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Damiani v. West Deptford Township

March 7, 2008

ANDREA DAMIANI, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WEST DEPTFORD TOWNSHIP, WEST DEPTFORD TOWNSHIP POLICE DEPARTMENT, CHIEF OF POLICE, PTLM. MICHAEL S. FRANKS, CPL. MEDURI, JOHN DOE OFFICERS 1-15 (FICTITIOUS NAMES), AND JOHN DOES 16-30 (FICTITIOUS NAMES), JOINTLY, SEVERALLY, AND/OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE, DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Partial Motion to Dismiss, brought pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Docket No. 8.) Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that, while driving in West Deptford Township, two police officers directed her to pull over and thereafter subjected her to excessive and unnecessary force. Plaintiff asserts various federal and state law claims in support of her Complaint. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I.

On August 12, 2005, Defendants Patrolmen Michael S. Franks and Corporal Meduri stopped Plaintiff Andrea Damiani while she was driving in West Deptford Township, New Jersey. (Compl. First Count ¶¶ 1, 2). Defendants allegedly removed Plaintiff from her car without probable cause and with excessive and unnecessary force, which resulted in physical and emotional injuries to Plaintiff.*fn1 (Compl. First Count ¶¶ 3, 4). Plaintiff further alleges that Defendants West Deptford Township (the "Township"), West Deptford Township Police Department (the "Police Department"), and the West Deptford Chief of Police are responsible for the police officers' actions. (Compl. First Count ¶ 6).

Plaintiff asserts the following claims against all Defendants: (1) violations of her federal constitutional rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983") (Compl. First Count ¶ 5); (2) violations of her state constitutional rights pursuant to the New Jersey Civil Rights Act (Compl. Second Count ¶¶ 1, 2); (3) state common law negligence (Compl. Third Count ¶¶ 1, 2); (4) assault and battery pursuant to the New Jersey Tort Claims Act (Compl. Fourth Count ¶¶ 1-3); and (5) unlawful arrest and false imprisonment (Compl. Fifth Count ¶¶ 1, 2).*fn2

Defendants filed a partial motion to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Defendants seek to dismiss: (1) Plaintiff's Fifth Amendment and Fourteenth Amendment claims raised in Count One;*fn3 (2) Plaintiff's negligence claim raised in Count Three; (3) Plaintiff's various claims for punitive damages against the Township, Police Department, and Chief of Police;*fn4 and (4) the entire Complaint as to the Township, Police Department, and Chief of Police.

II.

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a court may dismiss any part of a complaint for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." In considering a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court accepts as true all well pleaded factual allegations contained in the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences from such allegations in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Worldcom, Inc. v. Graphnet, Inc., 343 F.3d 651, 653 (3d Cir. 2003). To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, "a civil plaintiff must allege facts that 'raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all the allegations in the complaint are true (even if doubtful in fact).'" Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1965 (2007) (internal citations omitted)).

III.

Plaintiff concedes to two aspects of Defendants' motion. First, Plaintiff agrees that her Fifth Amendment claim should be dismissed. The initial step in analyzing any excessive force claim brought under § 1983 is to identify the specific constitutional right that has been violated. Graham v. Connor, 490 U.S. 386, 394 (1989). The Graham Court held that "all claims that law enforcement officers have used excessive force . . . in the course of an arrest, investigatory stop, or other 'seizure' of a free citizen should be analyzed under the Fourth Amendment." Id. at 395. In light of the Supreme Court's holding in Graham and Plaintiff's concession, the Court will grant Defendants' motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Fifth Amendment claim raised in Count One.

Second, Plaintiff does not object to the Police Department's dismissal from this case. A police department cannot be sued in conjunction with a municipality because it is merely an administrative arm of that municipality, and is not a separate entity. See Padilla v. Twp. of Cherry Hill, 110 F. App'x 272, 278 (3d Cir. 2004); Lucas v. Galloway Twp. Police Dep't, No. 05-CV-3346, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44616, at *8 (D.N.J. June 20, 2007) (noting that "[i]n New Jersey, a municipal police department is not an entity separate from the municipality"). Plaintiff concedes, as she must, that the Police Department is not liable in this case because it is not a separate municipal entity. Therefore, this Court will dismiss the Police Department from the case entirely.

IV.

Defendants seek to also dismiss Plaintiff's Fourteenth Amendment claim raised in Count One, arguing that the Fourth Amendment provides the only appropriate means for analyzing excessive force claims.

Defendants correctly state that the Fourth Amendment's objective reasonableness test is the established standard by which to review allegations of excessive force. See Graham, 490 U.S. at 395; see also Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 633 (3d Cir. 1995). Plaintiff, however, contends that the Fourteenth Amendment is necessary in this case to assert her Fourth Amendment claim against state entities. See Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 655 (1961) (stating that the "Fourth ...


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