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McCann v. Winslow Township

December 20, 2007

ROBERT MCCANN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WINSLOW TOWNSHIP, 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 Robert McCann's § 1983 action for alleged constitutional rights violations. The Court's subject matter jurisdiction over McCann's underlying claim is conferred by 28 U.S.C. § 1331 (federal question jurisdiction). For the reasons expressed below, Defendants' motion will be granted.

II. BACKGROUND

The allegations set forth in this case stem from a traffic stop involving Plaintiff Robert McCann's brother, Michael Dickerson. On April 27, 2006, Dickerson was stopped in his vehicle by Defendant Officers Passarella and Pizzico after Passarella noticed that Dickerson was driving without a seatbelt. Dickerson was subsequently issued citations for failure to wear a seat belt, failure to produce a driver's license upon request and fraudulently displaying an inspection sticker on the vehicle.

During the stop, Dickerson called McCann, who arrived to the scene shortly thereafter. McCann was instructed by Pizzico to remain near his vehicle until Passarella was finished with the stop of Dickerson. After Passarella issued the citations to Dickerson, he and McCann had an exchange of words that McCann would later recount during his deposition:

Q: Did you ultimately tell [Passarella] who you are? A: Yes.

Q. Did you have any further discussion?

A. I told him that I was Robert McCann. And he said: What are you doing here? I said: This is my brother and these other two people that you have out here, are my constituents. They're from Chesilhurst and I'm a councilman from Chesilhurst. They asked me to come to the scene to give them a ride and that's why I am here.

Q. Was there anything else said between the two of you?

A. Yes. He said: You're from Chesilhurst? And I said: Yes.

He said you're a councilman from Chesilhurst? I said: Yes. He said: I don't give a damn about that. All the people in Chesilhurst are stupid anyway. You people don't know how to do anything over there. We have to show you how to do something. We have to show you how to do things right here in Winslow Township.

Following this interaction, McCann went to the Winslow Township Police Department ("the Winslow Police") with Dickerson to register a citizen's complaint against Passarella. Dickerson's complaint alleged that Passarella "became very combative and derogatory" during the traffic stop.

A few weeks later, on May 16, 2006, McCann was pulled over in his vehicle by Pizzico and issued a citation for driving with a broken taillight. Pizzico had McCann exit his vehicle and walk to its rear so that he could see the broken taillight first-hand. As Pizzico made her way back to her patrol car, McCann overheard her state on her cellular phone: "I got him." Following this traffic stop, McCann went to the Winslow Police to register a citizen's complaint against Pizzico. In that complaint, McCann asserted that the recent traffic stop and citation were "retaliatory in nature," racially motivated, and that Pizzico "never got close enough to [the] vehicle [before initiating the traffic stop] to notice [the] small hole in [the] taillight." Later, during his deposition, McCann discussed the specifics of the damage to his taillights:

A: No. What I am saying to you your question is, I don't remember it being broken at that time. I remember getting a ticket and then noticing that it was broken.

Q: Which side did you notice it was broken?

A: After I got the ticket, the left side rear.

Q: How about the right side?

A: I think there was a crack.

Q: How big was the left side?

A: I don't think the left side was visible. I don't think -- you had to be right up on it.

Q: How about the right side?

A: The right side might have been a noticeable crack.

In the same deposition, McCann also responded to questioning about his accusation in the citizen's complaint against Pizzico that the traffic stop on May 16, 2006, was motivated in part by racial animus:

Q: Now, did you ever mention verbally that you thought the stop was based on race as well as being retaliatory?

A: No. I always said I thought the stop was based on retaliation.

Six weeks later, on June 30, 2006, McCann was stopped in his vehicle by Passarella. When McCann asked Passarella why he was stopped, Passarella responded by saying "[y]ou don't need to know that. You need to listen to me and give me your license and registration." Passarella issued McCann citations for failing to yield and for failing to maintain the vehicle's lamps. McCann exited his vehicle and inspected the rear, confirming that his taillights were indeed in need of repair.

Passarella documented the stop in a police report dated June 30, 2006, wherein he stated that "[w]hile waiting for the traffic light...a blue pickup truck was going straight across the light, then darted to its left...in front of oncoming traffic, causing myself and other traffic to stop." Passarella further noted in the report that "[t]he driver also did not use his left turn signal to make his turn from his lane of travel."

McCann's passenger in the vehicle, one Reggie Bethune, discussed the left turn during his ...


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