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SALDANA v. CITY OF CAMDEN

December 21, 1989

MARCELINO SALDANA and JUANA SALDANA, OLIO ROWEN, NOEMI SANTANA, JUAN ROSADO and EDITH ROSADO, GEORGE BROWN and HELEN BROWN, TEODOSIA LOPEZ, RODOLFO ROBLEDO and IDA ROBLEDO, on behalf of themselves and all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
THE CITY OF CAMDEN; LEONARD J. DIMEDIO, BUILDING INSPECTOR OF THE CITY OF CAMDEN; WALTER RICHARDSON, DIRECTOR OF PUBLIC WORKS OF THE CITY OF CAMDEN; and JOHN/JANE DOE 1 through 10, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GERRY

 Plaintiff class is suing the City of Camden and various of its officials under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Article 1, paras. 1 and 20 of the New Jersey Constitution, for alleged violations of their Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

 Defendants now move to dismiss the complaint on three grounds. First, the complaint fails to meet the standard in this Circuit for factual specificity in its allegations. Second, plaintiffs have failed to establish that a municipal "policy" caused the alleged constitutional violations. Third, even if a policy existed and that policy caused the alleged deprivations, the availability of state remedies precludes recovery under section 1983. Thus, under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), the complaint should be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted.

 We conclude that, although plaintiffs' complaint meets the requirements of factual specificity for civil rights cases, the complaint must still be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6) because plaintiffs have failed to establish that a municipal "policy" caused the loss of their property, since the fires that destroyed their homes were set by private citizens and not municipal officials. The 'but for' nexus between the alleged policy and the fires that destroyed their homes is too remote to be cognizable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. We do not reach the question whether adequate state remedies exist to compensate plaintiffs for their losses.

 We therefore grant defendants' motion and dismiss the complaint.

 FACTS

 For purposes of this motion we assume that the facts are as presented by plaintiffs. The named plaintiffs in this class action allege that their homes were partially or completely destroyed by fires that started in abandoned homes owned or controlled by defendant City of Camden. Nine of the eleven named plaintiffs resided on the 500 block of Royden Street in six contiguous row houses, at one end of which were two row houses owned or controlled by Camden. On March 17, 1987, a fire began in one of the two Camden houses and spread to plaintiffs' homes. All of the homes in the row were destroyed except the Saldanas' home at 548 Royden, which was severely damaged. The Saldanas made extensive repairs and still live in their home.

 Plaintiffs Ida and Rodolfo Robledo resided at 2818 Garfield Avenue until July 6, 1988, when a fire that began at 2822 Garfield, a property owned or controlled by Camden, spread first to 2820 Garfield and then to their row home, destroying it. Plaintiffs allege that squatters had occupied the house at 2822 Garfield between September 1987 and July 5, 1988, when the squatters abandoned the property because neighbors complained to them.

 Plaintiffs further allege that defendants Leonard J. DiMedio, Walter Richardson and John/Jane Doe 1 through 10 are the Camden officials with legal authority to administer and enforce Camden's Building and Housing Codes, and to maintain vacant properties, and that these officials established a policy or custom to not maintain such properties. Mr. DiMedio is the Chief Building Inspector for Camden and is "responsible for formulating policies of enforcement of the building codes and ordinances. . . including the identification, demolition or securing of abandoned, derelict or unoccupied houses" (para. 11 Am. Complaint). Mr. Richardson is the Director of Public Works in Camden and is alleged to have authority identical with Mr. DiMedio's. These officials are named in their official capacities only.

 Plaintiff class consists of "all homeowners in the City of Camden whose homes have been, or have the potential of being, damaged by fires starting in and spreading from abandoned, derelict houses owned by" Camden (para. 42 Amended Complaint). The class is alleged to consist of "dozens or hundreds of persons" who "have been damaged by defendants' unconstitutional policy or custom" (para. 43 Am. Complaint).

 In addition, plaintiffs allege that Camden has ordered them to repair or demolish their homes at their own expense and has threatened to attach liens against their properties if they do not comply and instead the City must pay to repair or demolish their homes. This result of the policy or custom to not maintain abandoned houses further deprives plaintiffs of their property without due process.

 Discussion

 I. The 12(b)(6) Standard.

 In reviewing a motion under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, "we must take all allegations and reasonable inferences which can be drawn [from the complaint] as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff[s]." Dist. Council 47, American Federation v. Bradley, 795 F.2d 310, 313 (3d Cir. 1986). We may dismiss the complaint only if "it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff[s] can prove no set of facts in support of [their] claim ...


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