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Monaco v. City of Camden

December 17, 2008

STEVEN J. MONACO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CAMDEN & OFFICER SHAY SAMPSON DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jerome B. Simandle

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

In this lawsuit, Plaintiff Steven J. Monaco alleged that while he was attending a concert at the Tweeter Center in Camden, New Jersey, several officers from the City of Camden Police Department used excessive force upon him and falsely arrested him in violation of his Fourth Amendment rights. Plaintiff also asserted a claim for malicious prosecution under New Jersey common law against Officer Shay Sampson, who appears not to have arrested Plaintiff but who, on the evening of Plaintiff's arrest, back at police headquarters, issued Plaintiff a citation for drinking alcohol in public.

The matter was tried to a verdict before a jury. The jury returned its verdicts on June 26, 2008, finding in favor of Defendants. As to Plaintiff's claim against the City of Camden, the jury determined that officers not party to this lawsuit had unlawfully arrested Plaintiff and used excessive force upon him, but that the City itself did not cause such violations through a custom of deliberate indifference, and could not be held liable to Plaintiff for his injuries. As to Plaintiff's claim against Defendant Sampson, the jury found that Plaintiff failed to prove that Defendant Sampson was liable for malicious prosecution.

Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for a new trial [Docket Item 138], in which he argues that the jury's verdict cannot be upheld because it was inconsistent. For the reasons that follow, the Court finds that the jury's verdict was not inconsistent and will deny Plaintiff's motion.

II. BACKGROUND

A. Summary of Plaintiff's Allegations

On May 31, 2002, Plaintiff was in a parking lot near the Tweeter Center, a performance venue in Camden, New Jersey, preparing to attend a concert. (Am. Compl. ¶ 12.) At approximately 6:00 p.m., a large fight erupted in the parking lot, to which multiple City of Camden police officers responded. (Id. at ¶¶ 15-17.) According to Plaintiff, he did not participate in the fight, but as he was exiting the parking lot, he was misidentified as a participant by a group of police officers, who threw Plaintiff to the ground and beat him on the head with night sticks.*fn1 (Id. at ¶¶ 15, 16, 20.) Plaintiff was taken to the police station, where he was detained in a cell. (Id. at ¶ 38.) Plaintiff alleges that he was subsequently taken to a room to meet with Defendant Sampson, who urged Plaintiff to admit that he had consumed an alcoholic beverage earlier that evening. Monaco v. City of Camden, No. 04-2406, 2008 WL 408423, at *1 (D.N.J. Feb. 13, 2008). Feeling pressured and wanting to go to the hospital, Plaintiff stated that he had consumed beer, received a summons for drinking in public, and was released. Id. The summons was dismissed for failure to prosecute after Plaintiff and his attorney appeared in court on two or three occasions and Defendant Sampson failed to appear. Id. at *2.

Following the parties' summary judgment motion practice, two claims remained in the case for trial: (1) Plaintiff's claim against the City of Camden, in which he alleged that the allegedly unlawful arrest and excessive use of force were caused by the City's custom of deliberate indifference to excessive force complaints, and (2) Plaintiff's malicious prosecution claim against Defendant Sampson, brought pursuant to New Jersey law.

B. Witness Testimony and Jury Verdict

This matter was tried before a jury between June 16, 2008 and June 26, 2008. The Court summarizes herein only those portions of the testimony that are relevant to the disposition of Plaintiff's motion.*fn2

1. Plaintiff's Arrest

At trial, Plaintiff testified he neither was involved in the fight that broke out at the Tweeter Center on May 31, 2002, nor sought to become involved in the fight, but that he was nonetheless tackled by four City of Camden police officers and beaten repeatedly with night sticks. Plaintiff provided a description of the officers who beat and arrested him on the evening in question, and, when questioned as to whether Defendant Sampson was present at the time of his arrest, testified that he was not certain whether or not Defendant Sampson was present during the beating and arrest, and that he had not asserted claims for unlawful arrest or excessive use of force against Defendant Sampson.

Defendant Sampson testified that he was on duty on May 31, 2002, and that he was dispatched to the Tweeter Center after the fight broke out. Defendant Sampson testified that he had no recollection of seeing Plaintiff at the scene of the fight and stated that he did not place handcuffs on Plaintiff or place Plaintiff in the police van; according to ...


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