United States District Court, District of New Jersey
February 20, 2003
JORGE ORTIZ JIMENEZ, PLAINTIFF,
STATE OF NEW JERSEY, NEW JERSEY STATE POLICE LAB, THOMAS BRETELL, LYNNE A. MCBRIDE, EVELYN F. MOSES, ALAN LANE, EDWARD LARUE, DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph H. Rodriguez, District Judge
This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for
failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Plaintiff has filed a
cross-motion to remand the matter to state court and to recover
attorneys' fees and costs. For the reasons stated below, Defendants'
motion will be granted and Plaintiff's motion will be denied.
When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint, the district court is
required to accept as true all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint
and view all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the
non-movant. Jordan v. Fox, Rothschild, O'Brien & Frankel,
20 F.3d 1250, 1261 (3d Cir. 1994). Plaintiff has alleged in his Amended
Complaint the following facts, which will be accepted as true for the
purpose of deciding this motion.
On July 26, 1999, at approximately 1:00 a.m., Plaintiff was arrested by
Atlantic City police officers. (Amended Complaint, First Count, ¶
6.) Plaintiff remained in jail
for a period of nearly twenty two
months, at which point all charges were dismissed. (Amended Complaint,
First Count, ¶ 7.) Plaintiff alleges that, during his
incarceration, he requested a DNA test that he contended would prove his
innocence. (Amended Complaint, First Count, ¶ 10.) On April 26,
2001, Plaintiff was informed of the test results, which he alleges were
"inconclusive." (Amended Complaint, First Count, ¶ 11.)
Thereafter, on May 9, 2001, Plaintiff was released from prison. (Amended
Complaint, First Count, ¶ 7.)
Plaintiff filed the original complaint on November 15, 2001 in the New
Jersey Superior Court, Law Division, Atlantic County, Docket No.
ATL-L-3716-01, captioned, Jorge Ortiz Jimenez v. State of New Jersey, et
al. Plaintiff's complaint alleged violations of his constitutional
rights in contravention of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and various state torts
claims. The summons was served upon Defendants on December 18, 2001.
Defendants filed a Notice of Removal, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1441,
with this Court on January 17, 2002.*fn1
PLAINTIFF'S § 1983 CLAIMS
Plaintiff asserts claims against all Defendants*fn2 for violations of
his constitutional rights under the Fourth, Fifth, Eighth and Fourteenth
Amendments. The only alleged constitutional violation raised by Plaintiff
is that, while incarcerated, he requested a DNA test and one was not
administered as expeditiously as he expected, thereby leading to his
continuous incarceration for approximately twenty two months. Plaintiff
does not specifically allege the reason for the delay or the personal
involvement of any of the Defendants.*fn3 In addition, he was released
when the results of the tests were reported as inconclusive.
Defendants argue that they are entitled to qualified immunity on the
§ 1983 claims because Plainitff does not have a constitutional right
to a DNA test; alternatively, Defendants argue that their
conduct was reasonable in that any such right was not clearly established.
This Court agrees and therefore dismisses Plaintiff's complaint.
Government officials are generally granted qualified immunity and 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 (1982). When conducting a qualified immunity
analysis, the court first considers "whether plaintiff's allegations, if
true, establish a constitutional violation." Hope v. Pelzer,
122 S.Ct. 2508, 2513 (2002). "If no constitutional right would have been violated
were the allegations established, there is no necessity for further
inquiries concerning qualified immunity." Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194,
201 (2001). If a constitutional right is found, however, then the
court's next inquiry is to determine whether that right was clearly
established based on "whether it would be clear to a reasonable officer
that his conduct was unlawful in the situation he confronted." Id. at 202
(citing Wilson v. Layne, 526 U.S. 603, 615 (1999)).
Therefore, the Court's first inquiry is whether there is a
constitutional right to DNA testing. The only published opinions to
address this issue under § 1983 involved incarcerated plaintiffs who
were seeking injunctions to obtain access to genetic evidence for the
purpose of conducting DNA testing. Harvey v. Horan, 278 F.3d 370 (4th
Cir. 2002) (deferring to legislature the issue of the potential
constitutional right to post-conviction DNA testing for persons convicted
of federal crimes and declining "to fashion a broad constitutional due
process right of access to DNA testing"); Godschalk v. Montgomery County
District Attorney's Office, 177 F. Supp.2d 366 (E.D.Pa. 2001) (finding
that the plaintiff had a "due process right of access to the genetic
material for the limited purpose of DNA testing"). Although the two
cases came to opposite results, both courts relied on Brady v. Maryland,
373 U.S. 83, 87 (1963), in which the Supreme Court stated that "the
suppression by the prosecution of evidence favorable to the accused upon
request violates due process where the evidence is material either to
guilt or to punishment, irrespective of the good faith or bad faith of
the prosecution." Therefore, the alleged constitutional right to DNA
testing in those matters was analyzed as a right to access potentially
This case presents a different situation. Here, the Court is being
asked to consider whether a defendant in a criminal case has a
constitutional right to DNA testing prior to trial. Essentially,
Plaintiff's claim is that his constitutional right was violated because
the state did not perform a DNA test in making its case against him in a
more timely manner and before being ordered to do so by a court.
Accordingly, this Court concludes that the Plaintiff's claim is more
appropriately analyzed under Youngblood v. Arizona, 488 U.S. 51 (1988).
There, the United States Supreme Court held that the Due Process Clause
of the Fourteenth Amendment does not require the "State to preserve
evidentiary material of which no more can be said than that it could have
been subjected to tests, the results of which might have exonerated the
defendant." Id. at 57. The Court further stated, "If the [state
supreme] court meant . . . that the Due Process Clause is violated when
the police fail to use a particular investigatory tool, we
strongly disagree . . . . [T]he police do not have a constitutional duty
to perform any particular tests." Id. at 58-59.
Applying the analysis presented in Youngblood, it is clear that, as the
law stands, Plaintiff did not have a constitutional right to DNA testing
in the pretrial stages of his criminal case. Had the matter gone to trial
and Plaintiff was currently seeking post-conviction relief or access to
the physical evidence itself, a different case would have been presented
and a different result may have been appropriate. See Godschalk,
177 F. Supp.2d at 370 (granting access to DNA evidence); State v. Thomas,
586 A.2d 250 (N.J. Super.Ct.App.Div. 1991) (ordering post-conviction DNA
testing where state's evidence against defendant was "not strong").
Here, Plaintiff had not yet been tried and the matter was still in the
pretrial stages. Therefore, despite the passage of nearly twenty two
months, Plaintiff has not specifically alleged the reason for this delay
or the personal involvement of any of the defendants. As a result,
Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, alleging a constitutional violation
because DNA testing was not performed earlier in the investigation of his
case, will be dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief
may be granted.*fn4 Further inquiries concerning qualified immunity are
not necessary. Saucier v. Katz, 533 U.S. 194, 201 (2001).
PLAINTIFF'S STATE LAW CLAIMS
Defendants also move to dismiss Plaintiff's state law claims, arguing
that the claims are barred by the New Jersey Tort Claims Act ("Act"),
N.J. Stat. Ann. §§ 59:1-1 to 12-3 (West 1992 & Supp. 2002). The
Act provides that "[a] public employee is not liable if he acts in good
faith in the execution or enforcement of any law." N.J. Stat. Ann.
§ 59:3-3 (West 1992). The New Jersey Supreme Court established that
"[t]he same standard of objective reasonableness that applies in §
1983 actions also governs questions of good faith arising under the Tort
Claims Act." Wildoner v. Borough of Ramsey, 744 A.2d 1146, 1153 (N.J.
2000). Thus, having found that the defendant's conduct was reasonable in
that no constitutional rights were violated, the Court further concludes
that Plaintiff's state law claims against the individual defendants
The Act further provides that "[a] public entity is not liable for an
injury resulting from an act or omission of a public employee where the
public employee is not liable." N.J. Stat. Ann. § 59:2-2(b) (West
1992). Thus, the State of New Jersey and the Division of State Police
are also shielded from liability.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED this ___ day of February, 2003 that Defendants'
Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Amended Complaint  is GRANTED; and
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion to Remand and for
Attorney's Fees and Costs  is DENIED; and
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's Amended Complaint is DISMISSED