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Monaco v. City of Camden

February 13, 2008

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



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

[relates to Docket Items 88 and 89]

HON. JEROME B. SIMANDLE

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that while he was attending a concert at the Tweeter Center in Camden, New Jersey, numerous police officers employed by the City of Camden Police Department ("Police Department") violated his constitutional rights and provisions of New Jersey law by unlawfully seizing, detaining, assaulting, and prosecuting him. The Individual Defendants and the City Defendants have moved for summary judgment [Docket Items 88 and 89] as to all of Plaintiff's claims. For the reasons explained below, the Court will deny Defendant Shay Sampson's motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim, but will grant the remainder of the Individual Defendants' motion for summary judgment. The Court will also deny the City Defendants' motion as to Plaintiff's constitutional law claims and his negligence claim, but will grant the City Defendants' motion as to Plaintiff's remaining state common law claims.

II. BACKGROUND

A. The May 31, 2002 Incident and Municipal Court Action

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 large fight erupted in the parking lot thirty feet away from the plaintiff, to which multiple City of Camden police 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, and interrogated. (Id. at ¶¶ 27-45.) Plaintiff was very seriously injured as a result of the officers' conduct, suffering a broken nose and a dislocated jaw, among other injuries. (Pl.'s Opp'n Br. Ex. V 126.)

After he had been detained in a cell for approximately two hours, (Am. Compl. ¶ 38), Plaintiff was taken to an interrogation room where Defendant Sampson was waiting. (Pl.'s Opp'n Br. Ex. V 132.) According to Plaintiff, Defendant Sampson asked Plaintiff what alcoholic beverages he had been drinking at the Tweeter Center, and when Plaintiff denied having consumed any alcohol that evening, Defendant Sampson stated to him, "you were drinking. What were you drinking? You were drinking Coors Light . . . . [Y]ou either tell me you were drinking, or you're going to spend the night in jail." (Id. at 133.) Plaintiff felt "threatened" and "wanted to go to the hospital," and acceded to Defendant Sampson's demand. (Id.) Defendant Sampson then issued Plaintiff a summons for drinking in public, and told Plaintiff not to "even think about trying to fight this," threatening to "hit [him] with five other charges" if he did. (Id.) Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff was released from police custody. (Id.) His friends, who had been waiting outside the police station, took him to the emergency room at Cooper Hospital, where he was treated for numerous injuries. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 50-51.)

On June 18, 2002, Plaintiff pled not guilty to the summons issued by Defendant Sampson. (Id. at ¶ 52.) In order to prepare Plaintiff's defense to the charge contained in the summons, Plaintiff's counsel requested various discovery materials from the Police Department, including a list of Government witnesses who were to testify in Municipal Court against Plaintiff on the public intoxication charge and any police reports that pertained to the events of May 31, 2002. Plaintiff never received the witness list, and on July 3, 2002, he received a form from the Police Department stating that his request for police reports could not be processed because the Department was "unable to locate any report." (Pl.'s Opp'n Br. Ex. M.) Defendant Sampson never appeared to testify in the Municipal Court proceedings, and the charge against Plaintiff was ultimately dropped for failure to prosecute. (Pl.'s Opp'n Br. Ex. Q 99.)

B. The City's Response to the May 31, 2002 Incident

Shortly after the incident at the Tweeter Center occurred, Plaintiff and Police Department Captain Joseph Richardson were each interviewed on television by a news reporter about the fight and the police officers' response. (Pl.'s Opp'n Br. Ex. S 61.) Captain Richardson stated in the interview that if Plaintiff submitted a complaint about the events of May 31, 2002, the Police Department would investigate the matter. (Id. at 63.)

It appears that the Police Department did not investigate Plaintiff's allegation that he had been the victim of police misconduct until February 2005,*fn1 after Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this action.*fn2 (Pl.'s Opp'n Br. Ex. CC 14.)

Detective Xemaril Cruz, who works in the Police Department's Internal Affairs division, was assigned to investigate Plaintiff's allegations. (Id. at 7, 14.) As part of her investigation, Detective Cruz conducted what she referred to during her deposition as "interview[s]" of the police officers who might have come into contact with Plaintiff on May 31, 2002. (Id. at 24.) Detective Cruz did not ask the officers any questions at these interviews, but instead simply informed them that an Internal Affairs investigation was underway and that they were required to submit reports to her summarizing their recollections of the Tweeter Center incident. (Id. at 24-25.) Based on the information she received in these reports, Detective Cruz determined that Plaintiff's allegations had not been sustained, which, as she explained during her deposition testimony, meant that "there was an incident and there was an assault involved, but it could not be determined if it was the officers who . . . committed the assault . . . due to the large fight that took place." (Id. at 40.) Detective Cruz did not speak with the officers in order to clarify these indeterminate findings or clarify the contents of their reports. (Id. at 25.) When asked during her deposition why she did not speak with the officers and relied exclusively upon the contents of their reports, Detective Cruz replied that "that's the way that we do it." (Id. at 25.)

C. Procedural History

On May 25, 2004, almost two years after the Tweeter Center incident took place, Plaintiff filed this lawsuit against the City of Camden, the Police Department, Captain Wayne Landham, and ten fictitious John Doe police officers, claiming that these defendants violated his constitutional rights through the use of excessive force, unreasonable seizure and unlawful arrest.*fn3 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.*fn4

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]. In her March 30, 2007 Order [Docket Item 57], Magistrate Judge Ann Marie 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 Court affirmed Magistrate Judge Donio's Order. The Court subsequently denied Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration and for interlocutory review [Docket Items 101 and 102].

The Individual Defendants and the City Defendants moved for summary judgment, and at a February 8, 2008 hearing, the Court heard oral argument from all parties as to the defendants' motions and reserved decision.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate when the materials of record "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A dispute is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable rule of law. Id. In deciding whether there is a disputed issue of material fact, the court must view the evidence in favor of the non-moving party by extending any reasonable favorable inference to that party; in other words, "the nonmoving party's evidence 'is to be believed, and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in [that party's] favor.'" Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999) (quoting Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255).

B. Individual Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment

The Individual Defendants argue that they are entitled to summary judgment as to all of Plaintiff's claims. They argue (1) that Plaintiff's claims against them must be dismissed because they are untimely; (2) that Plaintiff's civil rights conspiracy claim must be dismissed as a matter of law because there is no evidence of discriminatory animus; (3) that they are immune from liability under New Jersey's Tort Claims Act; and (4) that Plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim must be dismissed because Plaintiff has failed to show that the defendants acted maliciously. As the Court explains below, it will grant the Individual Defendants' ...


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