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Love v. Johnson

July 10, 2008

RE: LOVE.
v.
JOHNSON, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini Judge

LETTER OPINION

Dear Litigants:

This matter comes before the Court upon a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Union County, Keith Johnson, and Christopher Gulbin (collectively, "Union County Defendants") and a Motion to Dismiss, or Alternatively, Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendants Corey Handy and Julian Hilongos (collectively, "Federal Defendants"). There was no oral argument. Fed. R. Civ. P. 78. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motions are DENIED IN PART and GRANTED IN PART.

I. BACKGROUND*fn1

A. Arrest of Eric Love

On November 9, 2004, Defendant Gublin of the Union Country Prosecutor's office obtained a "knock and announce" search warrant at a residence located in Irvington, New Jersey. (Union County Defs.' Br. Ex. B) The warrant was issued in connection with an investigation of the criminal activities of Eric Love, who was arrested and placed into custody for conspiring to distribute heroin and Oxycontin on November 10th around 8:20 P.M. (Pls.' Opp. Br. 3; Union County Defs.' Br. Ex. B.)

B. Execution of the Search Warrant

Approximately an hour after Eric Love's arrest, a team of six officers, Defendants Johnson, Hilongos, Manghisi, Demeter, Wikander, and Handy, arrived at the Irvington residence to execute the search warrant. (Pls.' Opp. Br. 4). Plaintiffs allege that the police knocked loudly on the door, and when asked who was at the door, identified themselves as police officers and threatened to break down the door if it was not opened. (W. Love Cert. ¶10). Within five to ten seconds, Wynette Love, a resident and one of the plaintiffs in this suit, went to open the door. (W. Love Cert. ¶ 11.) Upon turning the doorknob, the door was forced opened by Defendant Hilongos, pushing Wynette Love backwards. (W. Love Cert. ¶11).

The six officers entered the residence with their guns drawn. (Pls.' Opp. Br. 4-5). There were seven individuals present in the home at the time: Wynette Love, Jahyde Love, Naderia Love, Satasha Love, Margaret Love, Henry Cobb, and Quiyim Robinson. (Union County Defs.' Br. Ex. E). From the entry hallway, it is alleged that Defendant Hilongos could see the decedent, Margaret Love, and Quiyim Robinson in the kitchen. (W. Love Cert. ¶ 13.) Defendant Hilongos asked Wynette Love whether any other people were present. (W. Loves Cert. ¶ 13.) She responded that her sister, son, and niece were upstairs, and three of the officers rushed upstairs. (W. Love Cert. ¶ 13.)

Wynette Love then proceeded to engage the remaining three officers in a conversation about their presence in the residence. (W. Love Cert. ¶ 15.) She was told by the officers that they were from the Union County Prosecutor's office and had a search warrant for the premises. (W. Love Cert. ¶ 15.) They informed her that her brother, Eric Love, was in custody for transporting drugs and that they were searching the house in connection with the arrest. (W. Love Cert. ¶ 15.) The officers inquired if Eric Love stored any items at the residence, and she responded that they should look in an upstairs closet. (W. Love Cert. ¶ 15.) A .40 caliber handgun along with ammunition were ultimately found among and seized from Eric Love's possessions. (Union Count Defs.' Br. Ex. E.)

C. Death of Margaret Love

Sixty-one-year-old Margaret Love, a resident of the Irvington home, suffered from several health problems, including asthma, obesity, and heart disease. (W. Love Cert. ¶ 8.) She could only walk around with the aid of a walker or by leaning on furniture. (W. Love Cert. ¶ 8.) Furthermore, she took numerous medications and was additionally treated with a combination of a nebulizer, a portable machine that administers medicine through inhaled vapors, and a stationary oxygen machine. (W. Love Cert. ¶ 8-9.)

When the officers first entered the residence, Margaret Love, was seated at the kitchen table with Quiyim Robinson making party favors. (W. Love Cert. ¶ 7.) She was wearing an oxygen mask connected to a stationary oxygen machine. (W. Love Cert. ¶¶ 7, 9, 13). Margaret Love's oxygen machine was located on the rear wall of her bedroom and was connected to an oxygen mask by a ten-foot long clear plastic tube. (W. Love Cert. ¶ 9.) The oxygen machine allowed Margaret Love to walk around the kitchen and her bedroom (a converted dining room). (W. Love Cert. ¶ 9.) Due to the limited reach of the machine, she could not travel to the living room, bathroom, or entrance hall without disconnecting herself from the machine. (W. Love Cert. ¶ 9.)

After the officers had gathered the second floor residents to the living room, the officers told everyone to move to the living room. (W. Love Cert. ¶ 16.) Wynette Love alleges that she "told them that [her] mother was sick and suffered from chronic asthma," but that the officers "insisted that she move." (W. Love Cert. ¶ 16.) Margaret Love removed her oxygen mask, and began to move towards the living room. (W. Love Cert. ¶ 17.) She was not permitted to use her walker. (W. Love Cert. ¶ 17.) Wynette Love states that Margaret Love, on her way to the living room, sat down in her bedroom to start using her nebulizer with Wynette Love's assistance, because she became breathless and very distressed. (W. Love Cert. ¶ 17.) Wynette Love alleges that "despite [her] repeated protests, the officers would not permit her to continue on the nebulizer repeating '[w]e need her to ...


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