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Leone v. Township of Deptford

September 3, 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 reconsideration of the Court's April 29, 2009 Opinion granting in part and denying in part their motions for judgment on the pleadings. Defendant Daniel Murphy has joined in the Township's motion. Plaintiffs have opposed defendants' motions. For the reasons expressed below, defendants' motions will be denied.


This case involves the claims of Deptford Township police officers who were indicted for allegations of excessive force and for failing to report or properly supervise the incident, as well as claims of another officer who was allegedly retaliated against for his testimony in support of those officers. Plaintiffs claim, among other things, that the criminal charges against them were "bogus" and lacking in probable cause, and that defendants fostered an environment of harassment and a favored "A team" and disfavored "B team." Plaintiffs claim that defendants' actions violated their constitutional rights, as well as the Contentious Employee Protection Act (CEPA).

Previously, defendants had moved for judgment on the pleadings on all claims by plaintiffs John Gillespie, Timothy Parks, and Brian Green.*fn1 In the Court's April 29, 2009 Opinion, the Court granted judgment in defendants' favor as to Counts One and Four, but denied their motion with regard to plaintiff John Gillespie's CEPA claim, Count Three. The Court also noted that defendants did not move for judgment on Count Two. The Township, joined by defendants John Murphy and John Weatherby, each seek reconsideration of the Court's denial of judgment in their favor on Gillespie's CEPA claim, and contend that the Township did move for judgment on Count Two, which should be granted in its favor. Plaintiffs have opposed defendants' motions.


A. Standard for Motion for Reconsideration

Local Civil Rule 7.1(i) governs a motion for reconsideration. It provides, in relevant part, that "[a] motion for reconsideration shall be served and filed within 10 business days after the entry of the order or judgment on the original motion by the Judge or Magistrate Judge. A brief setting forth concisely the matter or controlling decisions which the party believes the Judge or Magistrate Judge has overlooked shall be filed with the Notice of Motion." A judgment may be altered or amended only if the party seeking reconsideration shows: (1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court granted the motion for summary judgment; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice. Max's Seafood Cafe ex rel. Lou-Ann, Inc. v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999).

The purpose of a motion for reconsideration "is to correct manifest errors of law or fact or to present newly discovered evidence." Id. The motion may not be used to re-litigate old matters or argue new matters that could have been raised before the original decision was reached. P. Schoenfeld Asset Mgmt., L.L.C. v. Cendant Corp., 161 F. Supp. 2d 349, 352 (D.N.J. 2001). Mere disagreement with the Court will not suffice to show that the Court overlooked relevant facts or controlling law, United States v. Compaction Sys. Corp., 88 F. Supp. 2d 339, 345 (D.N.J. 1999), and should be dealt with through the normal appellate process, S.C. ex rel. C.C. v. Deptford Twp Bd. of Educ., 248 F. Supp. 2d 368, 381 (D.N.J. 2003).

B. Analysis

1. Defendants' motion with regard to Count Two

The Township contends that the Court improperly noted that it did not move for judgment in its favor on Count Two in plaintiffs' complaint. In Count Two, brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiffs allege that the Township and defendant John Marolt*fn2 were deliberately indifferent to the harassment of plaintiffs and to the existence of the "A" and "B" team mentality, and they failed to properly supervise and train the individual defendants.*fn3 The Court did not address this claim, because defendants did not specifically move for judgment on this claim. In their motion for reconsideration, the Township, Murphy and Weatherby argue that the Township did move to dismiss Count Two.*fn4 Defendants' argument is unavailing.

To support its contention that it moved for judgment as to Count Two, the Township points to the first section in its brief that discussed generally the proposition that no liability could attach to the Township for any of plaintiffs' claims if there are no surviving § 1983 claims. (See Docket No. 36-2 at 5-6.) The Township argued that if its employees--defendant officers--did not violate plaintiffs' constitutional rights, then it cannot be held liable for those damages, citing to, inter alia, City of Los Angeles v. Heller, 475 U.S. 796, 799 (1986) and Hill v. Borough of Kutztown, 455 F.3d 225 (3d Cir. 2006).

The Township's statement of that proposition is correct, as it as been long held that a municipality can be found liable under § 1983 only where the municipality itself causes the constitutional violation at issue--respondeat superior or vicarious liability will not attach under § 1983. Monell v. New York City Dept. of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658 (1978). Indeed, even in the absence of Monell, a municipality, as an employer, cannot be liable for the actions of one of its employees if it is found that the employee did not commit any violation. See Wright v. State, 778 A.2d 443, 436 (N.J. 2001) (stating that the common law doctrine of respondeat superior provides that an employer or principal is liable for his employee's or agent's wrongful acts committed within the scope of the employment or agency relationship); Hill, 455 F.3d at 245 (dismissing against the borough the plaintiff's claims of deprivation of a property right without due process, violation of substantive due process rights and violation of equal protection rights because those claims were dismissed against the mayor); see ...

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