United States District Court, D. New Jersey
May 2, 2005.
JASON A. DOTTS, III, Plaintiff,
JOSH BARD, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: STANLEY CHESLER, Magistrate Judge
Plaintiff Jason A. Dotts, III, who was contined at Monmouth
County Correctional Institution in Freehold, New Jersey at the
time he submitted this Complaint, seeks to bring this action in
forma pauperis pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging
violations of his constitutional rights. Based on his affidavit
of indigence and the absence of three qualifying dismissals
within 28 U.S.C. § 1915(g), the Court will grant Plaintiff's
application to proceed in forma pauperis pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1915(a) and order the Clerk of the Court to file the
At this time, the Court must review the Complaint to determine
whether it should be dismissed as frivolous or malicious, for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be
granted, or because it seeks monetary relief from a defendant who
is immune from such relief.
The following factual allegations are taken from Plaintiff's
Complaint and are accepted as true for purposes of this review.
On May 28, 2004, Plaintiff was stopped on the street and
arrested for robbery by Defendant Long Branch Police Officer Josh
Bard. Plaintiff was taken to the Long Branch Police Department,
where he was confined despite his protestation of innocence and
his insistence that his innocence could be established if police
would take his fingerprints and put him in a line-up. Plaintiff
asserts that the charges against him are false and that his
continued confinement is unlawful.
As of the date the Complaint was filed, Plaintiff was confined
at the Monmouth County Correctional Institution.*fn1 It is
not clear whether he was awaiting trial or had been convicted.
Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages and he states, further,
that he wants to be released on his own recognizance and wants
the charges against him dropped. II. STANDARDS FOR A SUA SPONTE DISMISSAL
This Court must dismiss, at the earliest practicable time,
certain in forma pauperis and prisoner actions that are
frivolous, malicious, fail to state a claim, or seek monetary
relief from a defendant who is immune from such relief. See
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (in forma pauperis actions);
28 U.S.C. § 1915A (actions in which prisoner seeks redress from a
governmental defendant); 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (prisoner actions
brought with respect to prison conditions).
In determining the sufficiency of a pro se complaint, the
Court must be mindful to construe it liberally in favor of the
plaintiff. Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520-21 (1972);
United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992). The Court
must "accept as true all of the allegations in the complaint and
all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom, and view
them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Morse v.
Lower Merion School Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). The
Court need not, however, credit a pro se plaintiff's "bald
assertions" or "legal conclusions." Id.
A pro se complaint may be dismissed for failure to state a
claim only if it appears "`beyond doubt that the plaintiff can
prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle
him to relief.'" Haines, 404 U.S. at 521 (quoting Conley v.
Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957)); Milhouse v. Carlson, 652 F.2d 371, 373 (3d Cir. 1981). Where a complaint can be remedied by an
amendment, a district court may not dismiss the complaint with
prejudice, but must permit the amendment. Denton v. Hernandez,
504 U.S. 25, 34 (1992); Gravson v. Mayview State Hospital,
293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002) (dismissal pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)); Shane v. Fauver, 213 F.3d 113, 116-17 (3d Cir.
2000) (dismissal pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(c)(1)); Urrutia
v. Harrisburg County Police Dept., 91 F.3d 451, 453 (3d Cir.
III. SECTION 1983 ACTIONS
A plaintiff may have a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
for certain violations of his constitutional rights. Section 1983
provides in relevant part:
Every person who, under color of any statute,
ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State
or Territory . . . subjects, or causes to be
subjected, any citizen of the United States or other
person within the jurisdiction thereof to the
deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable
to the party injured in an action at law, suit in
equity, or other proper proceeding for redress. . . .
Thus, to state a claim for relief under § 1983, a plaintiff must
allege, first, the violation of a right secured by the
Constitution or laws of the United States and, second, that the
alleged deprivation was committed or caused by a person acting
under color of state law. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42
(1988); Piecknick v. Pennsylvania, 36 F.3d 1250
, 1255-56 (3d
Cir. 1994). Local government units and supervisors are not liable under §
1983 solely on a theory of respondeat superior. See City
of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808
, 824 n. 8 (1985);
Monell v. New York City Department of Social Services,
436 U.S. 658
, 690-91, 694 (1978) (municipal liability attaches only "when
execution of a government's policy or custom, whether made by its
lawmakers or by those whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to
represent official policy, inflicts the injury" complained of);
Natale v. Camden County Correctional Facility, 318 F.3d 575
583-84 (3d Cir. 2003). "A defendant in a civil rights action must
have personal involvement in the alleged wrongs, liability cannot
be predicated solely on the operation of respondeat superior.
Personal involvement can be shown through allegations of personal
direction or of actual knowledge and acquiescence." Rode v.
Dellarciprete, 845 F.2d 1195
, 1207 (3d Cir. 1988) (citations
omitted). Accord Robinson v. City of Pittsburgh,
120 F.3d 1286
, 1293-96 (3d Cir. 1997); Baker v. Monroe Twp.,
50 F.3d 1186
, 1190-91 (3d Cir. 1995).
To establish municipal liability under § 1983, "a plaintiff
must show that an official who has the power to make policy is
responsible for either the affirmative proclamation of a policy
or acquiescence in a well-settled custom." Bielevicz v.
Dubinon, 915 F.2d 845, 850 (3d Cir. 1990), quoted in Blanche
Rd. Corp. v. Bensalem Twp., 57 F.3d 253, 269 n. 16 (3d Cir.),
cert. denied, 516 U.S. 915 (1995), and quoted in Woodwind Estates, Ltd. v.
Gretkowski, 205 F.3d 118, 126 (3d Cir. 2000). A plaintiff must
demonstrate that, through its deliberate conduct, the
municipality was the moving force behind the plaintiff's injury.
Monell, 436 U.S. at 689.
A policy is made "when a decisionmaker possess[ing]
final authority to establish municipal policy with
respect to the action issues a final proclamation,
policy or edict." Kneipp v. Tedder, 95 F.3d 1199,
1212 (3d Cir. 1996) (quoting Pembaur v. City of
Cincinnati, 475 U.S. 469, 481, 106 S.Ct. 1292,
89 L.Ed.2d 452 (1986) (plurality opinion)). A custom is
an act "that has not been formally approved by an
appropriate decisionmaker," but that is "so
widespread as to have the force of law." [Bd. of
County Comm'rs of Bryan County, Oklahoma v. Brown,
520 U.S. 397, 404 (1997).]
There are three situations where acts of a government
employee may be deemed to be the result of a policy
or custom of the governmental entity for whom the
employee works, thereby rendering the entity liable
under § 1983. The first is where "the appropriate
officer or entity promulgates a generally applicable
statement of policy and the subsequent act complained
of is simply an implementation of that policy." The
second occurs where "no rule has been announced as
policy but federal law has been violated by an act of
the policymaker itself." Finally, a policy or custom
may also exist where "the policymaker has failed to
act affirmatively at all, [though] the need to take
some action to control the agents of the government
`is so obvious, and the inadequacy of existing
practice so likely to result in the violation of
constitutional rights, that the policymaker can
reasonably be said to have been deliberately
indifferent to the need.'"
Natale, 318 F.3d at 584 (footnote and citations
A. False Arrest/False Imprisonment
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides
that "The right of the people to be secure in their persons . . .
against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be
violated." A seizure triggering Fourth Amendment protection
occurs when a government actor "by means of physical force or
show of authority, has in some way restrained the liberty of a
citizen." Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, 19 n. 16 (1968). To
determine the reasonableness of a seizure, a court "must balance
the nature and quality of the intrusion on the individual's
Fourth Amendment interests against the importance of the
governmental interests alleged to justify the intrusion." United
States v. Place, 462 U.S. 696, 703 (1983), quoted in
Tennessee v. Garner, 471 U.S. 1, 8 (1985) and Graham v.
Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 396 (1989).
It is well established in the Third Circuit that an arrest
without probable cause is a constitutional violation actionable
under § 1983. See Walmsley v. Philadelphia, 872 F.2d 546 (3d
Cir. 1989) (citing cases); see also, Albright v. Oliver,
510 U.S. 266, 274 (1994) (a section 1983 claim for false arrest
may be based upon an individual's Fourth Amendment right to be
free from unreasonable seizures). Under New Jersey law, false arrest has
been defined as "the constraint of the person without legal
justification." Ramirez v. United States, 998 F. Supp. 425, 434
(D.N.J. 1998) (quoting Fleming v. United Postal Service, Inc.,
604 A.2d 657, 680 (N.J. Law Div. 1992)).
To state a claim for false arrest, a plaintiff must allege two
elements: (1) that there was an arrest; and (2) that the arrest
was made without probable cause. Dowling v. City of
Philadelphia, 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988). Moreover "where
the police lack probable cause to make an arrest, the arrestee
has a claim under § 1983 for false imprisonment based on a
detention pursuant to that arrest." Groman v. Manalapan,
47 F.3d 628, 636 (3d Cir. 1995); Palma v. Atlantic County,
53 F. Supp. 2d 743, 755 (D.N.J. 1999) (citing Groman). See also
Anela v. City of Wildwood, 595 F. Supp. 511, 512 (D.N.J. 1984)
(holding a person for any length of time without legal
justification may be a violation of the right to liberty under
the Fourteenth Amendment and thus states a claim of false
imprisonment under § 1983).*fn3 In contrast, an arrest based
upon probable cause does not give rise to claims for false
imprisonment or false arrest. Id. In the instant action, Plaintiff alleges that he was arrested
without probable cause on May 28, 2004. A § 1983 claim for false
arrest accrues on the date of the plaintiff's arrest. See
Montgomery v. De Simone, 159 F.3d 120, 126 (3d Cir. 1998);
Rose v. Bartle, 871 F.2d 331, 348-51 (3d Cir. 1989). Thus,
Plaintiff has stated a claim for false arrest and false
imprisonment, sufficient to avoid dismissal at this preliminary
stage of the litigation, and it appears to be ripe. This claim
may proceed against Defendants Josh Bard and Frank T. Morey.
B. Malicious Prosecution
In order to state a prima facie case for a § 1983 claim of
malicious prosecution pursuant to the Fourth Amendment, a
plaintiff must establish the elements of the common law tort as
it has developed over time, Hilfirty v. Shipman, 91 F.3d 573,
579 (3d Cir. 1996), and that there has been a seizure, Gallo v.
City of Philadelphia, 161 F.3d 217, 222 (3d Cir. 1998); Luthe
v. Cape May, 49 F. Supp.2d 380, 393 (D.N.J. 1999). Under New
Jersey law, the common law tort elements of a malicious
prosecution action arising out of a criminal prosecution are: (1)
the criminal action was instituted by the defendant against the
plaintiff, (2) it was actuated by malice, (3) there was an
absence of probable cause for the proceeding, and (4) the
criminal proceeding was terminated favorably to the plaintiff.
Lind v. Schmid, 67 N.J. 255, 262 (1975). A plaintiff attempting
to state a malicious prosecution claim must also allege that there was
"`some deprivation of liberty consistent with the concept of
seizure.'" Gallo, 161 F.3d at 222 (quoting Singer v. Fulton
County Sheriff, 63 F.3d 110, 116 (2d Cir. 1995)); see
Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266 (1994). Ordinarily, the
statute of limitations on a malicious prosecution claim begins to
run on the date plaintiff receives a favorable termination of the
prior criminal proceeding. Heck v. Humphrey, 512 U.S. 477, 489
Here, Plaintiff has failed to allege a favorable termination of
the criminal proceeding. Accordingly, this claim does not appear
to have accrued and will be dismissed without prejudice.
C. Continued Prosecution and Custody
To the extent Plaintiff seeks through an action in this Court
to have charges pending in state court dropped, it is not
generally the role of the federal courts to interfere in pending
state judicial proceedings. A federal court must abstain from
addressing requests for injunctive relief against state court
proceedings so long as the constitutional issues involved may be
addressed adequately in the course of the state proceedings.
Younger v. Harris, 401 U.S. 37 (1971) (addressing abstention
from state criminal proceedings); Middlesex Co. Ethics Committee
v. Garden State Bar Ass'n, 457 U.S. 423, 432 (1982) ("The
policies underlying Younger are fully applicable to noncriminal
judicial proceeding when important state issues are involved.").
The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has
enunciated three requirements that must be met before Younger
abstention may be invoked:
(1) there are ongoing state proceedings that are
judicial in nature; (2) the state proceedings
implicate important state interests; and (3) the
state proceedings afford an adequate opportunity to
raise federal claims. Whenever all three of these
requirements are satisfied, abstention is appropriate
absent a showing of bad faith prosecution,
harassment, or a patently unconstitutional rule that
will cause irreparable injury to the plaintiff.
Port Auth. Police Benevolent Ass'n Inc. v. Port Auth. Of New
York and New Jersey Police Dept., 973 F.2d 169
, 173 (3d Cir.
1992) (citing Schall v. Joyce, 885 F.2d 101
, 106 (3d Cir.
Here, it is clear that state proceedings implicating important
state interests are ongoing, and that Plaintiff has the
opportunity to raise his claim in that proceeding. Plaintiff has
failed to plead any special circumstances that would take this
case out of the Younger abstention doctrine. Thus, Plaintiff
must present his complaints about the pending charges against him
to the court in which those charges are proceeding. See
Roberts v. Childs, 956 F.Supp. 923, 925 (D.Kan.), aff'd,
125 F.3d 862 (10th Cir. 1997).
To the extent Plaintiff challenges his continued custody,
whether pre-trial or post-conviction, he can obtain relief only
through a petition for writ of habeas corpus pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 2254, following exhaustion of his state-court remedies. Accordingly, the challenge to his continued custody must be
dismissed without prejudice.
For the reasons set forth above, the false arrest and false
imprisonment charges will be permitted to proceed against
Defendants Josh Bard and Frank T. Morey. All other claims will be
dismissed. However, the Court will grant Plaintiff leave to file
an amended complaint.*fn4 An appropriate order follows.