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Matos v. City of Camden

March 18, 2009

ENRIQUE MATOS AND LINDA MATOS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF CAMDEN, DETECTIVE MARSHALL MORGAN, AND OFFICER LUIS SANCHEZ, DEFENDANTS.



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

OPINION

This matter has come before the Court on defendants' motions for summary judgment on all of plaintiffs' claims arising from plaintiff Enrique Matos's arrest on January 12, 2004 by defendants Detective Marshall Morgan and Officer Luis Sanchez of the Camden City Police Department. For the reasons expressed below, Morgan and Sanchez's motion will be granted in part and denied in part, and the City of Camden's motion will be granted.

BACKGROUND

At approximately 7:00 p.m. on January 12, 2004, plaintiff Enrique Matos was walking from his brother's home to his own when he approached the corner of 6th and York Streets in Camden, New Jersey. At the time, the Camden City Police Department was conducting a "corner sweep," the purpose of which was to conduct surveillance on areas in Camden known for drug activities. Matos, who was not involved in any drug activity, claims that as he approached the corner, two men dressed in street clothes and "hoodie" sweatshirts ordered Matos to get down on the ground.*fn1

Because neither of the men wore anything to identify themselves as police officers, although he did notice that they carried guns, Matos states that he replied, "I'll do whatever you say. Just show me your badge." Matos states that he had been robbed by armed men two weeks earlier, and he thought he was being robbed again.

Matos claims that before being able to comply with the command, someone started choking him from behind and he was tackled to the ground. Matos claims that a knit cap was then placed over his eyes, he was placed in a police van, and transported to the 7th Street sub-station, where he was allowed to leave. He was not issued any summonses at the time, but later received in the mail a summons for "Improper Behavior" and resisting arrest. As a result of this incident, Matos filed an Internal Affairs Complaint. He also claims he suffered serious and permanent injury to his right knee.*fn2

The Internal Affairs investigation and discovery in this case provide a fuller, although a mostly disputed, picture of what occurred on January 12. It is undisputed that Matos was not the target of the police investigation. Matos, however, came upon the scene just as the officers were commanding the two suspects to get onto the ground.*fn3 While the two suspects complied with the order and were handcuffed, an officer at the scene, Officer Sampson, and defendant Officer Sanchez, claim that Matos was belligerent to the officers. These officers claim that Matos was ordered to leave the area two times, but continued with his behavior. Sanchez contends that when he asked for Matos's identification, Matos replied, "F--- You." Sanchez then announced that Matos was under arrest, but Sanchez claims that Matos pulled away. Sanchez states that he repeated to Matos that he was under arrest, and informed him not to pull away. At that point, Sanchez claims that Matos attempted to flee the scene, but he tripped. While Matos was falling, Sanchez claims that he, at 5'10", 175 pounds, jumped on the back of the much larger Matos, 6'3", 300 pounds, and they both fell to the ground. Sanchez claims that Matos continued to struggle and resisted efforts to restrain his hands, and Sanchez remained on top of Matos until he could gain control of Matos. Sanchez also relates that defendant Detective Marshall Morgan assisted in lifting Matos from the ground and placing him in the police van. Morgan corroborates Sanchez's account that Matos was asked to leave the area several times and that he saw Matos pull away from the other officer. Morgan states that he did not touch Matos, and does not recall how Matos was taken to the ground, or that he assisted lifting him to his feet.

Matos's version of events differs greatly from the accounts of Morgan and Sanchez. He disputes that he was told to leave the area. He claims that if they had told him to leave, "they wouldn't have had to say it twice; I would have left." Matos also disputes that he cursed at the police officers or acted belligerently.*fn4 Further, Matos disputes that he resisted the police. He claims that he did not run away, and he claims that he initially did not allow his hands to be restrained because he was attempting to get the hands off his throat so he could breathe.*fn5 Matos essentially claims that he was at the wrong place at the wrong time, and without being provided the opportunity to leave, thrown to the ground, choked, and arrested for no reason.

Based on these events, Matos filed a seven-count complaint against Sanchez and Morgan and the City of Camden. His claims against Sanchez and Morgan include ones for "illegal seizure," false arrest, and excessive force in violation of the federal and New Jersey state constitutions; conspiracy; bystander liability; and assault and battery and false arrest under state law. His claims against the City of Camden include failure to train, deliberate indifference, and unconstitutional policies. Linda Matos has also asserted a claim against Sanchez and Morgan for loss of consortium.

Sanchez, Morgan, and the City of Camden have moved for summary judgment on all of plaintiffs' claims. Matos has opposed Sanchez and Morgan's motion, except for their motion on Linda Matos's loss of consortium claim. Matos has not opposed the City of Camden's motion.

DISCUSSION

A. Jurisdiction

Plaintiffs have brought their claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as the New Jersey constitution and New Jersey state law. This Court has jurisdiction over plaintiffs' federal claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiffs' state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

B. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "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." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

An issue is "genuine" if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence "is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Marino v. Industrial Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004)(quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. A party opposing summary judgment must do more than just rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or vague statements. Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001).

C. Analysis

1. Matos's claims against Sanchez ...


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