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Ramirez v. United States

January 5, 2000

FELIX RAMON RAMIREZ,
PLAINTIFF,
V.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA; JOHN THOMPSON, DENEISE DUNGEE, VENSON DAVIS, SHARON DOOLEY, JAMES FITZGERALD, TRACEY ANN MCCORMICK, AND FREDERICK SMITH, AS AGENTS, SERVANTS OR EMPLOYEES OF THE INS INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES; COUNTY OF HUDSON; HUDSON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE; JOSEPH T. CASSIDY, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS SHERIFF OF HUDSON COUNTY; HUDSON COUNTY JAIL; AND ROB REINECKE, GEORGE KOCHELL, THOMAS FOLEY, LILLIE BALE, TRISH GONZALEZ, ALFRED CRAWFORD, AND CARLOS CARAMES, AS AGENTS, SERVANTS OR EMPLOYEES OF THE COUNTY OF HUDSON, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN THEIR OFFICIAL CAPACITIES,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William H. Walls, U.S.D.J.

FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Walls, District Judge

Defendants, United States of America, John Thompson, Deneise Dungee, Venson Davis, Sharon Dooley, James Fitzgerald, Tracey Ann McCormick and Frederick Smith, move for summary judgment to dismiss Counts I-III (Bivens claims against the individual defendants), IV (FTCA claim for false arrest against the United States), and XIV-XV (claims for negligence against the United States) of the complaint of plaintiff Felix Ramon Ramirez. The individual defendants are Immigration and Naturalization Service ("INS") inspectors. Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 78, this motion is decided without oral argument. The motion is granted.

Factual Background *fn1

On or about February 27, 1996, plaintiff Felix Ramon Ramirez arrived at Newark International Airport on a flight that originated in the Dominican Republic. He was detained by INS agents for approximately five hours on the basis of an outstanding arrest warrant issued on March 23, 1993 for a person named Felix Ramos Ramirez. Plaintiff charges that the INS agents failed to explain to him the reason for his detention and made no attempt to ascertain whether he was indeed the individual sought by the warrant. The INS agents made the decision to parole plaintiff into the custody of the Hudson County Sheriff's Office, and he was imprisoned in the Hudson County Correctional Center for fifteen days. Plaintiff's complaint alleges that no one at the Sheriff's Office or the correctional facility made any effort to determine whether he was the subject of the outstanding warrant despite discrepancies in name, birth date, and physical description.

On March 14, 1996, Ramirez met for the first time with an attorney, and was released from prison that day. Plaintiff contends that his detention, arrest, and imprisonment violated his constitutional rights and were the result of unlawful conduct by individual government officials as well as official policies and customs of the defendant entities. Plaintiff filed his initial complaint on May 23, 1997.

All defendants then moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) or in the alternative for summary judgment. On March 16, 1998, this Court dismissed all claims against Doris Meissner, Commissioner of the INS, Warren Lewis, District Director of the INS's Newark Office, and the INS. The court also dismissed negligence claims against INS and Hudson County officials as barred by the Federal Tort Claims Act ("FTCA") and the New Jersey Tort Claims Act ("NJTCA"), respectively. See Ramirez v. United States, 998 F. Supp. 425 (D.N.J. 1998). Plaintiff was given time to conduct discovery under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(f) "as to the reasonableness of the actions of the individual defendants." See id. The claims that remain after the March 1998 decision are: (1) Bivens claims against individual INS agents (Counts I, II & III); (2) an FTCA claim against the United States for false arrest (Count IV); (3) negligence claims against the United States (Counts XIV and XV); and (4) claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the county defendants (Counts V-IX). After discovery, defendants renewed their motions to dismiss (now converted into motions for summary judgment) the remaining claims. *fn2

Plaintiff amended his complaint on July 9, 1999 to name the individual INS and Hudson County officials formerly listed as "John Does." *fn3 He assures the Court that the amended complaint does not revisit any of the claims dismissed in the March 1998 decision. See Order Permitting Amended Complaint at 2, Docket # 28 (Magistrate Judge Pisano, June 16, 1999) (acknowledging "assertions in plaintiff's reply papers stating that he does not seek to reassert rights of action that have previously been dismissed by Judge Walls").

ANALYSIS

A. Standard

Because the Court authorized discovery, defendants' motions will be treated as motions for summary judgment to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(b). Summary judgment is appropriate where the moving party establishes that "there is no genuine issue of fact and that [it] is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A factual dispute between the parties will not defeat a motion for summary judgment unless it is both genuine and material. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 247-48 (1986). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant and it is material if, under the substantive law, it would affect the outcome of the suit. See id. at 248. The moving party must show that if the evidentiary material of record were reduced to admissible evidence in court, it would be insufficient to permit the non-moving party to carry its burden of proof. See Celotex v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 318 (1986).

The party opposing a motion for summary judgment must set forth specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial and may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of its pleadings. See Sound Phillip Ship Bldg. Co. v. Bethlehem Steel Co., 533 F.2d 96, 99 (3d Cir. 1976), cert. denied, 429 U.S. 860 (1976). At the summary judgment stage the court's function is not to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but rather to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986). And, the court must construe the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. See Wahl v. Rexnord, Inc. 624 F.2d 1169, 1181 (3d Cir. 1980).

B. Bivens Claims (Counts I-III)

Counts I-III assert claims against individual INS inspectors for violations of plaintiff's Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights under a theory of liability first articulated in Bivens v. Six Unknown Named Agents of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, 403 U.S. 388 (1971). In a Bivens action against multiple federal defendants, "the plaintiff must plead the personal involvement of each defendant with specificity and with sufficient facts to overcome a likely defense of immunity." Ramirez, 998 F. Supp. at 432 (quoting Biase v. Kaplan, 852 F. Supp. 268 (D.N.J. 1994)). "Unless the plaintiff's allegations state a claim for violation of clearly established law, a defendant pleading qualified immunity is entitled to dismissal." Mitchell v. Forsyth, 472 U.S. 511, 526 (1985). To overcome the defense of qualified immunity, plaintiff must show (1) that there was a violation of his clearly established ...


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