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Williams v. County of Gloucester

March 30, 2006

NEKIESHA WILLIAMS, PLAINTIFF
v.
COUNTY OF GLOUCESTER, GLOUCESTER COUNTY PROSECUTOR SEAN F. DALTON,: TOWNSHIP OF WEST DEPTFORD, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



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

OPINION

Plaintiff, Nekiesha Williams ("Williams"), contends, inter alia, that Gloucester County Prosecutor, Sean F. Dalton ("Dalton") and the County of Gloucester (hereinafter known collectively as "Gloucester County Defendants") violated her Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment Rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in connection with her arrest by the West Deptford Police Department. Specifically, Plaintiff alleges that the Gloucester County Defendants: (1) implemented policies and/or customs that failed to properly investigate police misconduct; and (2) implemented policies and/or customs that failed to adequately supervise and train law enforcement officers. In addition, Plaintiff alleges various state claims against the Defendants including intentional misconduct, negligence, gross negligence, deliberate indifference and abuse of process. On November 1, 2005, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). On December 7, 2005, Plaintiffs filed a Motion for Leave to File Late Tort Claim Notices. The Court has considered the moving, opposition and reply briefs, and for the reasons stated in the opinion below, Plaintiff's Motion is denied and her state claims against the County Defendants are dismissed, and Defendants' Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

The following facts are gleaned from Plaintiff's Amended Complaint. On or around August 6, 2003, Plaintiff was a resident of Unit B-9 of the Red Bank Run Apartments, a housing complex located in West Deptford, New Jersey. At or around 6:30 p.m., members of the West Deptford Police Department and the Gloucester County Prosecutor's Office were waiting to execute a search warrant at unit C-3 of the Red Bank Run Apartments. At the same time, Plaintiff looked out her window to check on her five year old daughter who was riding her bicycle in the front of the apartment. Plaintiff, however, did not see her daughter; instead, Plaintiff observed the Defendants standing with weapons drawn in front of Apartment C-3. At that point, Plaintiff went outside to look for her daughter and Plaintiff's neighbor, Ms. Harrell, told Plaintiff that her daughter was inside her apartment. Plaintiff attempted to enter the neighbor's apartment, but she was stopped by one of the officers and told that she could not enter the apartment.*fn1 Plaintiff continued to try to look for her daughter in the apartment, however, at some point, Plaintiff alleges that several officers grabbed her, slammed her into the ground and placed her under arrest. As a result of the force used, Plaintiff suffered a fractured femur that required immediate surgery, and she remained hospitalized for several weeks.

Subsequently, the West Deptford Police department charged Plaintiff with aggravated assault, simple assault, obstructing the administration of law and resisting arrest. The criminal case against Plaintiff was resolved in March 2005 when Plaintiff was accepted into a Pre-Trial Intervention Program. However, Plaintiff filed a tort claim notice with the Township of West Deptford on or around October 20, 2003, that identified the Township and various officers as being responsible for her injuries. On April 1, 2005, Plaintiff filed a §1983 complaint against West Deptford Township, West Deptford Police Chief James P. Mehaffey and three individual officers -- Goggin, Pfeiffer and Mckenna ("West Deptford Defendants"). On August 8, 2005, Plaintiff filed a motion to amend the complaint to join the Gloucester County Defendants. This motion was granted, and on August 26, 2005, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. On November 1, 2005, the Gloucester County Defendants filed the instant Motion to Dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) and 12(b)(6). On December 7, 2005, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Leave to File Late Tort Claim Notices on the Gloucester County Defendants.

II. Legal Standard

Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction and pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. The standard of review on a motion to dismiss under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(1) for lack of subject matter jurisdiction varies depending on whether the defendant makes a facial or factual challenge. Gould Elecs., Inc. v. United States, 220 F.3d 169, 176 (3d Cir. 2000). The standard for reviewing a facial attack is similar to the standard governing a Rule 12(b)(6) motion. "In reviewing a facial attack, the court must only consider the allegations of the complaint and documents referenced therein and attached thereto, in the light most favorable to the plaintiff." Id. at 176. In contrast, in reviewing a factual challenge, the allegations of the complaint are not accepted as true, and "the court may consider evidence outside the pleadings." Id. This case concerns a facial challenge.

When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must "accept as true the facts alleged in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn from them. Dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6). . . is limited to those instances where it is certain that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved." Markowitz v. Northeast Land Co., 906 F.2d 100, 103 (3d Cir.1990) (citing Ransom v. Marrazzo, 848 F.2d 398, 401 (3d Cir.1988)); see also H.J. Inc. v. Northwestern Bell Tel. Co., 492 U.S. 229, 249-50 (1989). A court will dismiss a complaint only if "it is clear that no relief could be granted under any set of facts that could be proved consistent with the allegations." H.J. Inc., 492 U.S. at 249-50. Moreover, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure generally do not require detailed pleading of the facts on which a claim is based. Instead, all that is required is "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief," enough to "give the defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Fed R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2); see also Alston v. Parker, 363 F.3d 229, 233-34 (3d Cir. 2004).

III. Discussion

1. Eleventh Amendment and 1983 Claims

Defendants contend that Plaintiff's Complaint must be dismissed because it is barred by the Eleventh Amendment. The Eleventh Amendment establishes that "the Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by citizens or subjects of any foreign state." U.S. Const. Amend. XI. Thus, in the absence of consent or a waiver of immunity, a federal court lacks jurisdiction to hear claims brought by an individual against a state or a state agency. Pennhurst State School & Hosp. v. Halderman, 465 U.S. 89, 99 (1984). Moreover, a suit is barred by the eleventh amendment even when the state is not named a party to the action as long as "the state is the real, substantial party in interest." Bennett v. City of Atlantic City, 288 F. Supp. 2d 675, 679 (D.N.J. 2003). A state is the real party in interest "if the judgment sought would expend itself on the public treasury or domain, or interfere with the public administration or if the effect of the judgment would be to restrain the Government from acting or compel it to act." Fitchik v. New Jersey Transit Rail Operations, Inc., 873 F.2d 655, 659 (3d Cir. 1989). Under this framework, state agencies and officials acting in their official capacities are routinely afforded Eleventh Amendment immunity. Will v. Mich. Dept. of State Police, 491 U.S. 58, 70-71 (1989); Fitchik v. N.J. Transit Rail Operations, Inc., 873 F.2d 655, 658 (3d Cir. 1989). However, municipalities and political subdivisions of a state are generally not afforded this protection. Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc., v. W. Va. Dept. Of Health and Human Res., 532 U.S. 598, 609 n. 10 (2001) ("Only States and state officers acting in their official capacity are immune from suits for damages in federal court. Plaintiffs may bring suit for damages against all others, including municipalities and other political subdivisions of a State")(citations omitted); see also Mt. Healthy City Bd. of Ed. v. Doyle, 429 U.S. 274, 280 (1977) (finding that the Eleventh Amendment does not extend to "counties and similar municipal corporations" unless the entity is an "arm of the State.").

Thus, in determining if a claim is barred by sovereign immunity, a court must initially determine if the state is the real party in interest. Under Fitchik, a court must consider: (1) whether payment of a judgment resulting from the suit would come from the state treasury; (2) the status of the entity under state law; and (3) the entity's degree of autonomy. See Fitchik, 873 F.2d at 659. These factors, however, are not weighed evenly and the Third Circuit has expressly held "that the most important question in determining Eleventh Amendment immunity is 'whether any judgment would be paid from the state treasury.'" Carter v. City of Philadelphia, 181 F.3d 339, 348 (3d Cir. 1999)( citing Bolden v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority, 953 F.2d 807, 816 (3d Cir. 1991)). Moreover, Defendants bear the burden of proving that they are entitled to sovereign immunity. See Chisolm v. McManimon, 275 F. 3d 315, 323 (3d Cir. 2001).

However, this is not the end of the inquiry. When a court applies the Fitchik factors to an entity that performs in more than one capacity, the court must first determine the capacity in which the entity was acting when its actions gave rise to the Plaintiff's claims. See Davis v. Lakewood, 2005 WL 1863665 at *4 (D.N.J. Aug. 4, 2005). In New Jersey, for example, county prosecutors have a hybrid status. Coleman v. Kaye, 87 F.3d 1491, 1499 (3d Cir. 1996). The Third Circuit established that, "when county prosecutors execute their sworn duties to enforce the law. . .they act as agents of the State. On the other hand, when county prosecutors are called upon to perform administrative tasks unrelated to their strictly prosecutorial functions. . . the county prosecutor in effect acts on behalf of the county that is the situs of his or her office." Id.

In the instant matter, Defendants argue that to the extent that Dalton is liable for his law enforcement or prosecutorial acts, the state is the real party in interest and neither Dalton nor the county may be held liable. The Court ...


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