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Monaco v. City of Camden

February 8, 2008

STEVEN J. MONACO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CAMDEN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jerome B. Simandle

OPINION

This lawsuit arises out of Plaintiff's allegations that Defendants violated his constitutional rights by unlawfully arresting him and using excessive force upon him while he was attending a concert at the Tweeter Center in Camden, New Jersey. Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's motion [Docket Item 73] for reconsideration of the Court's July 23, 2007 Opinion and Order [Docket Items 67 and 68] affirming U.S. Magistrate Judge Ann Marie Donio's order denying Plaintiff's motion to file a second amended complaint. Plaintiff alternatively moves the Court to certify its July 2007 Opinion for interlocutory review. For the following reasons, the Court finds that its July 2007 Opinion contained no material legal or factual errors and that interlocutory review is not called for, and will therefore deny Plaintiff's motion.

I. BACKGROUND

On May 31, 2002, Plaintiff was in a parking lot near the Tweeter Center, a performance venue in Camden, New Jersey, preparing to attend a concert. (Am. Compl. ¶ 12.) At approximately 6:00 p.m., a fight erupted in the parking lot thirty feet away from the plaintiff, to which multiple Camden County policy officers responded, ordering everyone to vacate the parking lot. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-17.) Although Plaintiff was not involved in the fight, he claims that he was mistakenly identified by police officers as a participant, thrown to the ground, and beaten. (Id. at ¶¶ 16, 19-21.) Plaintiff alleges that he was then taken to the Camden Police Station, where he was searched, threatened, harassed, thrown against a wall, interrogated, and detained in a cell. (Id. at ¶¶ 27-45.) Once Plaintiff was released from police custody, he went to the emergency room at Cooper Hospital, where he was treated for numerous injuries. (Id. at ¶¶ 50-51.)

Nearly two years after these events took place, on May 25, 2004, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against the City of Camden, the City of Camden Police Department and various police officers (including John Does I-X allegedly employed by the City of Camden Police Department), claiming that these defendants violated his constitutional rights through the use of excessive force, unreasonable seizure and unlawful arrest. On March 9, 2005, nearly nine months after Plaintiff filed his complaint, the Court entered a Consent Order [Docket Item 15] permitting Plaintiff to file an Amended Complaint in which he named various individual police officer defendants, but retained his claims against individual John Doe Defendants I-X.*fn1

On July 11, 2006, eyewitnesses to the event at the Tweeter Center were given the opportunity to view police photographs, and, according to Plaintiff, identified seven additional police officers who allegedly participated in the unlawful conduct on May 31, 2002. (Pl.'s Br. 2.) On August 18, 2006, more than two years after Plaintiff filed suit and more than four years after the events underlying this litigation took place, Plaintiff filed a motion requesting leave to file a second amended complaint naming the newly identified officers as defendants [Docket Item 44].*fn2 As the Court explains in greater detail, infra, Magistrate Judge Donio denied Plaintiff's motion to amend, finding that under the two-year statute of limitations for section 1983 actions in New Jersey, Plaintiff's filing was untimely because he failed to satisfy the requirements under New Jersey law for his amendment to relate back to the date of his original pleading. Plaintiff appealed Magistrate Judge Donio's Order to this Court, and in its July 23, 2007 Opinion and Order [Docket Items 67 and 68] (the "July 2007 Opinion"), the Court affirmed Magistrate Judge Donio's Order. Plaintiff then filed the motion for reconsideration and/or for interlocutory appeal [Docket Item 73] presently before the Court, to which the Court now turns.

II. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff moves alternatively for reconsideration and for certification for interlocutory review. The Court addresses Plaintiff's motions in turn.

A. Motion for Reconsideration

1. Standard Governing Motion for Reconsideration

Local Civil Rule 7.1(i) of the United States District Court, District of New Jersey, governs Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration. Rule 7.1(i) requires the moving party to set forth the factual matters or controlling legal authorities it believes the Court overlooked when rendering its initial decision. L. Civ. R. 7.1(i). Whether to grant a motion for reconsideration is a matter within the Court's discretion, but it should only be granted where such facts or legal authority were indeed presented but overlooked. See DeLong v. Raymond Int'l Inc., 622 F.2d 1135, 1140 (3d Cir. 1980), overruled on other grounds by Croker v. Boeing Co., 662 F.2d 975 (3d Cir. 1981); Williams v. Sullivan, 818 F. Supp. 92, 93 (D.N.J. 1993). To prevail on a motion for reconsideration, the movant must show either (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court . . . [rendered the judgment in question]; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice. Max's Seafood Café ex rel. Lou-Ann, Inc., v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999).

2. The July 2007 Opinion

In its July 2007 Opinion, the Court found that Magistrate Judge Donio's Order denying Plaintiff's motion to file a second amended complaint was not clearly erroneous. July 2007 Opinion, dkt. item 67 at 9. The Court noted that Plaintiff's motion to amend his complaint was governed by Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a), under which a court may deny a plaintiff leave to amend only "if a plaintiff's delay in seeking amendment is undue, motivated by bad faith, or prejudicial to the defendant" or "if the amendment would be futile (i.e., the amendment fails to state a cause of action)." Id. at 11 (quoting Adams v. Gould, Inc., 739 F.2d 858, 864 (3d Cir. 1984)). Magistrate Judge Donio's Order rested on the futility rationale, finding that because the "incident that g[ave] rise to this action occurred on May 31, 2002 and, consequently, the statute of limitations expired two years from that date," unless Plaintiff's amendment "relat[ed] back under FED. R. CIV. P. 15(c), the amendment Plaintiff s[ought was] untimely." March 30, 2007 Order, dkt. item 57 at 4.

As the Court recognized in its July 2007 Opinion, whether Plaintiff's proposed amendment related back to the date of his original filing for statute of limitations purposes is controlled by Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(c)(1),*fn3 which provides in relevant part that "[a]n amendment of a pleading relates back to the date of the original pleading when . . . relation back is permitted by the law that provides the statute of limitations applicable to the action."*fn4 The Court upheld Magistrate Judge Donio's ruling that neither of the New Jersey relation back rules applicable to Plaintiff's action permitted the relation back of the claims Plaintiff sought to add with his proposed second amended complaint under the circumstances presented here. Under the first such rule, New Jersey Court Rule 4:26-4, a plaintiff who does not know the names of the defendant may identify a fictitious defendant in his complaint and subsequently name new parties after the statute of limitations has expired.*fn5 In order for Rule 4:26-4 to apply, the Court recognized that four criteria must be satisfied: a plaintiff must (1) demonstrate that he did not know the true identity of the proposed defendants at the ...


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