J.L.D. v. Eedward V. Gannon, the N.J. Judiciary, N.J., Dorsey Samaru LLC, Civ. No. 15-386 (KM)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 3th Circuit. United States District Courts. 3th Circuit. District of New Jersey
Writing for the CourtKEVIN MCNULTY, U.S.D.J.
Decision Date29 July 2016
Docket NumberCiv. No. 15-386 (KM)

J.L.D., Plaintiff,

Civ. No. 15-386 (KM)


July 29, 2016



J.L.D. brings this action pro se alleging violations of his First Amendment rights and right to due process, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"), as well as state law claims for violation of the CEPA whistleblower statute, defamation, and infliction of emotional distress. The events related in the complaint arise from JLD's employment as a law clerk to the late Edward V. Gannon, a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey.1 JLD sues the judge, the State of New Jersey, the State Judiciary, two members of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct, and a law firm which is alleged to have played some role in the application process for the clerkship.

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The complaint attacks the conduct and character of a judge, now deceased and unable to defend himself. Counsel for the Estate of Judge Gannon, while acknowledging the standard on a motion to dismiss, stresses that the veracity of those allegations is vehemently disputed. Under the circumstances, it bears repeating that a motion to dismiss must, as a matter of law, assume the allegations to be true and determine whether, if true, they would state a legal claim. Whether they are true is an issue for another day. The allegations of this complaint consist in part of matters personally observed, mixed with more general grievances, personal opinions, tenuous inferences, allegations "on information and belief" that massive fraud was occurring, and conspiracy theories. I must, however, spare some sympathy for the plaintiff as well. The complaint paints a portrait of an idealistic recent law school graduate, beset by personal and professional issues and disappointments. In short, the situation is highly regrettable for everyone involved, and is perhaps not very amenable to resolution by litigation.

My task, however, is not to untangle this complex state of affairs. It is to determine whether this pro se complaint alleges viable causes of action against the defendants. In many respects, it does not. As to Judge Gannon, however, the allegations do state certain legal claims.

For the reasons stated herein, the motion to dismiss the complaint filed on behalf of Judge Gannon (ECF no. 32) is granted in part and denied in part. The motions to dismiss filed by the remaining defendants (ECF nos. 42, 50) are granted.

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The relevant background consists of the allegations of the Second Amended Complaint ("2AC", ECF no. 32) For purposes of these motions to dismiss only, those allegations must be assumed to be true. See Section II, infra. Although I summarize them here, not all are directly relevant to the causes of action that are pled.

The plaintiff, JLD, is a 2014 law school graduate, not yet admitted to the bar. (See ECF no. 53) Defendant Edward V. Gannon was a judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris/Sussex Vicinage. Judge Gannon's chambers were located in the Historic Courthouse in Newton, NJ. (2AC ¶¶ 1, 2, 11. For the remainder of Section I, the 2AC is cited by paragraph number only.) Also named as defendants are the State of New Jersey, the New Jersey Judiciary, and Lou Taranto and John Tonelli, who are members of the Advisory Committee on Judicial Conduct (together, the "State Defendants"). Defendant Dorsey & Semrau, LLC (the "Dorsey firm") is a law firm.2 JLD interviewed with Judge Gannon and, in July 2014, accepted a position as a law clerk for the 2014-15 term. (¶ 9)

Judge Gannon is alleged to have a "history of idiosyncratic behavior." In 2008 he allegedly wrote a letter critical of the Passaic County Assignment Judge. (¶ 22(a)) In 2013 he rejected a plea deal, resulting in Assignment Judge Tom Weisenbeck's transfer of the case to another judge. (¶¶ 22(b),(c)) In 2009 he declined to participate in state worker furloughs. (¶ 22(d)) In 2012 he declared New Jersey to be the insurance fraud capital of the world. (¶ 22(e))

Judge Gannon, "on information and belief" allegedly abused recent law clerks. One said he did housework for Gannon, who made disparaging remarks about his Indian girlfriend. Others had similar complaints about the quality of the work environment and demands that they do personal errands and tasks for the judge. (¶ 23)

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JLD's clerkship began on August 25, 2014. In late August JLD was asked to type up a list of the judge's personal medications. (¶ 24) In September, learning that JLD wished to move out of his parents' home, the judge suggested that he move in with him and pay $600 per month rent. (¶ 25) On two occasions, Judge Gannon left chambers and returned looking intoxicated. (¶ 26) On information and belief, Judge Gannon acted to impair JLD's productivity as part of a plan to divert him from discovering that "many of Judge Gannon's cases were part of a fraudulent scheme." (¶ 27)

JLD alleges that he was asked to spend a substantial amount of time doing Judge Gannon's personal tasks, such as typing up personal letters, running errands, and the like. (¶ 28) He was witness to "disturbing remarks" by Judge Gannon. These included a statement that Gannon and former New Jersey Senator John H. Dorsey "'made a lot of money' from insurance companies together"; a reference to a boy scout leader who allegedly molested boys during a time period that would have encompassed JLD's childhood years; a statement that Judge Gannon refused to sign emergent warrants in order to discourage police from applying for them; accusations of misconduct against other judges; a statement that a local attorney fraudulently reported capital gains; a claim that a former law clerk was institutionalized and could not handle the practice of law; and unspecified derogatory remarks about minorities, the mentally handicapped , and women. (¶ 30)

JLD's predecessor, EH, trained him to signature-stamp orders on motions, leaving the signature page on top so the judge "doesn't have to go through it." (¶ 31) Attorneys allegedly requested specially that Judge Gannon hear their cases either in hopes of favoritism or because the case involved a "fraudulent scheme Judge Gannon had been made privy to[]." (¶ 32) In many cases, the judge spent so little time with the file that he could not have read it. (See ¶¶ 33-37) The handling of motions was disorganized, a situation JLD attempted to remedy with a color coding system. (¶¶ 38-41) As to the research

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or drafting of statements of reasons, Gannon would completely defer, either to JLD or to attorneys for the parties.3 (¶¶ 41-42)

On three occasions, Judge Gannon gave favorable treatment to cases involving an attorney with whom he was friendly, Phillip C. Wiskow.4 In one, JLD had drafted a statement of reasons adverse to Wiskow's client, but Judge Gannon decided the case the other way. In another, in November 2014, JLD believed that Wiskow got more favorable treatment on evidentiary rulings. In a third, on December 5, 2014, JLD drafted a partial statement of reasons adverse to the position of Wiskow's client, but Judge Gannon decided the matter the other way, using "questionable reasoning." (¶ 46) Judge Gannon engaged in ex parte communications, including telling a former law clerk (an attorney in "the Walmart case") that the opposing attorney had good arguments. This was allegedly a sham, intended to divert JLD's suspicions in some way. (¶¶ 48-49)

On December 1, 2014, JLD drafted statement of reasons, and Judge Gannon signed the order without looking at the file. He later asked about it, not remembering he had signed it already. (¶ 50)

The 2AC alleges that Judge Gannon hired staff based on connections, and, "on information and belief," because he believed they would not report fraudulent activity or judicial misconduct. (¶ 51-52) At JLD's own interview, on June 20, 2014, Judge Gannon did not ask for any supporting documentation, but JLD did tell the judge that JLD's father and the judge's brother had coached CYO basketball together. (¶¶ 53-55)

Judge Gannon was allegedly an old associate of former New Jersey Senator John H. Dorsey, a named partner of the defendant Dorsey firm.5 The

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firm also employs Joe Bock, Esq. (¶¶ 56-57) Several hours after JLD's interview with Judge Gannon, Bock called and invited JLD to apply for a position with the firm. He asked JLD about his living arrangements and student loans, allegedly because the firm seeks employees who are dependent and therefore tractable. (¶ 59) On June 27, 2014, Judge Gannon interviewed JLD again. Later, Bock informed JLD that he heard from his partner, Mr. Semrau, that the judge was going to hire him. On July 2, 2014, Judge Gannon offered JLD the clerkship position, which he accepted. (¶¶ 61-63)

On November 10, 2014, Judge Gannon had JLD give LM, who was present at trial, a business card with a note asking her to see him in chambers after trial. He had JLD look up LM on Facebook. The ostensible motive was sexual, but the sexual motive is portrayed as a mere pretext for something else: JLD "on information and belief" alleges that Judge Gannon feared that LM "was documenting proof that Judge Gannon used his judicial powers to defraud insurance companies." (¶ 65) Immediately thereafter, Judge Gannon interrogated JLD about his finances, his family, his girlfriend, and other matters. (¶ 67)

On November 15, 2014, Judge Gannon went to the emergency room because of a horseback riding accident. A few days later the judge said he was happy about having been prescribed oxycodone. JLD took off from work on November 19, 2014, believing that the Judge, too, would be out sick. He learned, however, that Judge Gannon had come in to work and was annoyed at

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his absence. (¶¶ 68-73) That night, JLD texted the judge's secretary that he would be taking a sick...

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