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Coruzzi v. New Jersey

filed: April 22, 1983.

PETER J. CORUZZI, APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, ADMINISTRATIVE OFFICE OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY, APPELLEES



Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Seitz, Chief Judge, Higginbotham and Sloviter, Circuit Judges.

Author: Seitz

Opinion OF THE COURT

SEITZ, Chief Judge.

Peter Coruzzi appeals an order of the district court granting summary judgment to defendants in his civil rights action brought under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 (1976). This court has jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291 (1976).

I.

On November 10, 1981 the Supreme Court of New Jersey initiated removal proceedings under N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:1B-1 et seq. (West Supp. 1981) against appellant Peter Coruzzi, a Judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey. The removal proceedings were based on his arrest by state law enforcement officials on criminal charges involving bribery and misconduct in office.

On the same date, the Supreme Court of New Jersey also ordered Coruzzi's suspension from office without pay pursuant to N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:1B-5 (West Supp. 1981). At the time of his suspension, this provision read as follows: "The Supreme Court may suspend a judge from office, with or without pay, pending the determination of the proceeding; provided, however, that a judge shall receive pay for the period of suspension exceeding 90 days." Id. The New Jersey Supreme Court's suspension order provided that "Peter J. Coruzzi may move before this Court for modification of any portion of this order upon five [5] days notice to the Attorney General or his representative . . ."

In December, 1981 the New Jersey Legislature amended section 2A:1B-5 by deleting the proviso limiting suspension without pay to a ninety-day period. The legislative history of the amendment explains that the New Jersey Legislature intended the change "to allow [the period of suspension without pay] to be increased indefinitely at the discretion of the Supreme Court." S. No. 3517 at 88 (Dec. 10, 1981).

In accordance with the statutory revision, Coruzzi's salary was not resumed at the expiration of ninety days. Coruzzi thereafter filed this suit under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985, seeking (1) a declaratory judgment that the December, 1981 statutory revision is unconstitutional either as a bill of attainder or as an ex post facto law, (2) an injunction reinstating his pay as of February 9, 1982 and (3) interest and counsel fees. He named as defendants the State of New Jersey and the Administrative Office of the Courts of New Jersey.

Upon cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court entered a judgment for defendants. The court held that the December, 1981 statutory revision was not an ex post facto law because it was regulatory in nature rather than penal. The court also held that the statutory revision was not a bill of attainder because of its general applicability. Coruzzi appeals both of these rulings. The removal proceedings against Coruzzi have been stayed pending an appeal of his criminal conviction to the Supreme Court of New Jersey.*fn1

II.

In addition to defending the constitutionality of N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:1B-5, appellees also urged the district court to abstain from reaching the merits of Coruzzi's federal constitutional claims under the equitable restraint doctrine of Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 27 L. Ed. 2d 669, 91 S. Ct. 746 (1971), and its progeny. The district court, without any explanation, stated that it did not consider Younger controlling.

The Younger abstention doctrine rests on a strong federal policy of noninterference with pending state judicial proceedings. Middlesex County Ethics Commission v. Garden State Bar Association, 457 U.S. 423, 102 S. Ct. 2515, 2521, 73 L. Ed. 2d 116 (1982). Traditional principles of equity as well as federal-state comity demand that, "except in carefully circumscribed situations, the federal courts should not disrupt an ongoing state judicial process, either by preempting the adjudication of claims that could be brought to the state forum, by directing the state court to stay its proceedings, or by directly interfering in other ways with the natural ...


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