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Fallick v. Deerfield Township

September 15, 2003


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


Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). For the reasons set forth below we will grant Defendants' motion as to Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim, and dismiss Plaintiff's state law malicious prosecution and malicious abuse of process claims without prejudice, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.


The present case comes to us as a dispute between a small business owner and a town zoning board. The Plaintiff, John Fallick ("Plaintiff", "Fallick"), operated a locksmith business in Deerfield Township at 522 Morton Avenue for 8 years, from 1991 to 1999. The Defendants are Deerfield Township ("Deerfield", "Township"), Ronald Sutton ("Sutton"), a Deerfield zoning official, and Cosmo Lauretta ("Lauretta"), a member of the Deerfield Township governing council. Fallick now argues that Defendants' actions led to the failure of his locksmith business, violating his Fourteenth Amendment substantive due process and procedural due process rights.

In April, 1999, Defendant Sutton cited Plaintiff for storing unlicensed and unregistered vehicles outside his business contrary to local zoning laws. Sutton's notice of violation to Fallick described a breach of Section 301.10 of the Building Officials and Code Administrators ("BOCA") National Existing Structures Code, which limits to two the number of unlicensed or unregistered vehicles permitted on the exterior portion of a property. § 301.10.2 BOCA National Existing Structures Code (1987). Defendant Sutton had observed three unlicensed and unregistered vehicles stored on the exterior of Plaintiff's property. Upon receipt of the notice, Fallick was entitled to appeal to the County Construction Board of Appeals within 20 days. § 111.1 BOCA Property Maintenance Code (1990). Fallick never appealed the notice with the County Construction Board.

Defendants brought Plaintiff before the Deerfield Township Municipal Court on August 23, 1999, Judge Casarow presiding. On that date, Judge Casarow: (1) instructed Plaintiff to appear before the Township Planning Board on September 8, 1999; (2) rescheduled the municipal court hearing for September 13, 1999; and (3) advised Plaintiff that if the Board did not grant his request, the unlicensed and unregistered vehicles in violation of the Code must be removed by September 13. On September 8, the Township Planning Board determined that it did not have jurisdiction over Plaintiff's application. At the September 13, 1999 hearing before Judge Casarow, Fallick was convicted and fined for violating the BOCA Code.

Subsequent to this conviction and fine, Fallick's locksmith business failed. Fallick attributes the failure, at least in part, to his September 13 conviction. He argues that a significant portion of his locksmith business involved unlicensed and unregistered cars, and the conviction effectively ended this aspect of his business. Compl. ¶ 12.

Fallick appealed his conviction on August 14, 2000, filing a motion for a new trial with the New Jersey Superior Court. On December 1, 2000, Judge Rushton H. Ridgeway denied Plaintiff's appeal. However, on March 26, 2001, discovering that Municipal Court Judge Casarow had a conflict of interest in the original matter, Judge Ridgeway granted Fallick's appeal. The prosecutor for Deerfield Township chose not to reprosecute the case because Fallick no longer maintained unregistered or unlicensed vehicles on the property.

On September 5, 2001, Plaintiff filed a complaint in this Court, alleging that Defendants deprived him of substantive and procedural due process rights, under color of state law, violating 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff also asserts state law malicious prosecution and abuse of process claims.


A. Standard of Review

Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) a court may grant summary judgment "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." The non-moving party may not simply rest on its pleadings to oppose a summary judgment motion but must affirmatively come forward with admissible evidence establishing a genuine issue of fact. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986).

In deciding a motion for summary judgment, the court must construe the facts and inferences in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Pollock v. American Tel. & Tel. Long Lines, 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir. 1986). The role of the court is not to "weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 249 (1986).

The substantive law governing the dispute will determine which facts are material, and only disputes over those facts "that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment." Id. at 248. Where the moving party has carried its initial burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, "its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Idus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). A genuine issue for trial does not exist "unless the party opposing the motion can adduce evidence which, when considered in light of that party's burden ...

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