Eighth Amendment serves to protect prisoners, entrusted to the custody of
the State, from abuse by their jailers. See Whitley, 475 U.S. at 318-19.
Therefore, because the facts as alleged in the Amended Complaint do not
rise to the level of a cognizable Eighth Amendment violation, I shall
grant Defendants' motions to dismiss this cause of action.
3. Palma's Fourth Amendment Claims
Palma seeks to allege three causes of action under the Fourth
Amendment: (1) unlawful arrest; (2) false imprisonment;*fn7 and (3)
pre-conviction malicious prosecution. See Amended Complaint, ¶ 34.
Each of these claims require Palma to establish that Defendants acted
without probable cause. See Luthe v. City of Cape May, 1999 WL 326724, at
*6, *8 (citing Sharrar v. Felsing, 128 F.3d 810, 817-18 (3d Cir. 1997);
Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 636 (3d Cir. 1995); Lee v.
Mihalich, 847 F.2d 66, 69-70 (3d Cir. 1989)). In support of their motion
to dismiss, Defendants contend that Palma's admission in the Amended
Complaint, that a grand jury indicted him on the offenses of making
terroristic threats and creating a false public alarm, conclusively
establishes that probable cause existed to arrest, detain and prosecute
Palma, thus preventing him from stating a claim upon which relief can be
granted. See Def. Brief at 6-7; see als Amended Compl., ¶ 21.
To state a § 1983 claim for unlawful arrest, a plaintiff must plead
that he was arrested by a State actor without probable cause. Sharrar,
128 F.3d at 817-18. In addition, "where the police lack probable cause to
make an arrest, the arrestee [also] has a claim under § 1983 for
false imprisonment based on a detention pursuant to that arrest."
Groman, 47 F.3d at 636 (citing Thomas v. Kipperman, 846 F.2d 1009, 1011
(5th Cir. 1988)). Conversely, by definition "an arrest based on probable
cause [can]not become the source of a claim for false imprisonment [or
unlawful arrest]."*fn8 Id. (citing Baker v. McCollan, 442 U.S. 137, 142
(1979)); see also Sharrar, 128 F.3d at 817-18.
As with his claims for unlawful arrest and false imprisonment, to state
a claim for malicious prosecution, Palma must allege that Defendants
initiated the criminal prosecution without probable cause. See Luthe,
1999 WL 326724, at *11. Specifically, to sufficiently plead "a § 1983
claim for malicious prosecution under the Fourth Amendment, . . . [Palma]
must [allege that]: (1) [D]efendants initiated a criminal proceeding
against the plaintiff; (2) which resulted in a seizure; (3) the criminal
prosecution ended in [Palma's] favor; (3) the criminal prosecution was
initiated without probable cause; and (4) [D]efendants acted maliciously
or for a purpose other than bringing the criminal defendant to justice."
Luthe, 1999 WL 326724, at *11 (citing Gallo v. City of Philadelphia,
161 F.3d 217, 222 (3d Cir. 1998); Lee, 847 F.2d at 69-70) (emphasis
"Probable cause is defined in terms of facts and circumstances
sufficient to warrant a prudent man in believing that the suspect had
committed or was committing an offense." Sharrar, 128 F.3d at 817-18
(citing Gerstein v. Pugh, 420 U.S. 103, 111 (1975)) (additional
citations, internal quotations and alterations omitted); see also Luthe,
1999 WL 326724, at * 6. "This standard is meant to safeguard citizens
from rash and unreasonable interferences with privacy and to provide
leeway for enforcing the
law in the community's protection." Sharrar, 128 F.3d at 817-18
(citations omitted); see also Luthe, 49 F. Supp.2d at 388.
In § 1983 actions, "a grand jury indictment or presentment
constitutes prima facie evidence of probable cause to prosecute. . . ."
Rose v. Bartle, 871 F.2d 331, 353 (3d Cir. 1989). At the pleading stage,
"this prima facie evidence may be rebutted by [allegations] that the
presentment was procured by fraud, perjury or other corrupt means." Id.
(stating that the allegations must be sufficient "to overcome the
presumption of grand jury regularity") (citations omitted).*fn9
In the Amended Complaint, Palma generally alleges:
The detention, arrest, search, fingerprinting,
photographing, seizure of his personal
belongings, swearing out of a complaint,
indicting the defendant, and otherwise
charging the defendant with offenses and/or
crimes, and forcing the defendant to undergo
a trial and an appeal, were all done without
probable cause, legal justification and/or
were unlawful, and were violative of
plaintiff's Constitutional, statutory, and/or
common law rights and privileges.
See Amended Compl., ¶ 28 (emphasis added). Defendants contend that
such general allegations fail the "heightened specificity" standard
established by the Third Circuit and requiring "a higher threshold of
factual specificity for civil rights complaints." See Def. Brief at 3
(citing District Council 47 v. Bradley, 795 F.3d 310, 313 (3d Cir.
1986)). This "heightened specificity" standard was discussed by the Third
Circuit in Rose, specifically in the context of determining the
sufficiency of allegations of grand jury irregularity. See Rose, 871 F.2d
Rose, however, predates Leatherman v. Tarrant Cty. Narcotics
Intelligence & Coordination Unit, 507 U.S. 163 (1993), where the Supreme
Court held that federal courts may not apply a heightened pleading
standard in civil cases alleging municipal liability under § 1983.
See id. at 168-69. Since Leatherman there has been much debate over
whether this holding must be construed narrowly, i.e., applying only to
§ 1983 cases involving municipal liability, or whether it can be
construed more broadly to apply to all § 1983 actions. See, e.g.,
Springdale Ed. Ass'n v. Springdale Sch. Dist., 133 F.3d 649, 651 (8th
Cir. 1998); Johnson v. Kafrissen, 1995 WL 355289, at *2 (E.D.Pa. June 5,
1995) (holding that "as a general matter, claims under § 1983 need
not be pleaded with any greater particularity than other claims"); Young
v. Stauffer, 1995 WL 225285, at *2 (E.D.Pa. Apr. 17, 1995) (holding that
"pursuant to [Leatherman], civil rights complaints in this circuit are no
longer subject to a heightened pleading standard"); Bieros v. Nicola,
860 F. Supp. 223, 225 (E.D.Pa. 1994) (stating that "a heightened pleading
standard does not apply to civil rights actions against individual
defendants"); cf. Crawford-El v. Britton, 118 S.Ct. 1584, 1594-96 (1998)
(rejecting creation of special procedural requirements for § 1983
cases, even where the defense of qualified immunity is available); but
see D'Aurizio v. Palisades Park, 963 F. Supp. 387 (D.N.J. 1997) (stating
that "claims for violations of civil rights in this circuit are subject
to heightened standards of factual specificity in pleading"); Briley v.
City of Trenton, 164 F.R.D. 26 (D.N.J. 1995) (discussing role of
heightened pleading standard in cases involving individual officers). In
this district, courts have come out on both sides of the issue. See White
v. Fauver, 19 F. Supp.2d 305, 311 n. 7 (D.N.J. 1990) (Orlofsky, J.)
(collecting cases and noting split in authority).
Although the weight of authority clearly favors a broad reading of
Leatherman, in resolving Defendants' motion to dismiss, I need not lend
my voice to the debate. Accepting as true the well-pled allegations of
fact and drawing all reasonable inferences in Palma's favor, see Gomez,
446 U.S. at 636, I conclude that Rose is distinguishable on its facts and
that the allegations of the Amended Complaint are sufficiently specific
to overcome the presumption of grand jury regularity. First, Defendants
concede that the only reasonable inference to be drawn from the
allegations of the Amended Complaint is that Palma asserts that
Defendants obtained the indictment through their fraudulent conduct and
Bentley's allegedly false testimony to the grand jury. See Def. Brief at
8 (contending that "Bentley [should be afforded] absolute immunity for
her grand jury testimony . . .").
Second, in Rose, the Third Circuit specifically focused on the
ambivalent and contradictory nature of the allegations of grand jury
irregularity. See Rose, 871 F.2d at 353. Palma's Amended Complaint
presents no such contradictory allegations. See Amended Compl., ¶¶
Third, in Rose, the plaintiffs' failure to plead the grand jury
irregularity with more specificity was inexcusable in light of the fact
that the plaintiffs had obtained a copy of the presentment which detailed
the substance of each witness' testimony. Rose, 871 F.2d at 354. Here,
Defendants make no such contention. See Def. Brief at 6-7.
Fourth, while finding that the plaintiffs had failed to satisfy the
heightened pleading standard in Rose, the Third Circuit vacated the
District Court's dismissal of the § 1983 claims, opting instead to
permit the plaintiffs to amend their complaint to plead their § 1983
claims with more specificity. See Rose, 871 F.2d at 354. Given that the
only reasonable inferences to be drawn from the allegations of the
Amended Complaint in this case are that Palma contends that Defendants
pursued the indictment knowing that probable cause did not exist, and that
Bentley allegedly testified falsely before the grand jury, as well as in
swearing out the Criminal Complaint to cover up the alleged lack of
probable cause, see Amended Compl., ¶¶ 20-21, no positive end would be
furthered by affording Palma the opportunity to plead his § 1983
claims with greater specificity.
Finally, to the extent that Palma alleges claims against Atlantic
County and the Sheriff's Department, under Leatherman, no heightened
pleading standard even arguably applies. Leatherman, 507 U.S. at 168-69.
Thus, I conclude that the allegations of grand jury irregularity set
forth in the Amended Complaint, as well as the reasonable inferences to
be drawn from those allegations, are sufficient to rebut the prima facie
evidence of probable cause reflected in the record by the return of an
indictment charging Palma with offenses.*fn10
Having determined that Palma has sufficiently alleged that the
indictment "was procured by fraud, perjury or other corrupt means[,]" I
must next determine whether Palma has pled the requisite elements of his
Fourth Amendment claims, specifically: unlawful arrest, false
imprisonment and pre-conviction malicious prosecution. As I noted above,
to state a claim for unlawful arrest and false imprisonment, a plaintiff
must allege an arrest and detention made without probable cause. See
Sharrar, 128 F.3d at 817-18; Groman, 47 F.3d at 636. Here, Palma clearly
alleges that "[t]he detention [and] arrest . . . were . . . done without
probable cause. . . ." See Amended Compl., ¶ 28. Thus, Palma has
sufficiently asserted a
violation of his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable
searches and seizures.
Palma's claim for pre-conviction malicious prosecution can similarly be
addressed in a summary fashion. Palma specifically alleges that
Defendants "initiated a criminal proceeding against [him;] which resulted
in a seizure; [that] the criminal prosecution ended in [Palma's] favor;
[and] the criminal prosecution was initiated without probable cause[,]"
Luthe, 1999 WL 362724, at *11; see also Amended Compl., ¶¶ 19-25
(alleging initiation and continuation of criminal proceedings), 18-25
(alleging seizure), 27 (alleging termination in Palma's favor), and 28
(alleging lack of probable cause).
In addition, while the Third Circuit recently observed in Gallo v. City
of Philadelphia, that the actual malice element of a § 1983 claim for
malicious prosecution may not survive the Supreme Court's plurality
opinion in Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266 (1994), see Gallo, 161 F.3d at
217, 222 n. 6 (3d Cir. 1998), in Luthe, I stated that "while the Gallo
court suggested that the continued validity of the Lee standard was
suspect, the Third Circuit did not abandon the standard." Luthe, 1999 WL
326724, at *11. Accordingly, in Luthe, I held that, until the Supreme
Court or the Third Circuit holds otherwise, actual malice, as discussed
in Lee v. Mihalich, remains an element of a § 1983 claim for
malicious prosecution. Luthe, 1999 WL 326724, at *11.
In the Amended Complaint, Palma specifically alleges that "Bentley,
without probable cause, maliciously and with full knowledge that
plaintiff had not violated any statute or law, signed [criminal]
complaints against the plaintiff charging him with two indictable
offenses. . . ." See Amended Compl., ¶ 20 (emphasis added). In
addition, Palma alleges that all Defendants continued the criminal
prosecution with knowledge that it was the result of "the unlawful and
abusive propensities of the defendant Sheriff Officers . . ." See Amended
Compl., ¶¶ 28-30. Thus, because it is clear that Palma has alleged
actual malice on the part of Defendants, I conclude that he has
sufficiently pled a § 1983 cause of action for pre-conviction
4. Palma's Post-Conviction Malicious Prosecution Claim
In Luthe v. City of Cape May, I discussed the Third Circuit's recent
opinions in Torres and Gallo, which dealt with claims for malicious
prosecution in the wake of the Supreme Court's plurality opinion in
Albright. I wrote:
In Albright v. Oliver,
510 U.S. 266 (1994), Justice Rehnquist,
writing for the plurality, held that a
plaintiff's claim for malicious
prosecution arising out of an arrest
and incarceration . . . did not trigger
the plaintiff's substantive due process
rights, rather, the plaintiff's
constitutional claim, if any, implicated
only the Fourth Amendment. See id.
at 274. In Torres v. McLaughlin,
163 F.3d 169 (3d Cir. 1998), the Third
Circuit read Justice Rehnquist's
plurality opinion narrowly, concluding
that the Fourth Amendment only protects
individuals from malicious criminal
prosecutions from the time of the
arrest until the time of pre-trial
detention. See Torres v. McLaughlin,
163 F.3d 169, 174 (3d Cir. 1998) (holding
that in § 1983 claims for malicious
prosecution, "the Fourth Amendment
[applies] to those actions which occur
between arrest and pre-trial detention").
Consistent with this narrow reading of
Albright, the Third Circuit
concluded that § 1983 claims for
malicious prosecution arising out of
post-conviction incarceration are
cognizable as violations of the plaintiff's
substantive due process rights. Torres,
163 F.3d 172-74 (construing plurality
opinion in Albright v. Oliver,
510 U.S. 266 (1994)). . . . In Gallo v.
City of Philadelphia,
161 F.3d 217 (3d Cir. 1998), decided
eight days prior to Torres, the
Third Circuit wrote:
Albright implies that
prosecution without probable
cause is not, in and of itself,
a constitutional tort. Instead,
the constitutional violation is
the deprivation of liberty
accompanying the prosecution.
Thus, . . . a plaintiff asserting
a malicious prosecution claim
must show some deprivation of
liberty consistent with the
concept of "seizure" [under the
Gallo, 161 F.3d at 222 (internal
quotations, footnote and citations omitted).
Thus, Gallo makes it clear that a
necessary predicate for the elevation of a
claim for malicious prosecution from a mere
tort to a constitutional violation, is the
presence of state action resulting in a
seizure within the meaning of the Fourth
Luthe, 1999 WL 326724, at *10-11.
While the Third Circuit in Torres held that "a section 1983
[post-conviction] malicious prosecution claim may . . . include police
conduct that violates . . . the procedural due process clause or other
explicit text of the Constitution[,]" Torres, 163 F.3d at 173, the court
did not define the elements of a post-conviction claim for malicious
prosecution. The Third Circuit's emphasis in Gallo on a seizure resulting
in the loss of liberty, however, sheds significant light on this issue.
Gallo, 161 F.3d at 222. Although the liberty interest protected by a
post-conviction claim for malicious prosecution may be rooted in the
Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause, the critical element of the
claim, as I pointed out in Luthe, is the existence of a Fourth Amendment
seizure resulting in a loss of liberty. See Gallo, 161 F.3d at 222;
Luthe, 1999 WL 326724, at *11.
Therefore, at a minimum, to state a post-conviction claim for malicious
prosecution, a plaintiff must allege that he or she was deprived of
liberty as result of an unlawful seizure, i.e., a seizure without
probable cause. In addition, as the Supreme Court emphasized in Heck v.
Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477 (1994), one element that must be alleged and
proved in a malicious prosecution action is the termination of the prior
criminal proceeding in favor of the plaintiff. Id. at 484-85. The Supreme
Court stated that "to permit a convicted criminal defendant to proceed
with a malicious prosecution claim would permit [an impermissible]
collateral attack on the conviction through the vehicle of a civil suit."
Id. (stating that the Supreme Court "has long expressed . . . concerns
for finality and consistency [of criminal convictions] and has generally
declined to expand opportunities for collateral attack") (footnote
The elements of a post-conviction claim for malicious prosecution,
specifically, a criminal proceeding; a seizure; lack of probable cause;
and termination of the proceeding in the plaintiff's favor, mirror four
of the five elements identified in Luthe as the elements of a
pre-conviction claim for malicious prosecution. See Luthe, 1999 WL
326724, at *11; see also Section III.A.3 supra. Whether or not the fifth
element of a preconviction claim for malicious prosecution, namely,
actual malice, applies to a post-conviction claim is less clear,
particularly in light of the Third Circuit's dictum to the contrary in
Gallo. Gallo, 161 F.3d at 222 n. 6; see Section III.A.3 supra.
In resolving Defendants' motion to dismiss, however, I need not decide
this issue. As stated previously in Section III.A.3 supra, Palma has
sufficiently alleged the elements of a preconviction claim for malicious
prosecution, including actual malice.*fn11 Thus, regardless of whether
actual malice is an element of a claim for post-conviction malicious
prosecution, I conclude that Palma has sufficiently pled the necessary
elements of the claim.
Having determined that Palma has sufficiently pled his § 1983
claims for retaliatory prosecution, unlawful arrest, false imprisonment,
and pre- and post-conviction malicious prosecution, I must next consider
whether Defendants' asserted defenses preclude Palma from stating claims
upon which relief can be granted. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6).
B. Defendant's Asserted Defenses
1. Respondeat Superior Liability
Defendants contend that, with respect to McGettigan and Coleman,
Palma's claims must be dismissed because he has failed to state some
affirmative conduct by these supervisory officials that played a role in
the alleged deprivation of Palma's civil rights. See Def. Brief at 4. In
support of this contention, Defendants cite Monell v. Dep't of Social
Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), for the
proposition that "[i]t is clear the neither an entity nor a supervisory
individual may be responsible for a civil rights violation through the
doctrine of Respondeat Superior." See Def. Brief at 4.
Defendants are correct; it is well established that, in order to state
a civil rights claim, a plaintiff must allege that "[a] defendant . . .
[had] personal involvement in the alleged wrongs[,] liability cannot be
predicated solely on the operation of respondeat superior." Rode v.
Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988); White, 19 F. Supp.2d
at 319. Considering respondeat superior liability, in Robinson v. City of
Pittsburgh, the Third Circuit stated "that `actual knowledge and
acquiescence' suffices for supervisory liability because it can be
equated with `personal direction'. . . ." Robinson, 120 F.3d 1286, 1294
(3d Cir. 1997).
In support of their respondeat superior defense, Defendants contend:
Plaintiff has failed to make a showing
with respect to either Defendant McGettigan
or Coleman. There is absolutely no evidence
of any active or knowing denial of the
Plaintiff's civil rights by these Defendants.
Because neither individual can be held
responsible through the doctrine of
Respondeat Superior, Plaintiff has failed
to set forth any claim against these two
defendants for which relief may be granted.
See Def. Brief at 5. Defendants forget that this is a motion to dismiss
and not a motion for summary judgment. Palma is not required to come
forward with "evidence" of McGettigan's and Coleman's actual knowledge
and acquiescence at this stage of the litigation. Palma need only set
forth well-pled allegations of fact tending to show that these Defendants
actually participated or knowingly acquiesced in the alleged deprivation
of Palma's civil rights. Gomez, 446 U.S. at 636. Palma clearly meets this
In the Amended Complaint, Palma alleges that Coleman personally
participated in his allegedly unlawful arrest and detention. See Amended
Compl., ¶ 19 (alleging that "Coleman [as well as other Defendants] .
. . unlawfully and without probable cause searched the plaintiff,
fingerprinted him, photographed him, detained him, and seized [his
personal property] . . ."). In addition, with respect to Defendant,
McGettigan, Palma alleges:
[T]he . . . unlawful and unwarranted treatment
to which [Palma] was subjected was consistent
with [Defendants'] institutionalized practice
. . . which was known to and ratified by . . .
McGettigan . . . having at no time taken any
effective action to prevent personnel from the
Sheriff's Office from continuing to engage in
such conduct. . . . McGettigan . . . had prior
notice of the unlawful and abusive propensities
of the defendant Sheriff Officers but took no
steps to . . . correct their abuses of authority,
or to discourage their unlawful use of
authority. . . . McGettigan . . . authorized,
tolerated as institutionalized practices, and
ratified the misconduct [of the defendant
Sheriff Officers] . . . by: [failing to
discipline the defendant Sheriff Officers;
failing to take adequate precautions in hiring
the defendant Sheriff Officers; and failing to
establish a functioning and meaningful
departmental system for dealing with complaints
of abuse of conduct]. . . .
See Amended Compl., ¶¶ 29-31.
While it is true, as Defendants point out, see Def. Brief at 5-6, that
supervisory officials have no affirmative duty to train or discipline an
offending subordinate, see Chinchello v. Fenton, 805 F.2d 126, 133 (3d
Cir. 1986) (citing Rizzo v. Goode, 423 U.S. 362, 377 (1976)), "[w]here a
supervisor with authority over a subordinate knows that the subordinate
is violating someone's rights but fails to act to stop the subordinate
from doing so, the factfinder may usually infer that the supervisor
`acquiesced' in (i.e., tacitly assented to or accepted) the subordinate's
conduct." Robinson, 120 F.3d at 1294 (footnote omitted); see also
Montgomery v. DeSimone, 159 F.3d 120, 127 (3d Cir. 1998); Bonenberger v.
Plymouth Township, 132 F.3d 20, 25 (3d Cir. 1997). Taking the factual
allegations of the Amended Complaint to be true, and drawing all
reasonable inferences in Palma's favor, I find that Palma has
sufficiently alleged that McGettigan knew that the defendant Sheriff
Officer's continued prosecution of Palma was in violation of his civil
rights and that McGettigan "fail[ed] to act to stop the subordinate[s]
from doing so[.]" See Robinson, 120 F.3d at 1294.
Therefore, I conclude that the Amended Complaint contains sufficient
allegations of the personal involvement of Defendant, Coleman, and the
knowledge and acquiescence of Defendant, McGettigan, to withstand
Defendants' motion to dismiss. Accordingly, to the extent that
Defendants, McGettigan and Coleman, seek dismissal of Palma's claims on
the basis of respondeat superior liability, the motion shall be denied.
To the extent that Palma seeks to allege claims against McGettigan for
his failure to train, supervise, or discipline the defendant Sheriff
Officers, Palma's claims are barred. Montgomery, 159 F.3d at 127.
2. Municipal Liability
Defendants next contend that "[w]ith respect to Atlantic County and the
Atlantic County Sheriff's Department, Plaintiff has . . . failed to state
a claim upon which relief can be granted [because] . . . [he] has failed
to point out a specific policy which is violative of his constitutional
rights[.]" See Def. Brief at 5. I disagree.
As I stated in Luthe, as with supervisory employees, "municipalities
`cannot be held liable under a theory of respondeat superior[.]" Luthe,
1999 WL 326724, at *18 (quoting Montgomery v. DeSimone, 159 F.3d 120, 126
(3d Cir. 1998)). "[M]unicipal liability only arises when a constitutional
deprivation results from an official custom or policy." Montogmery, 159
F.3d at 126 (citing Monell, 436 U.S. at 691-94). "[A] municipality can be
sued under § 1983, but it cannot be held liable unless a municipal
policy or custom caused the constitutional injury." Leatherman, 507 U.S.
at 166; see also Luthe, 1999 WL 326724, at *18. "Municipal `policies' or
`customs' for § 1983 purposes are such `practices of [government]
officials as are so permanent
and well-settled as to constitute a `custom or usage' with the force
of law.'" Luthe, 1999 WL 326724, at *11 (quoting Sostarecz
v. Misko, 1999 WL 239401, at *9 (E.D.Pa. Mar. 26, 1999) (citing
Monell, 436 U.S. at 691) (internal alterations omitted)). In
addition, the Third Circuit has repeatedly held:
[A] failure to train, discipline or control can
only form the basis for section 1983 municipal
liability if the plaintiff can show both
contemporaneous knowledge of the offending
incident or knowledge of a prior pattern of
similar incidents and circumstances under which
the supervisor's actions or inaction could be
found to have communicated a message of approval
to the offending subordinate.
Montgomery, 159 F.3d at 127 (citing Bonenberger, 132 F.3d at 25).
Thus, to the extent that Palma's "claims against [Atlantic County and
the Sheriff's Department] rest on allegations that these defendants are
directly responsible for [the defendant Sheriff Officers'] action[s] and
that they failed to adequately train, discipline or control [the
defendant Sheriff Officers] . . . they are barred under Monell."
DeSimone, 159 F.3d at 127; see Amended Compl., ¶¶ 30-31. This
conclusion, however, does not end this Court's inquiry.
In addition to alleging a failure to train, supervise or discipline,
Palma has alleged that Atlantic County and the Sheriff's Department
violated his civil rights pursuant to an "institutionalized" policy or
custom. See Amended Compl., ¶¶ 28-31. Palma specifically alleges that
the "unlawful and unwarranted treatment to which plaintiff was subjected
[by the defendant Sheriff Officers] was consistent with the
institutionalized practice of the Atlantic County Sheriff's Department,
which was known to and ratified by . . . Atlantic County. . . ." Id.
In opposition to the motion to dismiss, Palma explains this
allegation, contending that "[he] clearly fell prey to the policy of the
County and the Sheriff's Department to support its [sic] officers blindly
and prosecute any complaints filed by its [sic] officers to the fullest
extent[,]" notwithstanding the merits of the criminal complaints. See
Pl. Brief at 11. I find that the policy identified by Palma's contention
can reasonably be inferred from the facts alleged in the Amended
Complaint, particularly: (1) the factual allegation that the Atlantic
County Prosecutor's Office downgraded the offenses charged in the
criminal complaint and indictment from two felonies counts to two Petty
Disorderly Persons Offenses; and (2) the factual allegation that "the
Appellate Division reversed the plaintiff's conviction finding that there
was a total lack of proof to sustain the conviction . . . [and] that the
charge and conviction were without foundation." See Amended Compl.,
¶¶ 21, 27 (internal quotations omitted).
Thus, unlike the plaintiffs in DeSimone who "failed to allege any
action or inaction by the municipal defendants that . . . implicate[d]
the type of deliberate indifference required for section 1983 municipal
liability[,]" DeSimone, 159 F.3d at 127, here, Palma has alleged that
Atlantic County and the Sheriff's Department maintained an
"institutionalized" policy of prosecuting criminal complaints regardless
of their merit, thus perpetuating the "unlawful and abusive propensities"
of the defendant Sheriff Officers. See Amended Compl., ¶¶ 29-30.
Accordingly, I shall deny Defendants' motion to dismiss at this time and
permit Palma's claims to go forward against Atlantic County and the
Atlantic County Sheriff's Department.
3. Absolute Immunity
Defendants contend that Defendant, Bentley, "is absolutely immune from
liability" because the doctrine of absolute immunity "has . . . been
extended to police officer witnesses accused of perjury" in testifying
during a criminal trial and before a grand jury. See Def. Brief at 1. In
support of this contention, Defendants cite
Briscoe v. LaHue, 460 U.S. 325 (1983).
In Briscoe, the United States Supreme Court held that police officers
are entitled to absolute immunity from liability for claims brought
pursuant to § 1983 arising out of allegedly perjured testimony at
criminal trials. Briscoe, 460 U.S. at 342. The Supreme Court stated that
the absolute immunity afforded to trial witnesses at common law was
firmly supported by public policy. See id. at 332-33. Specifically, the
Supreme Court observed:
[I]n damages suits against witnesses, the claims
of the individual must yield to the dictates of
public policy, which requires that the paths
which lead to the ascertainment of truth should be
left as free and unobstructed as possible. . . .
[W]itnesses might be reluctant to come forward
to testify. And once a witness is on the stand,
his testimony might be distorted by the fear of
subsequent liability. Even within the constraints
of the witness's oath there may be various ways
to give an account or to state an opinion. . . . A
witness who knows that he might be forced to
defend a subsequent lawsuit, and perhaps to pay
damages, might be inclined to shade his testimony
in favor of the potential plaintiff, to magnify
uncertainties, and thus to deprive the finder of
fact of candid, objective, and undistorted evidence.
But the truth-finding process is better served
if the witness's testimony is submitted to the
crucible of the judicial process so that the
factfinder may consider it, after cross-examination,
together with the other evidence in the case to
determine where the truth lies.
Briscoe, 460 U.S. at 332-33 (citations and footnotes omitted, emphasis
added). Considering these common law policies, the Briscoe court
concluded that these rationales applied with equal force to police
officer witnesses. The Court stated:
[O]ur cases clearly indicate that immunity
analysis rests on functional categories, not
on the status of the defendant. A police
officer on the witness stand performs the
same functions as any other witness; he
is subject to compulsory process, takes an
oath, responds to questions on direct
examination and cross-examination, and may
be prosecuted subsequently for perjury.
Id. at 342 (footnote omitted, emphasis added).