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Opdycke v. Stout

November 30, 2005

CATHERINE OPDYCKE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
EDWARD J. STOUT, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

Defendants Stephanie Carey ("Carey") and Franklin Township ("the Township"), and defendants Edward J. Stout ("Stout"), Haddon Stein ("Stein"), and James L. Ferguson ("Ferguson") (collectively "the police") move separately pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 56(c) for summary judgment as to the claims asserted against them for, inter alia, violations of the plaintiff's Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendment rights. (Am. Compl.) The Court, for the reasons stated herein, will grant the parts of the separate motions concerning claims brought under federal law.

BACKGROUND

I. Facts

Plaintiff, Catherine Opdycke ("Opdycke"), moved into the Society Hill ("Society Hill") condominiums located in the Township in 1987. (Pl. Stmt. of Facts, at 2.) Opdycke had a history of housing multiple cats at the same time, and during the course of her residency several neighbors registered complaints about the odor surrounding her unit. (4-5-05 Opdycke Dep., at 34-35, 46.) Society Hill brought an action on September 6, 2001, in New Jersey Superior Court seeking to enjoin Opdycke from housing any more cats. (4-6-05 Opdycke Dep., at 248.)

Franklin Township Police and Animal Control came to Opdycke's unit on September 8, 2001 in response to a 911 call. (Id.) Opdycke was having an allergic reaction to an anti-depressant drug she was taking, and she voluntarily went to Somerset Medical Center. (4-5-05 Opdycke Dep., at 13-14.) Animal Control removed 36 cats from Opdycke's unit on that day. (Pl. Stmt. of Facts, at 2.) Opdycke had been unable to feed or clean the cats' litter boxes because of her health for three days prior to September 8, 2001. (5-17-02 Opdycke Dep., at 132.) There were approximately thirty stacks of "stuff" for an upcoming garage sale in addition to at least 20 litter boxes in the condominium. (4-5-05 Opdycke Dep., at 61-62.) Opdycke was treated at Somerset Medical Center for depression and remained there until September 17, 2001. (Id. at 62.)

Carey, the Franklin Township Registered Environmental Health Specialist, conducted an inspection of Opdycke's unit on September 10, 2001. (Pl. Stmt. of Facts, at 2.) Opdycke's unit was deemed unfit for human habitation, and a notice to abate a nuisance affecting public health was issued on September 11, 2001. (Mannion Certif. Ex. C.) It stated that the presence of "cat feces, ammonia, fleas, putrescent garbage and debris accumulation in the unit is an acute health hazard," and that all contaminated materials had to be removed within 30 days. (Id.) Walter Galanowsky, Director of Health for the Township, sent a letter to Opdycke advising her of these conditions, and advised her of her rights to request a hearing and respond to the complaint. (Id.) Carey posted a warning on the front door of Opdycke's unit stating "Notice to abate a nuisance affecting public health. Unfit for human habitation . . . All contaminated materials must be removed from the unit within thirty days . . . ." (Pl. Stmt. of Facts, at 3-4.) Opdycke saw the notice when she was released from Somerset Medical Center on September 17, 2001. (Id. at 4.)

Franklin Township Police were called to Opdycke's unit on September 21, 2001 because Opdycke had entered the unit in violation of the notice. (Id. at 7.) The responding officer advised Opdycke to contact the police if she needed to return, and to contact Carey to clarify the terms on which she could return to the condominium. (Id.; Apuzzo Certif. Ex. G.) Mark Imbriani, attorney for Society Hill, wrote to Opdycke's attorney on September 25, 2001 (Opdycke received a copy of a letter), and advised Opdycke that she was prohibited from entering the unit without notifying police or the health department, and that Society Hill residents were advised to call the police if they saw Opdycke entering her unit. (Society Hill v. Opdycke, Civ. Action No. 12055-01, 6-10-02 Trial Tr., at 82-83.) The letter also indicated that any cleanup had to be done by a professional company. (Id.)

Carey again visited Opdycke's unit on October 12, 2001. She went in the sliding glass door in the back of the unit, and found Opdycke inside the unit. (Pl. Stmt. of Facts, at 10.) Carey did not go in any further once she discovered Opdycke. (Id.) Opdycke refused to let Carey in to do an inspection. (Id.) Carey called her supervisor who directed her to call the police. (Id. at 11.) Officer Stout arrived at the unit, knocked on the door, and received no response. (Id.) Stout called Sergeant Stein who also came to the scene. (Id. at 12.) After Opdycke continued to refuse to open the door, Stout and Stein called their supervisor, Captain Ferguson, for further instruction. (Id. at 13.) Ferguson told Stout and Stein that a forced entry was authorized. (Id. at 14; Apuzzo Certif. Ex. P.)

The officers again knocked on Opdycke's door and asked her to open it. (Pl. Stmt. of Facts, at 16.) Stout began to pry open the door upon Opdycke's refusal. (Id.) Opdycke warned Stout that she had just been released from a psychiatric ward and that she would hang herself if he continued to seek entry. (Id. at 17.) Stout continued to try to open the door. (Id.) He encountered resistance when trying to force the door open because Opdycke had placed a tea cart against the door, and the rug on the floor impeded the movement of the door, and tea cart. (Id. at 18.) Once inside Stout used his pepper spray on Opdycke, handcuffed her, and led her out of the unit and into the police car. (Id. at 19-20, 22.) Opdycke refused to place her legs in the car. (Id. at 23.) She swung her legs around and hit Stout when he began to move her legs into the car. (Id.) Once Stout removed Opdycke from the unit, Carey stepped inside to verify that the condominium had not been cleaned. (Carey and Twp. Stmt. of Facts, at ¶ 51.) Stout and Stein took Opdycke to Somerset Medical Center. (Pl. Stmt. of Facts, at 25.) From there, she was transported to St. Francis Hospital in Trenton, New Jersey, and released on October 15, 2001. (Id. at 27.)

Opdycke, as a result of the incident, was charged with (1) attempting to prevent a public servant from lawfully performing an official function (obstruction), (2) recklessly creating a hazardous or physically dangerous condition (disorderly conduct), and (3) simple assault. (Id.) Carey charged Opdycke with ten separate violations of township ordinances based on the uninhabitable condition of her unit. (6-11-03 Municipal Appeal Trial Tr., Appeal No. 14-03 & 56-02, at 25.)

II. Procedural History

Opdycke was found guilty of obstruction and assault on December 3, 2002 in Warren Township Municipal Court. On appeal in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Somerset County, the obstruction conviction was reversed. (11-6-03 Superior Ct. Order., Appeal No. 14-03 & 56-02.) Opdycke was also found guilty in Warren Township Municipal Court on January 3, 2003 of the ten ordinance violations. (Carey & Twp. Br., at 4.) On appeal, all of the ordinance convictions were upheld. (Id.)

Opdycke asserted a third-party complaint in the injunction action brought against her by Society Hill. She asserted the complaint against the Township, and the Department of Health of Franklin Township ("Department of Health") on October 19, 2001. (Mannion Certif. Ex. E.) Opdycke sought compensatory damages, and an order restraining the Township and the Department of Health from entering the unit to clean and do remediation work. (Id.) Opdycke did not assert any federal civil rights claims in the suit, even though she acknowledged that she had such claims. (10-29-01 Superior Ct. Trial Tr., Civ. Action No. 12055-01, at 34.) The Superior Court of New Jersey, pursuant to an agreement reached between the parties, granted Society Hill's requested relief on September 23, 2002, ordering Opdycke to allow Society Hill and the Township to inspect the unit. (9-23-02 Superior Ct. Order Action No. 12055-01.) It also required Opdycke to remove all contents and clean the condo in preparation for sale. (Id.)

Opdycke filed a complaint in this Court on October 14, 2003 alleging both federal and state claims against some or all of the defendants.

Opdycke asserts federal claims for:

(1) unreasonable search by all defendants;

(2) unreasonable seizure by all defendants except Ferguson;

(3) arrest without probable cause by Stout and Stein;

(4) use of excessive force by all defendants;

(5) violation of the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination ...


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