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Lemons v. Atlantic City Police Dep't

August 6, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bumb, United States District Judge



This matter comes before the Court upon a motion for summary judgment filed by Defendants, Atlantic City Police Department and two Atlantic City police officers - Detective Joseph M. Rauch and Sergeant James Herberto. Plaintiff, Ian D. Lemons, a prisoner at New Jersey State Prison, has not opposed the motion. For the reasons discussed below, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.


On August 17, 2004, an individual was robbed and assaulted at gun point. After an investigation, the Atlantic City Police determined that Plaintiff had probably committed the crime. Accordingly, on August 26, 2004, Detective Joseph Rauch swore out a criminal complaint against Plaintiff, alleging robbery and aggravated assault. On August 27, 2004, four arrest warrants were issued for Plaintiff's arrest. The warrants were signed by Sergeant James Herberto and the Deputy Court Administrator, a judicial officer. On November 23, 2004, Plaintiff was arrested while at the Atlantic City Medical Center under the assumed identity of Jamal Anderson. He was subsequently tried by a jury and convicted of armed robbery and aggravated assault for the August 17, 2004 incident. Plaintiff was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for his crimes.

Plaintiff now claims that he was arrested without probable cause and without a proper arrest warrant in violation of his constitutional rights. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that Defendant Detective Rauch signed a criminal complaint without firsthand knowledge of the incident alleged and also failed to appear before a judicial officer to swear to the complaint. Plaintiff further alleges that Defendant Sergeant Herberto issued a defective and, thus, illegal arrest warrant which lead to Plaintiff's false arrest and false imprisonment from November 23, 2004 until June 29, 2005 (when Plaintiff was convicted). Finally, Plaintiff asserts that the Atlantic City Police Department, by virtue of its inadequate supervision and training of police officers, has allowed "an informal custom or policy which tolerates, promotes and encourages the use of unlawful acts against, and violation of civil rights of African American citizens and indigent persons..." (Compl. at 4).


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). "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)). However, "[w]hen opposing summary judgment, the non-movant may not rest upon mere allegations, but rather must 'identify those facts of record which would contradict the facts identified by the movant.'" Corliss v. Varner, 2007 WL 2709661 at *1 (3d Cir. September 17, 2007) (quoting Port Auth. of N.Y. and N.J. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 311 F.3d 226, 233 (3d Cir. 2003)). "At the summary judgment stage the judge's function is 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.


1. Atlantic City Police Department

Defendants argue that the Atlantic City Police Department is entitled to summary judgment because it cannot be sued as an entity separate from the municipality, Atlantic City. This Court agrees that the Police Department is not a separate entity from the City and, thus, it cannot be sued in conjunction with the City. N.J. Stat. Ann. § 40A:14-118; see also Padilla v. Twp. of Cherry Hill, 110 Fed. Appx. 272, 278 (3d Cir. 2004) (police departments cannot be sued in conjunction with municipalities because police departments are administrative arms of local municipalities, not separate entities). However, Plaintiff has only named the Police Department and not the City. Because the Police Department and the City are considered to be the same entity, the Court will construe Plaintiff's claim as against the City. See Bosenberger v. Plymouth Twp., 132 F.3d 20, 25 (3d Cir. 1997) (under a § 1983 claim, municipalities and police departments are treated as a single entity).

It is axiomatic that local government units, such as Atlantic City, are not liable under § 1983 solely on a theory of respondeat superior. See City of Oklahoma City v. Tuttle, 471 U.S. 808, 824 n.8 (1985); Monell, 436 U.S. at 690-91, 694. However, a § 1983 action may be brought against a local government when the local government is shown to be the "moving force" behind the constitutional violation. Monell, 436 U.S. at 690 n.55; Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985) ("governmental entity is liable under § 1983 only when the entity itself is a "moving force" behind the deprivation"). In Monell, the Supreme Court created two means of establishing local governmental liability under section 1983: policy and custom. As set forth by the Third Circuit,

[a] government policy or custom can be established in two ways. Policy is made when a "decision maker possessing final authority to establish municipal policy with respect to the action" issues an official proclamation, policy or edict. A course of conduct is considered to be a "custom when, though not authorized by law, such practices ...

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