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Rinaldi v. Wilson

March 31, 1999

JOHN RINALDI,
PLAINTIFF,
V.
JAMES WILSON, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jerome B. Simandle U.S. District Judge

HONORABLE JEROME B. SIMANDLE

OPINION

SIMANDLE, District Judge

This matter is before the court on the motions of defendants William Kleinow, Elkenney B. Pullen and the Township of Little Egg Harbor ("the Township") for summary judgment, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(b). Plaintiff, John Rinaldi, alleges that defendant James Wilson, a police officer employed by the Township, used excessive force against him during a traffic stop on January 30, 1995. *fn1 Rinaldi further alleges that Kleinow, a Captain in the Township police department, witnessed the alleged beating without intervening on his behalf, and that Pullen (then Chief of the Township police department) and the Township failed to properly train Wilson in the appropriate use of force and/or were aware of and tolerated Wilson's propensity to use excessive force in making arrests. Rinaldi claims that all of the defendants are liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 through 12-3.

Because the court finds that Rinaldi has not come forward with sufficient evidence upon which a reasonable jury could find that Kleinow was present at the scene of the traffic stop while the alleged beating was taking place, the court grants Kleinow's motion for summary judgment. Because the court finds that Rinaldi has not come forward with any evidence that Pullen was personally involved in the constitutional violations allegedly committed by Wilson, the court grants Pullen's motion for summary judgment on Rinaldi's claims against him in his individual capacity and dismisses Rinaldi's claims against him in his official capacity as duplicative of those against the Township. However, because the court finds that Rinaldi has adduced sufficient evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that Pullen and the Township failed to adequately train Wilson in the appropriate use of force and/or that Pullen and the Township knew of and tolerated Wilson's propensity to use excessive force during arrests, the court denies the Township's motion for summary judgment on Rinaldi's § 1983 claim against the Township. Finally, because the court finds that Rinaldi filed a timely notice of claim under the Tort Claims Act, the court denies the Township's motion for summary judgment on Rinaldi's claim under the Tort Claims Act.

BACKGROUND

On February 6, 1997, Rinaldi commenced this action by filing an Amended Complaint against Wilson, Kleinow, Pullen and the Township. In the Amended Complaint, Rinaldi alleges that he was driving his vehicle on Mathistown Road in the Township when he was pulled over by Wilson. (Amended Complaint at ¶ 11.) Rinaldi alleges that Wilson was verbally abusive and physically assaulted him without provocation or justification. (Id. at ¶ 12.) Rinaldi also alleges that Kleinow arrived at the scene of the traffic stop and joined in Wilson's abusive behavior. (Id. at 13.) Rinaldi further alleges the abuse continued after he was transported to the police station by Wilson. (Id. at ¶¶ 14-15.) Rinaldi claims that the actions of Wilson and Kleinow "were entirely unjustified and constituted an unreasonable and excessive use of force." (Id. at ¶ 16.)

In the First Count of the Amended Complaint, Rinaldi alleges that Wilson and Kleinow deprived him of various constitutional rights and protections and caused him personal injury under color of state law in violation of § 1983. (Id. at ¶¶ 17-19.) In the Second Count, Rinaldi alleges that Wilson and Kleinow "maliciously, negligently and recklessly used excessive and unreasonable force" against him in violation of his constitutional rights and § 1983. (Id. at ¶ 20-22.) In the Third Count of the Complaint, Rinaldi alleges that Pullen and the Township are liable for the actions of Wilson and Kleinow under § 1983 due to their failure to properly "instruct, supervise, control and discipline" Wilson and Kleinow. (Id. at ¶¶ 23-28.) In the Fourth Count, Rinaldi claims that the defendants are liable under the Tort Claims Act. (Id. at ¶¶ 29-34.) In the Fifth Count, Rinaldi alleges that he suffered damages as a result of the "grossly reckless, negligent or intentional acts" of Pullen and the Township. (Id. at ¶¶ 35-37.)

In support of his claims, Rinaldi relies upon his own testimony and that of fact witnesses Bruce Knipper and Willard Dolby. Knipper, who claims to have witnessed the entire altercation between Wilson and Rinaldi, testified at his deposition that Wilson instigated the scuffle by opening the door of Rinaldi's car and pulling Rinaldi from the car to the ground, where he proceeded to handcuff Rinaldi, punch him in the ribs, and use his nightstick to lift Rinaldi from the ground and bend him over the trunk of the car. (Knipper N.T. at 54:23 - 61:22.)

Knipper also testified that a second police officer arrived at the scene after the scuffle between Wilson and Rinaldi had ended. (Knipper N.T. at 63:13 - 64:1.) *fn2 Dolby did not see the alleged beating, but claims to have seen three police cars at the scene. (Dolby N.T. at 8:12-19.)

Rinaldi also relies upon certain internal affairs files obtained during discovery that relate to citizen complaints of excessive force by Township police officers between 1991 and 1995, including two prior complaints of excessive force against Wilson in the nine months preceding the January 30, 1995 incident about which Rinaldi complains, during Wilson's first year on the Township police force, one of which involved the alleged wielding of a nightstick during a traffic stop. (See Eliades Aff., Ex. A and F.) Upon investigation by the internal affairs department of the police department, neither complaint against Wilson was sustained, and neither resulted in discipline.

Finally, Rinaldi also relies upon the expert testimony of Francis R. Murphy, who produced an expert report dated November 4, 1997 (Cipriani Aff., Ex. K) and a supplemental expert report dated January 30, 1999. (Eliades Aff., Ex. M.)

In his original expert report, Murphy offers his opinion that Pullen and the Township failed to adequately train Wilson in the appropriate use of force in effectuating an arrest. In his supplemental expert report, Murphy offers his opinion that Pullen and the Township knew about and tolerated Wilson's alleged propensity to use excessive force during arrests.

DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

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); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). An issue is "genuine" if it is supported by evidence upon which a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" only if a dispute about it might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing substantive law. Id. In deciding whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and extend all reasonable inferences to that party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

The moving party always bears the initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, regardless of which party ultimately would have the burden of persuasion at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 323. Once the moving party has met its opening burden, the non-moving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. at 324. The non-moving party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of its pleadings. Id. "[T]he plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial." Id. at 322. "When the record is such that it would not support a rational finding that an essential element of the non-moving party's claim or defense exists, summary judgment must be entered for the moving party." Turner v. Schering-Plough Corp., 901 F.2d 335, 341 (3d Cir. 1990).

B. Kleinow's Motion for Summary Judgment

Kleinow has moved for summary judgment, arguing that Rinaldi has come forward with no evidence from which a reasonable jury could find that he was at the scene of the traffic stop while the alleged beating was taking place. Kleinow maintains that Wilson and Frazer were placing Rinaldi in the rear of Wilson's squad car by the time he arrived at the scene. (Kleinow N.T. at 87:7 - 88:10.)

The record evidence supports Kleinow's contention. Wilson testified at his deposition that Rinaldi was in custody by the time Kleinow arrived at the scene. (Wilson N.T. at 82:3-8.) Fraser has no recollection of Kleinow's having been at the scene at all. (Fraser N.T. at 31:17-22.) Rinaldi himself is unable to place Kleinow at the scene. (Rinaldi N.T. at 66:19 -67:3.) Knipper testified that a second police cruiser arrived at the scene at the end of the scuffle between Wilson and Rinaldi. (Knipper N.T. at 63:13 - 64:24.) It is undisputed, however, that the second vehicle was operated by Fraser. From the beginning of the altercation through the time Rinaldi was driven away from the scene in the ...


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