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Combs v. Borough of Avalon

February 1, 2007

ANDREW F. COMBS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
BOROUGH OF AVALON, AVALON POLICE DEPARTMENT, AND OFFICER WILLIAM MCDEVITT, DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion to dismiss certain constitutional and state law claims of Plaintiff. For the reasons expressed below, Defendants' motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

On May 29, 2005, Plaintiff, Andrew Combs, attempted to gain entry to the Princeton Bar in Avalon, New Jersey. Defendant Officer William McDevitt, an employee of Defendant Borough of Avalon Police Department, examined Plaintiff's Pennsylvania driver's license to determine whether Plaintiff was the required twenty-one years of age to enter the bar. Plaintiff's driver's license listed his birth date as May 14, 1984, thus indicating that Plaintiff was twenty-one years old. Officer McDevitt, however, concluded that Plaintiff's license was fake.

According to Plaintiff's Complaint, "[w]ithout probable cause, justification, or provocation," Officer McDevitt "detained, questioned and accused plaintiff of producing false identification," and "unlawfully restrained and confined" Plaintiff "for a period of time without probable cause and did not allow his entrance into the Princeton." (Compl. ¶ 10.) Officer McDevitt confiscated Plaintiff's driver's license and issued a Summons and Complaint to Plaintiff alleging that Plaintiff "committed the offense of misstating his age to gain entrance to the Princeton under N.J.S.A. 11:4-2." (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff pleaded not guilty to the Summons and Complaint, and on August 8, 2005, appeared at the Municipal Court of Avalon. Prior to the hearing, the State of New Jersey dropped the charges against Plaintiff because Plaintiff was twenty-one years of age at the time the Summons and Complaint were issued and he did not produce false identification.

Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Officer McDevitt, the Borough of Avalon Police Department, and the Borough of Avalon, claiming that his rights under the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments were violated. Plaintiff also claims that Defendants committed violations of New Jersey state law of false arrest, unlawful restraint and/or confinement, and false imprisonment.

Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff's First, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment claims, as well as Plaintiff's state law claims, claims against the Avalon Police Department, Officer McDevitt, and his claim for punitive damages.*fn1 Plaintiff concedes that his state law claims and First, Fifth and Eighth Amendment claims should be dismissed. Plaintiff also concedes that all claims against the Defendant Avalon Police Department should be dismissed. Plaintiff disputes, however, Defendants' contention that his Fourteenth Amendment claim, his claims against Officer McDevitt, and his punitive damages claim should be dismissed.

DISCUSSION

A. Standard for a Motion to Dismiss

When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), a court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005). A court may not dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim "unless it appears beyond doubt that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim which would entitle him to relief." Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 45-46 (1957) (citations omitted). The defendant bears the burden of showing that no claim has been presented. Hedges v. U.S., 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991)).

B. Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment Claim

Plaintiff claims that his Fourteenth Amendment right to due process and equal protection was violated when Officer McDevitt detained him, seized his identification, and issued him a citation without cause. There are three types of protections provided by the Fourteenth Amendment: substantive due process, procedural due process, and equal protection under the law. Plaintiff has not stated a claim for a violation of his substantive due process rights or his rights under the Equal Protection Clause. Plaintiff's claim for a violation of his procedural due process rights raises an issue not addressed by the parties.

First, a claim for a violation of Plaintiff's substantive due process protection fails because substantive due process protection has "for the most part been accorded to matters relating to marriage, family, procreation, and the right to bodily integrity." Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 272 (1994). None of those matters are at issue here. More specifically, there is no substantive due process right in being free from prosecution without probable cause, and "substantive due process may not furnish the constitutional peg on which to hang such a 'tort.'" Id. at 268, 270 n.4. Further, "[w]here a particular Amendment provides an explicit textual source of constitutional protection against a particular sort of government behavior, that Amendment, not the more generalized notion of substantive due process, must be the guide for analyzing these claims." Id. at 273; see also County of Sacramento v. Lewis, 523 U.S. 833, 843 (1998) (quoting United States v. Lanier, 520 U.S. 259, 272 n.7 (1997)) ("'[I]f a constitutional claim is covered by a specific constitutional provision, such as the Fourth or Eighth Amendment, the claim must be analyzed under the standard appropriate to that specific provision, not under the rubric of substantive due process.'"). Because Plaintiff has asserted a claim for a violation of his Fourth Amendment rights for Defendants' conduct, Plaintiff cannot state a claim for a violation of his substantive due process rights for the same alleged conduct.

Plaintiff's claim for a violation of the Equal Protection Clause is similarly unavailing. In order to state a claim under the Equal Protection Clause, Plaintiff must claim that absent a rational basis for doing otherwise, he was treated differently than similarly situated persons. Village of Willowbrook v. Olech, 528 U.S. 562, 564 (2000); see also Vacco v. Quill, 521 U.S. 793, 799 (1997) (explaining that the Equal Protection Clause, which "commands that no State shall 'deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws,'" does not create any substantive rights, and "[i]nstead, . . . embodies a general rule that States must treat like cases alike but may treat unlike cases accordingly." . . . "If a legislative classification or distinction neither burdens a fundamental right nor targets a suspect class, we will uphold [it] so long as it bears a rational relation to ...


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