SMITH v. STATE OF NEW JERSEY et al
OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Jose L. Linares on 6/12/2017. (ld, )
NOT FOR PUBLiCATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
ROSALIE L. SMITH,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 17-443 (JLL)
0P1 N1 0N
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, et al.,
LINARES, District Judge
Several defendants in this action (hereinafter. ‘the Federal Action”) move
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (hereinafter. “Rul&) 12(b)(1) and Rcile
12(b)(6) to dismiss the claims that have been asserted by the pro se plaintiff, Rosalie L.
Smith. (See dkt. 5 through dkt. 5-16, dkt. 31 through dkt. 3 1-17, dkt. 33, & dkt. 33-1
(motion by the defendants Federal National Mortgage Association, Siobhan A. Nolan,
and Reed Smith LLP); dkt. 6 through dkt. 6-5 (motion by the defendant Bergen County
Sheriff Michael Saudino); dkt. 10 through dkt. 10-1 (motion by the defendant Phelan
Hallinan Diamond & Jones, PC): dkt. 30 through dkt. 30-4 (motion by the following
defendants: State of New Jersey; certain New Jersey state agencies; certain New Jersey
state court judges; the Superior Court of New Jersey; Superior Court of New Jersey.
Bergen County Vicinage; and the Supreme Court of New Jersey).)’ Smith has moved for
leave to file amended claims. (See dkt. 29.) However, Smith has not filed opposition to
any of the defendants’ motions.
This Court resolves all of the aforementioned motions upon a review of the papers
and without oral argument. See L.Civ.R. 78.1(b). For the following reasons, this Court
(1) grants the defendants’ separate motions to dismiss. (2) denies Smith’s motion for
leave to file amended claims as moot, and (3) dismisses all of Smith’s claims.2
A foreclosure action was brought against Smith in New Jersey state court
(hereinafter, ‘the State Foreclosure Action”) in 2013 when Smith defaulted on the
payments related to the mortgage on her property (hereinafter, “the Mortgaged
Property”). See No. f-16120-13 (N.J. Superior Court, Bergen County). (See dkt. 5-3 at
Smith represented herselfpro se in the State Foreclosure Action. In December
2015, a final judgment of foreclosure was entered in the State Foreclosure Action against
Smith (hereinafter, “the State Judgment”). (See dkt. 5-4 at 2—3.)
This Court will refer to documents by the docket entry numbers and the page
numbers imposed by the Electronic Case filing System.
This Court notes that the Bergen County Clerk inadvertently filed a motion to
dismiss in this Federal Action that refers to claims asserted by a different plaintiff in a
separate action. (See dkt. 12 through dkt. 12-2 (seeking dismissal of the claims asserted
in Boykin v. State of New Jersey, No. 16-5543).) Thus, that motion is administratively
Smith made several unsuccessful attempts in the State Foreclosure Action, and in
three separate state court actions that she also instituted as apro se litigant (hereinafter.
Srnith’s Three Separate State Actions”), to (a) block the State Judgment from being
entered, and (b) vacate the State Judgment once it was indeed entered.
S.c Smith v.
Jersey Mortgage Company, et a!., No. L-2968-12 (N.J. Superior Court, Bergen County):
Smith v. Federal National Mortgage Association, eta!., No. L-4394-13 (N.J. Superior
Court, Bergen County); Smith v. Jersey Mortgage Company, et a!., No. L-20301-14 (N.J.
Superior Court, Bergen County). (See dkt. 5-7 through dkt. 5-13 (featuring pleadings,
orders, and other documents from the State Foreclosure Action and Smith’s Three
Separate State Actions); see dkt. 10-1 at 41—65, 136—46 (featuring the same).) The
Mortgaged Property is now schedu!ed for a sheriffs sale. (See dkt. 10 at 7.)
Smith, once again representing herselfpro se, instituted an action before this Court
in September 2016 in conjunction with three otherpro se plaintiffs against, among others:
the State of New Jersey and various state agencies; certain New Jersey state court judges
who have issued orders in the State Foreclosure Action; the Bergen County Sheriff; the
private entity that held her mortgage; and the attorneys who were involved in the State
Foreclosure Action. See D.N.J. Civil Action No. 16-5543, dkt. I. Because the joint
pleadings in that original action were improper, this Court severed Smith’s claims, and
directed Smith to bring a separate action that contained claims that were personal to her
only. See D.N.J. Civil Action No. 16-5543. dkL 37. Smith complied with this Court’s
directive, and brought this separate Federal Action on her own.3
Smith alleges in the Federal Action that the entry of the State Judgm
from conduct on the part of the defendants that was misrepresentative,
fraudulent. (See dkt. 29-2; see also dkt. 1 & dkt. 24.)
This Court is guided by the following standards in resolving the separate
It is not necessary for this Court to restate the standard for resolving a motion
dismiss that is made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), because that standard has
(setting ftrth the
enunciated. See Davis v. Wells Fargo. 824 F.3d 333. 346 (3d Cir. 2016)
(3d Cir. 1977),
standard; citing Mortensen v. First Fed. Say. & Loan Ass’n, 549 F.2d 884
of Pa. v.
Petruska v. Gannon Univ., 462 F.3d 294 (3d Cir. 2006), and Constitution Party
Aichele, 757 F.3d 347 (3d Cir. 2014)).
The other plaintiffs have also asserted separate claims. See D.N.J. 16-5543;
D.N.J. No. 17-444; D.N.J. No. 17-445.
Sinith often phrases her claims in a manner that is not legally cognizable.
(See. e.g., dkt. 29-2 at 26—28 (presenting a historical perspective on money and
alleging that “[tjhere are no U.S. Dollars as defined by the Coinage Act of
currently in circulation thus placing Plaintiff in the position of legal imposs
d in unlawful
the repayment of the alleged debt,” and that defendants have engage
conversion by demanding payment in a species other than what was alleged
loaned”).) Thus, this Court has liberally construed Smith’s claims in a
It is also not necessary for this Court to restate the standard for resolving a motion
to dismiss that is made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), because that standard has been already
enunciated. See Palakovic v. Wetzel, 854 F.3d 209, 2 19—20 (3d Cir. 2017) (setting forth
the standard, and explaining Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007), and
Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662 (2009)); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203,
209—12 (3d Cir. 2009) (setting forth the standard, and explaining Igbal and Twombly).
Unopposed Motions To Dismiss
Smith has not opposed the defendants’ motions to dismiss. However, this Court is
required to address those motions to dismiss on the merits even if they are unopposed.
See Jones v. Unemployment Comp. Bd. of Review, 381 Fed.Appx. 187, 129 (3d Cir.
2010); Stackhouse v. Mazurkiewicz, 951 f.2d 29, 30 (3d Cir. 1991).
Liberal Construction Of Pro Se Pleadings
This Court, in addressing the separate motions to dismiss: (1) construed Smith’s
claims liberally; and (2) accepted all of Smith’s factual allegations as true, construed the
claims in the light most favorable to Smith, and considered whether Smith may be
entitled to relief in federal court under any reasonable reading of those claims. See
Kissell v. Dep’t of Corrs., 634 Fed.Appx. $76, 872—79 (3d Cir. 2015) (citing lqbal,
Twombly, Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 29 (2007), and Phillips v. County of Allegheny,
515 F.3d 224 (3d Cir. 2002)). furthermore, this Court referred to the proposed amended
pleading that Smith annexed to her motion for leave to file amended
operative complaint for the purposes of this analysis. (ç.ç dkt. 29-2.)
The Rooker-Feidman Doctrine
Smith’s claims that are asserted against all of the defendants are barred by the
Rooker-Feidman doctrine, because Smith is seeking to avoid the State Judgment that was
issued in the State Foreclosure Action by bringing this Federal Action. See D.C. Court of
Appeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482 (1983); Rooker v. Fid. Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413,
4 14—16 (1923).
The Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars this Court from adjudicating Smith’s claims,
because: (1) Smith is a state court loser complaining of injuries caused by the State
Judgment; (2) the State Judgment was rendered in 2015, before Smith initially sought
relief in federal court in September 2016; and (3) Smith invites this Court to review and
reject the State Judgment. See Bierlev v. Abate. 661 Fed.Appx. 208, 209 (3d Cir. 2016)
(affirming the district court’s dismissal of claims based upon Rooker-Feldman grounds).
It is now well-settled law that the proper way for Smith to proceed concerning her
alleged injuries caused by the State Judgment would be to seek review and relief through
the state appellate process, and then to seek certiorari directly to the United States
Supreme Court. This Court is prohibited from providing relief that would effectively
reverse the decisions, directly or indirectly invalidate the determinations. preeit the
enforcement of the State Judgment, or void the rulings isscted by the state court in the
State Foreclosure Action. See Francis v. TD Bank. N.A.. 597 Fed.Appx. 58, 60—61 (3d
Cir. 2014) (affirming a district court’s dismissal of the claims that were brought in
connection with a state foreclosure action as being barred by the Rooker-Feidman
doctrine, because the plaintiff sought redress from a state court judgment); see also Todd
v. U.S. Bank Nat’l Ass’n, No. 16-1126 & No. 16-1255, 2017 WL 1363276, at * 1—2 (3d
Cir. Apr. 12, 2017) (doing the same); Jacques v. Chase Bank USA, N.A., 66$ Fed.Appx.
437, 432—39 (3d Cir. 2016) (doing the same); Moncriefv. Chase Manhattan Mortg.
Corp., 275 Fed.Appx. 149, 152—53 (3d Cir. 200$) (doing the same).
Therefore, all of Smith’s claims are dismissed pursuant to the Rooker-Feidman
doctrine. This Court notes that to the extent that Smith’s allegations can be construed to
assert claims for Constitutional violations against all of the defendants, whether
governmental entities, governmental actors, private entities, or private actors, those
claims are barred by the Rooker-feldman doctrine as well.
Alternative Grounds for Dismissal
The determination set forth above precludes the necessity to address [any]
alternative grounds for dismissal,” but this Court will exercise the discretion to discuss
alternative grounds ‘for the sake of completeness.” Global Naps, Inc. v. Bell Atlantic
New Jersey, Inc., 287 F.Supp.2d 532, 545 n.20 (D.N.J. 2003) (addressing the defendant’s
alternative grounds for dismissal, even though dismissal was to be granted based upon the
lack of subject-matter jurisdiction).
A final determination in the form of the State Judgment has been entered in the
State Foreclosure Action. However, to the extent that the State Foreclosure Action may
be considered to be ongoing, and to the extent that Smith requests that this Court
intervene in the State Foreclosure Action, that relief is barred by the Younger abstention
doctrine. See Middlesex County Ethics Comm. v. Garden State Bar Ass’n, 457 U.S. 423,
435 (1982); Youngerv. Harris. 401 U.S. 37, 43—54 (1971). This Court simply has no
authority to interfere with the State Foreclosure Action if it is indeed ongoing, because
important state interests are implicated therein, and because there is an adequate
opportunity to raise federal claims therein. çç Cunningham v. Mortgage Contracting
Servs. LLC, 634 Fed.Appx. 361, 362 (3d Cir. 2016) (affirming a district court’s dismissal
of claims brought in connection to a state foreclosure action for being barred by YocLnger
abstention); Jacques. 668 Fed.Appx. at 43 8—39 (doing the sarne).
Violations of federal constitutional rights are actionable under 42 U.S.C.
(hereinafter, ‘Section 1983”). To the extent that Smith asserts Section 1983 claims
against private entities and private actors, those claims raise no proper federal causes of
action and have no call upon a federal forum. Therefore, Smith cannot maintain claims
under Section 1983 that essentially seek relief based on the private conduct of a private
entity or actor, no matter how altegedly wrongful. See Dophin v. Bank of Am. Mortg.
Co., 641 Fed.Appx. 131, 133 (3d Cir. 2016); St. Croixv. Etenad, 183 Fed.Appx. 230, 231
(3d Cir. 2006); see also McKee v. Pittsburgh Nat’! Bank, 627 Fed.Appx. 88, 91 (3d Cir.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued Jacques and Cunningham after the
United States Supreme Court issued Sprint Communications. Inc. v. Jacobs, 134 S.Ct.
584 (2013), and thus the holdings in those cases are persuasive.
2015) (affirming the district court’s dismissal of the Section 1983 claims that were
asserted against a defendant bank).
To the extent that Smith asserts Section 1983 claims against the State of New
Jersey, state agencies, and state officials, those claims are barred as well. Section 1983
enables a plaintiff to bring a civil action only against a “person” who causes a deprivation
of constitutional rights under color of state law. However, the aforementioned State
defendants are not considered to be ‘persons” subject to such an action. See Hanani v.
N.J. Dep’t of Envtl. Prot., 205 Fed.Appx. 71, 79 (3d Cir. 2006); see also Cook v. Superior
Court of N.J., No. 10-409, 2010 WL 2836409, at *1 (D.N.J. July 14, 2010) (dismissing a
Section 1983 claim asserted against the New Jersey Department of Law and Public
Safety based on immunity). The Eleventh Amendment also bars Section 1983 claims
from being brought against the State of New Jersey, its agencies, and its officials,
because those kinds of claims are, in effect, brought against the state itself. See 1-lanani,
205 F ed.Appx. at 79. The State of New Jersey has not consented to subject its agencies
and its officials to Section 1983 claims, and the immunity afforded to the state, its
agencies, and its officials against Section 1983 claims has not been abrogated. Therefore.
these Section 1983 claims are dismissible upon this alternative ground.
Judicial Immunity and State Court Immunity
To the extent that Smith asserts claims against the state court judges who issued
determinations in the State Foreclosure Action and Smith’s Three Separate State Actions,
those claims are barred by the doctrine of judicial immunity, even if those state court
judges allegedly acted with malice or in bad faith. $gç Stump v. Sparkman, 435
349, 3 56—57 (1978); Gallas v. Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, 211 f.3d 760. 768 (3d
Cir. 2000); see also Scheib v. Pennsylvania, 612 Fed.Appx. 56, 58 (3d Cir. 2015)
(affirming the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs claims that were brought against
the state court judge based on that judge’s conduct in the course of a foreclosure
proceeding). Furthermore, any personnel employed by the state judiciary are also
immune. See Washam v. Stesis, 321 fed.Appx. 104, 106 (3d Cir. 2009) (describing the
judicial immunity and quasi-judicial immunity afforded to state court staff); Marcedes v.
Barrett, 453 F.2d 391, 391 (3d Cir. 1971).
To the extent that Smith asserts claims against the New Jersey state courts
themselves, it is now well-settled law that the state courts are immune from such claims,
and thus those claims are baiied. See Dongon v. Banar, 363 Fed.Appx. 153, 155—56 (3d
Cir. 2010) (affirming the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs claims that were
asserted against the New Jersey Superior Court and the New Jersey Appellate Division
on the basis of immunity); Carrowav v. New Jersey, 202 Fed.Appx. 564, 565 (3d Cir.
2006) (affirming the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs claims that were asserted
against the New Jersey Superior Court and two New Jersey County Courts on the basis of
immunity): Hawkins v. Supreme Court of New Jersey, 174 fed.Appx. 683, 685 (3d Cir.
2006) (affirming the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs claims that were asserted
against the New Jersey Supreme Court on the basis of immunity).
Smith is raising claims concerning the alleged conduct of all of the defendants that
occurred before the State Judgment was entered. Because those claims either have been
raised or should have been raised in the State foreclosure Action or in Smith’s Three
Separate State Actions, those claims are barred by the doctrine ofresjudicata. See Lewis
v. O’Donnell, No. 16-2820, 2017 WL 35711, at *2 (3d Cir. Jan. 4, 2017) (affirming the
district court’s dismissal of a plaintiffs claims that arose from an underlying state
foreclosure action); Jacques, 668 Fed.Appx. at 43 8—39 (doing the same).
Resjudicata applies, because (1) the State Judgment and any of the related state
court orders or judgments are valid, final, and on the merits, (2) the parties in the State
Foreclosure Action, Smith’s Three Separate State Actions, and the Federal Action are
either the same or in privity with each other, and (3) the claims in the Federal Action
arise from the same transactions and occurrences underlying the State Foreclosure Action
and Smith’s Three Separate State Actions. See Migra v. Warren City Sch. Dist. 3d. of
Educ.. 465 U.S. 75. 77 n.Y (1984).
Therefore, this Court could also grant the separate motions to dismiss pursuant to
Entire Controversy Doctrine
Smith’s claims that are asserted against all of the defendants are also barred by the
entire controversy doctrine, because Smith could have raised any allegations concerning
the alleged conduct of the defendants in the State Foreclosure Action and the Three
Separate State Actions. See Lui v. Comm’n On Adult Entrn’t Establishments, 369 F.3d
319, 326 (3d Cir. 2004) (holding that the state courts are every bit as competent to deal
as are federal courts”).
The entire controversy doctrine, which does not require commonality of issues,
precludes a party from later bringing claims that could have been joined in the earlier
action,” particularly when those claims “arise from related facts or the same transaction
or series of transactions.” Zahl v. Warhaftig, 655 Fed.Appx. 66, 76 (3d Cir. 2016)
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted); çç Opdycke v. Stout, 233 Fed.Appx.
125, 129 n.6 (3d Cir. 2007) (setting forth the broad reach of the entire controversy
doctrine). As a result, Smith is precluded from bringing these claims in the federal
Action pursuant to the entire controversy doctrine.
Lack of Authority
This Court is also without authority in general to review and adjudicate issues that
have arisen in the state court in the State Foreclosure Action and Smith’s Three Separate
State Actions. See Francis, 597 Fed.Appx. at 61 (affirming the dismissal of a borrower’s
claims alleging misconduct by a bank in bringing a separate state foreclosure action, and
citing Ati. Coast Line R.R. Co. v. Bhd. of Locomotive Eng’rs, 398 U.S. 281 (1970), and
In re Grand Jury Proceedings, 654 F.2d 268 (3d Cir. 1981)). Furthermore, any
mandamus power that this Court might possess over the state courts does not include the
authority to ‘cornpel action by state courts or officials in connection with state court
proceedings.” See In re Wiltbank-Johnson, 455 F ed.Appx. 149, 150 (3d Cir. 2011)
(denying thepro se plaintiffs petition for a writ of mandamus pursuant to 22 U.S.C.
1651, wherein she requested that the Third Circuit Court of Appeals compel certain state
courts to provide her with favorable relief in her various state court cases).
Apparent Claims tinder the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt
To state a claim under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act
(hereinafter, R1CO”), a party must allege the existence of an enterprise that is engaged
in a pattern of racketeering activity.
1961, et q: see also Huertas v.
Galaxy Asset Mgrnt., 641 f.3d 28, 35 (3rd Cir. 2011); Brookhart v. Rohr, 385 Fed.Appx.
67, 70 (3d Cir. 2010). Smith appears to allege that the State of New Jersey, its agencies,
and its courts are part of a broad scheme to permit the private entities and “so-called
banks” involved in the mortgage industry to foreclose upon mortgages without
justification in order to ensure that they do not fail, because the State of New Jersey is
heavily invested in those entities. (See dkt. 29-2 at 7—2, 22.) To the extent that Smith’s
claims may be construed to contain RICO claims, Smith puts forth only indiscernible
statements and pure speculation as to any enterprise, and Smith fails to allege any
conduct, any activity, or any specific crime that might constitute a RICO violation.
Therefore, Smith’s apparent RICO claims are also dismissible based on her failure to
state a claim. See Gera v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, 256 Fed.Appx. 563, 566 (3d
Cir. 2007) (affirming the district court’s dismissal of the plaintiffs conspiracy claims
based on the same reasoning).
To the extent that Smith brings claims against the defendant attorneys for their
conduct while representing the parties who were involved in the State Foreclosure Action
and Smith’s Three Separate State Actions, those claims are also barred by the litigation
privilege doctrine. See Dickerson v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., No. 15-3747, 2016 WL
$20989, at *2 (D.N.J. Mar. 2,2016) (dismissing the claims asserted against the defendant
attorneys representing a defendant bank, because the conduct of those attorneys was
protected by the privilege, and holding that an appeal from the underlying state court
judgment would be the proper way to challenge such conduct).
This Court notes that it is authorized to dispose of the claims asserted against any
of the non-moving defendants sua sponte at this juncture. See Coulter v. Unknown
Probation Officer, 562 Fed.Appx. $7, $9 n.2 (3d Cir. 2014) (stating that a district court.
when addressing a motion to dismiss by some of the defendants in an action, may sita
sponte dismiss a claim asserted against a non-moving defendant where it is clear that the
plaintiff failed to state a claim for relief); see also Lincoln v. Magnum Land Servs.. LLC.
560 fed.Appx. 144, 147 n.2 (3d Cir. 2014) (affirming a district court’s decision to grant a
motion to dismiss by the moving defendants and to sua sponte dismiss a claim asserted
against a non-moving defendant).
This Court is authorized to sua sponte dispose of such claims, even though Smith
has paid the filing fee, “when the allegations within the complaint ‘are so attenuated and
unsubstantial as to be absolutely devoid of merit,
or no longer open to discussion.” DeGrazia v. Fed.
Bur. of Investigation, 316 Fed.Appx. 172, 173 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Hagans
415 U.S. 528, 536—37 (1974)); see Itiowe v. The Trentonian. 620 Fed.Appx. 65, 67 n.2
(3d Cir. 2015) (dismissing an appeal pursuant to the holding in Hagans from a district
court order that dismissed claims brought by a plaintiff who paid the district court’s filing
fee); 10-28-08 Order, Dubose v. Walsh, No. 07-045 (D. Del. Oct. 28, 2008) (adopting
Report and Recommendation, found at 2008 WL 4426090 (D. Del. Sept. 29, 200$).
which applied Hagans where a fee-paying plaintiff brought an action to stop a foreclosure
against a sheriff and individuals connected to the lender). As set forth at length above,
that is precisely the situation in this Federal Action.
Smith’s Motion For Leave To Amend
As noted supra, in an effort to construe Smith’s claims liberally, this Court
referred to the proposed amended pleading that Smith submitted in support of her motion
for leave to file amended claims. (See dkt. 29-2.) This Court has already determined that
all of Smith’s claims must be dismissed. Thus, her motion for leave to file amended
claims is denied as moot.
For the aforementioned reasons, this Court (1) grants all of the defendants’
motions to dismiss, (2) denies Smith’s motion for leave to file amended claims as moot,
and (3) dismisses all of Smith’s claims.
The Court will enter an appropriate order and judgment.6
JOSE L. LINARES
United States District .]udge
Some of the defendants request that this Court prevent Smith from filing any
further litigation that is related to the State Foreclosure Action. (See, e.g., dkt. 5-1 at
33.) However, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has recently counseled against the
issuance of such sweeping relief concerningpro se litigants. See In re Raymond Ross,
No. 15-222, 2017 WL 2434707, at *5_6 (3d Cir. June 6, 2017) (vacating an order
enjoining apro se party from bringing further litigation, and holding that such an
extreme remedy should be sparingly used); Hollis-Arrington v. PHH Mortg. Corp., 205
Fed.Appx. 4$, 55 (3d Cir. 2006) (doing the same). Thus, this Court will not exercise the
discretion to grant such a request here.
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