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Monaco v. City of Camden

April 14, 2008

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



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

HON. JEROME B. SIMANDLE

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

This case arises out of Plaintiff's claims that he was beaten, arrested, and maliciously prosecuted by City of Camden police officers at a concert venue in Camden in May 2002. Plaintiff's Amended Complaint asserts claims premised upon federal and New Jersey constitutional law and New Jersey common law against the City and various individual police officers. On February 13, 2008, the Court issued an Opinion and Order (the "February 2008 Opinion and Order") granting in part and denying in part the defendants' motions for summary judgment.

Presently before the Court is the City's motion for reconsideration [Docket Item 107] of the February 2008 Opinion. In the portion of the Court's Opinion that is the subject of the City's motion, the Court held that the City was not entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiff's claim, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and under Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978), and its progeny, asserting that the City was liable for its officers' alleged use of excessive force against Plaintiff and malicious prosecution of Plaintiff. Specifically, the Court found that "triable issues of fact exist as to whether the inadequacy of the City's practices in investigating complaints of excessive force and false arrest against its police officers reflected its deliberate indifference to the risk of unconstitutional officer misconduct," including the conduct which Plaintiff alleges resulted in his injuries. (Docket Item 101 at 36.)

The City now argues that the Court's Opinion denying the City's motion for summary judgment is not supported by the evidence in the record and should be reconsidered. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will deny the City's motion for reconsideration.

II. BACKGROUND

A. The Tweeter Center Incident

The facts of this case as they relate to the motion for reconsideration presently before the Court are as follows. 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. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-17.) According to Plaintiff, he did not participate in the fight, but as he was exiting the parking lot, he was misidentified as a participant by a group of police officers, who, without warning and in front of multiple witnesses, threw Plaintiff to the ground and beat him in the head with night sticks. (Id. at ¶¶ 15, 16, 20.) The officers handcuffed Plaintiff and, while he was still on the ground, hit him and smashed his face into the pavement. (Id. at ¶¶ 20-21.) Plaintiff alleges that he was then taken to the Camden Police Station, where he was searched, threatened, harassed, and thrown against a wall. (Id. at ¶¶ 27-45.)

After he had been detained in a cell for approximately two hours, (id. at ¶ 38), Plaintiff was taken to an interrogation room where Defendant Sampson was waiting. (Pl.'s Opp'n Br. Ex. V at 132.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Sampson asked Plaintiff what alcoholic beverages he had been drinking at the Tweeter Center, to which Plaintiff replied that he had not consumed alcohol that evening. (Id. at 132-33.) Defendant Sampson then insisted that Plaintiff admit that he had consumed alcohol earlier that evening, stating, "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.) Feeling "threatened" and wanting to go to the hospital, Plaintiff complied with Defendant Sampson's demand and stated that he had been drinking that evening. (Id.) Defendant Sampson 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.)

Plaintiff was then released from police custody. (Id.) His friends, who had been waiting for him outside the police station, took him to the emergency room at Cooper Hospital, where he was treated for numerous injuries, (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 50-51), including a broken nose and a dislocated jaw. (Pl.'s Opp'n Br. Ex. V at 126.)

On June 18, 2002, Plaintiff pled not guilty to the summons issued by Defendant Sampson. (Am. Compl. ¶ 52.) Defendant Sampson never appeared to testify in the Municipal Court proceedings relating to the public intoxication charge, and the charge against Plaintiff was ultimately dropped for failure to prosecute. (Pl.'s Opp'n Br. Ex. Q at 99.)

B. The City's Response to Plaintiff's Claims

Shortly after the incident at the Tweeter Center occurred, Plaintiff and Police Department Captain Joseph Richardson were both interviewed on television by an NBC news reporter about Plaintiff's allegations that police officers had used excessive force upon him. (Pl.'s Opp'n Br. Ex. S at 61.) According to the reporter in the news story, Captain Richardson said that "they don't know what happened in Steve Monaco's case and they are urging him to contact Camden's Police Internal Affairs." (Def.'s Br. Ex. A.) The news reporter also noted that "Camden Police say they will investigate any allegations that Steve Monaco brings forward, but even so, Steve's parents are talking to attorneys." (Id.)

On August 15, 2002, Plaintiff filed a Notice of Claim with the City pursuant to the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, N.J.S.A. 59.8-1 et seq., in which he informed the City that he had been "wrongfully and unlawfully assaulted, detained, taken into custody and imprisoned," as a result of which he "suffered physical and emotional injuries." (Pl.'s Opp'n Br. Ex. B.) According to the representations of the City's counsel at a hearing before the Court on February 8, 2008, "the City's procedure at that time would be to forward [the tort claim notice] to the third-party administrator, which was [a company called] CCMSI." (Tr. at 44.) The City's counsel also stated that he was "not aware of what investigation if any they undertook . . . [but his] suspicion is, not much." (Id.)

It appears that no investigation into Plaintiff's excessive force complaint was launched until February 2005, after Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this action. (Pl.'s Opp'n Br. Ex. CC at 14.) Plaintiff deposed Detective Xemaril Cruz, who works in the Police Department's Internal Affairs division, regarding her investigation into Plaintiff's claims and the Department's system for investigating such complaints. (Id. at 7, 14.) In conducting her investigation into Plaintiff's allegations, Detective Cruz did not ask any of the police officers who might have come into contact with Plaintiff on May 31, 2002 any questions, 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

Plaintiff filed this lawsuit on May 25, 2004, naming the City of Camden, the Police Department, Captain Wayne Landham, and ten fictitious John Doe officers as defendants.*fn1 Plaintiff alleged that the defendants unlawfully arrested him and used excessive force upon him, in violation of the Fourth Amendment (Count One), the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment (Count Two), and his "civil rights as guaranteed by" 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 (Count Three); that the defendants conspired to violate his rights (Counts Four and Eight); that the defendants' conduct violated New Jersey common law (Counts ...


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