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Jobes v. Moorestown Township

October 19, 2006

T. DANIEL JOBES AND JENNIFER JONES-JOBES, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MOORESTOWN TOWNSHIP, LEE LIEBER, RICHARD O'DONNELL, WAYNE O'DONNELL, DAVID CONSTANTINE, WILLIAM MANN, COLUMBUS BUFFETTA, VIRGINIA WOOD, LEONARD WOOD, WOOD FAMILY PARTNERSHIP, AND WADE & WOOD, LLC DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

Plaintiffs commenced this action against all Defendants on August 25, 2003.*fn1 Pending before the Court are four motions: (1) Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendants Moorestown Township ("Moorestown"), Lee Lieber, Richard O'Donnell, Wayne O'Donnell, David Constantine, and William Mann ("Moorestown police officers"); (2) Motion for Partial Summary Judgment by Defendant Columbus Buffetta; (3) Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendants Leonard Wood, Wood Family Partnership ("WFP"), and Wade & Wood, LLC ("WW"); and (4) Motion for Summary Judgment by Defendant Virginia Wood.

Plaintiffs allege four counts against Defendants Columbus Buffetta, Virginia Wood, and Leonard Wood: (1) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (2) fraud; (3) malicious prosecution; and (4) civil conspiracy.*fn2 Plaintiffs also allege battery against Columbus Buffetta.*fn3 Plaintiffs' claim against WFP and WW is based on vicarious liability because Leonard Wood is an employee of these entities.

Against Defendants Moorestown police officers, Plaintiffs allege: (1) false arrest/false imprisonment; (2) malicious prosecution; (3) federal civil rights violations pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985(3), and 1986; (4) violation of New Jersey Law Against Discrimination; (5) intentional infliction of emotional distress; and (6) civil conspiracy. Plaintiffs also allege perjury against Defendant Lee Lieber.*fn4

Against Defendant Moorestown, Plaintiffs allege three counts: (1) vicarious liability for the state common-law torts committed by Moorestown police officers; (2) vicarious liability for violation of New Jersey Law Against Discrimination; and (3) independent liability for failing to properly train and supervise its police officers concerning investigation and arrest.

For the reasons set forth below, the Motions for Summary Judgment will be granted.

I.

Plaintiff Jobes was a 48 year-old man in 2001. Plaintiff Jennifer Jones-Jobes is his wife. Defendants Virginia Wood and Columbus Buffetta were 74 and 73 respectively in 2001. Plaintiffs and Defendant Virginia Wood resided in the same condominium building. Defendant Columbus Buffetta is Virginia Wood's boyfriend who frequently visited and stayed with her. The condominium building was owned by Defendant WFP, whose managing partner is Defendant Leonard Wood, Virginia Wood's son.

Virginia Wood claims that Plaintiff Jobes assaulted her on January 24, 2001. She filed a private citizen's criminal complaint against him. (Pl. Ex. FF). This criminal complaint, along with Mr. Jobes' counter-complaint, went to community mediation. Both complaints were dismissed by Consent Order. Defendant Leonard Wood wrote letters to Plaintiffs and the property management company regarding this matter. (Pl. Ex. W).

On August 24, 2001, at approximately 5:30 p.m., Plaintiff Jobes arrived home from a business trip in Baltimore. At that time, his wife and daughter were not home. (Crim. Trial Trans. Aug. 1, 2002, Pl. Ex. CC at 24:8-10). Two parking spots in the condominium's parking lot were reserved for Plaintiffs. Plaintiff Jobes parked his car in his reserved spot, and the reserved spot for his wife, Plaintiff Jones-Jobes, was empty. At this time, Plaintiff Jobes saw a car pulling into his wife's parking space. Mary Karpinski, Virginia Wood's sister, and her husband, Edwin Karpinski, were in that car.

Plaintiff Jobes walked over to the driver's side of the car and explained to the driver that he was parked in his wife's reserved parking space. He asked them to move the car because he expected his wife to be arriving home soon. (Crim. Trial Trans. Aug. 1, 2002, Pl. Ex. CC at 31:1-8) An exchange took place between Plaintiff Jobes and the Karpinskis when they did not move the car. But eventually the Karpinskis moved their car and Plaintiff walked into his unit. (Id. at 30:4-34:23). Defendant Columbus Buffetta described this exchanged as a "heated one." (Buffetta Dep., Pl. Ex. N at 6:5-8).

Virginia Wood and Columbus Buffetta observed the exchange from the window of their unit in the condominium. They started to walk downstairs. Mr. Jobes was inside his unit at this time and closed the door. (Crim. Trial Trans. Aug. 1, 2002, Pl. Ex. CC at 35:7-12). He heard Virginia Wood coming down the steps, and wanted to ask her to inform her guests about the reserved parking lots. He opened his front door and observed Mrs. Wood standing outside facing him directly and holding the storm door open. (Id. at 36:6-20). Ms. Wood and Mr. Buffetta also testified during deposition that they first encountered Mr. Jobes that day outside of the front door to the condominium. (Buffetta Dep., Pl. Ex. N at 9:12-20; Wood Dep., Pl. Ex. O at 13:22-14:3).

According to Mr. Jobes, at this time, Columbus Buffetta ran down the steps shouting repeatedly "this is not your space. This has never been your space." (Crim. Trial Trans. Aug. 1, 2002, Pl. Ex. CC at 38:2-6). Mr. Jobes claimed that when Mr. Buffetta reached the bottom of the steps, he punched Mr. Jobes above the left temple on the hairline. (Id. at 39:3-16). Mr. Jobes immediately raised his fist and hit Mr. Buffetta in the face. The two punched each other in the torso. (Id. at 39:7-11, 40:2-4). Mr. Jobes claims that he was turned and was pushed back by Mr. Buffetta, falling into Ms. Wood's unit and onto the stairs inside. (Id. at 40:6-16).

According to Mr. Jobes, at this point, he was lying at a 45 degree angle on Ms. Wood's stairs and Mr. Buffetta continued to pummel him in the torso. (Crim. Trial Trans. Aug. 1, 2002, Pl. Ex. CC at 41:2-5). Mr. Jobes claims that he asked Mr. Buffetta to stop the fight three or four times to no avail. In order to get Mr. Buffetta off his body, Mr. Jobes pushed him hard. (Id. at 41:15-42:5). The push caused Mr. Buffetta to fall back against the storm door, and the door gave way. It opened quickly and Mr. Buffetta stumbled out of the door, waving his arms in order to catch his balance. (Id. at 44:5-8). Mr. Jobes, carried by his own momentum, followed Mr. Buffetta out of the door. (Id. at 44:24-45:1). Virginia Wood was standing outside during the struggle, holding the storm door open slightly. Mr. Buffetta fell backwards into Ms. Wood, knocking her down. (Id. at 46:10-15).

Defendants have a different account of the facts. Defendant Virginia Wood insists that Mr. Jobes was the initial aggressor. (Def. Virginia Wood Ex. A). She also told the police that Mr. Jobes entered their condominium unit threatening to kill her, that he punched Mr. Buffetta repeatedly about the face and body and knocked him to the floor, and that as she was going to call the police. She also claims that Mr. Jobes grabbed her by the throat and pushed her out of the apartment. (Id.).

According to Defendant Buffetta, Mr. Jobes was arguing, cursing and becoming extremely antagonistic towards Ms. Wood and Mr. Buffetta. (Def. Buffetta Br. at p. 2). "Mr. Jobes ... began pushing [Mr. Buffetta] backwards into Mrs. Woods' apartment where [Mr. Buffetta] eventually fell to the floor." (Id.). Mr. Buffetta also claims that he was subsequently pushed onto the floor, and Mr. Jobes began beating him in the face and back (Id.).

Mr. Jobes lost his eyeglasses during the struggle. He never recovered them. (Crim. Trial Trans. Aug. 1, 2002, Pl. Ex. CC at 47:6-8). Virginia Wood subsequently gave the eyeglasses to Leonard Wood, who turned them to the Burlington Prosecutor's Office.

Mr. Jobes claims that after Virginia Wood fell, he immediately ran back into his own condominium unit to dial 911. He told the dispatcher that he lived at 38 Eraser Road in Moorestown, that his neighbor's boyfriend had just attacked him, and that he needed police help immediately and an ambulance. (Crim. Trial Trans. Aug. 1, 2002, Pl. Ex. CC at 48:2-14). However, Defendant Moorestown claims that the initial 911 call was placed by Mary Karpinski from across the street from the condominium where the altercation took place. (Def. Moorestown Br. at p. 5). Ms. Wood also claims that Ms. Karpinski was the person who called the police from a neighbor's house. (Def. Virginia Wood Ex. A).

When Mr. Jobes came back down the stairs after dialing 911, he saw Ms. Wood lying on the ground and Mr. Buffetta down on one knee. Seeing Mr. Jobes approaching, Mr. Buffetta picked up a rock and was getting up with the rock in his hand. (Crim. Trial Trans. Aug. 1, 2002, Pl. Ex. CC at 49:22-50:1). Fearing that Mr. Buffetta would use the rock against him, Mr. Jobes pushed Mr. Buffetta and knocked him back down. Mr. Buffetta fell onto his back and dropped the rock. (Id. at 50:2-7)

By Mr. Jobes' account of the facts, at this point he stood over Mr. Buffetta and became somewhat hysterical. (Pl. Br. at p. 10). He began yelling at Mr. Buffetta saying that he could not believe Mr. Buffetta had attacked him. This was the moment when Moorestown police officers arrived. (Crim. Trial Trans. Aug. 1, 2002, Pl. Ex. CC at 50:12-14). The police arrested Mr. Jobes immediately.

The first Moorestown police officer to arrive was Defendant Patrolman Wayne O'Donnell, followed by Defendants Patrolman William David Constantine and Patrolman Howard Mann. Defendant Sergeant Richard O'Donnell was the last police officer to arrive.

When the officers arrive at the scene, they saw a middle-aged man, Mr. Jobes, standing over and screaming at another man in his 70s who is on the ground. The police immediately arrested Mr. Jobes. Mr. Jobes claims that he had told Officer Constantine that it was he who had been assaulted, and that Officer Constantine had informed Officer Wayne O'Donnell about that fact. (Constantine Dep., Pl. Ex. H at 36:18-37:18). The police officers arrested Mr. Jobes regardless of his statements. Mr. Jobes claim that the police arrested him only because he was younger than Mr. Buffetta.

Mr. Jobes was taken to the Moorestown Police Department headquarters for processing. According to Mr. Jobes, Officers Wayne O'Donnell, David William Constantine, and Howard Mann, berated him for assaulting senior citizens. He claims that when he explained that it was Mr. Buffetta who had attacked him, Patrolman Constantine told him that this was not an excuse for assaulting the elderly. (Jobes Dep., Pl. Ex. C at 190:2-14).

Shortly after Mr. Jobes was arrested, Jennifer Jones-Jobes returned home. Sergeant O'Donnell informed her that her husband was arrested. He also asked her whether her husband was mentally ill or was on any medications. According to Plaintiffs, Ms. Jones-Jobes replied that her husband took Zoloft for depression. (Pl. Br. at p. 13).

Patrolman Wayne O'Donnell signed a criminal complaint on August 24, 2001, charging Daniel Jobes with aggravated assault, burglary and terroristic threats. Municipal Court Judge Alfred Faxon set bail on the condition that Mr. Jobes be psychiatrically evaluated before his released from the Burlington County Jail in Mount Holly. Mr. Jobes was held on twenty-four hour lock down that weekend for three days. He was permitted to be out of his cell for one phone call a day and one shower. Mr. Jobes claims that this incarceration has had a severe psychological impact on him, (Pl. Br. at p. 19), and that Sergeant O'Donnell discriminated against Mr. Jobes by describing him as "crazy" for his depression.

Two Moorestown police detectives, Charles Viggiano and James Dever, were sent to Virtua West Jersey Hospital to take Virginia Wood and Columbus Buffetta's statements. Plaintiffs claim that the statements contain false information because Mr. Buffetta and Mrs. Wood claimed that it was Mr. Jobes who had initiated the assault, and that Ms. Wood grossly exaggerated her injuries.

Plaintiffs claim that Ms. Wood suffered only minor scratches and bruises, not a fractured skull or a concussion. Virginia Wood's medical record indicates that the CT scan of her head shows "possible skull fracture, [but] otherwise unremarkable." (Def. Ex. B at p. 5). Another portion of her medical record states that the "significant findings were evidence of contusion around her head and neck and at the base of the neck, tenderness at the occiput.*fn5 The right elbow had abrasions and some pain with motion. The finger was either bluntly lacerated or contused." (Id. at p. 6)

Defendant Lee Lieber of the Moorestown Police Department was assigned to be the lead detective on this matter. He did not read any medical records of Virginia Wood, but he spoke to Ms. Wood and one of Ms. Wood's treating doctors. (Dever Dep., Pl. Ex. K at 16:3-24). Detective Lieber signed a criminal complaint on August 29, 2001, charging him with second degree assault and burglary, more serious charges than the initial ones brought by Officer Wayne O'Donnell on August 24, 2001.

Mr. Jobes and his defense attorney hoped that he would be admitted into the Pre-Trial Intervention Program for first time offenders who have good records. His application was initially accepted and he was admitted into the program. However, Mr. Jobes claims that after Defendant Leonard Wood learned from the Burlington County Prosecutor's Office that Mr. Jobes had been approved for admission into the Pre-Trial Intervention Program, he wrote letters of protest to Robert Bernardi, the Burlington County Prosecutor, and to a number of state officials, including State Senator John Adler, State Senator Martha Bark, and Assemblyman ...


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