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Lamb v. Wysocki

April 10, 2008

STEPHEN LAMB AND SUSAN LAMB, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DEPUTY CHIEF WYSOCKI, SR. AND CITY OF CAMDEN, DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

This matter has come before the Court on defendants' motions for summary judgment on all of plaintiffs' claims arising from plaintiff Stephen Lamb's arrest on May 14, 2004 by defendant Deputy Chief Wysocki, Sr. of the Camden Police Department. For the reasons expressed below, Wysocki's motion will be granted in part, denied in part, and continued in part, and the City of Camden's motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

According to plaintiff, on May 14, 2004 at around 9:25am, he was driving on the northbound side of "Route 676"*fn1 in Camden, New Jersey, when he came upon a multi-car accident which appeared to have just occurred. Lamb pulled over onto the right shoulder to see if he could assist any of the victims. Lamb and another motorist who had stopped to help noticed a car that had been in the accident spewing black smoke. They also noticed that the driver of the smoking car appeared to be in "bad shape." Because there were no police or any rescue personnel on the scene, Lamb and the other motorist pulled the man from the smoking car and laid him on the ground.

According to Lamb, he noticed that the victim's arms were lying in broken glass. As Lamb lifted the victim's arms out of the broken glass to place them on his chest, Lamb states that he heard someone yelling for him to "get off of him, get off of him." Lamb states that when he looked up, he saw a man dressed as a "mechanic worker" coming towards him. The man was wearing blue work pants and a blue t-shirt, without any symbols or other identifiable marks, and Lamb believes that the man came from across the cement median dividing the southbound and northbound lanes in the area of where a flatbed truck was parked. Lamb relates that he stood up, and the man pushed him into the guardrail. When Lamb went to react to being pushed, the man in blue pulled out a badge. Lamb then realized that the man was a police officer, and Lamb raised his hands, palms up, stating, "officer, this is your job to do." (Lamb Dep. at 25.)

Lamb then relates that the officer in blue threw him onto a patrol car, which apparently had just arrived on the scene.*fn2 The officer treated Lamb "like a ragdoll," and asked a uniformed officer, who apparently had just arrived in the marked patrol car, for his handcuffs. According to Lamb, the uniformed officer initially resisted giving the officer in blue the handcuffs, but he did. Lamb claims that three other officers assisted the officer in blue because they were having a hard time getting the cuffs on Lamb. Lamb states that he could not understand why they were having difficulty because he was not resisting. Lamb attributes the difficulty to a brace he was wearing that would not bend.*fn3 After Lamb was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, Lamb asked the officer in blue to loosen the cuffs because they were too tight and causing him pain. Lamb states that the officer in blue responded, "How does this feel?," and he proceeded to lift up the cuffs to Lamb's shoulder blades. (Lamb Dep. at 26.) Lamb also claims that he was thrown to the ground after being handcuffed. Lamb was then placed in the patrol car and taken to a police station less than five minutes away. Lamb was charged with "Obstructing Administration of Law or Other Government Function," N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1. He was held at the Camden County Jail for twelve hours, but the charges were ultimately dismissed.

The next day, Lamb went to the emergency room for a shoulder injury he claims he sustained as a result of the force used by the officer in blue. Lamb was diagnosed with a shoulder strain and received Percocet for pain.

During the course of his arrest, Lamb identified the "officer in blue" as defendant Deputy Chief Wysocki, because according to Lamb, Wysocki stated, "I'm the chief MF'r." (Lamb Dep. at 71.) Wysocki, however, tells a different version of events. Wysocki states that he was traveling northbound to work in a maroon Ford Crown Victoria on Route 676 when the traffic came to a stop. Realizing that there must be an accident up head, he turned on the flashing lights in the grill of his car, and then proceeded up the right shoulder about 50 yards to the accident location. Wysocki states that he came upon a Jaguar on the right shoulder that had turned facing oncoming traffic. He did not notice any smoke, and he did not see the driver in the car.

According to his police report, as Wysocki got out of his car, he observed Lamb attempting to remove a gold wristwatch from the arm of the victim. Wysocki states that he observed Lamb unclasping the watch from the victim, saying to the victim that he was trying to make him more comfortable. Wysocki states that Lamb then began to remove the victim's watch. Wysocki reports that at "this juncture, I identified myself as a police officer and stopped [Lamb] from removing the watch from the victim's wrist. In doing so, I informed [Lamb] that there is no need to remove the watch or any other personal items from the victim." (Wysocki Police Report, Pl. Ex. B.)

Wysocki reports that Lamb "immediately responded, challenging" his authority, and became verbally abusive and refused to obey his commands. (Id.) He then attempted to detain Lamb so that he could further investigate his actions, and Lamb became verbally and physically combative, which led to his arrest. Wysocki reports that Lamb "was placed into custody by Sgt. Mulligan and myself, then transported to Detective Division for processing by unit A-17, Officer Reese." (Id.)

In his deposition testimony, Wysocki states that he was wearing a white shirt and tie with gray pants that day. Because it was a warm day, he was not wearing his gray suit jacket. He refutes that he was wearing blue work clothes. Additionally, Wysocki refutes that he came from the southbound lanes and crossed the median in order to approach Lamb. He also states that he obtained the handcuffs from a female officer who had come from the southbound lanes, jumping the median and crossing the northbound lanes to get to Wysocki. He did not receive the handcuffs from the uniformed male officer as claimed by Lamb. Finally, Wysocki refutes that he pushed or shoved Lamb. Wysocki does admit, however, that Lamb did not resist being arrested. (Wysocki Dep. at 89.)

Based on these events, Lamb filed a six-count complaint against Wysocki and the City of Camden. His claims include: Count I - Excessive force in violation of the federal and New Jersey state constitution; Count II - False arrest/imprisonment and malicious prosecution in violation of the federal and New Jersey state constitution; Count III - Monell claim against the City of Camden for failure to train, deliberate indifference, and unconstitutional policies; Count IV - False arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution under state law; Count V -assault and battery under state law; and Count VI - Susan Lamb's claim for loss of consortium.

Wysocki and the City of Camden have moved for summary judgment on all of plaintiffs' claims. The Lambs have opposed defendants' motions.

DISCUSSION

A. Jurisdiction

Plaintiffs have brought their claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as pursuant to the New Jersey constitution and New Jersey state law. This Court has jurisdiction over plaintiffs' federal claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiffs' state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

B. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

An issue is "genuine" if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence "is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Marino v. Industrial Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004)(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. A party opposing summary judgment must do more than just rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or vague statements. Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001).

C. Analysis

1. Plaintiffs' Claims against Wysocki

The Lambs have asserted all their claims except for Count V against Wysocki. The claims can be separated into two categories: (a) constitutional violation claims and (b) state law tort claims. Each category will be addressed in turn.

a. Lamb's Claims of Excessive Force, False Arrest/Imprisonment, and Malicious Prosecution in Violation of the Federal and New Jersey State Constitution

Lamb claims that Wysocki used excessive force in effecting his arrest, as well as falsely arrested him and maliciously prosecuted him in violation of the Fourth Amendment and the New Jersey Constitution. The qualified immunity analysis provides the basis to determine whether a claim for a constitutional violation by a law enforcement officer is viable.*fn4 The standard promulgated by the Third Circuit is as follows:

Qualified immunity protects law enforcement officers from being tried for actions taken in the course of their duties. If the immunity applies, it entitles the officer to be free of the 'burdens of litigation.' But the immunity is forfeited if an officer's conduct violates 'clearly established statutory or constitutional rights of which a reasonable person would have known.' To determine ... whether the officers have lost their immunity, we must engage in a two step analysis. First, we must decide 'whether a constitutional right would have been violated on the facts alleged . . . .' ... Second, if we believe that a constitutional violation did occur, we must consider whether the right was "clearly established." The question is ...


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