DEPAUL v. SANDSON et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge Robert B. Kugler on 5/18/17. (jbk, )
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
(Doc. No. 1)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
MEAGAN J. DEPAUL,
Civil No. 17-3482 (RBK/AMD)
MARK H. SANDSON, et al.,
Meagan J. DePaul (“Plaintiff”) is proceeding pro se with a Complaint arising from
proceedings in the Probate Part of the Atlantic County Superior Court. Plaintiff’s application to
proceed in forma pauperis will be granted based on the information provided therein and the Clerk
of Court shall file the Complaint. The Court must now review the Complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C.
§ 1915(e)(2)(B) to determine whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure
to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a
defendant who is immune from suit. For the reasons set forth below, the Complaint is
DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY1
Plaintiff’s complaint stems from a proceeding before the Probate Part of the Atlantic
County Superior Court. Plaintiff is a beneficiary of Catherine DePaul (her grandmother)’s estate.
Plaintiff’s aunt, Karen Archetto, the executrix of Catherine DePaul’s estate filed a verified
complaint against Plaintiff’s father on January 10, 2014. Plaintiff was not served with Archetto’s
1. On a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), the Court must
“accept all factual allegations as true and construe the complaint in the light most favorable to
the Plaintiff.” Phillips v. Cty. Of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008). Accordingly, for
purposes of this motion, the Court adopts and accepts as true the facts as pled in the Complaint.
complaint as a beneficiary of Catherine DePaul’s estate, and did not learn of the case for some
time. Plaintiff filed an affidavit with the Atlantic County Surrogate’s Office with a request to be
joined to the litigation on March 23, 2015. Despite Plaintiff’s payment for an Entry of
Appearance, nothing appears to have come of her affidavit.
Archetto reopened the probate case on July 12, 2016 to file a Motion to Enforce
Litigants’ Rights. Plaintiff claims that she was only served eight of the thirty-two pages in said
motion. Plaintiff attempted to mention this inadequate service to Judge Sandson during the
hearing for Archetto’s motion on October 21, 2016. Sandson did not respond to Plaintiff’s
objection. On April 13, 2017, Plaintiff again attempted to object (as a beneficiary of the estate) to
Archetto’s actions. Sandson pointed at Plaintiff when she attempted to speak and informed her
that she “was not allowed to speak one word.”
This, Plaintiff claims, amounts to a violation of Plaintiff’s right to due process of law
under the Fourteenth Amendment. Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint on May 16, 2017.
Plaintiff asks that this court find that Judge Sandson lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the
probate case and asks that the Court transfer the probate case to a vicinage outside Atlantic
II. LEGAL STANDARD
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) allows a court to dismiss an action for failure to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted. When evaluating a motion to dismiss, “courts
accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the
plaintiff, and determine whether, under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff
may be entitled to relief.” Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009)
(quoting Phillips, 515 F.3d at 233)). In other words, a complaint is sufficient if it contains
enough factual matter, accepted as true, to “state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.”
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009); Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570
(2007). It is not for courts to decide at this point whether the moving party will succeed on the
merits, but “whether they should be afforded an opportunity to offer evidence in support of their
claims.” In re Rockefeller Ctr. Props., Inc., 311 F.3d 198, 215 (3d Cir. 2002). Yet, while
“detailed factual allegations” are unnecessary, a “plaintiff’s obligation to provide the ‘grounds’
of his ‘entitle[ment] to relief’ requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic
recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.” Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (alteration
in original) (citations omitted).
To make this determination, a court conducts a three-part analysis. Santiago v.
Warminster Twp., 629 F.3d 121, 130 (3d Cir. 2010). First, the court must “tak[e] note of the
elements a plaintiff must plead to state a claim.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 675). Second, the
court should identify allegations that, “because they are no more than conclusions, are not
entitled to the assumption of truth.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680). Finally, “where there
are well-pleaded factual allegations, a court should assume their veracity and then determine
whether they plausibly give rise to an entitlement for relief.” Id. (quoting Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 680).
This plausibility determination is a “context-specific task that requires the reviewing court to
draw on its judicial experience and common sense.” Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 679. A complaint cannot
survive where a court can infer only that a claim is merely possible rather than plausible. Id.
Where, as here, a plaintiff seeks relief from a judicial officer, the doctrine of judicial
immunity is implicated. Judicial immunity rests on the principle that “[a] judicial officer in the
performance of his duties has absolute immunity from suit and will not be liable for judicial
acts.” Azubuko v. Royal, 443 F.3d 302, 303 (3d Cir. 2006). Further, “[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. (citing Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 356-57 (1978) (citation
All of Plaintiff’s allegations relate to Defendant Sandson’s actions in his capacity as a
Superior Court Judge. The Court is unsure how Judge Curcio is involved with Plaintiff’s claims.
Judge Sandson was performing his duties as a judicial officer when he presided over Plaintiff’s
Probate matter and did not allow her to speak in October 2016 and April 2017. Therefore, he is
entitled to absolute immunity from the instant suit. Accordingly, because Plaintiff has failed to
state a claim upon which relief can be granted, Defendant Sandson will be dismissed from this
action with prejudice.
Furthermore, while the Court notes that Plaintiff has not pled any facts regarding
Defendant Curcio, the Court observes that the Complaint names him in both his individual and
official capacity as Surrogate Judge. Curcio’s actions in his official capacity as Surrogate Judge
are equally immune from suit. Accordingly, Plaintiff has failed to state a claim upon which relief
can be granted; Defendant Curcio will be dismissed from this action with prejudice.
For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiff’s Complaint is DISMISSED WITH
s/ Robert B. Kugler
ROBERT B. KUGLER
United States District Judge
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