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Wright v. City of Bridgeton

August 8, 2007

GERONE WRIGHT, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF BRIDGETON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter has come before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's civil rights and state law claims against them. Plaintiff has not opposed this motion. For the reasons expressed below, Defendants' motion will be granted.

II. BACKGROUND

On March 23, 2006, Plaintiff, Gerone Wright, pro se, filed a five-count Complaint against Defendants City of Bridgeton, City of Bridgeton Police Department, Officer McGuigan, and Officer Fox. Plaintiff's Complaint arises out of his arrest on January 22, 2005 by Officers McGuigan and Fox. Plaintiff alleges the following causes of action: Count One - violation of Plaintiff's rights under the New Jersey Constitution; Count Two - assault and battery; Count Three - negligence; Count Four - "protection from unfair action by government interfaced with wrongful arrest"; and Count Five - violations of Plaintiff's Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Defendants have filed the instant motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff has not opposed the motion.

III. UNDISPUTED FACTS*fn1

On January 22, 2005, Plaintiff, his girlfriend Brenda Wilson, and her son Aaron Wilson were living at 131 Bridgeton Avenue, Bridgeton, New Jersey. (See Plaintiff's deposition at p. 8, lines 18-23, Exhibit B.) Shortly before 4:00 p.m. on January 22, Plaintiff and Ms. Wilson engaged in a verbal dispute. (Exhibit B, p. 14, line 25, and p. 15, lines 1-21.) This dispute was overheard by Aaron Wilson and Ms. Wilson's daughter, Azure Wilson, when Brenda Wilson and Azure were speaking on the phone. (Exhibit B, p. 17, lines 15-25, and p. 18, lines 1-8.) Shortly after the phone call was concluded, Plaintiff left the home, and as he did so, he saw Azure Wilson and Aaron Wilson standing on the curb outside his home. (Exhibit B, p. 20, lines 23-25, and p. 21, lines 1-3.) Plaintiff contends that Aaron and Azure Wilson were yelling obscenities at him, and that in particular Aaron was yelling to Plaintiff that Plaintiff had struck Aaron's mother. (Exhibit B, p. 21, lines 1-14.) Apparently Aaron Wilson believed this because he thought he had heard Plaintiff slap Ms. Wilson, and because he heard her crying. (Exhibit B, p. 21, lines 15-21.)

At 3:52 p.m., Aaron Wilson contacted the Cumberland County 911 Center, which transferred the call to the Bridgeton Police Department. At that time, Mr. Wilson advised the dispatcher that a domestic violence incident was occurring at 131 Bridgeton Avenue, and that Gerone Wright had hit his mother, Brenda Wilson. (See Exhibit C, a CD1 containing the telephone and radio transmission pertaining to the domestic violence call and arrest of Gerone Wright, and see Exhibit D Affidavit of Lt. Burl Kimble regarding the CD.) Patrolmen McGuigan and Fox were dispatched to the domestic violence call at 131 Bridgeton Avenue. (Exhibits B and C, and see Exhibit E, Investigation Report of Patrolman McGuigan.) As Plaintiff was exiting the premises, he contends that a dark colored SUV pulled up in front of his house, and an individual in dark attire walked up to his porch and began to ask him questions. (Exhibit B, p. 24, lines 22-25; p. 25; and p. 26, lines 1-12.) Although Plaintiff contends he did not realize the individual was a police officer, he acknowledges that the individual asked him a series of questions to which he responded. Specifically, Plaintiff recalled that he was asked by the individual, who he later identified as Patrolman McGuigan, whether he was Gerone Wright, to which he responded "yes." (Exhibit B, p. 26, line 25, and p. 27, lines 1-8.) Patrolman McGuigan then asked Plaintiff if he lived at the house, and in response Plaintiff responded that he was the property owner. (Exhibit B, p. 27, lines 9-12.) Patrolman McGuigan asked Plaintiff if there was a problem at the house, and Plaintiff told him "no." (Exhibit B, p. 27, lines 13-25.) Plaintiff recalls that he was then asked whether there was someone inside the house, and that this person advised him that he needed to speak with that individual. (Exhibit B, p. 28, lines 4-7.) In addition, although Plaintiff denies that he was told by the officer that the Police Department had received a report of domestic violence occurring at the house, he did admit that he was told by Patrolman McGuigan that "they had received a call stating there was a problem and he needed to get into the house." (Exhibit B, p. 28, lines 15-24.)

Despite receiving this information, Plaintiff claims he did not realize that the person asking him these questions was a police officer, but does acknowledge that the individual attempted to enter the home. (Exhibit B, p. 28, line 25, and p. 29, lines 1-11.) Plaintiff contends that Patrolman McGuigan attempted to push him out of the way as he was closing and locking his door. Within seconds thereafter, Plaintiff claims that he was pepper sprayed by Officer McGuigan, and that Officers McGuigan and Fox were wrestling him and trying to get him to put his arms behind him. (Exhibit B, p. 36, lines 4-25, and p. 37, lines 1-14.) As the three men struggled, Plaintiff admits that he heard communications on the portable radio of Officer McGuigan. (Exhibit B, p. 35, lines 8-25, and p. 36, lines 1-3.) Despite clearly realizing at that point that the individuals on his porch were police officers, Plaintiff continued to struggle against the officers. (Exhibit B, p. 37, lines 7-24.) Plaintiff alleges that the entire incident took about 30 seconds, he was handcuffed, and then placed in the SUV. (Exhibit B, p. 36, lines 4-19; p. 37, line 25; and p. 38, lines 1-9.)

Officer McGuigan, in his Investigation Report, sets forth a different version of events. He states that upon arriving at 131 Bridgeton Avenue he spoke briefly with Aaron Wilson, who advised that his mother, Brenda Wilson, and Gerone Wright had been arguing, and that he thought that Plaintiff had slapped her. (Exhibit E.) At that point, both Officers McGuigan and Fox went to the porch and spoke with Mr. Wright. Officer McGuigan asked Plaintiff to identify himself, which he did. (Exhibit E.) The officer then advised Plaintiff that the police had received a complaint of domestic violence for this address, and asked him if Brenda Wilson was in the house. Plaintiff responded that she was. (Exhibit E.) The officer then told Plaintiff that he wanted to speak with Brenda in order to investigate the reported domestic assault. Plaintiff refused to allow the officers to speak with Ms. Wilson. (Exhibit E.) At that point, Officer McGuigan then advised Plaintiff that he was going to enter the home to check on Ms. Wilson. He began to open the door, and Plaintiff blocked the officer's entrance into the home. (Exhibit E.) Plaintiff was asked to move away from the doorway three times, but refused. (Exhibit E.) At that point Plaintiff was told that if he did not move out of the way, he would be arrested. (Exhibit E.) Plaintiff again refused, and was advised that he was under arrest for obstructing justice. (Exhibit E.) Plaintiff physically resisted arrest, and the two officers had to struggle with him and sprayed him with pepper spray in order to place him in handcuffs. (Exhibit E.) After Plaintiff was handcuffed, Officer McGuigan went into the house and spoke with Brenda Wilson, who advised that she had not been assaulted by Mr. Wright. (Exhibit E.)

Plaintiff was transported to the Bridgeton City Police Department. As the officers were ushering him into the Police Department, Plaintiff claims that he wrestled free and threw himself face down in a snowmound to wash out his eyes. (Exhibit B, p. 40, lines 12-20.) Plaintiff admits that when he was taken inside the building he was asked if he wanted to wash his eyes out in the bathroom, and in fact did so. (Exhibit B, p. 41, lines 2-6.) Plaintiff was charged with resisting arrest, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2A(3)(a), and obstruction of justice, N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1(a). (See Complaint/Warrants issued against Gerone Wright on January 22, 2005, Exhibit F.) The Complaints against Plaintiff were listed numerous times for trial, but the trial was repeatedly adjourned at the request of Plaintiff's counsel or the prosecutor, and eventually the complaints were dismissed in or about April of 2006. (See records of Bridgeton Municipal Court, Exhibit G.)

While being processed at the Bridgeton City Police Department on January 22, 2005, Plaintiff made a Complaint against the officers. (See Bridgeton Police Department Internal Complaint/Comment signed by Gerone Wright, and dated January 22, 2005, Exhibit H.) The Complaint's description of incident is as follows:

Officers responded to a reported domestic violence. Upon their arrival, Jerome Wright was at the door and told the officers they could not come into his house. Mr. Wright stated he attempted to close the door and the officers sprayed him with pepper spray and arrested him for no reason. (Exhibit H.)

The Complaint was investigated by Sgt. Michael Pastirko, who had also responded to the call of domestic violence at 131 Bridgeton Avenue, but arrived after Plaintiff had been arrested. Sgt. Pastirko, after questioning Aaron and Azure Wilson as to what they observed of the arrest, concluded that "the officers used the only force necessary to effect a lawful arrest." (See Bridgeton Police Department Internal Investigation, Exhibit I.) Plaintiff was advised of the results of the Police Department's investigation via letter. (See correspondence from the Bridgeton Police Department Internal Affairs Unit to Gerone Wright, Exhibit J.) Plaintiff contends that as a result of being subjected to the pepper spray he suffered injury to his eyes. On January 24, 2005, he underwent an eye exam with Dr. Eugene Frank of Ultimate Eye Care. (Exhibit B, p. 43, lines 1-25.) Plaintiff alleges that Dr. Frank told him that he had a severe infection in his eyes, and that the doctor referred him to a specialist. (Exhibit B, p. 45, lines 5-15.) Dr. Frank, on the other hand, found that there were no abnormalities. (See Dr. Frank's records regarding his examination of Plaintiff, Exhibit K.)

On September 26, 2006, Plaintiff wrote to Dr. Frank to express his frustration in not receiving a report from him regarding the eye exam of January 24, 2005. (See Plaintiff's correspondence to Dr. Eugene Fran, dated September 26, 2006, Exhibit L.) In response, Dr. Frank wrote to Plaintiff under cover of letter dated October 9, 2006, and stated:

Your letter also states that you came to my office to obtain a copy of your records relating to a January 24 visit. When I saw you, you did not request a copy of your records. Instead, you requested that I prepare a report, which I did. My report accurately summarizes my examination findings. Finally, your letter states that I recommended that you see a specialist. This is not correct. I told you to return to my office for a follow-up ...


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