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Longoria v. State

October 17, 2001

EMBLEZ LONGORIA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
STATE OF NEW JERSEY; STATE OF NEW JERSEY-DIVISION OF STATE POLICE; JOHN J. FARMER, ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR THE STATE OF NEW JERSEY; CARSON J. DUNBAR, SUPERINTENDENT, STATE OF NEW JERSEY-DIVISION OF STATE POLICE; PETER G. VERNIERO; CARL A. WILLIAMS, JR.; CAPTAIN JOSEPH SARNECKY; LIEUTENANT JOSEPH WATTAI; JOHN DOES 1 THROUGH 10, DEFENDANTS.



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

FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

This case presents a footnote to the ongoing public scrutiny of the operations and employment practices of the New Jersey State Police. Plaintiff, a long-time New Jersey State Trooper, alleges that his employment prospects have been dimmed by a long-standing aura of racial hostility in the ranks of the State Police, as well as by antagonism directed at him as a result of his personal ties to a previous, successful, critic of the institution. He now seeks money damages and injunctive relief. His claims, if true, reflect badly on the character of the New Jersey State Police; ultimately, however, they do not constitute wrongs cognizable in this Court. The Defendants have moved for summary judgment, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. The Plaintiff has filed a cross-motion for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth more fully below, I shall shall grant the Defendants's motion on Plaintiff's federal claims, and, in the exercise of my discretionary power under 28 U.S.C. § 1367, dismiss the supplemental state law claims without prejudice. I shall also deny Plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment.

II. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

The Plaintiff, Emblez Longoria ("Longoria"), an Hispanic male, has been a member of the New Jersey State Police since July 28, 1988. Def.'s R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 1. *fn1 During portions of 1997, Longoria was stationed at the State Police barracks in Hightstown, New Jersey. Longoria Depo. at 219. *fn2 While at Hightstown, Longoria was temporarily assigned to the Narcotics and Organized Crime Bureau ("NOCB"), another unit within the New Jersey State Police. Id. at 219-36. Longoria worked at the NOCB for approximately two months, id. at 246, garnering positive reviews. Id. at 238.

During Longoria's stay at the NOCB, the State Police posted a notice for a permanent position, essentially identical to the temporary position Longoria was then occupying. Id. at 236. Longoria applied for, but did not receive, that appointment. Id. at 237, 248. Instead, Longoria was given another temporary assignment with the NOCB. Id. at 247, 254-55. The assignment lasted "a few months." Id. at 262. Longoria was told his work during the second NOCB stint was "excellent." Id. at 270. Shortly thereafter, Longoria applied for a "very similar" permanent position in the Intelligence Unit, but was not hired. Id. at 263-67. He was sent back to Hightstown. Id. at 269.

On February 14, 1998, Longoria was transferred to Cranbury Station, a unit of the New Jersey State Police responsible for patrolling the New Jersey Turnpike. Id. at 217-18; Def.'s R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 2. On Longoria's first night at Cranbury, he accompanied another trooper, Daniel Borowick, on patrol. Longoria Depo. at 522. According to Longoria, Borowick twice stopped motorists for no obvious reason other than that they were "driving while black." Id. at 529-45. Longoria and Borowick also stopped to question a third motorist, whom Borowick referred to with a racial slur. Id. at 543.

Longoria also testified at his deposition that, during his time at Cranbury, other state troopers stopped primarily black and Hispanic motorists. Id. at 677-83, 704-05, 709-10. He claimed that in "locker room" conversations and elsewhere the other troopers often used ethnic slurs to describe the suspects they detained. Id. at 736.

Disturbed by what he perceived to be the cloud of racism surrounding the Cranbury barracks, Longoria requested a transfer to the Diesel Emissions Unit ("DEU"). Compl. ¶ 15. Longoria's transfer was granted on April 11, 1998. Def.'s R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 3. The main responsibility of the DEU is to inspect trucks for compliance with safety and emissions standards.

Longoria's hours at the DEU were, officially, 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. During the time Longoria was assigned to the DEU, he was also attending classes at a community college in pursuit of an associate's degree. In order to juggle both his work and class schedules, Longoria sought and received permission from his supervisor, Lieutenant Flynn, to work a modified shift, from 5:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Bellaran Depo. at 80-81. During the beginning of Lieutenant Flynn's tenure as Longoria's supervisor, these hours included so-called "portal to portal" time-in other words, a trooper was considered to be on duty during the time he was driving to or from work. Id. at 89-90.

On July 18, 1998, Captain Joseph Sarnecky ("Sarnecky") assumed command of the Traffic Bureau, including the DEU. At about the same time, Lieutenant Joseph Wattai ("Wattai") was also transferred to the Traffic Bureau. At some point after taking over the Traffic Bureau, Sarnecky changed the "portal to portal" policy, so that troopers did not receive credit for time spent commuting to their job site.

Sarnecky and Wattai made an unannounced visit to Longoria's post on September 15, 1998. Def.'s R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 8. Longoria was not there; his "patrol log" for that date indicated that he had signed off duty at 12:53 p.m. Id.; McLaughlin Aff. Exh. Q. Several days later, on September 21, 1998, Longoria met with his local supervisors to discuss the modified shift arrangement. Longoria Depo. at 974. While he was told that the Division was unhappy with his schedule, he was not actually ordered to change it. McLaughlin Aff. Exh. L. However, on October 15, 1998, Sarnecky and Wattai made another unannounced visit to Longoria's post, and again found him absent. Def.'s R. 56.1 Statement ¶ 10. His "patrol log" for that day indicated that he had signed off at 1:04 p.m. Id.; McLaughin Aff. Exh. V. On October 19, 1998, Longoria met with Sarnecky, who ordered him either to submit a special report explaining the cause for his absences, or to request a transfer out of the DEU. Longoria requested a transfer to the Fort Dix Station the same day. After just two months at Fort Dix, Longoria was told that he was to be transferred back to Cranbury Station.

On February 4, 1999, Longoria filed this suit, seeking money damages, an injunction barring his latest transfer, and retroactive promotion to Sergeant, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e) ("Title VII"), 42 U.S.C §§ 1981 and 1983, and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination, N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 10:5-1 to -42 ("NJLAD"). Some four months later, on June 15, 1999, Longoria filed a Charge with the EEOC, alleging substantially the same incidents that form the basis for this action. McLaughlin Aff. Exh. F. On September 12, 2000, the Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56. Longoria then made an application to Magistrate Judge Rosen to reopen discovery. At a November 22, 2000 status conference, Judge Rosen granted a limited reopening of discovery, at which point Defendants withdrew their summary judgment motion without prejudice. On March 19, 2001, Defendants renewed their summary judgment motion, relying upon their original papers. Longoria filed a ...


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