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Jones v. Derosa

November 2, 2006

WILLIAM SEYMOUR JONES, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THOMAS A. DEROSA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hughes, U.S.M.J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court upon the Motion of Defendant Thomas A. DeRosa ("Officer DeRosa") and upon the Motion of Defendant Township of Clinton ("Township") to Quash Plaintiff's Subpoena dated August 24, 2006 which was served on the Township. Defendant Douglas Higgins ("Officer Higgins") joins the Motion to Quash. Plaintiff William Seymour Jones ("Plaintiff") opposes the Motion. On March 30, 2005, the Court dismissed Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint as to the Township. The subpoena served by Plaintiff seeks certain documents from the Township including Internal Affairs files of Officer DeRosa, Officer Higgins, and other non-party members of the Clinton Police Department. The Court reviewed the written submissions of the parties and conducted oral argument on October 31, 2006. For the reasons that follow, Defendants Officer DeRosa, Officer Higgins, and the Township's Motions to Quash the subpoena served by Plaintiff on the Township of Clinton are granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff's Complaint arises from a traffic stop that he asserts was racially motivated. (Pl.'s Br. at 1). On July 13, 2000, Plaintiff was a front seat passenger in a vehicle operated by Damon Harris traveling on Route 22 in Clinton Township, New Jersey. (DeRosa Br. at 1; Pl.'s Opp. Br. at 3). Both Plaintiff and Mr. Harris are African-Americans. (Pl.'s Opp. Br. at 1). Plaintiff asserts that while the vehicle "was stopped in traffic at the entrance to Route 78, [Officer] DeRosa pulled alongside the vehicle and stared at both occupants of the vehicle." (Pl.'s Opp. Br. at 3). After following the vehicle for approximately two miles, Officer DeRosa pulled the vehicle over. (Pl.'s Opp. Br. at 4). Officer DeRosa reports stopping the vehicle after witnessing it swerve partially into the middle lane from the right lane toward a tractor-trailer. (DeRosa Ex. C).

After stopping the vehicle, Officer DeRosa approached the driver's side and requested the driver's license, registration, and proof of insurance. (DeRosa Ex. C). The driver could produce no identification, but told the officer that his name was Fahim A. McIntosh. (DeRosa Ex. C). Plaintiff, the front seat passenger, provided a valid Pennsylvania driver's license. (Pl.'s Opp. Br. at 4). Officer DeRosa asked Mr. Harris to step out of the vehicle and further questioned him regarding his name, date of birth, and social security number. (DeRosa Ex. C). According to the officer, the driver was acting in a nervous and suspicious manner by refusing to make eye contact and by repeatedly looking back toward his vehicle. (DeRosa Ex. C). Officer DeRosa then instructed the driver to stand by and proceeded to question Plaintiff. (DeRosa Ex. C). Plaintiff told the officer that the driver's name was Damon Harris. (DeRosa Ex. C). Officer DeRosa then called Officer Higgins, a Sergeant with the Clinton Township Police Department, for assistance. (DeRosa Ex. C). Officer DeRosa ran the information provided by Mr. Harris and then Officer Higgins placed Mr. Harris in the back of a police vehicle. (DeRosa Ex. C).

Officer DeRosa then asked Plaintiff to step out of the vehicle and patted him down for weapons. (DeRosa Ex. C). When Officer DeRosa reportedly attempted to search the vehicle for a registration and insurance card, he saw what he suspected was cocaine under the front passenger's seat. (DeRosa Ex. C). Plaintiff asserts that Officer DeRosa searched the car without consent. (Pl.'s Opp. Br. at 4). Upon the discovery of the drugs, Officer Higgins placed Plaintiff and Mr. Harris under arrest. (DeRosa Ex. C). Plaintiff was charged with possession of cocaine with an intent to distribute in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:35-5b(1). (See DeRosa's Ex. C). After Plaintiff served five months in jail, all charges against him were dropped. (Pl.'s Opp. Br. at 4).

B. Complaint

On August 3, 2000, Plaintiff pro se filed a civil rights complaint against Officer DeRosa in the United States District Court, District of New Jersey, alleging violations of his civil rights resulting from the arrest on July 13, 2000. (DeRosa Br. at 1; Leit Cert., Ex. A). On January 17, 2001, by order of this Court, the matter was stayed for 120 days, or until May 18, 2001, pending the resolution of Plaintiff's criminal matters in Pennsylvania. (See Dkt. no. 00-3746, entry no. 33). On May 29, 2001, the case was reopened by Order of the Court (See Dkt. no. 00-3746, entry no. 47). This Court further granted Plaintiff's motion for leave to file an Amended Complaint adding Officer Douglas Higgins as a defendant on July 16, 2001. (See Dkt. no. 00-3746, entry no. 54). On February 8, 2002, Officer DeRosa filed a motion for summary judgment [Dkt. no. 00-3746, entry no. 85] and the Court subsequently dismissed the claims for punitive damages against Officer DeRosa [Dkt. no. 00-3746, entry no. 104].

On August 20, 2002, Plaintiff filed a separate civil rights complaint against Officers DeRosa and Higgins which also resulted from the July 13, 2000 arrest. (See Dkt. no. 02-4048, entry no. 2; Leit Cert., Ex. F). Officer DeRosa filed an additional motion for summary judgment on August 27, 2002. (See Dkt. no. 00-3746, entry no. 108). The two actions were consolidated on January 31, 2003, and Plaintiff was granted leave to file an amended complaint. (See Dkt. no. 00-3746, entry no. 114). On February 13, 2003, Officer DeRosa's summary judgment motion was dismissed as moot and premature given that Plaintiff was granted leave to file an amended complaint. (See Dkt. no. 00-3746, entry no. 115).

Plaintiff's motion for appointment of pro bono counsel was granted by this Court on August 1, 2003. (See Dkt. no. 00-3746, entry no. 144). On May 17, 2004, the Court further ordered that Plaintiff was permitted to file a Third Amended Complaint naming the Township of Clinton and John Does 1-10 as defendants. (See Dkt. no. 00-3746, entry no. 157). Plaintiff filed the Third Amended Complaint on May 28, 2004. (See Dkt. no. 00-3746, entry no. 159). In the Third Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserts that Defendants committed violations of his Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, conspired to deprive Plaintiff of his Civil Rights, violated the State Constitution, and falsely arrested and imprisoned him. Id. Plaintiff further argues that Officer DeRosa pulled over the vehicle solely because of the race of Plaintiff and Mr. Harris. Id. Specifically, Plaintiff asserts the following counts in his Third Amended Complaint: Count 1 - Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants DeRosa and Higgins; Count 2 -Violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Township of Clinton and John Does 1-10; Count 3 -Conspiracy to Deprive One of Civil Rights against Defendants DeRosa and Higgins; Count 4 -Negligence against the Township of Clinton; Count 5 - False Arrest and False Imprisonment against all Defendants; and Count 6 - State Constitutional Claims against all Defendants. (See Dkt. no. 00-3746, entry no. 159).

Officer Higgins filed a motion to dismiss the Third Amended Complaint on July 7, 2004, and the Township of Clinton filed a "cross motion" for an order dismissing Plaintiff's Third Amended Complaint on August 13, 2004. (See Dkt. no. 00-3746, entry no. 163, 169). On March 30, 2005, the Court dismissed Count five (5) of the Third Amended Complaint as to Officer Higgins and dismissed the Third Amended Complaint as to the Township [Dkt. no. 00-3746, entry no. 181, 182]. Three Counts remain viable against Officer Higgins: (1) Count 1, violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983; (2) Count 3, conspiracy to deprive one of civil rights; and (3) Count 6, state constitutional claims. (See Pl.'s Third Am. Compl.). The Township now moves as a third party to quash a subpoena seeking a wide variety of documents.

C. Subpoena Served upon the Township

Plaintiff served a subpoena dated August 24, 2006, upon the Township of Clinton seeking certain documents including internal affairs files of Officers DeRosa and Higgins and other non-party members of the Clinton Police Department, in addition to documents regarding police policy, procedure, and training. (See DeRosa Ex. CC). Officer DeRosa has already provided Plaintiff with policies and procedures regarding race in executing a motor vehicle stop, searches of vehicles, searches of individuals, arrests of individuals, and arrests of individuals of color as an amendment to his Rule 26 disclosures. (DeRosa Br. at 9).

On September 18, 2006, Officer DeRosa and the Township filed motions to quash the subpoena. (See Dkt. no. 00-3746, entry no. 203, 204). Officer DeRosa argues that the subpoena served upon the Township is overbroad and seeks information that is not relevant to the present action. The Township argues that the documents requested by Plaintiff may be the subject of an appeal, stay and/or protective order in the Third Circuit and therefore, this Court should not order disclosure of the requested documents. However, a Court's review of the docket reveals no pending stay, appeal, or protective order pending in the Third Circuit Court of Appeals, which Defendants conceded at oral argument.

Officer Higgins joined the motions to quash filed by Officer DeRosa and the Township and argues that some of the documents requested by Plaintiff in the subpoena are the subject on an appeal pending in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division. Officer Higgins further argues that the requested information is not relevant and is protected by the law enforcement privilege. Officer Higgins further argues that the information sought is confidential and therefore, a protective order is necessary to protect any personal information ordered disclosed by the Court. Officer Higgins requests the Court conduct an in camera review before ordering disclosure of any information.

In response, Plaintiff contends that Officer DeRosa does not have standing to quash the subpoena served on the Township, a third party. Plaintiff requests that a protective order be entered to protect disclosure of any confidential or personal information while allowing for use of the information in the present litigation. Plaintiff contends that the subpoena ...


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