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MALIGNAGGI v. COUNTY OF GLOUCESTER

June 23, 1994

CARMEN A. MALIGNAGGI, General Administrator of the Estate of JOSEPH L. MALIGNAGGI, JR., and CARMEN A. MALIGNAGGI, as Administrator Ad Prosequendum of the Estate of JOSEPH L. MALIGNAGGI, JR., deceased, JOSEPH L. MALIGNAGGI, ERMINIA MALIGNAGGI, individually, and CARMEN A. MALIGNAGGI, individually, Plaintiffs,
v.
COUNTY OF GLOUCESTER, GLOUCESTER COUNTY SWAT TEAM, GLOUCESTER COUNTY POLICE CHIEF'S ASSOCIATION, GLOUCESTER COUNTY PROSECUTOR'S OFFICE, STATE OF NEW JERSEY, OFFICER GREG SHERWOOD, WEST DEPTFORD POLICE DEPARTMENT, CHIEF OF THE WEST DEPTFORD POLICE DEPARTMENT, TOWNSHIP OF WEST DEPTFORD, OFFICER JOSEPH CELLA, WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPARTMENT, CHIEF OF THE WASHINGTON TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPARTMENT, TOWNSHIP OF WASHINGTON, OFFICER DAVID HAAS, OFFICER FRANCIS GROGAN, PAULSBORO POLICE DEPARTMENT, CHIEF OF THE PAULSBORO POLICE DEPARTMENT, BOROUGH OF PAULSBORO, OFFICER MICHAEL SMITH, LOGAN POLICE DEPARTMENT, CHIEF OF THE LOGAN POLICE DEPARTMENT, TOWNSHIP OF LOGAN, WOODBURY POLICE DEPARTMENT, CHIEF OF THE WOODBURY POLICE DEPARTMENT, CITY OF WOODBURY, OFFICER JOHN STEVENSON, WESTVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT, CHIEF OF THE WESTVILLE POLICE DEPARTMENT, BOROUGH OF WESTVILLE, OFFICER SCOTT PENUEL, PITMAN POLICE DEPARTMENT, CHIEF OF THE PITMAN POLICE DEPARTMENT, BOROUGH OF PITMAN, OFFICER MICHAEL O'DONNELL, FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPARTMENT, CHIEF OF THE FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPARTMENT, TOWNSHIP OF FRANKLIN, HARRISON TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPARTMENT, CHIEF MACCHERONE, TOWNSHIP OF HARRISON, JOHN DOES 1-10, fictitious names, person or persons, corporate, municipal or State agencies, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: STANLEY S. BROTMAN

 BROTMAN, J.:

 Presently before the court are the motions of defendants for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, the motions are granted.

 I. FACTS

 The following facts are undisputed. On November 17, 1990, plaintiffs' decedent, Joseph Malignaggi, took two waitresses hostage with a rifle in a Harrison Township restaurant. No one knew that the rifle was unloaded. He ordered everyone but the waitresses to leave the restaurant, and ordered one patron to chain and lock the front doors on his way out.

 The Gloucester County SWAT team, which consists of volunteer officers from police departments across Gloucester County, arrived at the scene and took control of the situation. They were briefed on the situation by Chief Maccherone of the Harrison Township Police Department. The team was also informed by Malignaggi's family that he had a history of mental illness.

 Officer O'Donnell served as the negotiator, while Officer Sherwood served as team leader. Through most of the night, O'Donnell unsuccessfully attempted to communicate with Malignaggi. In order to increase the pressure on Malignaggi, as well as facilitate communication, Sherwood ordered officers to break the front window. At the same time and unbeknownst to O'Donnell, Sherwood ordered two officers, Smith and Grogan, to enter the restaurant.

 The two officers hid in the kitchen. Sherwood subsequently noticed that the hostages were positioned at or near the kitchen doors, so he motioned the waitresses to move toward the doors. Malignaggi caught the waitresses' movement and became visibly agitated. Alarmed, Sherwood ordered Smith and Grogan by radio to rescue the hostages. When they entered the dining area, Malignaggi pointed the rifle at them, and the officers shot and killed him.

 Plaintiffs filed suit against the SWAT team, its members, their police departments, police chiefs, and municipalities, the Gloucester County Police Chief's Association, and the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 and for negligence. In their briefs, plaintiffs have conceded nonliability on the part of all officers except for Smith, Grogan, Sherwood, and O'Donnell, as well as all of the police departments.

 II. LEGAL DISCUSSION

 A. Summary Judgment Standard

 The standard for granting summary judgment is a stringent one. A court may grant summary judgment only when the materials of record "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. p. 56(c); see Hersh v. Allen Prods. Co., 789 F.2d 230, 232 (3d Cir. 1986); Lang v. New York Life Ins. Co., 721 F.2d 118, 119 (3d Cir. 1983). In deciding whether there is a disputed issue of material fact the court must view all doubt in favor of the non-moving party. Meyer v. Riegel Prods. Corp., 720 F.2d 303, 307 n.2 (3d Cir. 1983), cert. dism'd, 465 U.S. 1091(1984); Smith v. Pittsburgh Gage & Supply Co., 464 F.2d 870, 874 (3d Cir. 1972). The threshold inquiry is whether there are "any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986).

  Supreme Court decisions mandate that "a motion for summary judgment must be granted unless the party opposing the motion can adduce evidence which, when considered in light of that party's burden of proof at trial, could be the basis for a jury finding in that party's favor." J.E. Mamiye & Sons, Inc. v. Fidelity Bank, 813 F.2d 610, 618 (3d Cir. 1987) (Becker, J., concurring) (citing Anderson, 477 U.S. 242, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986), and Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986)). Moreover, once the moving party has carried its burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, "its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986). Thus, if the non-movant's evidence is merely "colorable" or is "not significantly probative," the court may grant summary judgment. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249-50.

 B. Section 1983 Claims

 1. The Municipal Defendants

 In Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 56 L. Ed. 2d 611, 98 S. Ct. 2018 (1978), the Supreme Court recognized the availability of Section 1983 liability against municipal entities for customs and policies that they institute. Yet the Supreme Court sharply circumscribed municipal exposure by precluding liability based on the acts of its employees, that is, on a respondeat superior theory. Thus, a municipality cannot be held liable where an employee unconstitutionally applies a facially valid policy. Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 387, 103 L. Ed. 2d 412, 109 S. Ct. 1197 (1989).

 A caveat to this rule is that if the unconstitutional application resulted from the city's failure to train the employee adequately, the city may be held liable under Section 1983. Id. Importantly, mere negligence in training will not create a Section 1983 claim. Instead, the failure to train must amount to "deliberate indifference" to the rights of persons with whom the police come into contact. Id. at 388.

 
It may seem contrary to common sense to assert that a municipality will actually have a policy of not taking reasonable steps to train its employees. But it may happen that in light of the duties assigned to specific officers or employees the need for more or different training is so obvious, and the inadequacy so likely to result in a violation of constitutional rights, that the policy makers of the city can reasonably be said to have been deliberately indifferent to the need. In that event, the failure to provide proper training may ...

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