an action against the State of New Jersey, Frank Covello, J.S.C., Joseph Elam, Lawrence D. Eichen, Strategic Delivery Solutions, LLC ("Strategic Delivery"), and Partners Pharmacy, LLC ("Partners Pharmacy"). Mr. Somerset claims that Mr. Elam violated an agreement regarding the purchase and commercial use of a van. He lost that case in state court. He then brought this action in which he sues the state judge and other participants or potential participants in the state case, seeking to overturn the result. I initially granted several motions to dismiss the complaint, without prejudice to a motion to amend the complaint. Partners Pharmacy, Judge Covello, and the State of New Jersey have now moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint.[1] I will grant their motions to dismiss, this time with prejudice.[2]

         I. Summary[3]

         At the heart of this case is the dissolution of a business venture between Mr. Somerset and Mr. Elam, whereby Mr. Somerset provided the money for a van that would be driven by Mr. Elam as part of a floor refurbishing business.[4] Mr. Somerset filed his original complaint on February 14, 2017, asserting claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., and the Contracts Clause of the United States Constitution, among other causes of action. (ECF no. 1.) I granted the motions to dismiss filed by the State, Judge Covello, Eichen, and Partners Pharmacy, on judicial immunity, Rooker-Feldman, res judicata, and Eleventh Amendment immunity grounds, as well as failure to state a claim under the ADA and the Contracts Clause of the United States Constitution. (See ECF no. 30.) However, I allowed Mr. Somerset to file a motion to amend his complaint in order to remedy the deficiencies of the original. (ECF no. 31.) Mr. Somerset has since submitted an amended complaint.[5] Partners Pharmacy and the State, on behalf of itself and Judge Covello, have moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (ECF nos. 39, 49.)

         II. Discussion

         a. Standard of Review

         Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if it fails to state claim upon which relief can be granted. The defendant, as 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 Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must take the allegations of the complaint as true and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Phillips v. Cty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008).

         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 a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, the complaint's factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiffs right to relief above a speculative level, so that a claim is "plausible on its face." Id. at 570; see also Umland v. PLANCO Fin. Serv., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). That facial-plausibility standard is met "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, 550 U.S. at 556). While "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement'... it asks for more than a sheer possibility." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

         Where the plaintiff, like Mr. Somerset here, is proceeding pro se, the complaint is "to be liberally construed, " and, "however inartfully pleaded, must be held to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers." Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93-94 (2007). Nevertheless, "pro se litigants still must allege sufficient facts in their complaints to support a claim." Mala v, Crown Bay Marina, Inc., 704 F.3d 239, 245 (3d Cir. 2013). "While a litigant's pro se status requires a court to construe the allegations in the complaint liberally, a litigant is not absolved from complying with Twombly and the federal pleading requirements merely because s/he proceeds pro se." Thakar v. Tan, 372 Fed.Appx. 325, 328 (3d Cir. 2010) (citation omitted).

         b. Partners Pharmacy claims

         In the earlier opinion, I granted Partners Pharmacy's motion to dismiss because Mr. Somerset's allegations failed to provide or put forth sufficient facts to state a claim against Partners Pharmacy for contractual liability or claim under the ADA. (ECF no. 30, at 19-20.) In his Amended Complaint, Mr. Somerset has further elaborated on Partners Pharmacy's involvement with the case at hand.. He states "[t]he controlling linchpin is my financial investment in the purchase of the vehicle and services provided to Partners Pharmacy, LLC and Strategic Delivery Solution, as well as Joseph Elam personal and financial benefits." (AC at 4.) He also alleges that he and Mr. Elam delivered medical supplies from Partners Pharmacy and Strategic Delivery to Ancora Psychiatric Hospital in Hammonton, New Jersey. (Id. at 5.) He then explains in 2014 that he was requested "to do a floor inspection for repairs and damages to the company's floors." (Id.) Aside from procedural descriptions of this case and the underlying state case, [6] these allegations are the extent of what is alleged against Partners Pharmacy in the Amended Complaint.

         Mr. Somerset seeks "monies lost and loss of income for the use of [his] vehicle, money invested for the purchase of the vehicle, " and other losses associated with the vehicle, equity interest in Partners Pharmacy, and the return of the vehicle. (AC at 6.) However, the factual allegations made by Mr. Somerset fail to connect to any actions by Partners Pharmacy or the relief being sought. The root of Mr. Somerset's grievance is a claim that Mr. Elam deprived him of his rightful ownership of the vehicle. Partners Pharmacy seems to be one of the customers of the business in which the vehicle was used. Mr. Somerset has not alleged that Partners Pharmacy is in possession of the vehicle or that Partners Pharmacy discriminated against him unlawfully on account of his disability. The complaint, even as amended, does not put Partners Pharmacy on notice as to what Mr. Somerset is alleging it has done, the nature of the claims against it, and how the allegations and the claims connect to the relief sought. Nor has the Amended Complaint shed any new light on the claims made by Mr. Somerset in the original complaint. Therefore, I will dismiss Mr. Somerset's claims against Partners Pharmacy for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.

         c. Claims against the State and Judge Covello

         In the earlier opinion, I granted the State and Judge Covello's motion to dismiss. (ECF no. 30, at 20.) For certain claims against the State, I found that the Rooker-Feldman doctrine[7] barred Mr. Somerset from attempting to overturn the result of his underlying state case. (Id. at 9-12.) I also found that, even if that doctrine did not apply, the preclusive effect of res judicata and New Jersey's broad "entire controversy" rule prevented Mr. Somerset from relitigating those claims. (ECF no. 30, at 12-13.) However, I set the ADA claims pertaining to the State aside, because I found that Mr. Somerset's ...

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