STEPHENS v. JEREJIAN et al
OPINION. Signed by Judge William J. Martini on 8/4/15. (gh, )
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
Civ. No. 14-6688 (WJM)
MARC A. STEPHENS,
THE HONORABLE EDWARD A.
JEREJIAN, in his Official Capacity as
Judge of the Superior Court of Bergen
County; CHIEF ARTHUR O’KEEFE, as
an individual, and in his Official capacity
as Chief of the Englewood, New Jersey
Police Department; JOHN J. HOFFMAN,
in his Official Capacity as Attorney
General of New Jersey,
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.
Pro se Plaintiff Marc Stephens brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983. He was denied a gun permit after four judicial hearings. Defendants
filed a motion to dismiss. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants’ motion
is GRANTED, and this case is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.
Unless otherwise noted, the following facts are alleged in Plaintiff’s
complaint. On January 11, 2013, Marc Stephens filed an application for a
firearms purchaser identification card and two permits to purchase a handgun
with the Englewood Police Department. Def. Br. at 6, E.C.F. no.13-1. These
applications were made under N.J.S.A. 2C:58-3. On June 4, 2013, Stephens
received a letter from Englewood Police Department Chief Arthur O’Keefe
denying his application. O’Keefe’s letter cited public health, safety, and
welfare as the reason for denial, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:58-3(c)(5).
Moreover, the letter informed Plaintiff of his right to appeal the denial,
pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:58-4(e). Plaintiff requested a hearing before the
Superior Court of New Jersey’s Honorable Edward Jerejian, which was held
on September 13, 2013. At the hearing, the Bergen County Prosecutor argued
that Plaintiff’s brother, a convicted felon, had the same address of record as
Plaintiff. This hearing was adjourned, and a second hearing was held on
November 15, 2013. At the second hearing, Plaintiff testified he would not be
living with his brother. Moreover, Sergeant Alston of the Englewood P.D.,
testified that Plaintiff was not a threat to public safety. The court ordered
another member of Englewood P.D. to investigate Plaintiff’s request. Plaintiff
received a third hearing on February 11, 2014, and on March 6, 2014, Judge
Jerejian denied Plaintiff’s application, again citing public health, safety, and
welfare. On August 7, 2014, Plaintiff moved for reconsideration and was
On October 27, 2014, Plaintiff filed this action. It was dismissed on
October 31, 2014 after the Court denied Plaintiff’s application for in forma
pauperis status. Plaintiff filed his amended complaint on December 22, 2014.
Though Plaintiff’s rambling complaint attempts to allege violations of the
First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, and Fourteenth
Amendments to the United States Constitution, the substance of Plaintiff’s
complaint is that New Jersey violated his Constitutional right to purchase a
SUBJECT MATTER JURISDICTION
The district courts “have original jurisdiction of all civil actions arising
under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States.” 28 U.S.C. §
1331. This Court has jurisdiction over this matter to the extent that it brings
claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for denial of Constitutional rights.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a
complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which
relief can be granted. 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 motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must take
all allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most
favorable to the plaintiff. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501 (1975);
Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts Inc., 140 F.3d 478,
483 (3d Cir. 1998). Moreover, where the plaintiff 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).
Although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, “a
plaintiff’s 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 factual allegations must be sufficient to raise
a plaintiff’s right to relief above a speculative level, such that it is “plausible
on its face.” See id. at 570; see also Umland v. PLANCO Fin. Serv., Inc., 542
F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). A claim has “facial plausibility 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.” Id.
The Court is powerless to grant Plaintiff the relief he seeks. New
Jersey’s gun permit laws are facially constitutional. Further, the RookerFeldman Doctrine bars the Court’s review of Plaintiff’s “as-applied”
challenge to the state court proceedings.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected the claim that the Second
Amendment includes an unqualified right to possess a firearm. See District of
Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 626-27 (2008) (holding that there are longstanding and presumptively lawful qualifications and conditions on the sale
and possession of firearms); see also McDonald v. City of Chicago, 561 U.S.
742, 786 (2010) (incorporating the Court’s holdings in Heller through the
Fourteenth Amendment). More recently, the Third Circuit upheld the
constitutionality of New Jersey’s requirement that applicants for handgun
carry permits show “justifiable need” under N.J.S.A. 58-4. Drake v. Filko,
724 F.3d 426, 429 (3d Cir. 2013). The Third Circuit in Drake held that the
justifiable need requirement was the kind of long-standing and presumptively
lawful qualification that the Supreme Court considers constitutional, and,
therefore, not burdensome to the Second Amendment. Id. Here, though
Plaintiff applied for the proper documents to purchase handguns, as opposed
to carry handguns, the Third Circuit’s jurisprudence indicates that the herein
challenged firearm regulations, which are central to New Jersey’s aggregate
firearm regulatory scheme, are constitutional under Heller. See id. Therefore,
the law provides no remedy for Plaintiff, and his facial challenges are
dismissed with prejudice.
The Rooker-Feldman Doctrine bars the federal district courts from
reviewing the constitutionality of state court decisions. Exxon Mobil Corp. v.
Saudi Basic Indus. Corp., 544 U.S. 280, 284 (2005). If the state-court decision
was wrong, it may be declared null and void only by the appropriate state
appellate court, or by the United States Supreme Court. Id. at 284-85. In Exxon
Mobil Corp., the Supreme Court clarified that the Rooker-Feldman Doctrine
applies specifically to “cases brought by state-court losers complaining of
injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court
proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of
those judgments.” Id. at 284. To the extent Plaintiff is seeking this Court’s
review of the actions taken by the Superior Court of New Jersey, the complaint
fits squarely into the category of cases covered by the Rooker-Feldman
Doctrine. Therefore, Plaintiff’s “as-applied” challenges to the New Jersey
firearms regulation scheme are dismissed with prejudice.
For the foregoing reasons, the motion to dismiss is GRANTED.
Plaintiff’s complaint is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE. An appropriate
/s/ William J. Martini
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.
Date: August 4, 2015
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