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Rumbas v. Borough of Lawnside

August 6, 2008

WILLIAM RUMBAS AND DOROTHY RUMBAS H/W, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BOROUGH OF LAWNSIDE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

In this suit, Plaintiff William Rumbas ("Plaintiff") claims that his rights under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution and under the New Jersey State Constitution were violated when he was arrested without probable cause and with the use of excessive force on June 11, 2004. Plaintiff demands punitive and compensatory damages.*fn1

This matter comes before the Court on two motions for summary judgment, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56 - one by Defendants Borough of Lawnside [Docket Item 25] and one by Defendants Police Director George Pugh,*fn2 Patrolman William Roberts, and Patrolman Daniel Battista [Docket Item 24]. The principal issues are whether Defendants had probable cause to arrest Plaintiff and whether a reasonable jury could find bystander liability in this case. For the reasons explained below, the Court shall grant the motions in part and deny them in part.

II. BACKGROUND

This case is before this Court on summary judgment and thus the facts set out below are the facts as viewed in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. This case arises out of the arrest of Plaintiff by a law enforcement officer, allegedly without probable cause and with the use of excessive force on June 11, 2004. Plaintiff owns and operates Barrington Transmission at 298 White Horse Pike in Barrington, New Jersey. (Rumbas Dep. at 13-14., Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. A.) Several days prior to Plaintiff's arrest, Michelle Junis brought her Hyundai motor vehicle to Plaintiff's establishment for repairs. (Id. at 26-27.) On the day of the car's arrival, or sometime thereafter, Plaintiff took the car for a road test in an attempt to ascertain what was wrong with the vehicle. (Id. at 26.) During the road test the vehicle malfunctioned in front of an Amoco station and Plaintiff was unable to get the car to move any further. (Id.) Plaintiff was familiar with the Amoco workers from frequent gas purchases and received their help in pushing the car into the Amoco lot. (Id. at 26-27.) Plaintiff received permission to leave the vehicle on the Amoco lot for a few days from someone he believed to be either the owner or the manager.*fn3 (Id. at 28.)

Defendant, Patrolman Roberts, first observed the vehicle one day prior to the incident on June 10, 2004. (Roberts Dep. at 37, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. B.)*fn4 Because the vehicle had a broken window, Defendant Roberts "ran the tags" to investigate and determine whether the car was stolen or "wanted for anything else" (Roberts Dep. at 38, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. B.). However, Defendant Roberts found that the car was not stolen and that everything with regard to the car was in order and so he "figured it was broken down and [he] figured [he] would let it sit." (Id.) The following day, Defendant Roberts observed that the vehicle was still parked in the Amoco lot and again investigated. (Id. at 39.) As before, Defendant Roberts was informed that everything was in order. (Id.) Subsequently, Defendant Roberts contacted the vehicle's owner, Ms. Junis, to further inquire why the vehicle was there or, if she didn't know, to inform her of the vehicle's whereabouts and that it had a broken window. (Id. at 39-40.) Junis told Defendant Roberts that the vehicle had been dropped off at Plaintiff's establishment for repairs. (Id. at 40-41.) Thereafter, Defendant Roberts asked the station attendant if he knew anything about the vehicle and according to Roberts, "he didn't make any indication that he knew anything about it." (Id. at 42.)

Defendant Roberts did not seek out or inquire further about the vehicle with the Amoco's manager or owner. (Id.) Subsequently, Defendant Roberts had the vehicle towed, and decided to issue Plaintiff's business a summons for abandoning a vehicle in violation of N.J. Stat. Ann. § 4-56.5(a). (Id. at 46.)*fn5 Defendant Roberts, a patrolman for the Borough of Lawnside, radioed Barrington Police to meet him at Plaintiff's transmission shop, which is located in Barrington (Rumbas Dep. at 14), and proceeded there to issue the summons (Roberts Dep. at 47). Arriving at Plaintiff's place of business prior to the Barrington Police, Defendant Roberts entered the shop and found Plaintiff inside the waiting area with several other people. (Id. at 50.) Thereafter, in a rough tone of voice, Defendant Roberts "'pointed his finger in [the Plaintiff's] face and he said, let me see your driver's license.'" (Rumbas Dep. at 35-36.) "Around that time" but before the arrest, Defendant Patrolman Battista, also a police officer for the Borough of Lawnside at the time of the incident, arrived and entered the waiting area. (Id. at 38.) Plaintiff informed Defendant Roberts that he was the owner of the establishment and provided his name, and then questioned Defendant Roberts as to why he needed to see his license. (Id. at 36.) Defendant Roberts responded to Plaintiff's questioning by screaming "I'm a patrolman. I want to see your driver's license." (Id. at 36.) During the course of the exchange, Defendant Roberts and Plaintiff continued to argue and Defendant Roberts did not explain why he needed Plaintiff's license. (Id.) Defendant Roberts became hostile and continued to scream (id. at 36), while Plaintiff "did not raise his voice or use profanity towards Patrolman Roberts, nor was he otherwise disrespectful towards him." (Battista Dep. at 45,55, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. C.) After a subsequent request for his license, Plaintiff again did not produce it and again questioned Defendant Roberts as to why he needed it. (Rumbas Dep. at 38.) In response, Defendant Roberts:

[R]eacted by grabbing [Plaintiff's] left hand, giving [Plaintiff] a hard twist around and pulling his handcuffs out at the same time.

And then he took his handcuffs from like over his head for some reason, he reached his arm way up over his head and took [Plaintiff's] wrist and slammed the handcuff onto [Plaintiff's] wrist then grabbed [Plaintiff's] other hand, spun [Plaintiff] again, grabbed [Plaintiff's] other hand and pushed [Plaintiff] up against the counter and put the other handcuff on.

(Id.)

The Plaintiff testified that Defendant Roberts never informed him that a failure to produce his license would result in arrest. (Id. at 39.) Witnesses testified that Defendant Roberts arrested Plaintiff in a violent manner and "then started using his leg roughly on Bill to get him to move." (Witness Statement of Joseph Tiernan, Pl.'s Opp'n Ex. D.) Witnesses also attest that during the argument and subsequent arrest Defendant Battista "was saying to Roberts that he was not handling the matter the right way." (Witness Statement of Dennis Kelly, id.) Defendant Battista was the senior officer on duty at the time of the incident and admits that he would have a duty to intervene and stop patrolman Roberts from making an illegal arrest or from using excessive force. (Battista Dep. at 39-40.)*fn6

Plaintiff was then placed in a police car and brought to a holding cell at the Lawnside Police station. (Rumbas Dep. at 44-45.) Plaintiff did not learn why Defendant Roberts had come to his place of business until reaching the police station. (Id. at 40.) Plaintiff then tried to explain to Defendant Roberts why the car was at the Amoco lot but Defendant Roberts "wasn't interested" and screamed and used profanity towards the Plaintiff. (Id. at 41.) Plaintiff was in the holding cell approximately fifteen to twenty minutes and complained to Defendant Roberts that his wrists were sore as a result of his forceful arrest. (Battista Dep. at 59.) Plaintiff was issued a citation for Abandoning a Vehicle and charged with Obstructing Administration of Law or other Governmental Function for failing to produce his license.*fn7

Following the processing of Plaintiff's citations, he was brought back to his business, but complained to Defendant Roberts about the pain in his wrists, and at this time Defendant Roberts also noticed that the Plaintiff was bleeding. (Rumbas Dep. at 46-47.) Defendant Roberts offered to take Plaintiff to the ...


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