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Walls v. County of Camden

THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY


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 quickly verified the identity of the correct warrant subject after plaintiff's arrest, and would have discovered that the warrant for that subject had actually been discharged some eighteen months earlier, plaintiff has succeeded in pleading a constitutional violation by state officials acting under color of state law.

C. Eleventh Amendment Immunity

The Eleventh Amendment provides:

The judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State. U.S. Const. amend. XI.

The Eleventh Amendment does not explicitly prohibit lawsuits by a state's own citizens but the United States Supreme Court "has consistently held that an unconsenting State is immune from suits brought in federal courts by her own citizens as well as by citizens of another State." Edelman v. Jordan, 415 U.S. 651, 662-63, 94 S. Ct. 1347, 1355-57, 39 L. Ed. 2d 662 (1974); see also Pennhurst State Sch. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 100, 104 S. Ct. 900, 907, 79 L. Ed. 2d 67 (1984). Therefore, absent waiver, neither a state, nor agencies under its control may be subjected to lawsuits in federal court. See Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Auth. v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., 506 U.S. 139, 144 (1993). Eleventh Amendment immunity constitutes an affirmative defense, and as such, it must be proved by the party seeking to assert the benefit of immunity. See Christy v. Pennsylvania Turnpike Comm'n, 54 F.3d 1140, 1144 (3d Cir. 1995).

The State Defendants, who now seek Eleventh Amendment immunity from the County Defendants' cross-claims, have failed to meet their burden of proving the affirmative defense. There are two types of suits against public officials, such as the ones names in plaintiff's amended complaint: individual or personal capacity suits and official capacity suits. "Personal-capacity suits seek to impose personal liability upon a government official for actions he takes under color of state law. Official-capacity suits, in contrast, generally represent only another way of pleading an action against an entity of which an officer is an agent." Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165, 105 S. Ct. 3099, 3104, 87 L. Ed. 2d 114 (1985)(internal citations omitted); see also Hunter v. Supreme Court of New Jersey, 951 F. Supp. 1161, 1178 (D.N.J. 1996). There is no Eleventh Amendment bar to suits seeking monetary damages from state officials in their personal or individual capacities, even when the damages are retrospective compensation for past harms, where any damages would be paid from personal and not state funds. See Graham, 473 U.S. at 165, 105 S. Ct. at 3105, 87 L. Ed. 2d 114. The Eleventh Amendment does, however, with respect to state officials sued in their official capacities, preclude federal courts from awarding retroactive damages because the state, and not the official, is the real party in interest. In such a case any damage award would be paid as a matter of law from the state treasury, in contravention of the Eleventh Amendment. *fn3 See Edelman, 415 U.S. at 662-63, 94 S. Ct. at 1355-57, 39 L. Ed. 2d 662 (the Eleventh Amendment may bar a suit even though a state is not named as a party to the action, provided that the state is the real party in interest); see also Hunter, 951 F. Supp. 1161. Additionally, state officials sued in their official capacities are not considered "persons" under § 1983. See Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 26, 112 S. Ct. 358, 362, 116 L. Ed. 2d 301 (1991)(citing Will v. Michigan Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 71, 109 S. Ct. 2304, 2312, 105 L. Ed. 2d 45 (1989)).

Plaintiff Walls claims that defendants "under color of law and acting under color of the authority . . . of the State of New Jersey" violated his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 by falsely arresting and imprisoning him. (Am. Compl., ¶ 19.) Walls seeks in excess of ten million dollars to compensate him for the violations that allegedly occurred due to the State Defendants' negligence in failing to remove the warrant for "William Walls" from the active list pursuant to Judge DiCamillo's order. This language indicates that plaintiff intended to sue defendants for monetary damages in their individual capacities for actions taken under color of state law.

The State Defendants argue that because the allegations in the amended complaint *fn4 are directed to actions they undertook in their official capacities (i.e. the proper maintenance, or lack thereof, of the active arrest warrant list), they are entitled to cloak themselves in the state's sovereign immunity. (See State Defs.' Br. at 8.) This argument was rejected by the United States Supreme Court in Hafer v. Melo, 502 U.S. 21, 112 S. Ct. 358, 116 L. Ed. 2d 301 (1991). In Hafer, defendant Hafer, the newly elected Auditor General of Pennsylvania, was sued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for terminating employees based on their political affiliations. Hafer argued that liability under § 1983 turned on the capacity in which the state officer allegedly inflicted the harm. Hafer, 502 U.S. at 27-28, 112 S. Ct. at 363. The Supreme Court rejected that argument and found that, for § 1983 purposes, "capacity" referred to the capacity in which the officer is sued, not the capacity in which the officer allegedly inflicted the harm, emphasizing the policy behind § 1983 to "give a remedy to parties deprived of constitutional rights, privileges and immunities by an official's abuse of his position." Id. (quoting Monroe v. Pape, 365 U.S. 167, 172 (1965)).

Accordingly, because the State Defendants are sued in their individual capacities for actions or inactions taken under color of state law, there is no Eleventh Amendment bar to plaintiff's suit against the State Defendants, and therefore there is no bar to the Camden Defendants' cross-motion against the State Defendants. The State Defendants' motion to dismiss the County Defendants' cross-claim based on Eleventh Amendment immunity will therefore be denied.

D. Absolute Immunity

The State Defendants alternatively claim that the County Defendants' cross-claims should be dismissed because they are absolutely immune under the doctrine of quasi-judicial immunity. Judges are absolutely immune to suits for monetary damages related to their judicial acts. Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349, 359, 98 S. Ct. 1099, 1106, 55 L. Ed. 2d 331, 341 (1978). The State Defendants in this case held executive and/or administrative positions with the court, not adjudicative ones, and therefore are not entitled to absolute immunity under the doctrine of quasi-judicial immunity. Cf. Wilson v. Rackmill, 878 F.2d 772, 775 (3d Cir. 1989)(holding that parole officers are absolutely immune only when engaged in adjudicatory duties, and enjoy only qualified immunity when exercising executive or administrative duties). In this case, Judge DiCamillo performed an adjudicative act when he directed that the warrant for "William Walls" be disposed of in November, 1998. The State Defendants had no part in that adjudicative act and only had an administrative duty to ensure that the court's directive was carried out. The State Defendants' motion to dismiss the County defendants' cross-claims based on absolute immunity will be denied.

E. Qualified Immunity

The State Defendants also claim that the County Defendants' cross-claims should be dismissed because they enjoy qualified or good-faith immunity. Qualified-immunity is an affirmative defense that the state actor must raise and the complaint need not allege the absence of good faith. See Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 111 S. Ct. 1789, 114 L. Ed. 2d 277 (1991). The doctrine of qualified immunity "hold[s] that government officials performing discretionary functions generally are shielded from liability for civil damages insofar as their conduct does not violate clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known." Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 818, 102 S. Ct. 2727, 73 L. Ed. 2d 396 (1982); Morales v. Busbee, 972 F. Supp. 254, 260 (D.N.J. 1997). The doctrine recognizes "the need to protect officials who are required to exercise their discretion and the related public interest in encouraging the vigorous exercise of official authority." Id. at 807 (internal citations omitted).

The Third Circuit recently articulated the three part inquiry for determining whether state officials are entitled to qualified immunity: 1) whether plaintiff has alleged a violation of his or her statutory or constitutional rights; 2) whether the right allegedly violated was clearly established in the existing law at the time of the violation; and 3) whether a reasonable official should have known that the alleged action violated the plaintiff's rights. See Doe v. County Centre, PA, No. 00-3195, slip. op. at 26 (3d Cir., Mar. 5, 2001)(citing Rouse v. Plantier, 182 F. 3d 192, 196-97 (3d Cir. 1999)).

The first part of this inquiry, discussed in section III.B, is met as plaintiff has alleged that his civil rights under Section 1983 and his Due Process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment were violated by his false arrest and fifty-day detention in the Camden County Correctional Facility. The second part of this inquiry is similarly met because those rights were clearly established at the time Walls was arrested and detained. The third part, focusing on the reasonableness of the State Defendants' actions with respect to their alleged failure to follow Judge DiCamillo's directive and properly remove the warrant for "William Walls" from the active list, requires this Court to determine whether the State Defendants could have reasonably believed that their inactions were violative of plaintiff's statutory and constitutional rights. See Santiago v. City of Vineland, 107 F. Supp. 2d 512, 546 (D.N.J. 2000)(Orlofsky, J.)(internal citations omitted).

The State Defendants' brief in support of dismissing the County Defendants' cross-claims argues that the State Defendants "acted in an objectively reasonable manner" when they supplied the County Defendants with information about the warrant (State Defs.' Br. at 12), even though that information was incorrect and related to another person. The State Defendants argue that they were not directly involved with making changes to the warrant list (State Defs.' Reply at 5) and therefore could not have known that the information supplied to the County Defendants was incorrect or that anyone's rights had been violated. The State Defendants also assert that the County Defendants had the duty to verify the warrant information (State Defs.' Br. at 12), but offer few specifics in support of their claim for qualified immunity to Walls's claims.

The State Defendants have also failed to address the second aspect of their alleged violation of plaintiff's due process rights, namely, that they permitted the warrant to serve as a basis for detaining the wrong man despite the differences in the plaintiff's name and identifying data from that of the warrant information. This was not a case of arresting the right person on a revoked warrant; it is a case of arresting the wrong person, too, and the movants have not addressed this point at all. Finally, the plaintiff has amended his complaint to assert direct claims against the State Defendants after this motion was filed, and the movants have therefore not addressed the direct claims, nor has plaintiff had the opportunity to contest the State Defendants' claims of qualified immunity as to those direct claims. Upon this set of still-developing pleadings, it is premature for the court to address the State Defendants' claims of qualified immunity.

Accordingly, the State Defendants' motion to dismiss the cross-claims of the County Defendants on the basis of qualified immunity will be dismissed without prejudice to the filing of a summary judgment motion on the issue of qualified immunity, if appropriate, after the record has become more fully developed.

F. New Jersey Tort Claims Act

Finally, the State Defendants also move to dismiss the County Defendants' state law cross-claims because, they argue, they are protected by the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 59:1, et seq. ("NJTCA"), and cannot be held liable for administrative action or inaction of a judicial nature. See N.J.S.A. 59:3-2(b). The County Defendants argue that the State Defendants are not immune because their inaction with respect to removing the warrant from the active list was a ministerial function not protected by the NJTCA. A defendant's entitlement to qualified immunity is a question of law to be decided as early as possible in the proceeding, such as on a properly supported motion to dismiss. See Wildoner v. Borough of Ramsey, 162 N.J. 375, 387 (1983).

The NJTCA, in relevant part, reads:

b. A public employee is not liable for legislative or judicial action or inaction, or administrative action or inaction of a legislative or judicial nature; . . .

Nothing in this section shall exonerate a public employee for negligence arising out of his acts or omissions in carrying out his ministerial functions. N.J.S.A. 59:3-2.

The comment following this section explains that the provision "is intended to codify the existing law in the State of New Jersey which immunizes a public employee for the exercise of discretion within the scope of his duties." N.J.S.A. 59:3-2 cmt; see also N.J.S.A. 59:2-3 cmt. (Commenting on the immunity of `public entities,' and justifying absolute immunity only for high-level decision-makers that call for the exercise of official judgment or discretion). The relevant question for this Court to consider, therefore, when deciding whether the County Defendants' state law cross-claims should be dismissed is whether the State Defendants' failure to remove the warrant for William Walls from the active list was a "judicial action or inaction" or "administrative inaction of a judicial nature," for which immunity is available, or an omission in carrying out a "ministerial function," for which immunity is not available.

This court must apply New Jersey law in interpreting the NJTCA. A ministerial act within the meaning of the NJTCA is one which a public official is required to perform upon a given set of facts in a particular manner, "in obedience to the mandate of legal authority and without regard to their own judgment or opinion concerning the propriety or impropriety of the act to be performed." Ritter v. Castellini, 173 N.J. Super. 509, 513-14 (Law Div. 1980)(finding that although a sheriff had some discretion in how he served a writ of attachment, the duty of serving same was ministerial). Judicial action within the meaning of the NJTCA necessarily entails duties which require the state official to exercise some judicial-like function. See Delbridge v. Office of Public Defender, 238 N.J. Super. 288, 303 (Law Div. 1989)(finding that law guardians, because they are appointed by the court to protect the best interests of children, are entitled to absolute immunity under N.J.S.A. 59:3-2(b) for their actions in child abuse and neglect proceedings, which are judicial actions).

The State Defendants cite to the New Jersey Appellate Division decision in Fair v. County of Bergen, which affirmed the lower court's grant of summary judgment for county and state defendants in a civil action arising after a court attendant in another proceeding, not named as a party in the action, mistakenly delivered a pretrial order and adversary brief to the civil jury, along with evidentiary materials intended for the jury's inspection, thereby necessitating a mistrial. 151 N.J. Super. 520, 523 (App. Div. 1977). The Appellate Division disagreed that the action of the court's attendant was "ministerial" in nature. Id. at 523. Finding the attendant's conduct to be encompassed within N.J.S.A. 59:2-3(b) as "judicial action" or "administrative action . . . of a . . . judicial nature," *fn5 the court reasoned:

The duty of the court attendant went no further than to carry papers from one room to another. It lay beyond his competence to separate those papers which had qualified for the jury's inspection from those which had not. Thus, he served merely as the court's appendage in the physical execution of its powers. Fair, 151 N.J. Super. at 523.

This case is good law, but based on the court's reasoning, it is limited to its facts and is distinguishable from the case presently before this Court.

The Appellate Division's reasoning suggests that the court attendant merely picked up a group of papers, presumably compiled improperly by the trial judge or counsel themselves, id., and delivered it as instructed to the jury, and that such action was not enough to impute liability to the state. The harm (i.e., the mistrial) was not related to the action or inaction of the attendant, but to the court's (or some judicial officer's) inadvertent placement of the pretrial order and brief in the pile with the evidentiary exhibits, which was judicial action, and therefore immunized under N.J.S.A. 59:2-3(b).

In this case, the State Defendants attempt to gain immunity for their failure to carry out the correct order of a judge. The harm complained of (i.e., plaintiff's false imprisonment) was allegedly directly related to the State Defendants' failure to carry out their ministerial duty of entering the judge's order to dismiss the warrant for "William Walls" into the system. While the court attendant in Fair was not expected to detect and/or correct the misplacement of the pretrial order and brief in the evidentiary materials to be given to the jury, and was acting as the arm of the trial judge, the State Defendants in this case were required and expected to carry out the order of Judge DiCamillo. In this case, the judicial action - cancellation of the warrant - was proper. The ministerial action in failing to record the judge's decision was the relevant omission. The Fair decision would be more helpful to the State Defendants if the judge had mistakenly failed to dismiss the Walls warrant, for such an omission would be judicial in nature and all court personnel acting upon the judge's mistake would be immune from liability under N.J.S.A. 59:2-3(b).

The State Defendants' duty to process warrant dismissals is clearly ministerial and not discretionary. In this case, Judge DiCamillo dismissed the warrant in question on or about November 17, 1998, approximately eighteen months prior to Walls's arrest. (Answer and Third-Party Compl., ¶ 14.) Judge DiCamillo's act was judicial in nature and under New Jersey law the State Defendants were bound to follow the court's dismissal order as issued, "in obedience to the mandate of legal authority and without regard to their own judgment or opinion concerning the propriety or impropriety of the act to be performed." Ritter, 173 N.J. Super. at 513-14. The State Defendants have offered no factual support for their assertion that failing to keep the warrant list updated was an inaction of a judicial nature.

The cross-claims of the County Defendants seeking contribution or indemnification from the State Defendants in the event the County Defendants are found liable under the NJTCA will survive this dismissal motion. This Court finds that the State Defendants' responsibility for maintaining and updating the accuracy of the active warrant list was a ministerial function and therefore does not support their claim absolute immunity under N.J.S.A. 59:3-2(b). In the event that the County Defendants are found liable to plaintiff under the NJTCA, this Court cannot say as a matter of law, under the standards of Rule 12(b)(6), supra, that the County Defendants cannot obtain contribution or indemnification from the State Defendants.

IV. CONCLUSION

For the reasons discussed above, the Court will deny the State Defendants' motions to dismiss the cross-claims filed by the County Defendants in the Third-Party Complaint based on Eleventh Amendment Immunity, absolute immunity, and NJTCA immunity. 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 cross-claims of the County Defendants on the basis of qualified immunity will be dismissed without prejudice to the filing of another, more factually detailed, summary judgment motion on the issue of qualified immunity directed to both the direct allegations of the Amended Complaint and the cross-claims of the County Defendants. The State Defendants shall file their Answer to the remaining claims against them asserted in the Third-Party Complaint, which shall be deemed cross-claims asserted against co-defendants under the recent Amended Complaint, together with their Answer to the Amended Complaint itself, together with their Answer to the Amended Complaint itself, within twenty (20) days hereof. The accompanying Order is entered.

JEROME B. SIMANDLE U.S. District Judge

THE ORDER

THIS MATTER having come before the Court on motion of Joseph F. Gunn, Louis LeSelva, Sandra Fox, Patricia Sullivan, Debra Cassidy, Estelle Messenger, and Jane Does One, Two and Three (hereinafter "State Defendants") to dismiss the cross-claims in the Third-Party Complaint filed by the County Defendants pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P.; and the Court having considered the submissions of the parties, and for the reasons stated in this Courts Opinion of this date;

IT IS this 21st day of March, 2001 hereby

ORDERED that the State Defendants' motions to dismiss the cross-claims in the Third-Party Complaint based on Eleventh Amendment Immunity, absolute judicial immunity, and NJTCA immunity be, and hereby are, DENIED;

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the State Defendants' motion to dismiss the cross-claims of the County Defendants arising under the Fifth and Eighth Amendments to the Constitution will be GRANTED and those claims are DISMISSED, while the claims arising from the Fourteenth Amendment may continue;

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the State Defendants' motion to dismiss the cross-claims of the County Defendants on the basis of qualified immunity be, and hereby is, DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE; and

IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the State Defendants shall serve their Answer to the remaining claims of the Third-Party Complaint (which are deemed cross-claims asserted among co-defendants upon the Amended Complaint), together with their Answer to the Amended Complaint, within twenty (20) days hereof.

JEROME B. SIMANDLE U.S. District Judge


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