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Brookman v. Twp. of Hillside

December 4, 2009

RE: BROOKMAN, ET AL.
v.
TWP. OF HILLSIDE, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini Judge

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. FEDERAL BLDG. & U.S. COURT HOUSE 50 WALNUT STREET, P.O. BOX 419 NEWARK, NJ 07101-0419 (973) 645-6340

LETTER OPINION

Dear Counsel:

This is a civil rights action brought by Howard, Barbara, and Jeffrey Brookman against various law enforcement, governmental, and media defendants under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985 and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination. In their complaint, plaintiffs allege a variety of counts, ranging from false arrest and fabrication of evidence to libel.

There are three motions presently before the court: (1) the law enforcement defendants*fn1 move to stay this matter, given the pending criminal prosecution of the Brookmans; (2) Union County moves to dismiss the counts asserted against it, alleging that it cannot be held vicariously liable for actions allegedly taken by county employees; and (3) the newspaper defendants*fn2 move to dismiss the libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress counts against them on procedural grounds. For the reasons that follow, these motions are granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Facts

This case stems from the arrest of Howard, Barbara, and Jeffrey Brookman by the Hillside Police Department on May 9, 2007. Prior to the arrest, plaintiff Barbara Brookman called an ambulance on behalf of a ninety-two year-old woman in her home. At some point after the ambulance was called, Hillside police arrived and arrested Barbara Brookman, charging her with elder neglect and resisting arrest. Barbara Brookman's two sons, Jeffrey and Howard, were also arrested. Jeffrey was charged with elder neglect, and Howard was charged with obstruction and hindering prosecution. See Compl. ¶ 26.

The Hillside chief of police then allegedly issued a press release about the arrest. The following week, the local newspaper, the Union Leader, ran an article about the Brookmans, entitled "Hillside Police Charge Three with Neglecting Elderly Woman." This article also appeared on the paper's website.

While Jeffrey's charges subsequently were dismissed, the criminal prosecution of Howard and Barbara Brookman is ongoing. See Pls.' Aug. 24, 2009 Letter Br. 8. Howard remains charged with obstruction, while Barbara faces elderly neglect and resisting arrest counts. Id. at 9.

B. Procedural History

On May 9, 2008, Howard Brookman*fn3 filed a complaint in the New Jersey Superior Court. This complaint contained, inter alia, the following counts pertaining to the newspaper defendants -- libel per se, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligent infliction of emotional distress. See Newspaper Defs.' Br. Ex. A (copy of Howard Brookman's state complaint).

This state complaint was dismissed without prejudice by the Superior Court on March 13, 2009, pursuant to R. 4:23-2(b).*fn4 See Newspaper Defs.' Br. Ex. B (copy of Judge Anzaldi's March 13, 2009 order). In this order, the state judge granted Howard Brookman ninety days to "cure each of his discovery violations." Id. If Brookman failed to do so, the court stated that his complaint would be dismissed with prejudice on motion by defendants. Brookman filed a motion for reconsideration, which was denied on May 1, 2009. See Newspaper Defs.' Br. Ex. C (copy of Judge Anzaldi's May 1, 2009 order). The May 1, 2009 order denying reconsideration noted that Brookman could move to have the complaint restored after "purg[ing] himself of the discovery deficiencies." Id.

On April 30, 2009, Brookman provided certain responses to defendants' discovery requests. See Newspaper Defs.' Br. 4; Brookman's Aug. 24, 2009 Letter Br. 11. Brookman then filed the instant complaint in this Court on May 8, 2009. This federal complaint adds Jeffrey and Barbara Brookman as plaintiffs, and also asserts several new civil rights counts against the law enforcement defendants and Union County. ...


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