The Law Office of

David Perry Davis

31 Jefferson Plaza

Princeton, NJ 08540

(732) 274‑9444

(732) 274‑2050 (fax)

Attorney for plaintiff class

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Jasmine Leonard, David Chavis, Davonica Chavis, Tionoa Logan, Ashley Lewis, individually and on behalf of all similarly situated children of unconstitutionally incarcerated parents;

 

Jeffrey Leonard, Devin Square, Craig Williams, James Thompson, Cheyanne Johnson, David Chavis, Todd Logan, Jeffrey Jones, Gary J. Davis, Cleo Merritt, Juan Cruz, Ronald Cohen, individually and on behalf of all persons similarly situated;

 

     Plaintiffs

 

         vs.

 

Hon. Audrey P. Blackburn, JSC, Hon. F. Lee Forrester, Hon. Rosalie B. Cooper, JSC, Hon. Thomas W. Cavanaugh, Jr., JSC, Hon. Louis Locascio, JSC, individually and in their official capacity as Judges of the Superior Court, and on behalf of all Superior Court Judges of the State of New Jersey,

 

     Defendants

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SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY

CHANCERY DIVISION

MERCER COUNTY

GENERAL EQUITY PART

DOCKET NO.

 

 

 

 

     Civil Action

 

 

 

COMPLAINT FOR DECLARATORY

AND INJUNCTIVE RELIEF

(Class Action / Civil Rights)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I.  PRELIMINARY STATEMENT

1.  This is a class action brought by two classes of plaintiffs.  The first set of plaintiffs consists of the children of incarcerated child support obligors (hereinafter "plaintiff children.")  The parents of said plaintiff children have either (1) had release or purge amounts set based not on their ability to pay but on other impermissible factors such as the total amount of arrears owed, or completely arbitrary numbers, or (2) have been held for many days or weeks without having had any release amount set, by way of a release amount or by bail.  Plaintiff children are being unconstitutionally denied their fundamental right to a meaningful and loving relationship (including physical contact outside of visits at a jail) with their incarcerated parent, and are being unconstitutionally denied to their right to financial child support.  Plaintiff children are representative of a class of persons who are similarly situated.

2.  The second set of plaintiffs consists of indigent child support obligors who are in arrears under child support orders entered by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part (hereinafter plaintiff obligors).

     3.  There are two sub-sets of plaintiff obligors.   The first sub-set have been deprived of their physical liberty and have had release or purge amounts set based impermissible factors such as the total amount of arrears owed, rather than their present ability to satisfy all or a part of said arrears.  Their incarcerations are allegedly "coercive" in that they are being incarcerated pursuant to Rule 1:10-3 until they comply with court's order and post the release amount set for them. 

     4.  The second sub-set have been deprived of their physical liberty and have had not had a release or purge amount set at all in spite of their having been arrested days or even weeks ago, this violating their rights, including but not limited to their rights under Article I, § 11 of the Constitution of the State of New Jersey.  The majority of the named plaintiffs are currently incarcerated and have been deprived of their liberty for periods ranging from five days to over three months.

     3.  In regard to both sets of plaintiffs, defendants' aforesaid actions are violative of the New Jersey Constitution and are part of a policy, practice or custom adopted, either formally or in fact.  Plaintiffs are representative of a class of persons who are similarly situated.

3.  This complaint seeks declaratory and injunctive relief under 42 U.S.C. §1983 against the judges of the Superior Court of the State of New Jersey to prevent them from engaging in practices which abridge the substantive constitutional rights of plaintiffs and all those similarly situated.

II. PARTIES

4.  Plaintiffs Jasmine Leonard, David Chavis, Davonica Chavis, Tionoa Logan, and Ashley Lewis are citizens of the United States and residents of the State of New Jersey.  They are the children of the plaintiff obligors who are presently incarcerated at the Mercer County Corrections Center and/or remain in arrears and therefore subject to future enforcement proceedings.  The children's obligor had a purge amount set based on considerations other than his or her ability to pay same.  Some of these plaintiffs are the children subject to the child support orders under which plaintiff obligors are incarcerated; others are children who currently reside with plaintiff obligors and are not the beneficiary of a formal child support order.

     5.  Devin Square is a citizen of the United States and a resident of the State of New Jersey.  He is presently incarcerated at the Mercer County Corrections Center in Lambertville.  He has been incarcerated since September 30, 2001 (fifty four days) under Docket or Case Number CS 4212 1070A.  At the hearing resulting in or reviewing his incarceration, no inquiry was made into his ability to pay all or a portion of the arrears he owes.  He in fact does not have the present ability to pay anything close to the $3,500 (Three Thousand Five Hundred Dollars) release amount set by defendant Hon. Audrey P. Blackburn, JSC.

     6.  Craig Williams is a citizen of the United States and a resident of the State of New Jersey.  He is presently incarcerated at the Mercer County Corrections Center in Lambertville.  He has been incarcerated since August 30, 2001 (84 days) under an unknown Docket or Case Number.  His incarceration is allegedly coercive; lasting only until he pays the $8,000 (Eight Thousand Dollars) release amount.  His case has never been reviewed since his incarceration.

     7.  James Thompson is a citizen of the United States and a resident of the State of New Jersey.  He is presently incarcerated at the Mercer County Corrections Center in Lambertville.  He has been incarcerated since September 28, 2001 (57 days) under Docket or Case Number FD-11-31-91 and FD-11-3947-93.  At the hearing resulting in or reviewing his incarceration, no inquiry was made into his ability to pay all or a portion of the arrears he owes.  He in fact does not have the present ability to pay anything close to the $1,500 (One Thousand Five Hundred Dollars) release amount set by defendant Hon. Audrey P. Blackburn, JSC.

     8.  Cheyanne Johnson is a citizen of the United States and a resident of the State of New Jersey.  He is presently incarcerated at the Mercer County Corrections Center in Lambertville.  He has been incarcerated since November 13, 2001 (11 days) under an unknown Docket or Case Number.    His incarceration is allegedly coercive; lasting only until he pays a release amount.  His case has never been reviewed since his incarceration and no release amount has been set.

     9.  David Chavis is a citizen of the United States and a resident of the State of New Jersey.  He is presently incarcerated at the Mercer County Corrections Center in Lambertville.  He has been incarcerated since October 26, 2001 (28 days) under Docket or Case Number CS 4000 2800B and CS 4057 1045B.  His incarceration is allegedly coercive; lasting only until he pays a release amount.  His case has never been reviewed since his incarceration and no release amount has been set.

     10.  Todd Logan is a citizen of the United States and a resident of the State of New Jersey.  He is presently incarcerated at the Mercer County Corrections Center in Lambertville.  He has been incarcerated since October 3, 2001 (52 days) under Docket or Case Number FD-11-016845.  His incarceration is allegedly coercive; lasting only until he pays a release amount.  No inquiry nor finding was made into his ability to pay all or a portion of the $2,000 (Two Thousand Dollars) release amount ordered.

     11.  Jeffrey Jones is a citizen of the United States and a resident of the State of New Jersey.  He is presently incarcerated at the Mercer County Corrections Center in Lambertville.  He has been incarcerated since October 5, 2001 (49 days) under Docket or Case Number FM-11-4571-90.  His incarceration is allegedly coercive; lasting only until he pays a release amount.  His case has never been reviewed since his incarceration and no release amount has been set.

     12.  Gary J. Davis is a citizen of the United States and a resident of the State of New Jersey.  He is presently incarcerated at the Mercer County Corrections Center in Lambertville.  He has been incarcerated since September 28, 2001 (57 days) Docket or Case Number FD-11-1483-86.  His incarceration is allegedly coercive; lasting only until he pays a release amount.  At the hearing resulting in or reviewing his incarceration, no inquiry nor finding was made into his ability to pay all or a portion of the $2,000 (Two Thousand Dollars) release amount ordered.  Mr. Davis is the father of children aside from those for whom the child support order was entered; were he not incarcerated, he would be providing for the financial and other parenting needs of these children.

     13.  Cleo Merritt is a citizen of the United States and a resident of the State of New Jersey.  He is presently incarcerated at the Mercer County Corrections Center in Lambertville.  He has been incarcerated since October 15, 2001 (40 days) under Docket or Case Number CS 4008 6771A and CS 4086 6785B.  His incarceration is allegedly coercive; lasting only until he pays a release amount.  No inquiry nor finding was made into his ability to pay all or a portion of the $1,000 (One Thousand Dollars) release amount ordered.

     14.  Jeffrey Leonard is a citizen of the United States and a resident of the State of New Jersey.  He is presently incarcerated at the Mercer County Corrections Center in Lambertville.  He has been incarcerated since September 19, 2001 (65 days) under an unknown Docket or Case Number.  At the hearing resulting in or reviewing his incarceration, no inquiry was made into his ability to pay all or a portion of the $500.00 (Five Hundred Dollars) release amount set by the Court.

     15.  Plaintiff Juan Cruz is a citizen of the United States and a resident of the State of New Jersey.  He was incarcerated at the Ocean County Jail in Toms River between February 22, 2001 and March 6, 2001.  At the hearing resulting in or reviewing his "coercive" incarceration, no inquiry was made into his ability to pay all or a portion of the release amount set by the Court.

     16.  Plaintiff Ronald Cohen is a citizen of the United States and a resident of the State of New Jersey.  He was incarcerated at the Monmouth County Corrections Center in Freehold for a thirteen day period in March 2000.  At the hearing resulting in or reviewing his "coercive" incarceration, no inquiry was made into his ability to pay all or a portion of the release amount set by the Court.

15.  Defendants Hon. Audrey P. Blackburn, JSC (Mercer County), Hon. Rosalie B. Cooper JSC (Ocean County), Hon. Thomas W. Cavanaugh, Jr., JSC (Monmouth County), Hon. Louis Locascio, JSC (Monmouth County), are judges of the Superior Court, assigned by Order of the Supreme Court of New Jersey to the Chancery Division, Family Part.  They presided over the hearings wherein plaintiffs were incarcerated and/or the hearings to review their incarceration.

     16.  Defendant Hon. F. Lee Forrester is a Judge of the Superior Court, assigned by Order of the Supreme Court of New Jersey to the position of the Presiding Judge of the Chancery Division, Family Part.  As Presiding Judge, he is responsible for the supervision of the Family Part Judges who serve under him.  Additionally, Judge Forester authorized and signed the warrants under which the plaintiffs who have no release amount set were arrested.

III. CLASS ACTION

17.  The named plaintiffs bring this suit individually and, pursuant to Rule 4:32-1(a) of the Rules Governing the Courts of the State of New Jersey, on behalf of all residents of the State of New Jersey who: (1) have been, currently are, or will in the future be in arrears under support orders issued by the Chancery Division, Family Part of the Superior Court; (2) have been, currently are, or will in the future be subject to allegedly coercive incarceration as a result of their failure to pay said child support.

18.  This is a proper class action under Rule 4:32-1(a) of the Rules Governing the Courts of the State of New Jersey in that, as to the class: (1) the persons affected are so numerous that joinder of all parties is impracticable; (2) there are common questions of law and fact; (3) the claims and defenses of the representative parties are representative of those of the class; (4) the representative parties will fairly and adequately protect the interests of the class; and (b)(2) the parties opposing the class plaintiffs have acted on grounds generally applicable to the class, thereby making appropriate final injunctive relief to the class as a whole.

19.  Defendants Blackburn, Cooper, Cavanaugh, Jr., Locascio, and Forrester are sued individually and in their official capacities and, pursuant to Rule 4:32-1(a) of the Rules Governing the Courts of the State of New Jersey as representative parties on behalf of a defendant class consisting of all the Superior Court Judges of the State of New Jersey.

20.  This is a proper class action under Rule 4:32-1(b)(1) of the Rules Governing the Courts of the State of New Jersey as the prosecution of separate actions by or against individual members of the class would create a risk of (A) inconsistent or varying adjudications with respect to individual members of the class which would establish incompatible standards of conduct for the party opposing the class, or (B) adjudications with respect to individual members of the class which would as a practical matter be dispositive of the interests of the other members not parties to the adjudications or substantially impair or impede their ability to protect their interests.

 

IV. CAUSE OF ACTION

                   As to plaintiff children

21.  Plaintiffs Jasmine Leonard, David Chavis, Davonica Chavis, Tionoa Logan, and Ashley Lewis (hereinafter "plaintiff children") are the children of plaintiff obligors who have been, currently are, or will in the future be coercively incarcerated.  Their parents have had purge amounts set based on considerations other than his ability to pay, or have been held for weeks at a time without any release amount having been set.  Plaintiff children have a fundamental, constitutional right to a loving relationship (including physical contact outside of visits at a jail) with their parents.  Plaintiffs are representative of a class of persons who are similarly situated.

     22.  Defendants' incarceration of plaintiff obligors without making findings that they have the ability to comply with the release amount established has unconstitutionally deprived plaintiff children of meaningful contact with their father.  As plaintiff obligors are not able to attain their release and seek employment, said incarceration has also deprived plaintiff children of the financial child support plaintiff obligors otherwise would have provided.

                   As to plaintiff obligors

23.  Plaintiff obligors were placed under child support orders by the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part.

     24.  All said plaintiff obligors are in arrears on said obligations and were arrested as a result of their nonpayment or underpayment of support.  All have either had release amounts set by defendants without regard to the ability of plaintiff obligors to pay same, or have not had release amounts set at all in spite of having been held for days or weeks.

     25.  Defendants' incarceration of plaintiff obligors without making a finding that each has the ability to comply with the purge amount established has unconstitutionally deprived plaintiff obligors of rights established by the Supreme Court of New Jersey.  When release amounts set by the Family Part are not tied to the ability of the obligors to pay same, the incarcerations are not coercive and lack legal justification in the absence of their having been charged with a criminal offense.  If the incarcerations are not coercive, the plaintiff obligors are entitled to the full panoply of constitutional protections afforded to any citizen deprived of their liberty.

     26.  When plaintiffs are held for days or weeks without having a release amount set at all, their substantive rights pursuant to the New Jersey Constitution, including their rights pursuant to Article I, § 11 of the New Jersey Constitution are violated.

     27.  (1) In establishing release amounts based on considerations other than the ability of plaintiffs to pay same under the pretense of a "coercive incarceration", (2) in incarcerating plaintiffs and not establishing a release amount nor reviewing their case for periods in excess of 24 hours, and/or (3) when depriving plaintiff children of their right to financial and emotional support from plaintiff obligors, defendants have acted under a policy, practice or custom adopted, either formally or in fact, that serves to deprive plaintiff children and plaintiff obligors of rights guaranteed to them by the Constitution of the State of New Jersey.

     WHEREFORE, plaintiffs and all those similarly situated seek judgment in their favor and against the defendants and the class they represent:

1.  Declaring that the constitutional rights of plaintiffs and all those similarly situated were violated;

2.  Enjoining the defendant class from establishing a purge or release amount for plaintiff obligors without first making specific findings, based on substantial and credible evidence, that plaintiff obligors have the ability to pay said release amount;

3.  Requiring defendant class to immediately review the cases of all persons now incarcerated in violation of their constitutional rights as alleged herein;

     4.  Requiring defendant class to prospectively review the cases of all plaintiff obligors within 12 hours of their arrest or incarceration, and to set a release amount consistent with the ability of the payor to pay within that period.

4.  For counsel fees and costs of suit.

 

 

                                                                                                           ____________________________

                                        David Perry Davis, Esq.