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Lopez v. CSX Transportation

July 31, 2007

RE: LOPEZ
v.
CSX TRANSPORTATION, INC., ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini, U.S.D.J.

LETTER OPINION

Dear Litigants:

This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' motions for summary judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56. Oral arguments were held on June 20, 2007. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motions are GRANTED, and Plaintiff's complaint is DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE.

I. BACKGROUND

This civil rights action arises from Plaintiff Elvis Lopez's arrest and detention. Plaintiff's complaint alleges claims under both federal and state law for false arrest, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution, and discriminatory arrest and prosecution. Plaintiff seeks $2 million in damages. The following facts are not in dispute.

A. The Investigation

On January 5, 2005, the North Bergen Police discovered CSX trailer truck driver, Luis Velasquez, in a truck containing stolen electronic goods from the CSX Intermodal Terminals' Little Ferry Yard ("CSX Yard"), a secured shipping yard. Velasquez had recently left the CSX Yard in the truck found with the stolen goods. Next to the truck was a car that contained more of the stolen goods. The car was traced to Felipe Lara, another CSX employee.

Officers Solomon Hicks and Gary Kamboorian, state-appointed railroad policemen employed by CSX Transportation, Inc., investigated the theft. They learned that an inactive, but possibly reactivated, 1999 booking number was used to permit the exit of the truck from the CSX Yard, and that Plaintiff, who was the gate clerk on duty at the time, had processed Velasquez's booking number about one hour before the trailer truck was found with the stolen goods.

Plaintiff, as a gate clerk for CSX, permits the exit of trucks from the secured yard by: (1) accepting a randomized booking number provided by the truck driver, (2) matching the booking number and equipment against a corresponding entry in the computer system, (3) verifying certain additional information against the entry in the computer system, and then, (4) issuing a computer generated "TIR" document to the driver. A TIR report contains certain information pertaining to the truck, trailer, and driver and is needed for a driver to leave the CSX Yard. The computer system will only issue a TIR document if the booking number is valid or has been reactivated in some manner. A booking number is generally active for, at most, a period of days. Drivers do not have access to the computer program that generates booking numbers, and the odds of guessing a valid booking number are extremely low.

After their investigation, which included an interview with Plaintiff and a review of CSX computer records, Officers Hicks and Kamboorian believed that Plaintiff would have and should have known or noticed that the TIR was outdated, and that Plaintiff did not issue the TIR accidentally but rather to purposefully assist in the theft of goods. Furthermore, Officers Hicks and Kamboorian were informed by a supervisor at the CSX Yard that both Plaintiff and Lara (whose car was found with stolen goods) stayed late on the night before the theft purporting to do trailer inventory or park trailers. The supervisor noted that Plaintiff's inventory of the trucks on the lot was rare, and that Lara acted contrary to his normal departure habits.

Based on the above information, Officer Hicks swore out a criminal complaint of burglary, conspiracy to commit burglary, theft of movable goods, and facilitation of theft against Plaintiff on January 12, 2005. A Ridgefield detective, Richard Besser, assisted Officer Hicks in preparing the criminal complaint form.

B. Arrest and Prosecution

After Plaintiff's arrest, he was processed at the Ridgefield Police Department and bail was set. Pursuant to Officer Hicks' sworn affidavit, an arrest warrant charging Plaintiff with burglary, conspiracy to commit burglary, theft of movable property, and facilitation of theft was issued by the Ridgefield Municipal Court. He was detained in the Bergen County jail for nine days before posting bail. Later, Plaintiff's charges were downgraded to defiant trespass and possession of stolen property by the Bergen County Prosecutor's ...


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