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Ciambrone v. Smith

September 19, 2008

MARK J. CIAMBRONE, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
ROBERT SMITH, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

In September 2002, Plaintiff Mark Ciambrone's then-wife filed a domestic violence complaint against her husband, and, owing to concerns over Mr. Ciambrone's threatening comments, a search warrant was issued authorizing the seizure of Mr. Ciambrone's firearms. While executing the warrant, the police officers discovered that Mr. Ciambrone had in his possession certain weapons that were illegal to possess under New Jersey law, and Mr. Ciambrone was arrested and charged with multiple counts of unlawful weapons possession. The charges against Mr. Ciambrone were ultimately dismissed after it was determined that, because Mr. Ciambrone was himself a law enforcement officer, his possession of some (but not all) of the weapons was not illegal.

Mr. Ciambrone and his parents subsequently filed this lawsuit against Egg Harbor Township and three of its law enforcement officers, Robert Smith, William Fair and Detective Furlong (the "Moving Defendants" or "Defendants"),*fn1 alleging, inter alia, that Mr. Ciambrone had been maliciously prosecuted. Defendants have moved for summary judgment [Docket Item 5]. For the reasons explained herein, the Court will grant Defendants' motion in its entirety.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

1. Domestic Violence Complaint and Search Warrant

The material facts at issue in this matter are not in dispute.*fn2 At the time the events underlying Plaintiffs' suit took place, Plaintiff Mark Ciambrone ("Mr. Ciambrone") was a sergeant in the Margate City Police Department. (Compl. ¶ 7.) On September 25, 2002, Kerry Ciambrone filed a "New Jersey Domestic Violence Civil Complaint and Temporary Restraining Order" against her then-husband, Mr. Ciambrone, with the Superior Court of Atlantic County, Chancery Division, Family Part. (Defs.' Br. Ex B.) In her complaint, Ms. Ciambrone alleged that over the course of the preceding year, she and Mr. Ciambrone had had marital problems; that Mr. Ciambrone had "had [her] followed"; that Mr. Ciambrone had sent threatening letters to her office and made threats regarding Mrs. Ciambrone's friends and children; that Mr. Ciambrone had "warned [her] that if it wasn't for [their] kids, [he] would have killed [her] last night"; and that Mr. Ciambrone had illegally taped her telephone conversations. (Id.)

The Superior Court Judge*fn3 issued a Temporary Restraining Order ("TRO"), which included a warrant to search for and seize all weapons possessed by Mr. Ciambrone from both the family home in Egg Harbor Township, as well as from Mr. Ciambrone's parents' home in Northfield. (Id.) Defendants Patrolman Robert Smith and Sergeant William Fair, along with two other Egg Harbor Township police officers not named as Defendants herein, were subsequently dispatched to Mr. Ciambrone's residence to serve the TRO upon Mr. Ciambrone and to seize the weapons specified in the warrant. (Defs.' Br. Ex C at 2.) Mr. Ciambrone was not present when the officers arrived. (Id.)

The officers contacted Kerry Ciambrone by telephone, who informed them that Mr. Ciambrone kept most of his weapons in the garage. (Id.) The officers obtained the code to the garage door from Ms. Ciambrone, but upon entering the garage, the officers found only empty rifle and bow cases and two compound bows. (Id.) There was a small locked room within the garage where it was believed other weapons were stored. (Id.) Before the officers opened the door to the small room, two of Mr. Ciambrone's colleagues from the Margate Police Department, Captain Fritz and Detective Oakes, arrived at the Ciambrone residence and informed the Egg Harbor officers that Mr. Ciambrone was on his way. (Id.)

Mr. Ciambrone arrived twenty minutes later. (Id.) Defendant Fair presented Mr. Ciambrone with the TRO and search warrant, and asked him for the key to the locked room, to which Mr. Ciambrone responded, "you can have the key but there aren't any guns in [there]." (Id.) Mr. Ciambrone then told Defendant Fair he gave his firearms away. (Id.) After speaking with his Margate colleague, Captain Fritz, however, Mr. Ciambrone admitted that he did possess firearms, but that he had taken them to his parents' home in Northfield. (Id.)

Defendant Smith then opened the locked gun room and found various empty holsters, boxes of assorted caliber ammunition, black powder and other components for making ammunition, and various hunting knives. (Id.) In a small closet within the gun room, Defendant Smith found a loaded, .22 caliber pistol with what appeared to be a homemade firearm silencer fashioned from a two-liter plastic soda bottle and duct tape. The officers, recognizing that New Jersey law prohibits the possession of a firearm silencer,*fn4 arrested Mr. Ciambrone for possession of an illegal weapon. (Id.) Officer Goodman then transported Mr. Ciambrone to the Egg Harbor Township police headquarters. (Id.) The remaining officers subsequently retrieved Mr. Ciambrone's "duty weapon" from the den of the Ciambrone residence and, as was directed by the search warrant, proceeded to Mr. Ciambrone's parents' residence in Northfield. (Id. at 3.)

Mr. Ciambrone's mother, Lorraine Ciambrone, arrived at the Northfield residence as the police officers were entering her home, and she spoke with Captain Fritz of the Margate Police. (Id.) In a rear bedroom of the Northfield residence, the officers found a pile of various rifles, shotguns, handguns, and ammunition, which were later identified as Mark Ciambrone's weapons. (Id.) Among these weapons were five thirty-round magazines loaded with .223 caliber ammunition, four twenty-round magazines, and two thirty-round magazines containing .223 caliber ammunition. (Id.) Additional weapons were found in the hall closet, including two rifles: a Colt AR-15 .223 caliber Model SP1, and a Heckler and Koch .223 caliber Model 93. (Id.)

Mr. Ciambrone's father, Frank Ciambrone, then arrived at the residence. (Id.) Frank Ciambrone stated that the two assault rifles in the closet belonged to his son, and that he had not known that they were in his closet. (Id.) Frank Ciambrone then escorted the officers to his own gun room to seize his weapons as directed by the warrant. (Id.) The officers removed various knives, handguns, rifles, shotguns, ammunition, compound bows, and arrows from the gun room. (Id.) Defendant Smith transported all of the seized weapons to police headquarters and logged them into evidence. (Id.) The Egg Harbor Township Police Department catalogued over ninety separate weapons seized from the residences of Mark Ciambrone and his parents. (Defs.' Br. Ex. E.)

2. Interview with Mark Ciambrone

Detective John Furlong of the Egg Harbor Township Police Department interviewed Mr. Ciambrone at the police headquarters at approximately 6:22 p.m. on the day of Mr. Ciambrone's arrest.*fn5

(Defs.' Br. Ex. D at 1.) Mr. Ciambrone asked Defendant Furlong what charges would be brought against him, and Defendant Furlong replied that he knew few specifics, but had been told that prohibited weapons were recovered from Frank Ciambrone's home, and that Mr. Ciambrone or his father would be charged when ownership was established. (Id.)

During the interview, Mr. Ciambrone admitted that the two assault rifles, the Colt AR-15 and Heckler and Koch 93, belonged to him, but had been stored at his father Frank Ciambrone's home since late 1988 or 1989. (Id. at 2.) He stated that he purchased the assault rifles about a year prior to the enactment of the assault weapons ban and that he intended to give the rifles to his cousin who lived in Texas. (Id.) He further stated that he had taken his gun collection to his father's home about one month earlier ...


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