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Farella v. Rutgers University Police Dep't

June 8, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Tonianne J. Bongiovanni United States Magistrate Judge

Hon. Joel A. Pisano


BONGIOVANNI, Magistrate Judge

Currently pending before the Court are Plaintiff Michael Jason Farella's ("Farella") Motion seeking leave to file an Amended Complaint [Docket Entry No. 10] and Defendants Rutgers University Police Department ("RUPD"), Captain Kenneth Cop ("Cop") and Rhonda Harris' ("Harris") (collectively, "Defendants") Cross-Motion to Dismiss Counts One and Two of Farella's original Complaint [Docket Entry No. 18]. As the outcome of Farella's Motion to Amend could have a direct result on the outcome of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss, the Court will first address the Motion to Amend. Farella is seeking leave to file an Amended Complaint in order to (1) streamline the factual contentions contained in the original Complaint; (2) add allegations regarding an internal affair's investigation, which resulted in disciplinary action subsequent to the Internal Affairs investigation at issue in the original Complaint; (3) add Cop as a defendant in this matter; (4) add a retaliation claim against Harris and Cop; and (5) add a Monell claim against RUPD. Defendants have filed an opposition to Farella's Motion to Amend on futility grounds. The Court has fully reviewed the papers submitted in support of and in opposition to Farella's Motion to Amend, and considers the motion without oral argument pursuant to FED.R.CIV.P. 78. For the reasons stated more fully below, the Court recommends that Farella's Motion to Amend be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part, and Defendants' Motion to Dismiss be GRANTED.

I. Background

This matter arises out of Farella's participation in an incident that occurred on April 2, 2009, in which Farella responded to a call from Officer Emmet ("Emmet") regarding Emmet's attempt to stop a vehicle that was speeding and ultimately crashed. As a result of his involvement in the April 2, 2009 incident, on April 13, 2009, Farella received a document entitled "Internal Affairs Complaint Notification," which informed him that he was being investigated by Internal Affairs based on a complaint levied against him. Farella's original Complaint asserts claims against the RUPD and Harris based on their handling of the complaint against Farella, including the resulting Internal Affairs investigation and disciplinary action imposed against him. Specifically, Farella's Complaint alleges that in handling the complaint against Farella, the RUPD and Harris violated N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147 as well as the Internal Affairs Policy & Procedures ("IAPP") promulgated by the Attorney General of the State of New Jersey, Harris violated Farella's due process rights by depriving him of his property interest in uninterrupted employment with the RUPD and that Harris violated the New Jersey Constitution by interfering with Farella's constitutional right to grieve actions through his personal representatives in public employment.

After filing the Complaint in this matter, three additional Internal Affairs complaints were filed against Farella. Farella believes that the same legal and constitutional violations alleged with respect to the first Internal Affairs investigation also occurred in relation to the three new charges. Consequently, Farella seeks permission to add allegations regarding the three new Internal Affairs complaints. Farella also seeks permission to add Cop, who was involved in the three new investigations, as a defendant. In addition, Farella seeks to amend his Complaint in order to add a retaliation claim against both Harris and Cop for (1) pursuing the three additional Internal Affairs charges and grouping them together so that the potential punishment would be more severe; (2) repeatedly switching his work schedule so that he was required to work continual weekends for three months; (3) denying him necessary training; (4) subjecting him to an uncalled for urine test during one of his days off and at a time when several other officers were able to observe said testing; and (5) subjecting him to additional discipline without providing him with minimal due process. Further, Farella seeks to add a Monell claim against the RUPD based on the fact that the RUPD adopted an Internal Affairs policy that is inconsistent with the IAPP. Finally, Farella would like permission to streamline various factual contentions contained in the original Complaint.

II. Analysis

A. Standard of Review

According to FED.R.CIV.P. 15(a), leave to amend the pleadings is generally given freely. See Foman v. Davis, 371 U.S. 178, 182(1962); Alvin v. Suzuki, 227 F.3d 107, 121 (3d Cir. 2000). Nevertheless, the Court may deny a motion to amend where there is "undue delay, bad faith or dilatory motive on the part of the movant, repeated failure to cure deficiencies by amendments previously allowed, undue prejudice to the opposing party by virtue of allowance of the amendment, [or] futility of the amendment." Id. However, where there is an absence of undue delay, bad faith, prejudice or futility, a motion for leave to amend a pleading should be liberally granted. Long v. Wilson, 393 F.3d 390, 400 (3d Cir. 2004). In the context of Farella's motion to amend, the only issue raised by Defendants is whether certain of Farella's proposed amendments are futile. As such, that is the only issue addressed by the Court herein.

An amendment is futile if it "is frivolous or advances a claim or defense that is legally insufficient on its face." Harrison Beverage Co. v. Dribeck Imp., Inc.,, 133 F.R.D. 463, 468 (D.N.J. 1990) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). In determining whether an amendment is "insufficient on its face," the Court employs the Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss standard (see Alvin, 227 F.3d at 121) and considers only the pleading, exhibits attached to the pleading, matters of public record and undisputedly authentic documents if the party's claims are based upon same. See Pension Benefit Guar. Corp. v. White Consol. Indus., 998 F.2d 1192, 1196 (3d Cir. 1993). When considering whether a pleading would survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, the Court must accept all facts alleged in the pleading as true and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the party asserting them. Lum v. Bank of Am., 361 F.3d 217, 223 (3d Cir. 2004). "[D]ismissal is appropriate only if, accepting all of the facts alleged in the [pleading] as true, the p[arty] has failed to plead 'enough facts to state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face[.]'" Duran v. Equifirst Corp., Civil Action No. 2:09-cv-03856, 2010 WL 918444, *2 (D.N.J. March 12, 2010) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 570, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007)). In other words, the facts alleged must be sufficient to "allow[] the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009).

While a pleading does not need to contain "detailed factual allegations," a party's "obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do[.]" Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555 (citation omitted). Thus, the "[f]actual allegations must be enough to raise a right to relief above the speculative level." Id. In addition, although the Court must, in assessing a motion to dismiss, view the factual allegations contained in the pleading at issue as true, the Court is "not compelled to accept unwarranted inferences, unsupported conclusions or legal conclusions disguised as factual allegations." Baraka v. McGreevey, 481 F.3d 187, 211 (3d Cir. 2007).

Here, Defendants oppose Farella's motion to amend to the extent it seeks to add claims against Defendants that are based on Defendants' alleged violations of either N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147 or the IAPP. Defendants claim that any such amendment would be futile because (1) N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147 applies only to municipal and county police departments and has no application to disciplinary processes employed by police departments of institutions of higher education like the RUPD; (2) neither the Complaint nor Farella's motion to amend sets forth/seeks to add a separate cause of action based on Defendants' alleged violations of the IAPP; and (3) the RUPD is not automatically bound to implement any of the provisions of the IAPP. These contested amendments are found in the following counts of the proposed Amended Complaint: (1) First Count, in which Farella seeks to assert that Defendants directly violated N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147 and the IAPP; (2) Second Count, in which Farella seeks to allege that both Harris and Cop violated his due process rights by failing to abide by the procedures outlined in N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147 and the IAPP before disciplining him in connection with the three new Internal Affairs charges; and (3) Fourth Count, in which Farella seeks to add a Monell claim against the RUPD based on the fact that the Internal Affair's policy adopted by the RUPD is inconsistent with the IAPP. The Court addresses the claimed futility of the contested amendments below.*fn1

B. N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147

Title 40A of the New Jersey Statutes is entitled "Municipalities and Counties." Chapter 14, Section 147 of Title 40A sets forth the mechanisms by which a member or officer of a police department may be suspended or removed from duty. N.J.S.A. 40A:14-147 establishes that:

Except as otherwise provided by law, no permanent member or officer of the police department or force shall be removed from his office, employment or position for political reasons or for any cause other than incapacity, misconduct, or disobedience of rules and regulations established for the government of the police department and force, nor shall such member or officer be suspended, removed, fined or reduced in rank from or in office, employment, or position therein, except for just cause as hereinbefore provided and then only upon a written complaint setting forth the charge or charges against such member or officer. The complaint shall be filed in the office of the body, officer or officers having charge of the department or force wherein the complaint is made and a copy shall be served upon the member or officer so charged, with notice of a designated hearing thereon by the proper authorities, which shall be not less than 10 nor more than 30 days from date of service of the complaint.

A complaint charging a violation of the internal rules and regulations established for the conduct of a law enforcement unit shall be filed no later than the 45th day after the date on which the person filing the complaint obtained sufficient information to file the matter upon which the complaint is based. The 45-day time limit shall not apply if an investigation of a law enforcement officer for a violation of the internal rules or regulations of the law enforcement unit is included directly or indirectly within a concurrent investigation of that officer for a violation of the criminal laws of this State. The 45-day limit shall begin on the day after the disposition of the ...

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