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Caissie v. City of Cape May

May 27, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Joseph H. Rodriguez



This matter comes before the Court on a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendants Kenneth Cooper, Anthony Marino, City of Cape May, and City of Cape May Police Department ("Public Defendants") on October 3, 2008, as well as on a Motion to Dismiss filed by Defendant Cabana's Beach Bar & Grill ("Private Defendant") on October 9, 2008.*fn1 Public Defendants seek dismissal pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Alternatively, Public Defendants request that Plaintiff provide a more definite statement pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(e), assuming the qualified immunity issue cannot be resolved at this point in the litigation. As for Private Defendant, it contends that Plaintiff's claim should be dismissed pursuant to N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2A:22A-1, et seq.*fn2 Plaintiff Leigh Caissie opposes both motions. Oral Argument was held on May 18, 2009.

I. Jurisdiction

This case is a civil action over which the district court has original jurisdiction based on a question "arising under the Constitution, laws, or treaties of the United States." See 28 U.S.C. § 1331. Here, Plaintiff asserts a substantive due process claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. With respect to Plaintiff's state law claims, this Court has supplemental jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a). This case was removed from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Cape May County, on January 16, 2008 pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446.

II. Factual Background

Because this matter comes before the Court on Defendants' motions to dismiss, the Court must accept as true Plaintiff's factual allegations in the Complaint. The facts are as follows. On November 23, 2005, Plaintiff Leigh Caissie was violently assaulted by her then-boyfriend Nicholas Baldwin (Third-Party Defendant) at Cabana's in Cape May, New Jersey. (See Compl. p.1 ¶ 1.) Baldwin was visibly intoxicated at Cabana's that day, (id. at p.6 ¶ 3), but was nonetheless served alcoholic beverages. (Id. at p.7 ¶ 6.) The City of Cape May Police Department was called to Cabana's to respond to the incident. (Id. at p.1 ¶ 2.)

Sergeant Kenneth Cooper arrived at Cabana's and arrested Baldwin. (Id.) With the assistance of Sergeant Anthony Marino, Sergeant Cooper took Baldwin into police custody. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Baldwin subsequently informed Sergeants Cooper and Marino that he was on probation for an aggravated assault offense occurring in Wildwood, New Jersey. (Id.) Baldwin also informed Sergeants Cooper and Marino that it "was not over" between him and Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 5.) Despite this information, Cape May Police released Baldwin that evening, November 23, 2005. (Id. at ¶ 6.)

After releasing Baldwin, Sergeants Cooper and Marino contacted Lower Township Police Department to warn them of the possibility of future contact and altercations between Baldwin and Plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 7.) At no time did Sergeants Cooper and Marino call Plaintiff to provide notification of Baldwin's release. (Id. at ¶ 8.) That night, Baldwin attacked Plaintiff causing her severe and permanent injuries. (Id. at ¶ 9.) Plaintiff has sought, and continues to seek, medical treatment as a result of these injuries. (Id. at ¶ 11.)

III. Standard of Review

A complaint should be dismissed pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) if the alleged facts, taken as true, fail to state a claim. Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6); see In re Warfarin Sodium, 214 F.3d 395, 397-98 (3d Cir. 2000). Although "detailed factual allegations" are not necessary, "a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of a cause of action's elements will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007) (internal citations omitted). Thus, a motion to dismiss should be granted unless the plaintiff's factual allegations are "enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level on the assumption that all of the complaint's allegations are true (even if doubtful in fact)." Id. (internal citations omitted).

When deciding a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), only the allegations in the complaint, matters of public record, orders, and exhibits attached to the complaint, are taken into consideration. See Chester County Intermediate Unit v. Pa. Blue Shield, 896 F.2d 808, 812 (3d Cir. 1990). A district court must accept as true all allegations in the complaint and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom. See Oshiver v. Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman, 38 F.3d 1380, 1384 (3d Cir. 1994). These allegations and inferences must be viewed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Id. However, the Court need not accept "'unsupported conclusions and unwarranted inferences,'" Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 195 (3d Cir. 2007) (citation omitted), and "[l]egal conclusions made in the guise of factual allegations . . . are given no presumption of truthfulness." Wyeth v. Ranbaxy Labs., Ltd., 448 F. Supp. 2d 607, 609 (D.N.J. 2006) (citing Papasan v. Allain, 478 U.S. 265, 286, 106 S.Ct. 2932, 92 L.Ed.2d 209 (1986)); see also Kanter v. Barella, 489 F.3d 170, 177 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005) ("[A] court need not credit either 'bald assertions' or 'legal conclusions' in a complaint when deciding a motion to dismiss.")).

It is not necessary for the plaintiff to plead evidence. Bogosian v. Gulf Oil Corp., 561 F.2d 434, 446 (3d Cir. 1977). The question before the Court is not whether the plaintiff will ultimately prevail. Watson v. Abington Twp., 478 F.3d 144, 150 (2007). Instead, the Court simply asks whether the plaintiff has articulated "enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570.

IV. Discussion

To begin, Plaintiff stipulates to the dismissal of any and all claims against Cape May Police Department. (Pl. Opp'n Br. 2.) Plaintiff concedes that "the proper municipal defendant is the City of Cape May." (Id.) As a result, Defendant Cape May Police Department is hereby dismissed from this action. With respect to the remaining Public and Private Defendants, Plaintiff asserts one federal claim arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and several state law claims arising under N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:6-1*fn3 , among others. Because the Court may decline to exercise jurisdiction over the state law claims if Plaintiff's sole federal claim is dismissed, the § 1983 claim becomes a threshold issue. See Cunningham v. Lenape Regional High Dist. Bd. of Educ., 492 F. Supp. 2d 439, 451 (D.N.J. 2007) (declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction over New Jersey Civil Rights Act claim after dismissing the plaintiff's sole federal claim). Accordingly, it is appropriate to analyze Plaintiff's substantive due process claim first.

A. §1983 and State Created Danger Doctrine

Any analysis of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 should begin with the language of the statute:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. As the above language makes clear, Section 1983 is a remedial statute designed to redress deprivations of rights secured by the Constitution and its subordinate federal laws. See Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145 n.3, 99 S.Ct. 2689, 61 L.Ed.2d 433 (1979). By its own words, therefore, Section 1983 "does not . . . create substantive rights." Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing McCollan, supra). To state a cognizable claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege a "deprivation of a constitutional right and that the constitutional deprivation was caused by a person acting under the color of state law." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 235 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Kneipp v. Teder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996)). Notably, complaints alleging municipal liability under Section 1983 are not subject to heightened pleading standards. See Leatherman v. Tarrant County Narcotics Intelligence & Coordination Unit, et al., 507 U.S. 163, 168, 113 S.Ct. 1160, 122 L.Ed.2d 517 (1983) (contrasting pleading requirements for allegations of municipal liability under § 1983 with that of "fraud or mistake").

Here, Plaintiff alleges that the "deliberate indifference to [her] . . . was so egregious as to constitute a due process violation protectable pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983." (Compl. p.3 ¶ 2.) She further alleges that:

3. . . . [T]he ultimate harm to the plaintiff was foreseeable by the defendants and that such defendants willfully disregarded the safety of the plaintiff by using their authority as police officers of the City of Cape May to create an opportunity for plaintiff's attacker to locate her on November 23, 2005 after release from custody and forcibly assault and beat the plaintiff.

4. . . . [T]he individual defendants in releasing the plaintiff's attacker were acting pursuant to official policy or custom of the City of Cape May and the City of Cape May Police Department. . .

5. As a direct and proximate result of defendant's violation of plaintiff's civil rights plaintiff was caused to be severely beaten and permanently injured. . .

(Compl. p.4 ¶¶ 3-5.) In sum, Plaintiff seeks to allege a substantive due process violation under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. U.S. Const. amend. XIV, § 1 ("nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law").

To be sure, there is an indisputable "constitutional liberty interest in personal bodily integrity that is protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment." Phillips, 515 F.3d at 235. This liberty interest is protected because "[t]he touchstone of due process is protection of the individual against arbitrary action of government." Stolzer v. City of Philadelphia, 2003 WL 2229951, at *2 (E.D.Pa. Sept. 30, 2003) (citing Wolff v. McDonnell, 418 U.S. 539, 558, 94 S.Ct. 2963, 41 L.Ed.2d 935 (1974)). Notwithstanding that interest, the Due Process Clause places no positive obligation on the State to ensure the safety of, or otherwise affirmatively protect, its citizens. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 235 (citing DeShaney v. Winnebago County Dept. of Soc. Servs., 489 U.S. 189, 196-197, 109 S.Ct. 998, 103 L.Ed.2d 249 (1989) (rejecting the view that the Constitution imposes "affirmative obligations" on the State, and holding that "the State cannot be held liable under the [Due Process] Clause for injuries that could have been averted had it chosen to provide them."). The reasoning that informs this conclusion is the original intent of the Due Process Clause. See DeShaney, 489 U.S. at 196 (observing that the Due Process Clause was designed "to protect the people from the State, not to ensure that the State protected them from each other."); accord Jackson v. City of Joliet, 715 F.2d 1200, 1203 (7th Cir. 1983) ("The Fourteenth Amendment . . . sought to protect Americans from oppression by state government, not to secure them basic governmental services.").

Significantly, the Third Circuit recognized an exception to this rule when it adopted the state created danger theory. See Kneipp v. Teder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1211 (3d Cir. 1996) (holding "that the state created danger theory is a viable mechanism for establishing a constitutional claim under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983."). Under that theory, "the state may assume responsibility for the safety of an individual for whom it affirmatively creates or enhances a ...

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