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Williams v. Atlantic City Dep't of Police

June 2, 2010


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



This civil rights matter is before the Court on Defendant Michael Mayer's motion for summary judgment [Docket Item 17]. As explained in today's opinion, Defendant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because of qualified immunity, so the motion will be granted.


This is an action filed by Plaintiff, Willie Williams, against a police detective, Michael Mayer, based on an encounter between the two on August 5, 2008. According to his Complaint, which Plaintiff filed without a lawyer, on August 5, 2008, he was visiting his girlfriend in her apartment when the Atlantic City Police arrived and executed a search warrant. (Compl. at 3-4.)*fn1

Plaintiff alleges that when the police entered the apartment, they ordered everyone to the floor and handcuffed them. (Id.) At some point during the encounter, Plaintiff was personally searched. (Id.) Plaintiff's girlfriend's brother, Lavar Jackson, was in a bedroom of the apartment, and when the police searched that bedroom they found drugs and weapons. When Mr. Jackson refused to admit ownership of the contraband, everyone in the apartment was arrested, including Plaintiff. (Id.) Plaintiff argues that this arrest was improper. (Id.)

The Complaint sought damages from the Atlantic City Police Department and Detective Mayer, as well as release from jail. Upon initial screening of the Complaint under 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, which requires the Court to review complaints filed by prisoners seeking redress from a government defendant in a civil action, this Court interpreted the Complaint to be seeking relief pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for Fourth Amendment violations. The Court dismissed the police department because the department is not a "person" subject to suit under that statute. [Docket Item 2, at 1.] The request for release from confinement was also dismissed without prejudice to the filing of a petition for habeas corpus. [Id. at 1-2.]*fn2

Detective Mayer moves for summary judgment. He submits an affidavit prepared for this motion which incorporates his police incident report of the events in question. Additionally, Plaintiff previously submitted a copy of what appears to be Detective Mayer's affidavit in support of the search warrant related to this case, though without any kind of certification or authentication. The Court provided to Defendant the opportunity to object to the Court's consideration of the document on this motion, and Defendant did not object, so the Court will consider the document as part of the record on this motion.

The search warrant affidavit describes the basis for Detective Mayer's belief that he had probable cause to search the premises. On July 6, 2008, Mayer was contacted by a confidential informant, who had provided reliable information in the past. (Aff. Supp. Search Warrant, at 3.) The informant said a black woman was selling cocaine from the apartment where the events of this case occurred. (Id.) The informant agreed to perform some controlled buys from the woman in the apartment. On the first controlled buy, the informant said there was a man present in the back bedroom. (Id. ¶ 7.) The affidavit does not say whether the informant indicated that any other individuals were in the apartment during the second buy. On the third buy, the informant indicated that there were two men in the living room, in addition to one in the back room from which the drugs were retrieved. (Id. ¶ 9.) Finally, the informant indicated that in the previous months when the informant had visited the apartment, the informant had seen "unknown males in the apartment in possession of handguns." (Id. ¶ 10.) The affidavit states that upon this evidence Detective Mayer had reason to believe, among other things, that anyone present in the apartment was involved in illegal activity. (Id. ¶ 12.)

Regarding the evidence of what happened during the search, neither the police report nor Mayer's affidavit prepared for this motion reference the initial handcuffing or the search of Plaintiff's person, but the documents otherwise corroborate Plaintiff's account, adding some details about where certain contraband was found. The report relates that while searching the bedroom, Detective Mayer discovered a black handgun lying on the top shelf of a doorless closet. (Mayer Aff. ¶ 5, Ex-A, at 1.) Detective Mayer also discovered a large white rock behind the water heater which was located in the bedroom closet. (Id.) In some unidentified location in the apartment, possibly also in the bedroom, another detective found a 9mm gun wrapped in a blanket inside a vinyl bag. (Id.) In some unidentified place in the bedroom, officers also found three digital scales. (Id.) Finally, Detective Mayer located a small bag of green leafy vegetation on the floor of the bedroom. (Id.)

According to the report, because none of the individuals present in the apartment admitted ownership of the suspected contraband, Detective Mayer arrested everyone in the apartment for possession of cocaine with intent to distribute, possession of marijuana, possession of paraphernalia (the scales), and possession of the two handguns without a permit. (Id., at 1-2.) Defendant argues that these undisputed facts demonstrate that he had probable cause for the arrest of Plaintiff, and that he is protected by qualified immunity even if the arrest was improper. Plaintiff did not respond to the motion.


A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate when the materials of record "show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(2). A dispute is "genuine" if "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party." See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A ...

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