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Maples v. City of Atlantic City

United States District Court, D. New Jersey, Camden Vicinage

June 16, 2008

NORMAL MAPLES, Plaintiff
v.
CITY OF ATLANTIC CITY, JOHN DOE, and SCOTT FENTON, Defendants.

          Demetrius J. Parrish, Cherry Hill, NJ, Attorney for Plaintiff.

          John Charles Hegarty, Solicitor's Office for Atlantic City City Hall, Atlantic City, NJ, Attorney for Defendants.

          OPINION

          RENÉE MARIE BUMB, DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter comes before the Court on Defendants' motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint contains three claims: Count I is a federal constitutional claim alleging unlawful arrest, Count II is a state constitutional claim alleging unlawful arrest, and Count III is a state claim alleging tortious interference with economic advantage. Defendants have moved for summary judgment as to all three counts.

         II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This matter arises out of an incident that occurred on May 14, 2004 in the emergency room of the Atlantic City Medical Center ("ACMC") in Atlantic City, New Jersey. (Def. Motion at 8). After a street fight had broken out among a group of females, Defendant Officer Scott Fenton ("Officer Fenton") accompanied the victims to ACMC to ensure the fighting did not continue. However, while at ACMC, the fight broke out again and Officer Fenton physically intervened in an attempt to stop the fight. (Id. at 1-2). During the struggle, he was pulled to the floor and struck in the eye. (Id. at 2). Officer Fenton testified that while he was wrestling with one of the women involved in the fight, he heard a voice behind him say, "Get him, get that cop." (Fenton Dep. at 23:1-8).[1] Officer Fenton feared that the crowd in the emergency room was going to overtake him. (Id. at 23:6-19). However, backup officers arrived and the woman struggling with Officer Fenton was handcuffed. (Def. Motion at 2).

         After the fighting ceased, Officer Fenton identified Plaintiff Norman Maples as the individual who had made the comment, "Get him, get that cop." (Id.). Plaintiff denied making that particular comment, but stated that he had told Officer Fenton to stop beating the woman because "there's no sense in [him] hitting somebody who's already subdued." (Pl. Dep. at 37:9-12). Plaintiff did not give his name when asked by Officer Fenton but just replied that he worked at ACMC and was going to report Officer Fenton. (Pl. Dep. at 39:6-22). However, later on, when Plaintiff was asked for his name by another officer, he gave his name and showed his hospital employee badge. (Id. at 40:17-21).

         Plaintiff was then arrested at the direction of another officer - a Captain, who presumably learned of the events from Officer Fenton. (Id. at 41:13-24). During the arrest, Plaintiff claims he was jerked and thrown on the ground, although he suffered no physical injury, only "bruised pride." (Id. at 42:19-43:2). Plaintiff was then taken to the police station, finger printed, and placed in a cell, where he remained for several hours. (Pl. Opp. at 6). Upon his release, he was given tickets for obstruction of justice and inciting a riot. (Id.; Pl. Dep. at 43:16-18).

         III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Summary judgment shall be granted if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c); Hersh v. Allen Products Co., 789 F.2d 230, 232 (3d Cir. 1986). 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. See id. Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude a grant of summary judgment. See id. "In making this determination, a court must make all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-movant." Oscar Mayer Corp. v. Mincing Trading Corp., 744 F.Supp. 79, 81 (D.N.J. 1990) (citing Meyer v. Riegel Prods. Corp., 720 F.2d 303, 307 n. 2 (3d Cir. 1983)). "At the summary judgment stage the judge's function is not... to weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249.

         IV. DISCUSSION

         A. Federal Claim (§ 1983) - Unlawful Arrest (Count I)

         In Count I, Plaintiff brings a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants violated his civil rights. When bringing an action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, a plaintiff must satisfy a two-prong test by showing that: 1) the conduct complained of was committed by a person acting under color of state law, and 2) the conduct deprived that person of rights guaranteed by the United States Constitution. West v. Atkins, 487 U.S. 42, 48 (1988).

         Plaintiff alleges that Defendants unlawfully arrested him in violation of his Fourteenth Amendment rights. As an initial matter, the Court notes that a claim of unlawful arrest should be brought under the Fourth Amendment, which ensures citizens the right to be free from unreasonable seizures. Reading the Complaint in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, the Court will presume that Plaintiff intended to bring this claim of unlawful arrest under the Fourth Amendment.

         Because individuals and municipal governments are treated differently under § 1983, the Court will address this claim against Officer Fenton separately from the claim against Atlantic City.

         1. Officer Fenton

         Plaintiff brings this § 1983 claim against Officer Fenton in both his individual and official capacities. However, absent consent by a state, the Eleventh Amendment bars federal court suits for money damages against state officers in their official capacities. See Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 169 (1985). Thus, Plaintiff's claim against Officer Fenton in his official capacity is barred and the Court will consider the claim against Officer Fenton only in his individual capacity.

         Although Officer Fenton was not the officer who actually effectuated the arrest of Plaintiff, he was the officer who identified Plaintiff as the hospital employee who made the comment. Because Officer Fenton was the only officer present during the hospital scuffle and exchange with Plaintiff, the record supports the conclusion that Officer Fenton must have relayed the events to the Captain, who then ordered another officer to arrest Plaintiff. Moreover, it is undisputed that Officer Fenton was the officer who charged Plaintiff with violations of two New Jersey statutes - Obstructing the Administration of Law and Disorderly Conduct. Thus, the record shows that Officer Fenton was instrumental in the arrest of Plaintiff. For the sake of simplicity, the Court will refer to Officer Fenton's conduct as arresting Plaintiff.

         Plaintiff alleges that Officer Fenton committed a constitutional violation by unlawfully arresting him. An arrest is unlawful and, thus, actionable if it is effectuated without probable cause. Patzig v. O'Neil, 577 F.2d 841, 848 (3d Cir. 1978). Probable cause exists when the facts are such that a reasonably prudent person ...


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