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Vickey v. Nessler

Decided: January 25, 1989.

CHARLES A. VICKEY, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
HARRY NESSLER AND WILLIAM TRUMP, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS, AND STATE OF NEW JERSEY, A BODY POLITIC, NEW JERSEY DIVISION OF GAMING ENFORCEMENT, NEW JERSEY STATE POLICE, AND WE TRY HARDER, INC., DEFENDANTS



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County.

J. H. Coleman, Baime and D'Annunzio. The opinion of the court was delivered by Coleman, J.h., P.J.A.D.

Coleman

[230 NJSuper Page 143] The pivotal issues raised in this appeal are whether a motorist charged with disregarding a traffic signal is entitled to maintain a malicious prosecution suit and a Civil Rights claim

under 42 U.S.C, § 1983 after a Municipal Court ruled in favor of the motorist. Summary judgments were granted dismissing the § 1983 action. The trial judge entered a judgment of involuntary dismissal at the end of plaintiff's evidence as to the malicious prosecution claim. This is an appeal from the final judgment dismissing the complaint. We hold that neither cause of action is cognizable under the facts of this case and therefore affirm.

I

PROCEDURAL HISTORY AND FACTS

The pertinent facts are not in dispute. On June 21, 1982 plaintiff Charles Vickey operated a motorcycle along Liberty Street in Trenton. At the same time, defendant Harry Nessler, a New Jersey State trooper, operated an unmarked car on South Broad Street. Defendant William Trump, also a State trooper, was a passenger in the unmarked car. The two vehicles collided in the intersection of Broad Street and Liberty Street. A traffic light controlled the flow of traffic at the intersection.

Defendant Nessler filed a traffic complaint against plaintiff charging him with disregarding the traffic signal, contrary to N.J.S.A. 39:4-81. Subsequently, plaintiff filed a countercomplaint against defendant Nessler charging him with disregarding the traffic signal. Both complaints were heard in the Trenton Municipal Court on September 13 and 15, 1982. At the conclusion of the trial, the judge found only defendant Nessler had disregarded the traffic light. The complaint against plaintiff was dismissed and that dismissal undergirds the present litigation.

On April 6, 1984 plaintiff filed a five-count complaint in the Law Division. At the time of the accident, defendants Nessler and Trump were employed by the Division of State Police and assigned to the Division of Gaming Enforcement. The unmarked vehicle which defendant Nessler operated was owned

by defendant We Try Harder, Inc. and leased to New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. Count One of the complaint alleged negligent operation of the motor vehicle by defendant Nessler. That count was settled and dismissed by stipulation on July 11, 1987.

Counts Two and Five of the complaint alleged violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In Counts Three and Four plaintiff alleged malicious prosecution of the complaint in the Municipal Court by defendants Nessler and Trump. Summary judgment was granted the governmental entities on April 29, 1986 dismissing Counts Two through Five. No appeal has been taken from that ruling. Additionally, on February 27, 1987 defendants Nessler and Trump were granted summary judgment under Counts Two and Five but denied summary judgment on Counts Three and Four. A jury trial was conducted on March 3 and 5, 1987 respecting the malicious prosecution claim (Counts Three and Four). At the conclusion of plaintiff's case, the malicious prosecution claim was dismissed. See R. 4:37-2(b). Plaintiff has appealed the dismissal of the Civil Rights and the malicious prosecution claims (Counts Two through Five) respecting defendants Nessler and Trump.

II

MALICIOUS PROSECUTION CLAIM

In this appeal, plaintiff contends the trial judge erred in granting an involuntary dismissal of his malicious prosecution claim against defendants Nessler and Trump. Plaintiff argues that he was not required to establish a special grievance as an element of the malicious prosecution claim because the prosecution in the Trenton Municipal Court for allegedly disregarding a traffic signal was criminal rather than civil in nature. In the alternative, plaintiff contends that (1) because he could have been arrested pursuant to R. 7:6-3(b) for ...


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