ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY (C.A. No. 78-2325)
Before Adams, Van Dusen and Higginbotham, Circuit Judges.
This pro se civil rights action, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, presents the difficult question of when a prosecutor is entitled to the defense of absolute immunity.
Plaintiff, Dominick Mancini, was formerly employed as a lieutenant detective in the Bergen County Prosecutor's office. Named as defendants in the complaint filed on September 26, 1978 were Sherwin Lester, Bergen County Prosecutor, and Deputy Attorney General David Lucas. Mancini specifically asserted that "each and all of the acts of the defendants were done by them, not as individuals, but under the color and pretense of the laws of the State of New Jersey. . . ."
Mancini claimed that his ex-wife had been responsible for making false charges against him during a six-month period between May and September 1972. Mrs. Mancini allegedly presented these charges to Mancini's employer (the Bergen County Prosecutor's Office) as well as the Internal Revenue Service, the New Jersey State Police, and the United States Attorney General's Office. She telephoned the prosecutor's office up to six times daily and "threatened . . . that she would go to the police if I (plaintiff) was not fired."
Plaintiff's pleading also complained that the defendants unreasonably questioned him about his ex-wife's allegations without advising him of his rights; that they ordered him to take a polygraph test and threatened that if he declined severe consequences would result, such as an indictment; that they refused to grant him a leave of absence, although his physicians indicated that without one he would suffer a complete collapse; that they refused to grant him leave unless he submitted his resignation; that his wife retracted the charges made against him; that he was forced to resign and thereafter was "black balled" from obtaining any further job in law enforcement; that plaintiff has incurred loss of earnings of $60,000; and that in attempting to rescind his resignation he sustained substantial legal fees. The defendants were said to have violated Mancini's due process rights and his right to equal protection of the law in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Mancini claimed entitlement to compensatory damages as well as punitive damages.
When the prosecutor refused to permit Mancini to rescind his resignation, Mancini brought the matter to the attention of the New Jersey Civil Service Commission. The Commission, emphasizing Mancini's marital difficulties, found that he had submitted his resignation under "duress" and should be allowed to withdraw it.*fn1
The Appellate Division of the Superior Court reversed the Commission's judgment and specifically affirmed the prosecutor's decision "in rejecting Mancini's attempted rescission of his resignation. . . ." The appellate court wrote:
Whether (Mrs. Mancini's) charges were in fact true is irrelevant . . . the point is that the Prosecutor had the right to proceed as he did in investigating respondent, based upon the evidence before him. Since his actions in this regard were fully justified, and since there is not the slightest suggestion that the Prosecutor was not acting in good faith, there was no wrongful or illegal pressure and therefore no duress stemming from his investigation or proposed removal proceedings.
Unpublished opinion at pages 5-6.
Mancini's petition for certification to appeal the Superior Court decision was denied by the Supreme Court of New Jersey. Woodcock v. New Jersey Civil Service Commission, 69 N.J. 77, 351 A.2d 5 (1975).*fn2
It was then that plaintiff filed his civil rights complaint in the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. After reviewing the defendants' brief and hearing oral argument, the district court dismissed plaintiff's case on June 26, 1979. It explained the basis of its decision: "After reading all of the moving papers in this case and having had the ...