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Capogrosso v. Supreme Court of the State of New Jersey

November 27, 2009

ELEANOR CAPOGROSSO, APPELLANT
v.
THE SUPREME COURT OF THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY; STUART RABNER (INTENDED TO BE THE CHIEF JUDGE OF THE SUPREME COURT OF NEW JERSEY); ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT; CANDACE MOODY (INTENDED TO BE THE DISCIPLINARY COUNSEL FOR THE ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT); JOHN TONELLI (INTENDED TO BE THE DIRECTOR OF THE ADVISORY COMMITTEE ON JUDICIAL CONDUCT); HON. MAURICE J. GALLIPOLI, J.S.C.; HON. PETER F. BARISO, J.S.C.; HON. BARBARA A. CURRAN, J.S.C.; HON. MAHLON L. FAST, J.S.C.



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey. (D.C. Civil Action No. 07-cv-05579) District Judge: Honorable Faith S. Hochberg.

Per curiam.

PRECEDENTIAL

Submitted Pursuant to Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) September 1, 2009

Before: RENDELL, FUENTES and ALDISERT, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Pro se appellant Eleanor Capogrosso, an attorney, filed a civil rights action against, inter alia, four New Jersey Superior Court judges, the New Jersey Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct ("ACJC"), ACJC Disciplinary Counsel Candace Moody, and ACJC Director John Tonelli. Her claims stemmed from alleged judicial misconduct in her state court cases and alleged misconduct on the part of the ACJC, which is charged under the New Jersey Rules of Court with investigating claims of judicial misconduct. Capogrosso appeals from the District Court decision dismissing her 42 U.S.C. § 1983 complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). We have jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

I.

Since around 2001, Capogrosso has been involved as a litigant in various state court lawsuits related to tenancy disputes. During the course of these cases, Capogrosso appeared before Superior Court Judges Gallipoli, Fast, Curran, and Bariso. At some point in each case, the judges' judicial conduct appeared to Capogrosso as criminal or violative of her rights as a litigant. Following each incident, she filed a complaint with the ACJC. The ACJC dismissed all five complaints.

In November 2007, Capogrosso filed a 21-claim complaint in the District Court. Five of those claims alleged that the Superior Court judges' conduct on the bench amounted to criminal behavior. Capogrosso also raised claims, citing both the Fourteenth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that the ACJC violated her rights by dismissing her complaints against the judges. Based on these alleged violations, Capogrosso raised five claims for costs and attorney's fees. Further, Capogrosso claimed that New Jersey Court Rule 2:15, which established the ACJC, violates the New Jersey Constitution.

Capogrosso also alleged that, during the pendency of her federal case, another incident involving Judge Fast occurred. While in Superior Court, Capogrosso was waiting with her attorney outside of Judge Fast's chambers. Judge Fast exited his chambers, saw Capogrosso with her attorney, and entered the chambers of Superior Court Judge Iglesias, before whom Capogrosso was about to appear as a litigant. When she appeared before Judge Iglesias, he denied a motion her attorney had filed, although her lawyer commented to her that such motions were routinely granted. Capogrosso amended her federal complaint to allege that Judge Iglesias' surprising ruling, viewed in light of his interaction with Judge Fast before Capogrosso's court appearance, gave rise to an inference of improper influence, in violation of her due process rights.

The Defendant-Appellees filed a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, which the District Court granted. Capogrosso's motion for reconsideration was denied and she filed a timely notice of appeal.*fn1

II.

We exercise plenary review over the District Court order granting the Rule 12(b)(6) motion. See McGovern v. Philadelphia, 554 F.3d 114, 115 (3d Cir. 2009). "We accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and draw all reasonable inferences in [Capogrosso's] favor." Id. "The District Court's judgment is proper only if, accepting all factual allegations as true and construing the complaint in the light most favorable to [Capogrosso], we determine that [she] is not entitled to relief under any reasonable reading of the complaint." Id.

The District Court dismissed Capogrosso's criminal claims against the Superior Court judges under the doctrine of judicial immunity. "A judicial officer in the performance of his duties has absolute immunity from suit and will not be liable for his judicial acts." Azubuko v. Royal, 443 F.3d 302, 303 (3d Cir. 2006). "A judge will not be deprived of immunity because the action he took was in error, was done maliciously, or was in excess of his authority; rather, he will be subject to liability only when he has acted 'in the clear absence of all jurisdiction.'" Id. (quoting Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-57 (1978)). Here, the District Court reasoned that all of the allegations against Judges Gallipoli, Bariso, Fast, and Curran related to actions they took as judges. We agree and note that despite her unsupported assertions to the contrary, Capogrosso has not set forth any facts that would show that any of the judges acted in the absence of jurisdiction. Likewise, the District Court ...


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