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Kirkland v. Morgievich

December 15, 2008


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


On April 9, 1991, Plaintiff Lenine Kirkland was driving on the New Jersey Turnpike when he was stopped and searched by Defendant State Trooper Stan Morgievich. During the course of that stop, illegal narcotics were found. Kirkland was arrested and subsequently tried and convicted. His sentence was later vacated, along with many others, at the request of the New Jersey Attorney General based on New Jersey's prior practice of racial profiling. Kirkland filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on April 6, 2004, alleging violations of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution, as well as violations of the New Jersey State Constitution.

Before the Court is Trooper Morgievich's motion to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) and for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(b). Morgievich argues that the claims in Kirkland's Complaint accrued at the time of his arrest and are therefore barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations. Kirkland argues that at minimum, his Fourteenth Amendment claim for selective enforcement based on racial profiling did not accrue until his sentence was vacated and that his Complaint was timely filed within the two-year statutory period. This Motion is decided without oral argument pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 78. Having carefully considered the arguments of the parties and for the reasons stated below, the Motion is granted and the case is dismissed.

I. Jurisdiction and Venue

This Court has jurisdiction over Kirkland's §1983 claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343. The Court exercises pendent jurisdiction over the claims arising under the Constitution of the State of New Jersey. See 28 U.S.C. § 1367. Because the events that give rise to Kirkland's claims occurred in this District, venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2).

II. Factual and Procedural Background

The facts presented here are based on those set forth in Kirkland's Complaint and on facts in the record as presented in the exhibits submitted by the parties with the present Motion. Kirkland, an African-American male, alleges in his Complaint that on April 9, 1991, he was driving his car on the New Jersey Turnpike when he witnessed a New Jersey State Trooper in a patrol car pull beside him, turn to look at him, and then say something into his radio. (Compl. ¶ 13; Levine Certif. Ex. 3, Kirkland Dep. 11:24--12:12, June 5, 2007.) Immediately thereafter, Kirkland was pulled over, allegedly without probable cause. (Compl. ¶ 14.) After smelling marijuana and seeing a pack of rolling papers fall from Kirkland's pocket as he searched for identification papers, Trooper Morgievich conducted a search of Kirkland's car. (Levine Certif. Ex. 4, Trial Tr. 9:22--10:20, May 6, 1997.) When the search uncovered what Trooper Morgievich believed to be illegal narcotics, Kirkland was arrested. Kirkland alleges that he was the victim of racial profiling at the time he was stopped by Trooper Morgievich. (Compl. ¶ 16.) Kirkland testified that at the time of his arrest, he believed it to be unlawful. (Levine Certif. Ex. 3, Kirkland Dep. 7:10-17.) Kirkland was subsequently tried and convicted of possession of a controlled dangerous substance and sentenced to a prison term of ten to twenty years.

On April 19, 2002, the New Jersey Superior Court vacated Kirkland's conviction and dismissed the indictment. (Levine Certif. Ex. 2.) This dismissal was one of eighty-six criminal convictions involving allegations of racial profiling that the New Jersey Attorney General requested to be dismissed on that date. (Levine Certif. Ex. 11.)

Kirkland instituted this action pro se on April 6, 2004, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983.*fn1 On July 30, 2004, after an initial screening as permitted by 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, the case was ordered to proceed. In his Complaint, Kirkland generally alleges he was "denied the right to remain free from unwarranted search and seizure of his person and vehicle by the New Jersey State Police" (Compl. at 1) and that he was the victim of racial discrimination (Compl. ¶ 15). He also alleges that he was stopped without probable cause and was denied his "right[]to remain free from racial discrimination by police officers" in violation of his right to due process and equal protection under the United States Constitution. (Compl. ¶ 14.) Kirkland further alleges he was the target of racial profiling (Compl. ¶ 16), "selective criminal activities" (Compl. ¶ 17), and an "unreasonable search and seizure" (Compl. ¶ 18), all in violation of the New Jersey State Constitution.

Judge Bassler issued an Order dismissing Defendant Governor James McGreevy on December 19, 2005. On May 9, 2006, Kirkland agreed to voluntarily dismiss Defendant Attorney General Peter Harvey. Kirkland filed a motion to amend the Complaint on August 23, 2006, and an amended motion to amend the Complaint on September 1, 2006. Following briefing, oral argument, and supplemental briefing on the motion to amend, Magistrate Judge Madeline C. Arleo denied the motion. (See Orders denying motion to amend, Nov. 17, 2006, Dec. 1, 2008, & Jan. 4, 2007.) Trooper Morgievich, the only remaining Defendant, filed the current Motion on May 8, 2008.

III. Discussion

A. Rule 56 Summary Judgment

Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) and for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56(b). Because both parties rely on facts not contained in the pleadings, the motion will be considered only as one for summary judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(d).

Summary judgment shall be granted "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant. It is material if, under the substantive law, it would affect the outcome of the suit. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). The moving party must show that if the evidentiary material of record were reduced to admissible evidence in court, it would be insufficient to permit the non-moving party to carry its burden of proof. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 318 (1986).

Once the moving party meets the initial burden, the burden then shifts to the non-movant who must set forth specific facts showing a genuine issue for trial and may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of its pleadings. Shields v. Zuccarini, 254 F.3d 476, 481 (3d Cir. 2001). The court may not weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter but must instead determine whether there is a genuine issue as to a material fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. In doing so, the court must construe the facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, 501 U.S. 496, 520 (1991).

B. Kirkland's Complaint

The central question before the Court presented by Trooper Morgievich's motion for summary judgment is whether the statute of limitations had expired on Kirkland's claims when he filed his Complaint. Although there was some disagreement regarding the date Kirkland officially filed the Complaint for purposes of calculating the statute of limitations, the operative date is April 6, 2004, when the Complaint was first received by the clerk. See McDowell v. Del. State Police, 88 F.3d 188, 191 (3d Cir. 1996) ("Although a complaint is not formally filed until the filing fee is paid, we deem a complaint to be constructively filed as of the date that the clerk received the complaint-as long as the plaintiff ultimately pays the filing fee or the district court grants the plaintiff's request to proceed in forma pauperis.").

In order to determine whether the statute of limitations has expired for Kirkland's claims, it is first necessary to determine what those claims are. Although he has been represented by counsel in this action since 2005, Kirlkand filed his Complaint pro se. As such, it should be construed liberally. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, 520--21 (1972) (pro se pleadings, "however inartfully pleaded" are held "to less stringent standards than formal pleadings drafted by lawyers"); see also U.S. v. Otero, 502 F.3d 331, 334 (3d Cir. 2007); United States v. Day, 969 F.2d 39, 42 (3d Cir. 1992). In construing a pro se plaintiff's complaint, courts "apply the applicable law, irrespective of whether the pro se litigant has mentioned it by name." Dluhos v. Strasberg, 321 F.3d 365, 369 (3rd Cir. 2003).

In addition to the clearly-articulated allegations of violations of the New Jersey Constitution, the Court construes the Complaint to allege claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 for unlawful search and seizure and false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment, as well as a claim for selective enforcement in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. Kirkland's brief submitted in opposition to the Motion makes various arguments regarding purported claims for selective prosecution, malicious prosecution, and for conspiracy ...

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