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Signorile v. City of Perth Amboy

November 20, 2007

JOSEPH SIGNORILE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF PERTH AMBOY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

On February 14, 2005, Plaintiff Joseph Signorile ("Signorile") filed a Complaint in this Court against Defendants the City of Perth Amboy ("Perth Amboy"), the Perth Amboy Police Department ("Police Department"), Chief Michael Kohut ("Kohut"), Lieutenant Joseph F. Britton ("Britton"), Captain Louis Guzman ("Guzman"), Jacqueline Guzman ("Mrs. Guzman")*fn1 , and various fictitious persons. Signorile seeks relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged deprivations of his constitutional rights. On June 20, 2005, Defendants Perth Amboy and the Police Department filed cross-claims against their co-Defendants, seeking indemnification and contribution. Presently before the Court are motions for summary judgment brought pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) by Defendants Perth Amboy, the Police Department, Kohut, Britton, and Guzman. In addition, Defendants Kohut, Britton, and Guzman move for the imposition of sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11(c). For the reasons set forth herein, the Court grants Defendants' motions for summary judgment, but denies the motion for sanctions. The Court also dismisses the claims asserted against Defendant Mrs. Guzman for failure to state a claim.

I. BACKGROUND

This dispute arises from Signorile's arrest on July 1, 2003 based on a charge of simple assault, in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:12-1a, against his wife Joyce Signorile ("Mrs. Signorile"). On June 28, 2003, Mrs. Signorile informed Mrs. Guzman, her friend and neighbor, that Signorile had struck her in the face during an argument they had the previous day. Mrs. Signorile, at that time, had a visible injury to her right eye. In response, Mrs. Guzman notified her husband, a Captain in the Perth Amboy Police Department, that Signorile had struck his wife. Mrs. Guzman brought Mrs. Signorile to the Police Department, where Guzman met them in the parking lot and observed Mrs. Signorile's right eye. The parties dispute whether Guzman spoke directly to Mrs. Signorile, or whether he spoke only to his wife, Mrs. Guzman.

Guzman testified in his deposition that he spoke directly to Mrs. Signorile, who informed him that Signorile had struck her during an argument, causing the observable injury to her eye. Guzman further stated that he told Mrs. Signorile that the law mandated that he file a complaint and begin an investigation in respect of her allegations. However, according to Guzman, Mrs. Signorile replied that she did not want to file a complaint with the Perth Amboy Police Department because she was concerned that someone might tell Signorile, who had been employed as a police officer with that Police Department, about the complaint and that, as a result, Signorile could further harm her or himself. Guzman testified that he advised Mrs. Signorile to file a complaint with the Woodbridge Police Department, to which Mrs. Signorile agreed.

However, on June 29, 2003, Mrs. Guzman informed her husband that Mrs. Signorile had decided not to file a complaint with the Woodbridge Police Department. Guzman then informed the Police Department's Chief of Police, Kohut, of the assault on Mrs. Signorile. On June 30, 2003, Kohut dispatched Detective Kevin Kenny ("Kenny") to Mrs. Signorile's place of employment in Woodbridge to investigate the allegation. Simultaneously, the Woodbrige Police Department dispatched Officer Margaret Schmidt ("Schmidt") to Mrs. Signorile's place of business, in response to a report by Mrs. Signorile's co-workers that Mrs. Signorile had been physically abused by Signorile. Upon questioning, Mrs. Signorile told the officers that her husband, Signorile, had hit her, causing a visible injury to her right eye, during a fight they had on June 27, 2003.

Detective Kenny returned to the Police Department and informed Kohut that Mrs. Signorile reported that Signorile had struck her. Kohut then instructed Kenny, in accordance with the State of New Jersey's Domestic Violence Procedures Manual ("the Manual") and the New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act of 1991, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-17 et seq., ("the Domestic Violence Act"), to draft a complaint against Signorile. Later that day, Kenny returned to Mrs. Signorile's place of employment with Detective Eddie Padilla of Internal Affairs to take photographs of Mrs. Signorile's injuries. Those photographs revealed swelling, bruising, and redness on the right side of Mrs. Signorile's face. Mrs. Signorile later admitted that the photographs were an accurate depiction of her appearance on June 30, 2003.

Nevertheless, that same evening, Mrs. Signorile went to the Police Department with Signorile's brother, and recanted her earlier statements that Signorile had caused the injuries to her eye. She stated that she actually had hurt herself when she fell in her bathroom. Later, at her deposition taken on June 27, 2006, Mrs. Signorile testified that she had told Detective Kenny and Officer Schmidt that her husband had hit her because she felt confused and was concerned of the effect of the officers' presence on her employment.

On July 1, 2003, Britton and Kenny returned to Mrs. Signorile's place of employment to further question her. However, Mrs. Signorile was not there. As a result, Britton and Kenny went to the Signorile residence, where Britton spoke with Mrs. Signorile. Although Mrs. Signorile denied that her husband caused any of the injuries to her face, Britton later testified that he did not find her statements made at that meeting to be credible and that he believed that Signorile had abused her. That same day, Signorile was placed under arrest and charged with simple assault against Mrs. Signorile. However, the North Brunswick Municipal Court eventually dismissed the charges against Signorile on the basis of the Police Department's failure to provide discovery.

On February 14, 2005, Signorile filed the present action, alleging seven counts against Defendants. On September 26, 2005, on an unopposed motion by Defendants Kohut, Britton, and Guzman, this Court dismissed with prejudice Counts Three, Four, Five, and Seven of Signorile's Complaint, thereby removing all claims asserted under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 et seq. On October 7, 2005, the Court dismissed those Counts as to Defendants Perth Amboy and the Police Department as well. Accordingly, the remaining claims-Counts One, Two, and Six-seek relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of Signorile's rights secured by the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments.

Defendants now move for summary judgment against Signorile pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 53(g). Defendants Kohut, Britton, and Guzman also move for sanctions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 on the basis that Signorile's action against them is frivolous. Defendants Kohut, Britton, and Guzman argue that they acted in accordance with controlling state law and, thereby, could not have violated any of Signorile's constitutional rights. In addition, Defendants claim that they are entitled to qualified immunity from Signorile's claims. Defendant Perth Amboy also contends that it cannot be liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior for any of its co-Defendants' actions because the alleged injury suffered by Signorile did not result from a local official policy. Signorile opposes the motions, submitting that issues of material fact exist such that the Court should not enter summary judgment in favor of Defendants. Signorile also contends the allegation that the Complaint is frivolous.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Motions for Summary ...


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