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Revell v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

April 7, 2009

GREGG C. REVELL, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY AND SCOTT ERICKSON, DEFENDANTS AND THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF
v.
CONTINENTAL AIRLINES, THE COUNTY OF ESSEX, THE ESSEX COUNTY JAIL, THE OFFICE OF THE ESSEX COUNTY PROSECUTOR ET AL. THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Katharine S. Hayden, U.S.D.J.

OPINION

This action arises from the arrest and subsequent detention of plaintiff Gregg C. Revell at Newark Liberty Airport ("Newark Airport") on April 1, 2005. The following motions are before the Court in this matter. Defendants Port Authority of New York and New Jersey ("Port Authority") and Police Officer Scott Erickson ("Erickson") (collectively, "Port Authority defendants") have moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint against them. (D.E. 93.) Third-Party Defendants, the County of Essex and the Essex County Prosecutor‟s Office (collectively, "Essex County"), have moved to dismiss in lieu of answering the third-party complaint asserted against them by Third-Party Plaintiffs Port Authority and Erickson. (D.E. 92.) Third-Party Defendant Continental Airlines ("Continental") has moved for summary judgment of dismissal as to the Port Authority‟s third-party complaint against it. (D.E. 97, 106.) In this opinion, the Court addresses all pending motions.

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Because the relevant facts were stated in an earlier decision, and are essential to understanding Revell‟s claims, they are recited here.

On March 31, 2005, Revell, a resident of Utah, checked in with Northwest Airlines at the Salt Lake City Airport. His destination was Allentown, Pennsylvania, via Minneapolis/St. Paul and Newark, New Jersey. When he checked in, Revell declared that his bag contained an unloaded firearm in a locked hard case container and ammunition in a separate locked hard case container. Revell signed an orange firearm declaration tag, which was placed inside the container holding the firearm.

Revell‟s flight to Newark was late and he missed his connecting flight to Allentown. After waiting five hours inside the secure area of the airport, he was directed to board a bus that would drive him and other passengers to Allentown. After taking his seat on the bus, Revell learned from the driver that his checked luggage had not been placed on the bus, so he got off to search for his bag. By the time Revell found it in the lost luggage area of Newark Airport, the bus to Allentown had already left. An airline employee told him that the airline‟s computer system showed that although he had checked the bag through to Allentown, the airline had mistakenly tagged his bag with Newark as its final destination. As there were no other connections to Allentown that night, Revell took his bag and stayed overnight at a nearby hotel.

The next morning, Revell went directly to Newark Airport. At the airline check-in counter, he once again declared that he had a firearm and ammunition in his bag and that they were stored in separate locked hard case containers. Revell signed a white form and was directed to an x-ray area, where he again declared the firearm and ammunition. After his bag went through the x-ray machine, an agent at the end of the machine opened the cases using Revell‟s key. The orange firearm declaration from Revell‟s Salt Lake City check-in was still in the firearm container. After approximately 20 minutes, several police officers escorted Revell to a different area of the airport where they questioned him about the firearm and ammunition. Revell showed them his Utah concealed firearm permit and driver‟s license, and explained that he was simply traveling through New Jersey from Utah and that he was on his way to Pennsylvania.

It is unclear exactly when Officer Scott Erickson appeared on the scene, but he ultimately arrested Revell for possession of a handgun without a permit in violation of N.J.S.A. § 2C:39-5(b) and for possession of hollow point ammunition in violation of N.J.S.A. § 2C:39-3(f). Revell‟s firearm, ammunition, holster, locks, and hard case containers were seized, and he was charged with unlawful possession of a handgun without a permit and unlawful possession of hollow point ammunition. He was handcuffed, placed in a police car, and held overnight in the Port Authority jail. The next day, Revell was transported to the Essex County Jail, where he was detained for three days. Ultimately, some four months later, on August 2, 2005, the Essex County Prosecutor administratively dismissed all charges. As of the date of filing the complaint, the firearm, ammunition, holster, locks, and hard case containers had not been returned. (Op. dated June 29, 2007 (D.E. 38)). On June 29, 2007, the Court granted Port Authority defendants‟ motion to dismiss Count One of Revell‟s original complaint, which sought to recover monetary damages and injunctive relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for a violation of a statutory right secured by 18 U.S.C. § 926A, concluding that § 926A did not create a private right of action. (D.E. 38.) At the same time, the Court permitted Revell to amend his complaint "to state a § 1983 claim for an unreasonable arrest and seizure of property in violation of the Fourth Amendment." (D.E. 38.) The Court also dismissed Counts Two and Three, which claimed that defendants, acting under color of State law, had deprived him of his property (firearm, ammunition, holster, locks, and hard case containers), without due process of law as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment and sought redress in the form of monetary relief (Count Two) and injunctive relief (Count Three). (D.E. 38.) The Court granted leave for Revell to reframe these counts as "a claim alleging that the Port Authority‟s post-deprivation remedies for the return of seized property are constitutionally inadequate." (D.E. 38.) The Court also dismissed Count Four, which had been brought by the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs, Inc. (the "Association"), finding that the Association‟s claim to enjoin defendants from enforcing N.J.S.A. §§ 2C:39-5(b) (possession of a handgun without a permit ) and 2C:39-3(f) (possession of hollow point ammunition) against its non-resident members transporting a firearm and ammunition through New Jersey pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 926A "d[id] not meet Article III‟s injury in fact requirement to establish an actual case or controversy." (D.E. 38.) On September 7, 2007, the Association filed a notice of appeal of its dismissal as a plaintiff. (D.E. 64.)

Revell timely filed an amended complaint, recasting Claims One, Two and Three as permitted by the Court, and the Association dropped Claim Four, as ordered. (D.E. 46.) In the amended complaint, Count One asserts a § 1983 claim for damages pursuant under the Fourth Amendment. Count Two pleads a claim for damages, alleging that Port Authority deprived Revell of his property without due process of law. Count Three, which Revell has since voluntarily dismissed,*fn1 sought injunctive relief for the same alleged due process violations. In the new complaint, Revell supplements paragraph 12 of his original complaint regarding his transportation to the airport Sheraton (corresponds to ¶ 11 in the amended complaint), as follows:

His bags (including both locked hard case containers) were placed in the rear, baggage area of the van by the driver of the hotel shuttle van. The bags were not readily or directly accessible from the passenger compartment of the hotel shuttle van as there were two seats between him and the bags and he would have had to climb over the rear seat to get to the bags. (Am. Compl. ¶ 11.)

A final pretrial order was entered on September 28, 2007. (D.E. 70.) Essex County filed its motion to dismiss in lieu of answering on June 11, 2008, followed by Port Authority defendants‟ cross-motion for summary judgment on June 13, 2008. Continental thereafter moved on August 8, 2008 for summary judgment as to the third-party complaint.*fn2

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Port Authority defendants‟ motion, as well as Continental‟s motion, are made pursuant to Rule 56(c), Fed. R. Civ. P. Summary judgment may be granted "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). The Court must "view the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and [must] draw all inferences in that party‟s favor." Gray v. York Newspapers, 957 F.2d 1070, 1080 (3d Cir. 1992). Summary judgment is inappropriate if there is evidence sufficient to allow a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the non-moving party, see Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986), or if the factual dispute is one which might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law . . . ." Id. The movant‟s burden, however, "may be discharged by "showing‟ . . . that there is an absence of evidence to support the non-moving party‟s case." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986). Additionally, the non-movant "may not rest upon mere allegations or denials of the . . . pleading"; instead, the non-movant, "by affidavits or as otherwise provided in [Rule 56], must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Matushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). Here, the facts necessary to the determination of the pending motions for summary judgment are not in dispute.

Essex County‟s motion is made in lieu of an answer, and although Essex County does not set forth a standard in its papers, the grounds it cites for dismissal comport with a motion made pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), Fed. R. Civ. P. The bases for dismissal advanced by Essex County include that the Port Authority has no right of contribution on a § 1983 action, that the Eleventh Amendment and absolute immunity bar monetary claims against Essex County Prosecutor‟s Office, and that no Eighth Amendment claim is properly pled. None of these arguments require the Court to look further than the pleadings, and, accordingly, the Court will treat Essex County‟s motion as being made under Rule 12(b)(6).

To survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a complaint must allege facts that raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544 (2007). Although a court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008), the court need not accept sweeping legal conclusions that are framed as factual allegations, unwarranted inferences, or unsupported conclusions. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). A plaintiff must allege sufficient facts to show that the legal allegations are not just possible, but also are plausible. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234. According to the Third Circuit, Rule 12(b)(6) "requires not merely a short and plain statement, but ...


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