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Aycox v. City of Elizabeth

December 1, 2009


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


Plaintiff William Aycox, proceeding pro se, brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1985 against the City of Elizabeth, the City of Elizabeth Police Department, and Officer John Monages (collectively "Defendants") alleging certain civil rights violations. Presently before the Court are motions to dismiss and for summary judgment by Defendants City of Elizabeth, the Elizabeth Police Department, and John Monagas (collectively, "Defendants"). Defendants seek dismissal of the complaint on several grounds. First, Defendants allege that Plaintiff has failed to comply with the Court's order to appear for a deposition by March 20, 2009 and, therefore, dismissal is warranted. Second, Defendants contend that the undisputed facts show that they are entitled to summary judgment on all claims as Plaintiff has presented no evidence supporting his claims. Last, Officer Monagas alleges he is entitled to qualified immunity as well as immunity under the provisions of New Jersey's Domestic Violence Act. For the reasons below, Defendants' motions are granted Plaintiff's complaint is dismissed.

I. Summary Judgment

The Court first addresses Defendants' motions for summary judgment. A court shall grant summary judgment under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "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 substantive law identifies which facts are critical or "material." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A material fact raises a "genuine" issue "if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict" for the non-moving party. Healy v. N.Y. Life Ins. Co., 860 F.2d 1209, 1219 n.3 (3d Cir. 1988).

On a summary judgment motion, the moving party must show, first, that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). If the moving party makes this showing, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to present evidence that a genuine fact issue compels a trial. Id. at 324. In so presenting, the non-moving party may not simply rest on its pleadings, but must offer admissible evidence that establishes a genuine issue of material fact, id., not just "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986).

The Court must consider all facts and their logical inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Pollock v. American Tel. & Tel. Long Lines, 794 F.2d 860, 864 (3d Cir. 1986). The Court shall not "weigh the evidence and determine the truth of the matter," but need determine only whether a genuine issue necessitates a trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. If the non-moving party fails to demonstrate proof beyond a "mere scintilla" of evidence that a genuine issue of material fact exists, then the Court must grant summary judgment. Big Apple BMW v. BMW of North America, 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992).

The undisputed facts in this case are as follows: The evening of December 25, 2006, Officers John Monagas and his partner, Officer McKeown of the Elizabeth Police Departement were dispatched an apartment in Elizabeth on a report of a domestic disturbance. Certification of John Monagas ("Monagas Cert.") ¶ 2,3. Upon arrival at the scene, a victim complained of injuries reportedly a result of a physical assault by Plaintiff Aycox. Id. ¶ 4. The victim stated that Aycox owned a gun and kept it in the apartment. Id. ¶ 5. Aycox confirmed that the gun was in the bedroom, and gave the officers permission to enter the premises. Id. ¶ 7. A .44 caliber handgun and ammunition was found in the closet, and a computer check run by Officer McKeown found no record of a firearms purchaser ID card issued to Plaintiff. Id. ¶ 8, 11. Monagas contacted the Union County Prosecutor's Office and received approval for the charges of simple assault, possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose and possession of hollow point rounds. Id. ¶ 12. Plaintiff was arrested pursuant to the New Jersey Domestic Violence Act, N.J.S.A. 2C:25-21a. Id. ¶ 13.

Plaintiff's complaint, although somewhat confusingly drafted, appears to be alleging that Defendants falsely arrested Plaintiff, engaged in malicious prosecution, civil conspiracy, and "inadequate training and supervision," and thereby violated Plaintiff's civil rights under the state and federal constitutions. However, the undisputed facts show that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on all claims. Plaintiff, who has opposed Defendants' motion with only a short three-paragraph memorandum, has produced no evidence to show that there exists a genuine issue of material fact that would preclude summary judgment in this case.

For example, Section 1983 imposes civil liability upon any person who, acting under the color of state law, deprives another individual of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution or laws of the United States. DeBellis v. Kulp, 166 F.Supp.2d 255, 264 (E.D. Pa. 2001). The undisputed facts as set forth above support defendants' claims that no violation of Plaintiff's constitutional rights occurred, and Plaintiff has not produced any evidence from which a jury could conclude otherwise. Plaintiff has likewise produced no evidence of a conspiracy by Defendants to "subject Plaintiff to false arrest, false imprisonment and/or malicious prosecution." Compl. ¶ 2 under the heading "Civil Conspiracy."*fn1

To recover against a municipality, a plaintiff must "demonstrate that municipal policymakers, acting with deliberate indifference or reckless indifference, established or maintained a policy or well-settled custom which caused a municipal employee to violate plaintiffs' constitutional rights and that such policy or custom was the 'moving force' behind the constitutional tort." Hansell v. City of Atlantic City, 152 F.Supp.2d 589, 609 (D.N.J.2001). A municipality may be liable if an employee acts unconstitutionally and the municipality failed to adequately train or supervise that employee. City of Canton v. Harris, 489 U.S. 378, 380, 109 S.Ct. 1197, 103 L.Ed.2d 412 (1989). Even if there were some evidence of an unconstitional act, Plaintiff has offered no evidence of a policy or custom, or of the municipality's failure to adequately train its employees, to establish a genuine issue of material fact as to his § 1983 claim against the City of Elizabeth.

Plaintiff's § 1983 claim against the Police Department further fails because the Police Department cannot be sued. "In Section 1983 actions, police departments cannot be sued in conjunction with municipalities, because the police department is merely an administrative arm of the local municipality, and is not a separate judicial entity." DeBellis v. Kulp, 166 F.Supp.2d 255, 264 (E.D.Pa.2001). Because the Police Department is merely an arm of the Township, Plaintiff's claim against the department cannot stand. See N.J.S.A. 40A:14-118 (proclaiming that New Jersey police departments are "an executive and enforcement function of municipal government.").

Plaintiff's §1985 claims similarly fail. To establish under 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), which imposes civil liability on individuals who conspire to deprive "any person ... of the equal protection of the laws, or of equal privileges and immunities under the laws," Plaintiff was required to demonstrate that "some racial, or perhaps otherwise class-based, invidiously discriminatory animus [motivated] the conspirators' action." Griffin v. Breckenridge, 403 U.S. 88, 102, 91 S.Ct. 1790, 29 L.Ed.2d 338 (1971). However, the record in this case is devoid of any evidence that any Defendant acted with discriminatory intent or otherwise targeted Plaintiff because of his race.

Plaintiffs remaining claims are similarly unsupported by the requisite evidence. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986) (a non-moving party may not simply rest on its pleadings, but must offer admissible evidence that establishes a genuine issue ...

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