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Leone v. Township of Deptford

April 29, 2009


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


This matter has come before the Court on defendant Township of Deptford's and defendant John Weatherby's motions for judgment on the pleadings concerning plaintiffs' allegations of state and federal constitutional violations for incidents surrounding the indictment and prosecution of plaintiffs Gillispie, Parks and Green for an excessive force allegation.*fn1 Defendant John Marolt has joined in Township of Deptford's motion. Plaintiffs have opposed defendants' motions. For the reasons expressed below, defendants' motions will be granted in part and denied in part.


Plaintiffs John Gillespie and Timothy Parks are Deptford Township police officers who were indicted for allegations of excessive force. Brian Green, also a Deptford Township police officer, was indicted for failing to report or properly supervise the incident. The alleged incident occurred in February 2006, and these three plaintiffs were suspended without pay in March 2006. A trial was held with regard to the charges against Gillespie. Plaintiff John Leone, a Deptford Police Sergeant, testified at Gillespie's trial as an expert witness on the use of force. Gillespie was acquitted on July 13, 2007, and the charges against Parks and Green were subsequently dismissed.

Plaintiffs claim that the criminal charges against them were "bogus" and lacking in probable cause. They further claim that when Leone informed the police department that he was going to testify at Gillespie's trial as an expert on the use of force, defendants Marolt, Murphy and Weatherby threatened Leone's career. Plaintiffs claim that the harassment of Leone became so severe that following an incident between Leone and Murphy on June 6, 2007, Leone provided a statement to Gillespie's attorney, who in turn reported the conduct to the court hearing the charges against Gillespie. On June 11, 2007, based on Leone's statement, Gillespie signed criminal complaints against Murphy for official misconduct and witness tampering, and against Weatherby for official misconduct. According to plaintiffs' complaint, on June 13, 2007 the state trial judge admonished defendants and ordered them to cease tampering with witnesses.

Plaintiffs claim that they were treated differently from Weatherby and Murphy because they were not put on leave without pay when criminal complaints were filed against them. They also claim that their ability to assert a defense was hindered due to defendants' conduct. Plaintiffs further contend that even after Gillespie was acquitted and the charges against Parks and Green were dismissed, there was an impermissible delay in restating them to the force. This demonstrates, plaintiffs claim, that the Deptford Township police department fostered an environment of a favored "A team" and disfavored "B team."

Based on these allegations, plaintiffs Gillespie, Parks and Green claim that their constitutional rights were violated. Specifically, plaintiffs*fn2 allege that they were maliciously prosecuted in violation of their First and Fourth Amendment rights, denied due process in violation of their Fourteenth Amendment rights, denied access to a fair trial, the courts and counsel in violation of their Sixth Amendment rights, and their equal protection rights were violated.*fn3 Gillespie also contends that he was retaliated against in violation of his rights as a "whistle blower" under the Contentious Employee Protection Act (CEPA). Defendants have moved for judgment in their favor on these claims.


A. Jurisdiction

Plaintiffs have brought their claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as pursuant to 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. Standard for Judgment on the Pleadings

A Rule 12(c) motion for judgment on the pleadings may be filed after the pleadings are closed. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(c); Turbe v. Gov't of V.I., 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991). In analyzing a Rule 12(c) motion, a court applies the same legal standards as applicable to a motion filed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6). Turbe, 938 F.2d at 428. Thus, a court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005).

A district court, in weighing a motion to dismiss, asks "'not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claim.'" Bell Atlantic v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1969 n.8 (2007) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhoades, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)); see also Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (stating that the "Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: 'stating ... a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' the required element. This 'does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage,' but instead 'simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element"). A court need not credit either "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions" in a complaint when deciding a motion to dismiss. In re Burlington Coat Factory Sec. Litig., 114 F.3d 1410, 1429-30 (3d Cir. 1997). The defendant bears the burden of showing that no claim has been presented. Hedges v. U.S., 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Kehr Packages, Inc. v. Fidelcor, Inc., 926 F.2d 1406, 1409 (3d Cir. 1991)).

C. Analysis

1. Plaintiffs' Constitutional Violation Claims

Plaintiffs have asserted numerous claims, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, for violations of their federal constitutional rights.*fn4 ...

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