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Walls v. County of Camden

March 21, 2001

WILLIAM WALLS, III, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF CAMDEN, CAMDEN COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, MIKE BARONE, AND CAMDEN COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, JOSEPH F. GUNN, FAMILY DIVISION MANAGER, SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY, CAMDEN COUNTY, LOUIS LESELVA, ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT, FAMILY PART, SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY, CAMDEN COUNTY, SANDRA FOX, ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT, FAMILY PART, SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY, PATRICIA SULLIVAN, COURT COORDINATOR, FAMILY PART, SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY, DEBRA CASSIDY, CALENDAR COORDINATOR, FAMILY PART, SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY, ESTELLE MESSENGER, JUDICIARY CLERK II, FAMILY PART, SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY, JANE DOES ONE, TWO, AND THREE, EMPLOYEES, FAMILY PART, SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANTS,
AND COUNTY OF CAMDEN, CAMDEN COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE, MIKE BARONE, AND CAMDEN COUNTY CORRECTIONAL FACILITY, DEFENDANTS/CROSS-CLAIMANTS,
v.
JOSEPH F. GUNN, FAMILY DIVISION MANAGER, SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY, CAMDEN COUNTY, LOUIS LESELVA, ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT, FAMILY PART, SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY, CAMDEN COUNTY, SANDRA FOX, ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT, FAMILY PART, SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY, PATRICIA SULLIVAN, COURT COORDINATOR, FAMILY PART, SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY, DEBRA CASSIDY, CALENDAR COORDINATOR, FAMILY PART, SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY, ESTELLE MESSENGER, JUDICIARY CLERK II, FAMILY PART, SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY, JANE DOES ONE, TWO, AND THREE, EMPLOYEES, FAMILY PART, SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANTS/CROSS-CLAIM DEFENDANTS,



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Simandle, District Judge

OPINION

In this action filed pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiff William Walls, III, alleges that his civil and constitutional rights were violated when he was arrested by an employee of the Camden County Sheriff's Office, pursuant to an arrest warrant for "William Walls," a person allegedly other than the plaintiff in this case, and was caused to serve fifty days in the general population at Camden County Correctional Facility. The arrest warrant for "William Walls" had actually been dismissed by a Superior Court of New Jersey Judge eighteen months prior to plaintiff's arrest, but the status of the warrant was never changed from active to dismissed. Plaintiff alleges that defendants falsely arrested and imprisoned him and violated his civil rights and his constitutional rights guaranteed under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments, and seeks monetary damages in excess of ten million dollars ($10,000,000). This case is before the Court upon the motion of the "State Defendants," as described below, to dismiss the Third-Party Complaint of the "County Defendants" against them pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., due to various immunities or failures to state a claim under applicable law.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

In his initial complaint, filed with the Clerk of this Court on September 1, 2000, plaintiff William Walls, III ("Walls") alleged that his civil rights had been violated and named the County of Camden, the Camden County Sheriff's Office, Mike Barone, and the Camden County Correctional Facility (collectively the "County Defendants") as defendants. On October 17, 2000, the County Defendants filed an Answer to Walls's Complaint and also filed a Third-Party Complaint, which named Joseph F. Gunn, Family Division Manager, Superior Court of New Jersey, Camden County; Louis Leselva, Administrative Assistant, Family Part, Superior Court of New Jersey, Camden County; Sandra Fox, Administrative Assistant, Family Part, Superior Court of New Jersey, Camden County; Patricia Sullivan, Court Coordinator, Family Part, Superior Court of New Jersey, Camden County; Debra Cassidy, Calendar Coordinator, Family Part, Superior Court of New Jersey, Camden County; Estelle Messenger, Judiciary Clerk II, Family Part, Superior Court of New Jersey, Camden County; and Jane Does One, Two, and Three, Employees, Family Part, Superior Court of New Jersey, Camden County (collectively the "State Defendants") as Third-Party Defendants. The County Defendants asserted that the State Defendants failed to maintain a timely and accurate list of active arrest warrants and therefore are responsible for the error which resulted in plaintiff's arrest and incarceration. (Answer and Third-Party Complaint, ¶¶ 17-18, 20-21.)

On December 7, 2000, the State Defendants made the instant motion to dismiss the Third-Party Complaint for failure to state a claim, claiming Eleventh Amendment Sovereign Immunity or, in the alternative, absolute or qualified immunity from suit. The State Defendants also claim immunity from the cross-claims arising from plaintiff's state law claims under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A., 59:1, et seq. ("NJTCA"). On February 23, 2001, plaintiff Walls amended his complaint and added the State Defendants, previously only in the action as third-party defendants, as direct defendants. Because the Amended Complaint now names the State Defendants as defendants along with the County Defendants, the County Defendants' claims against the State Defendants will be treated as cross-claims, not Third-Party claims, and any liability claimed by the County Defendants against the State Defendants must derive from the liability alleged by plaintiff against all defendants in the Amended Complaint.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

On May 17, 2000, County defendant and third-party plaintiff Mike Barone, employed by the Camden County Sheriff's Office, arrested Walls pursuant to an arrest warrant (FIU #5646) issued on June 25, 1997 by the Honorable Angelo DiCamillo, Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Part. (Answer and Third-Part Complaint, ¶ 12.) The warrant issued by Judge DiCamillo was for "William Walls," a person with a similar name to plaintiff's, who was already incarcerated at the Camden County Correctional Facility. (Am. Compl., ¶ 14.) Prior to arresting Walls, Barone checked the validity of the arrest warrant. (Id., ¶ 13.) The active warrant list, maintained by the State Defendants, all of whom are employees of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family Part, Camden County, listed the warrant in question as active when, in fact, it had been dismissed by Judge DiCamillo on November 17, 1998, some eighteen months prior to the arrest. (Id. at ¶ 14; Opp. Br. at 2.)

In his Amended Complaint, Walls charged that he informed Barone that he was the "wrong guy" (Am. Compl., ¶ 12) and that he had no children or child support liability that could be the source of the warrant in question. Despite his protestations, Walls was transported to and detained at the Camden County Correctional Facility, where he spent seven days in "lockdown" and approximately fifty days in the general population before he was released. (Am. Compl., ¶¶ 13-15.) Walls charges that the County and State Defendants, acting under color of law, deprived him of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and his constitutional rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments (Am. Compl., ¶ 19), and also falsely imprisoned him. (Am. Compl., ¶ 25). As a result of this allegedly improper, reckless, negligent and malicious conduct on the part of the County and State Defendants, plaintiff claims to have suffered lost employment, financial damage, physical and emotional pain and suffering and humiliation. (Am. Compl., ¶ 16.) Plaintiff seeks monetary damages in excess of ten million dollars ($10,000,000) to compensate his injuries plus attorneys fees. (Am. Compl., ¶¶ 19, 26.)

The State Defendants now move to dismiss the cross-claims in the Third-Party Complaint for failure to state a claim, arguing Eleventh Amendment Sovereign Immunity or, in the alternative, absolute or qualified immunity from suit. The State Defendants also claimed immunity from the cross-claims arising from plaintiff's state law claims under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A., 59:1, et seq. ("NJTCA"). For the reasons stated herein, the State Defendants' motion to dismiss the entire third-party complaint based on Eleventh Amendment, absolute judicial, and NJTCA immunity will be denied. The claims against the State Defendants/Third-Party Defendants arising under the Fifth and Eighth Amendments will be dismissed, and the claims under the Fourteenth Amendment's due process clause will continue. The State Defendants' motion to dismiss the third-party complaint based on qualified-immunity will be dismissed without prejudice to refiling after more discovery has been taken and plaintiff has had the opportunity to address any motions concerning the dismissal of defendants on the issue of qualified immunity.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Motion to Dismiss Standard

The State Defendants have filed a motion to dismiss the cross-claims filed by the County Defendants for failure to state a claim pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P. A motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted does not attack the merits of the case, but merely tests the legal sufficiency of the Complaint. See Nami v. Fauver, 82 F.3d 63, 65 (3d Cir. 1996). When considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the reviewing court must accept as true all well-pleaded allegations in the Complaint and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel, 20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994); Hakimoglu v. Trump Taj Mahal Assoc., 876 F. Supp. 625, 628-29 (D.N.J. 1994), aff'd, 70 F.3d 291 (3d Cir. 1995). In considering the motion, a district court must also accept as true any and all reasonable inferences derived from those facts. See Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 (3d Cir. 1994). A court may not dismiss the Complaint "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957).

In this case, the State Defendants argue that the cross-claims filed by the County Defendants against them should be dismissed under Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P., because the Eleventh Amendment of the United States Constitution bars suits against state governments or, alternatively, because the State Defendants have absolute or qualified immunity to Walls's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim. (See State Defs.' Br.) The State Defendants also claim immunity from Walls's state law claims under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 59:1, et seq. ("NJTCA"). In their opposition, the County Defendants argue that the State Defendants were named in their individual capacities, and are thereby subject to suit for their alleged negligence. (County Defs.' Opp. Br. at 5.) The County Defendants go on to argue that the State Defendants also lack absolute (id. at 6-7) and qualified immunity. (Id. at 11-12).

B. False Imprisonment Under 42 U.S.C. § 1983

In order to state a claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, *fn1 a plaintiff must allege that defendants deprived him of a federal right while acting under color of state law. See 42 U.S.C. § 1983; Moore v. Tartler, 986 F.2d 682, 685 (3d Cir. 1993). "Section 1983 focuses on misuse of power, possessed by virtue of state law and made possible only because the wrongdoer is clothed with the authority of state law." Davidson v. O'Lone, 752 F.2d 817, 826 (3d Cir. 1984), aff'd, 474 U.S. 344, 106 S. Ct. 668, 88 L. Ed. 2d 677 (1986).

In this case, it is not disputed that the State Defendants, all of whom are Superior Court of New Jersey employees, derive their authority from state law and are therefore state actors. Walls alleges that all defendants, including the State Defendants, acting under color of state law, caused his fifty day incarceration and violated his rights under the Fourth and Eighth Amendments and the Due Process Clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Only plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment claim is viable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

The Court notes that the Fifth and Eight Amendments are improper grounds for stating constitutional violations based on the facts of this case. The Fifth Amendment applies only to actions taken by the federal government, not the state government. See Schweiker v. Wilson, 450 U.S. 221, 227, 101 S. Ct. 1074, 67 L. Ed. 2d 186 (1981); In re Bankers Trust Co., 752 F.2d 874, 886 (3d Cir. 1984); Duffy v. County of Bucks, 7 F. Supp. 2d 569, 576 (E.D. Pa. 1998). Walls, therefore, cannot recover on a § 1983 claim for a violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The Eighth Amendment only applies to "convicted criminal defendants subjected to punishment in the context of criminal proceedings." Kelly v. Borough of Sayreville, 107 F. 3d 1073, 1076 (3d Cir. 1997). Because plaintiff Walls was not convicted of any crime, the Eighth Amendment is not a proper ground for his § 1983 action. The accompanying Order will dismiss the claims against the State Defendants arising from the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment and the Eighth Amendment's cruel and unusual punishment clause.

The Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause *fn2 protects against "`abuse by a state official of his or her official position.'" Duffy, 7 F. Supp. 2d at 576 (quoting Davidson, 752 F.2d at 826). "`The proper inquiry in a section 1983 claim based on false arrest or misuse of the criminal process is not whether the person arrested in fact committed the offense but whether the arresting officers had probable cause to believe the person arrested had committed the offense.'" Duffy, 7 F. Supp. 2d at 576 (quoting Dowling v. City of Phila., 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988)); see also Groman v. Township of Manalapan, 47 F. 3d 628, 634 (3d Cir. 1995). With respect to the liability of the State Defendants, accepting plaintiff's allegations and all reasonable inferences therefrom as true, it appears that plaintiff has stated a claim for violation of his right to due process. Plaintiff Walls, despite his repeated assertions that he was the "wrong guy" and that he had no children and had never been liable for child support, was detained for at least fifty days in the Camden County Correctional facility, where the correct William Walls was also incarcerated. Extending the reasonable inferences that the State Defendants and/or the County Defendants would have ...


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