SPACEAGE CONSULTING CORP. V. PORRINO, et als
OPINION. Signed by Chief Judge Jose L. Linares on 3/5/2018. (JB, )
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT Of NEW JERSEY
SPAGEAGE CONSULTING CORP.,
CIVIL ACTION NO. 17-6299 (JLL)
CHRISTOPHER S. PORRINO, et a!.,
LINARES, Chief District Judge
There are three defendants remaining in this action: (I) Christopher S. Porrino, who
is named “in his official capacity as Attorney General of New Jersey”; (2) the Essex
County Probation Department; and (3) the Hudson County Probation Department
(collectively hereinafter, “the Remaining Defendants”). (ECF No. 1 at 1.) The claims
asserted against the defendants State of New Jersey, Office of Child Support Services,
Elizabeth Connolly, in her official capacity as acting Commissioner of the Office of Child
Support Services, and Natasha Johnson, in her official capacity as Director of the Division
of Family Development were dismissed on January 23, 2018 for the failure of the plaintiff,
SpaceAge Consulting Corp. (hereinafter, “SpaceAge”), to comply with Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure (hereinafter, “Rule”) 4(m). (ECF No. 11.)
The Remaining Defendants now move pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1) and Rule 12(b)(6)
to dismiss SpaceAge’s claims that are asserted against them. (ECf Nos. 13 through 13-3,
15.) SpaceAge opposes the motion. (ECF Nos. 14 through 14-3.)
This Court resolves the motion to dismiss upon a review of the papers and without
oral argument. See L. Civ. R. 78.1(5). For the following reasons, this Court grants the
Surender Malhan is an employee and the sole shareholder of SpaceAge. (ECF No. 1
at 2.) Maihan and his estranged spouse are currently engaged in an ongoing matrimonial,
child custody, and child support dispute in a New Jersey state court in Essex County. (Id.
at 2—10.) Malhan has personally brought several actions in the District of New Jersey
wherein the aforementioned state court dispute with his estranged spouse is at issue,
including the instant federal action. See, e.g., family Civil Liberties Union v. New Jersey,
D.N.J. No. 18-2597 (KM); Argen v. Kessler, D.N.J. No. 18-963 (KM); Maihan v. Porrino,
D.N.J. No. 16-8889 (KM); Mathan v. Tillerson, D.N.J. No. 16-8495 (CCC); Edetglass v.
State ofNew Jersey, D.N.J. No. 14-760 (FLW).
For reasons that have not been made clear by the parties in their briefing, SpaceAge
has been joined as a party to the aforementioned state court dispute. (See ECF No. 14-2 at
5 (New Jersey Appellate Division order, discussed infra, indicating same).) In any event,
on August 1, 2017, the New Jersey state court issued an order directing that Maihan’s
wages from SpaceAge were to be garnished to satisfy his child support obligations
(hereinafter, “the State Garnishment Order”). (ECf No. 1 at 5, 8—9; see also ECf No. 14
at 5.) The State Garnishment Order directed that the garnished wages were to be remitted
through the Essex County Probation Department, even though the state court Judge who
issued that Order had suggested during an underlying hearing that they should be remitted
through the Hudson County Probation Department because Malhan currently resides in
Hudson County. (ECF No. I at 8—9; ECF No. 14 at 6.) SpaceAge alleges that it is has not
received a garnishment notice from either the Essex County Probation Department or the
Hudson County Probation Department to date. (ECF No. I at 9.) SpaceAge also alleges
that it moved before the New Jersey Appellate Division for an interlocutory review of the
State Garnishment Order, and that the motion has been denied. (Id. at 10; ECF No. 14 at
10; see also ECF No. 14-2 at 5 (New Jersey Appellate Division order denying the motion
for leave to appeal).)
SpaceAge alleges that it “is facing potential liquidation [by the state court] if it fails
to comply with an illegal ‘garnishment.” (ECf No. 1 at 7.) SpaceAge seeks to proceed in
this federal action pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
1983, and it alleges that the State Garnishment
Order violates its constitutional rights by being contrary to: (1) 45 C.F.R.
which concerns the garnishment of wages for child support payments; and (2) 15 U.S.C.
1673, which concerns the garnishment of wages in general. (ECF No. 1 at 10—29.) As a
result, SpaceAge seeks to challenge the State Garnishment Order as being “illegal,” and
asks this Court to declare that Order to be “null and void” and “unenforceable.” (Id. at I;
see also Id. at 10, 14, 18, 23 (repeatedly stating the same).) Regrettably, the parties have
not submitted a copy of the State Garnishment Order for this Court’s review, and thus this
Court must rely upon the parties’ descriptions of the contents of that Order in addressing
this motion to dismiss.
This Court is guided by the following standards in resolving the Remaining
Defendants’ motion to dismiss.
It is not necessary for this Court to restate the standard for resolving a motion to
dismiss that is made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(1), because that standard has already been
enunciated. See Davis v. Wells Fargo, 824 F.3d 333, 346 (3d Cir. 2016) (setting forth the
standard, and explaining Mortensen v. First fed. Say. & Loan Ass ‘n, 549 F.2d $84 (3d Cir.
1977), Petruska v. Gannon Univ., 462 F.3d 294 (3d Cir. 2006), and Constittition Party of
Pa. v. Aichete, 757 F.3d 347 (3d Cir. 2014)).
It is also not necessary for this Court to restate the standard for resolving a motion to
dismiss a complaint that is made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), because that standard has
already been enunciated. See Palakovic v. Wetel, $54 F.3d 209, 219—20 (3d Cir. 2017)
(setting forth the standard, and explaining Belt Att. Corp. v. Twombty, 550 U.S. 544 (2007),
and AshcroJi v. Iqbat, 556 U.S. 662 (2009)); see also fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d
203, 209—12 (3d Cir. 2009) (setting forth the standard, and explaining Iqbal and Twombly).
Before arguing for the dismissal of SpaceAge’s claims based upon immunity, the
Remaining Defendants argue that this Court should refrain from addressing SpaceAge’s
claims based upon the Younger abstention doctrine. (ECF No. 13-1 at 14—17.) However,
the issue of the Remaining Defendants’ immunity must be addressed in the first instance,
because it is relevant to this Court’s jurisdiction. See United States v. Gov’t of VI., 363
F.3d 276, 220 (3d Cir. 2004).
Section 1983 enables a plaintiff to bring a civil action only against a “person” who
causes a deprivation of constitutional rights under the color of state law. 42 U.S.C.
However, the New Jersey Attorney General acting in his official capacity is not subject to
liability under Section 1983, because he is not deemed to be a person within the language
of Section 1983. See Jaye v. Att’y Gen. o17\Li, 706 F. App’x 781, 723—84 (3d Cir. 2017)
(holding the same), cert. denied, 2018 WL 491549 (U.S. Jan. 22, 2018); Torres v. Davis,
506 F. App’x 98, 101 (3d Cir. 2012) (same). In addition, the Essex County Probation
Department and the Hudson County Probation Department are considered to be arms of the
State of New Jersey, and thus they are not subject to liability under Section 1983 because
they are not deemed to be persons within the language of Section 1923. See Torres v.
Velasquez, No. 17-1685, 2017 WL 5725053, at *1 n.1 (D.N.J. Nov. 28, 2017) (holding the
same concerning county probation departments in New Jersey); Pittman v. Middlesex Cty.
Prob. Dep ‘t, No. 14-1568, 2017 WL 1129592, at *3 (D.N.J. Mar. 24, 2017) (same);
Travers v. Essex Cty., No. 15-2508, 2015 WL 3866325, at *2 n.1 (D.N.J. June 23, 2015)
(same); see also Hanani v. I\Li Dep ‘t ofEnvtl. Prot., 205 F. App’x 71, 79 (3d Cir. 2006)
(holding the same concerning New Jersey state agencies in general). The Eleventh
Amendment also bars a plaintiff from bringing claims under Section 1983 against state
agencies and state officials, because those kinds of claims are, in effect, brought against the
State of New Jersey itself. See Jaye, 706 F. App’x at 783—84; Torres, 506 F. App’x at 101;
see also Hanani, 205 F. App’x at 79.
The State of New Jersey has not consented to subject the Attorney General, the
Essex County Probation Department, or the Hudson County Probation Department to
liability for claims brought under Section 1983, and the immunity afforded thereunder has
not been abrogated. Therefore, this Court grants the motion to the extent that it seeks to
dismiss the claims that are asserted against the Remaining Defendants on this ground.
This Court’s determination set forth above “precludes the necessity to address [the
Remaining Defendants’] 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-P’Li, 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 lack of subject matter jurisdiction).
Alternatively, SpaceAge’s claims against the Remaining Defendants are barred by
the Rooker-Feidman doctrine. See D.C. Court ofAppeals v. Feldman, 460 U.S. 462, 482
(1983); Rooker v. Fid. Trust Co., 263 U.S. 413, 414—16 (1923). “In essence,
complaint sought federal court review of.. [the] state court ruling,” which this Court
lacks the authority to do. Bierley v. Abate, 661 F. App’x 208, 209 (3d Cir. 2016)
(affinriing the district court’s dismissal on Rooker-Feidman grounds, because the doctrine
bars a district court from reviewing a case brought by a state court loser who complains of
injuries caused by a state court judgment rendered before the district court proceedings
commenced, and who invites a review and rejection of that judgment). This Court is
prohibited by the Rooker-Feidman doctrine from providing relief that would effectively
reverse the decisions, directly or indirectly invalidate the determinations, prevent the
enforcement of the orders, or void the rulings issued by the New Jersey state court. See
Nagy v. Soc. Sec. Admin., 689 F. App’x 690, 69 1—92 (3d Cir. 2017) (holding that pursuant
to the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, a federal court may not address a challenge to the terms of
a state court child-support order); Lepre v. Lukus, 602 F. App’x 864, 870 (3d Cir. 2015)
(holding that federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction under the Rooker-Feldman
doctrine to address challenges to child support and wage garnishment orders, even if the
challenges are couched in constitutional terms).
It is apparent that SpaceAge seeks a review of the State Garnishment Order, as
SpaceAge repeatedly requests in the complaint that the Order be declared “illegal” and
“null and void.” (ECF No. I at 1, 10, 14, 18, 23.) Furthermore, SpaceAge is well aware of
the availability of state appellate remedies, as it sought to bring an interlocutory appeal in
the New Jersey Appellate Division. (ECF No. 14-2 at 5.) Therefore, this Court could also
dismiss the claims that are asserted against the Remaining Defendants under the Rooker
The State Garnishment Order was issued as part of a matrimonial, child custody,
and child support dispute between Malhan and his estranged spouse that is ongoing in New
Jersey state court. Thus, this Court’s intervention on SpaceAge’s behalf is barred by the
Younger abstention doctrine. See Middlesex Cty. Ethics Comm.
Garden State Bar Ass ‘n,
457 U.S. 423, 435 (1982); Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37, 43—54 (1971).
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has made it clear that this Court simply has no
authority to interfere with this type of dispute. because important state interests are
implicated in the ongoing state court proceedings, and because there is an adequate
opportunity to raise federal claims therein. See Bitt/er v. Pechkttrow, 669 F. App’x 627,
628 (3d Cir. 2016) (holding that the federal courts should abstain from interfering with
ongoing state child support proceedings); In re Barrel!, 626 F. App’x 33, 35 (3d Cir. 2015)
(holding that the “[f]ederal courts usually abstain [under Younger] from deciding civil
[that concern] state child support proceedings”) (citing Anthony
Council, 3 16
F.3d 412, 418 (3d Cir. 2003)); Gromek v. Maenza, 614 F. App’x 42, 45 n.3 (3d Cir. 2015)
(holding that the Younger abstention doctrine counsels against a district court’s interference
in an ongoing state court matter concerning a child support dispute). Furthermore, the
Third Circuit Court of Appeals issued Bitt/er, Bttrre/l, and Gromek after the United States
Supreme Court issued its holding in Sprint Communications, Inc. v. Jacobs, 134 5. Ct. 584
(2013), which altered the legal landscape for the federal courts in assessing whether the
Younger abstention doctrine applies to a case. Thus, the holdings in Bitt/er, Barrel!, and
Gromek are persuasive. Therefore, this Court could also refrain from addressing the claims
that are asserted against the Remaining Defendants under the Younger abstention doctrine.
No private right of action
SpaceAge alleges that the State Garnishment Order violates its rights under 45
303.100 and 15 U.S.C.
1673. (ECF No. 1.) However, there is no private right
of action thereunder. See Sheils v. Bucks Cty. Domestic Relations Section, 921 F. Supp. 2d
396, 4 14—16 (E.D. Pa. 2013) (holding the same in a case where a plaintiff sought to
challenge the garnishment of his wages to meet a child support obligation); see a/so
Co/bert v. Ro/ing, 233 F. App’x 587, 590 (8th Cir. 2007) (same). Therefore, this Court
could also dismiss the claims that are asserted against the Remaining Defendants for
SpaceAge’s failure to state a claim.
For the aforementioned reasons, this Court: (1) grants the motion by the Remaining
Defendants to dismiss the claims asserted against them; (2) dismisses the claims that are
asserted against the Remaining Defendants; and (3) closes the action, as there are no viable
This Court will enter an appropriate order and judgment.
ef Judge, United States District Court
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