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Stampone v. Fazio

June 20, 2006

RE: STAMPONE
v.
FAZIO



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini Judge

LETTER OPINION

Dear Counsel:

This matter comes before the Court on the motion for summary judgment filed by Defendant Fazio and the cross-motion for summary judgment*fn1 filed by Plaintiff Stampone. For the reasons stated below, Fazio's motion is DENIED and Stampone's motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

Procedural Background

Plaintiff brought this action in November 2000 under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the New Jersey Tort Claims Act for injuries allegedly suffered in the course of and as a result of his arrest in September 1999. Stampone originally named as defendants Joseph Fazio, a former police officer with the Saddle Brook Police Department; the Mayor and Township of Saddle Brook, New Jersey; and the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey. All claims against all defendants were previously dismissed by the Court. In April 2005, the Third Circuit reversed and remanded solely as to the dismissal of Stampone's constitutional claims against arresting officer Fazio. Both Fazio and Stampone have filed for summary judgment in light of the Third Circuit's opinion.

Factual Background

Stampone's Complaint is based on the following facts. On September 7, 1999, Stampone was sitting in his car on a residential street in Saddle Brook, New Jersey waiting for his girlfriend to return from work. Fazio, who had been driving through the neighborhood, became suspicious because Stampone had an out-of-state Kansas license plate. Fazio approached Stampone and asked what he was doing. Stampone stated that he was waiting for his girlfriend and directed Fazio to her house. Fazio found nobody home, whereupon Stampone stated he expected her around 5:00 p.m.

Fazio then asked Stampone for identification, which Stampone refused to provide. When Fazio asked again, Stampone stated that it was in the trunk of the car but refused to retrieve it. Eventually, Stampone got out, took a manila envelope out of the trunk, and returned to the car. Allegedly, while closing the car door, he almost slammed Fazio's leg. Stampone next put the envelope on the passenger seat and turned his back to Fazio while opening it. At that point, Fazio opened the door and attempted to pull Stampone out of the car by grabbing his arms and threatening him with mace. Stampone immediately began complaining of shoulder pain and requested an ambulance.

Stampone's girlfriend then came home and confirmed that she had asked Stampone to meet her there. At that point, Fazio placed Stampone under arrest, handcuffed him, and transported him to a hospital.*fn2 Later, Stampone was taken to the police station where he was charged and eventually convicted of failing to exhibit a driver's license and of disorderly conduct.

In November 2000, following his conviction, Stampone filed suit against Defendants for, among others, use of force, false arrest, "perjury," and harassment. He based his claims on the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments and the New Jersey Tort Claims Act. Stampone alleged damages of, among others, a torn rotator cuff, emotional injuries, and humiliation. Around May 2001, the Superior Court of New Jersey Appellate Division reversed and dismissed Stampone's convictions. That court, citing Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1 (1968), found that Fazio's initial stop of Stampone was illegal because "nothing in the evidence would support a claim that Fazio had an articulable suspicion of illegal conduct to support" the investigatory stop. State v. Stampone, 775 A.2d 193, 196 (N.J. Super. A.D. 2001).

In March 2001 in the instant case, the Court granted the Attorney General's motion to dismiss on the basis of sovereign immunity. In November 2002, the Court also granted Fazio's motion for summary judgment. The Court found that Fazio was justifiably concerned for his safety when Stampone almost slammed the door on him and then bent over the passenger seat with his back to Fazio. The Court thus held that Fazio's use of force was reasonable and that Fazio was entitled to qualified immunity. The Court also found that Stampone's state law claims did not meet the requirements of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act and dismissed these as well. Finally, on January 23, 2004, the Court granted judgment as a matter of law in favor of the two remaining defendants, the Mayor and Township of Saddle Brook, finding that Stampone had failed to produce any evidence showing that the Mayor or Township were connected to Fazio's alleged wrongdoing.

Stampone appealed the Court's decision, and in April 2005, the Third Circuit issued a judgment affirming all but the Court's dismissal of the constitutional claims against Fazio. Stampone v. Fazio, No. 04-1310 (3d Cir. April 14, 2005). With regard to Fazio's initial stop of Stampone, the Third Circuit ruled that Fazio was not entitled to qualified immunity because not only was the stop unconstitutional, but also Fazio was unreasonable in believing it was constitutional. Id. at 7. The Third Circuit also found Fazio not entitled to summary judgment on the issue of qualified immunity for his unlawful use of force against Stampone. Id. at 8. It reasoned that there were conflicting accounts as to why Fazio reached in and pulled Stampone from the car, and that it was questionable as to whether Fazio did so out of fear for his safety or simply anger. Id. at 8-9. Further, with regard to the issue of false arrest, the Third Circuit noted that the Court wrongly failed to consider the cause of action. Id. at 7-8. It directed the Court to revisit the issue and determine whether, given the unconstitutional arrest, Fazio is entitled to qualified immunity on this claim. Id. Finally, the Third Circuit directed the Court to clarify whether Stampone had properly asserted a claim for malicious prosecution. Id. at 4 n.1.

Both parties have now filed for ...


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