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Brown v. Parking Authority of the City of Jersey City

January 13, 2010

RYAN ANDREW BROWN, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
PARKING AUTHORITY OF THE CITY OF JERSEY CITY,*FN1 CITY OF JERSEY CITY, RITA TAYLOR, JOHN LUISI, SHARON HARRINGTON, SHEILA A. VENABLE, MAURICE GALLIPOLI, FERNANDO PICARIELLO, MARIA FIGUEROA, MARK D. RUSS, STATE OF NEW JERSEY, DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS, AND WENDY WALKER, JERRAMIAH T. HEALY AND COUNTY OF HUDSON, DEFENDANTS.



On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, Docket No. L-3946-08.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted December 7, 2009

Before Judges Lisa and Alvarez.

Plaintiff appeals from the dismissal of his complaint against various public entities and public officials arising out of the mistaken issuance to plaintiff of a parking ticket in Jersey City. Plaintiff brought the complaint under 42 U.S.C.A. § 1983, contending that defendants violated his constitutional rights. More particularly, he alleged that the suspension of his driver's license constituted an unlawful seizure, and that he was deprived of his due process and equal protection rights. In a written decision, Judge Wertheimer held that defendants were entitled to dismissal of the complaint under principles of qualified immunity. He reasoned as follows:

Plaintiff's claim arises under 42 U.S.C.A. 1983 (Section 1983), which provides in pertinent part:

Every person who, under the color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, or custom of any State . . . subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen . . . to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured.

Essentially, Section 1983 provides a cause of action for a person who has been deprived of his or her well-established federal constitutional or statutory rights by any person acting under the color of state law. Gomez v. Toldeo, 446 U.S. 635, 640 (1980). Therefore, in order to establish a claim under Section 1983, plaintiff must first establish that his or her well-established federal constitutional or statutory rights have been violated. If this is established, plaintiff must prove a reasonable person would have known that the government official's actions violated plaintiff's constitutional rights. Schneider, Jr. v. Simoni et al., 163 N.J. 336, 354 (2000).

Assuming arguendo that the parking ticket was incorrectly issued, there is no "well-established federal constitutional or statutory right" to be free from the occasional incorrectly issued parking ticket. Plaintiff does not point to any law establishing such a right. Plaintiff's only claim against the Parking Authority defendants is that they incorrectly issued a ticket. This is clearly not a constitutional violation and, therefore, plaintiff's Section 1983 claims [against] the Parking Authority defendants are DISMISSED.

Additionally, to sustain a claim under Section 1983, plaintiff must prove that "a reasonable person would have known that the government official's actions violated plaintiff's constitutional rights." Schneider, Jr. v. Simoni et al., 163 N.J. 336, 354 (2000). Although plaintiff has pleaded detailed factual allegations, he has not alleged any personal involvement by any of the individual defendants. Plaintiff makes the bare assertion that the defendants acted in concert to adopt an informal policy where the municipal court is permitted to request restoration of licenses and fees under the presumption of "error." However, there are no specific allegations of wrongdoing. This is not a sufficient basis to bring a Section 1983 cause of action. As this is the only accusation leveled against the State and Jersey City defendants, the Section 1983 claims against them are DISMISSED.

In his opinion, the judge also rejected plaintiff's contention that default judgment should be entered against defendants for failure to timely file their responsive pleadings, and he accordingly denied plaintiff's motion for default judgment.

Plaintiff argues that (1) the judge erred by failing to address his arguments under the Tort Claims Act (TCA), N.J.S.A. 59:1-1 to 12-3; (2) the judge erred in concluding that plaintiff was not entitled to relief under Section 1983; (3) the judge erred by failing to address plaintiff's claims of an unlawful seizure and violation of his due process and equal protection rights; (4) the judge erred in denying his motion for default judgment; and (5) the judge viewed his complaint with prejudice by not addressing the many legal and constitutional questions presented. Plaintiff's arguments lack sufficient merit to warrant extended discussion in a written opinion. R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). We affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by Judge Wertheimer in his written decision of December 19, 2008. We nevertheless set forth a brief factual summary and add a few comments on the controlling legal principles.

On July 24, 2007, one of the named defendants, a parking enforcement officer of the Parking Authority of the City of Jersey City, issued a parking ticket to plaintiff. Plaintiff was not in Jersey City on July 24, 2007, and the vehicle he owned did not match the description of the vehicle for which the summons was issued.

Plaintiff claims he first became aware of the summons on October 12, 2007, when he received a notification by mail from the Jersey City Municipal Court that he had failed to enter a plea to the summons, and that, as a result, suspension of his driving privileges would be ordered. Plaintiff contacted municipal court personnel and sent in a plea of not guilty by mail, along with his defense that he was not in ...


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