This action arises out of the Hispanic disturbances which took place over the Labor Day weekend of 1974. Plaintiff alleges he was injured by police gunfire while observing the disturbance as an innocent bystander. Such gunfire, plaintiff alleges, was excessive under the circumstances and served to render the City of Newark, officials of the city, superior officers and the individual police officers who fired the shots liable in tort for the damages he sustained.
Plaintiff's case is grounded upon two distinct theories: negligence and 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983. All defendants move
for judgment at the end of plaintiff's case on that portion of the complaint which alleges a § 1983 violation.
Initially it must be stated that the New Jersey courts have jurisdiction concurrent with the federal courts to entertain a federal cause of action, and thus a claim under § 1983. See, e.g., Endress v. Brookdale , 144 N.J. Super. 109 (App. Div. 1976).
As to the substantive merit of plaintiff's § 1983 claim, a short history of the section is necessary. It provides:
Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.
While this section was originally interpreted so as to exclude municipalities as "persons" under the statute (see Monroe v. Pape , 365 U.S. 167, 81 S. Ct. 473, 5 L. Ed. 2d 492 (1961)), the Supreme Court has recently overruled Monroe v. Pape and has included municipalities as possible defendants within the purview of § 1983. Monell v. Department of Social Services , 436 U.S. 658; 98 S. Ct. 2018, 56 L. Ed. 2d 611 (1978). The Monell court held that both local governments and local officials in their official capacity can be sued directly under § 1983 where the action that is alleged to be unconstitutional implements or executes a policy statement, ordinance, regulation or decision officially adopted by those who represent official policy. Id. at 98 S. Ct. 2036. Monell also held a local government cannot be held liable under § 1983 under the doctrine of respondeat superior -- the wrong alleged must be pursuant to an official regulation or custom of some nature. Id. at 98 S. Ct. 2036.
A spate of litigation in the federal courts sheds light on precisely what type of injuries can be redressed under § 1983. One problem that has caused difficulty is the confusion between
a common law tort actionable under state law and a constitutional deprivation under § 1983. The Supreme Court has not expanded the protection given to plaintiffs who allege constitutional deprivations. In Paul v. Davis , 424 U.S. 693, 96 S. Ct. 1155, 47 L. Ed. 2d 405 (1976), the United States Supreme Court issued a major policy decision limiting the scope of § 1983. A majority there held that only specific constitutional guarantees of the bill of rights incorporated into the Fourteenth Amendment (i.e. , liberty and property interests protected by the Due Process Clause) and substantive fundamental limitations on government action implicit in the liberty concept of the Fourteenth Amendment can form the basis for a § 1983 action. Id. 424 U.S. at 710, 96 S. Ct. at 1164, 47 L. Ed. 2d at 419. According to the court, a broader interpretation would fly in the face of the Fourteenth Amendment:
If respondent's view is to prevail, a person arrested by law enforcement officers who announce that they believe such person to be responsible for a particular crime in order to calm the fears of an aroused populace, presumably obtains a claim against such officers under § 1983. And since it is surely far more clear from the language of the Fourteenth Amendment that "life" is protected against state deprivation than it is that reputation is protected against state injury, it would be difficult to see why the survivors of an innocent bystander ...