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Marion v. Borough of Manasquan

Decided: March 7, 1989.


On Appeal from the Superior Court, Law Division, Monmouth County.

Michels and Keefe. Keefe, J.s.c. (temporarily assigned).


Plaintiffs, Andrew Marion and Todd Schobel, appeal from the entry of two orders by the trial judge. The first order, entered on November 20, 1987, granted summary judgment to the defendants Borough of Manasquan and Police Department of the Borough of Manasquan. (Manasquan) The second order, entered on December 18, 1987, denied plaintiff's motion for reconsideration and for leave to amend the first amended complaint for the purpose of naming specific defendants in place of the "John Doe" defendants named in the original and first amended complaints. We affirm but for reasons other than those stated by the trial judge.

On July 4, 1985, at approximately noon, plaintiffs were walking on the macadam portion of a public walk adjacent to the beach in the Borough of Manasquan. They were approached by a male member of the Manasquan beach patrol who asked them whether they had obtained beach badges. When they replied in the negative, they were detained by the patrolman who then called for the assistance of a female officer who appeared to be the beach patrolman's superior. Plaintiffs were asked for their identification. When they advised the officers that they had none, one plaintiff was permitted to retrieve their identifications from a house they were visiting which was only a short distance away. When the identification was produced to the female officer, plaintiffs saw her copying information onto a summons form. Upon obtaining the information from plaintiffs, the female officer radioed for another police officer who came to the scene in a patrol car. Plaintiffs were escorted to the patrol car by the driver and the female officer. Plaintiffs were not handcuffed but were placed in the rear seat of the patrol car and taken to police headquarters.

At headquarters plaintiffs were placed in separate cells and subsequently interviewed by a detective who took basic information from them but asked them no questions concerning the offense itself. The plaintiffs were eventually released and given a summons for violation of a Manasquan ordinance which apparently requires people who are on the beach walk in "bathing attire" to purchase a beach badge. (Although plaintiffs argue on appeal that the summons was issued to them on the beach walk before they were transported to headquarters, their sworn testimony at depositions was to the contrary.) The entire process, according to Manasquan's records, took approximately two hours.

On August 7, 1985, plaintiffs appeared in municipal court and pleaded not guilty to the summons. They were represented at that time by the attorney who now represents them in this action. The facts surrounding the issuance of the summons were stipulated, whereupon the municipal court judge was asked to determine plaintiffs' guilt based on the stipulation. They were found guilty and fined. Prior to imposing the sentence the municipal court judge addressed each of the beach patrol officers involved. The record reflects that the male beach patrol officer was Timothy McGreevy and the female officer was Sue Graham. In addition, officer Graham identified the driver of the police vehicle as Lt. Trengrove. Plaintiffs did not appeal their convictions.

On August 15, 1986, plaintiffs filed a complaint alleging that they were "unlawfully detained and arrested by the defendants, John Doe, John Roe and Jane Smith, all fictitious names." They further alleged in their complaint that they were also "falsely imprisoned, harassed and ridiculed in violation of [their] civil rights and in violation of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act." No mention was made in the complaint of how John Doe, John Roe and Jane Smith were related to Manasquan nor was there any mention of how Manasquan was liable to the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs sought both compensatory and punitive damages against the "defendants."

Manasquan moved for a dismissal of the complaint for failure to state a cause of action against it. By order dated October 20, 1986, the motion judge (not the one involved in the matters under appeal) dismissed plaintiffs' claims for violation of "Federal Statutes and/or civil rights" and for "punitive damages . . . as to the Borough of Manasquan." The order also contained the following provision:

Ordered that plaintiffs shall have leave to file an Amended Complaint specifically setting forth the alleged relationship between the Borough of Manasquan and the individual defendants named in the Complaint, and identifying by name those individual defendants of which plaintiffs are presently aware, which such Amended Complaint shall be filed within ten (10) days of the date of this Order; . . . .

On or about November 3, 1986, plaintiffs filed a First Amended Complaint adding the Police Department of the Borough of Manasquan as a defendant. The amended complaint alleged that plaintiffs were "unlawfully detained and arrested by Agents, Servants and Employees of the defendants, Borough of Manasquan and Police Department of the Borough of Manasquan. Their names are unknown and are referred to as defendants, John Doe, John Roe and Jane Smith, all fictitious names." The amended complaint further states: "While arrested and detained, [they were] falsely imprisoned, harrased (sic) and ridiculed in violation of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act." The amended complaint sought compensatory and punitive damages against all defendants.

On or about January 21, 1987, five months before the statute of limitations ran, Manasquan forwarded certified answers to interrogatories to plaintiffs' counsel. The answers and attachments specifically identified the three officers who were involved in the arrest and transportation of plaintiffs to police headquarters. In addition the documents identified all other individuals who were on duty during the period in question.

On September 2, 1987, both plaintiffs were deposed. They were questioned concerning the allegations of the complaint. In connection with their claim that they were harassed and ridiculed, plaintiffs testified that one or perhaps two female

police officers, other than the one involved in the arrest, "looked in" on them from time to time while they were detained and commented: "Yeah, they're still here." According to the plaintiffs, this comment was made with laughter and a smirk.

On September 4, 1987, plaintiffs' counsel propounded supplemental interrogatories. It appears that interrogatory number two was designed to elicit the names of the one or two women who may have looked in on the plaintiffs while they were in their cells. Manasquan answered that interrogatory in part as follows:

The time records attached to Manasquan's first answers to interrogatories reflect that both Graham and Malone were in police headquarters while plaintiffs were there.

Upon completion of the forgoing discovery Manasquan moved for summary judgment advancing several reasons under the New Jersey Torts Claims Act why the motion should be granted. At the end of oral argument the trial judge made the following ruling:

Based on my conclusion that the cause of action set forth in the complaint in relation to these defendants cannot be sustained for reasons of law as indicated by this argument, I conclude that there is no genuine issue of material fact and I grant summary judgment.

This cryptic statement by the trial judge does not fulfill the requirements of R. 1:7-4. However, our review of the record reveals that the trial judge granted summary judgment on the belief that a public entity cannot be liable on the theory of respondeat superior unless the individual public ...

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