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Merman v. City of Camden

June 15, 2010

ADRIANA MERMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CAMDEN, CITY OF CAMDEN POLICE DEPARTMENT, BUDDY CAMP, AND JOHN DOE CITY OF CAMDEN POLICE OFFICERS 1-10 (FICTITIOUS NAMES), DEFENDANTS,



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

OPINION

Plaintiff, Adriana Merman, alleges that defendants, the City of Camden ("City" or "Camden"), the City of Camden Police Department, and Buddy Camp,*fn1 violated her constitutional and common law rights when she was physically injured and unlawfully detained by Camden police officers following a concert. In response to plaintiff's complaint, defendants have filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. Subsequently, plaintiff has filed a Motion to Amend the Complaint.

For the reasons expressed below, and as set forth in the Court's Oral Opinion issued on April 22, 2010, defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment is granted in part and denied in part. Further, plaintiff's Motion to Amend is granted.

I. JURISDICTION

Plaintiff has brought federal constitutional claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as claims under New Jersey law. This Court has jurisdiction over plaintiff's federal claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over plaintiff's state law claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

II. BACKGROUND*fn2

On July 19, 2005, plaintiff attended a concert event known as "Ozzfest" at the Tweeter Entertainment Center in Camden, New Jersey.*fn3 After the concert, plaintiff gathered in a parking lot near the venue with her uncle, Bryant Kidd, Kidd's niece, Jennifer Frett, Kidd's nephew, John Frett, Jr., and Ricky Lopez, a friend of John Frett. They began to prepare food using a small grill. During this time, a Camden police officer informed plaintiff and her companions that he had to close the parking lot and that they would have to leave. The group asked if they could continue to cook with their grill on the sidewalk outside of the parking lot. The officer did not object. Plaintiff and her companions complied and left the lot and relocated to the sidewalk. Kidd drove his vehicle out of the lot and parked in the nearby street alongside the curb.

While the group was occupying the sidewalk area, a police vehicle pulled up towards the group. One of the officers inside the vehicle told the group that they had to leave the area. An officer then exited the car and began to converse with Lopez. Soon thereafter, Officer Buddy Camp*fn4 parked his vehicle nearby and also confronted the group. Officer Camp appeared agitated and swore profanities at the group, directing them to leave the area. As plaintiff and her companions prepared to leave, Officer Camp picked up the grill and tossed it several feet toward plaintiff.*fn5 The grill did not hit plaintiff, but, according to her deposition testimony, it was "very close" to her.*fn6 Plaintiff became scared.

Around this time, several more police officers arrived, in vehicles, at the scene. Plaintiff joined Kidd and Jennifer and John Frett inside Kidd's car. She observed between eight to thirteen officers, some of whom were frisking Lopez.*fn7

Thereafter, Lopez returned to Kidd's car.*fn8 The officers first directed everyone to exit the vehicle and then told everyone to wait inside it. While plaintiff and her companions were inside the vehicle, an officer opened the car's door suddenly, pulled Lopez out, and threw him to the ground where the officers kicked him. The officers also grabbed Jennifer Frett and pulled her from the car. Both Lopez and Frett were handcuffed.*fn9

Following their detention, another officer opened the car's rear passenger side door and asked plaintiff to exit. Plaintiff asked what she had done. In response, the officer pulled plaintiff from the car and threw her forcefully to the ground. Plaintiff's face hit the ground, causing it to throb and bleed.*fn10

While lying on the ground, plaintiff's legs were held down and she felt a knee in her back. Plaintiff was handcuffed and brought back to her feet. She overheard laughter among the officers, as well as, what she deemed, "racial slurs," particularly "yuppies" and "cracker."*fn11

Plaintiff, Jennifer Frett, and Lopez were transported to the Camden police headquarters in different police vehicles. The officers who drove plaintiff to the police station were not Caucasians. Upon arriving at the police department, officers escorted plaintiff to a room where she was handcuffed to a chair.*fn12 Plaintiff denies that she was ever placed in a holding cell. Eventually, an officer led plaintiff to an office where she met with another man. The man explained to plaintiff that she was being detained because she had been uncooperative and because an officer thought that she had kicked or tripped him during the interaction at Kidd's vehicle.

After her meeting, plaintiff returned to the room where she was previously seated. At different times, she observed and spoke with both Frett and Lopez, who were also being held in the police station. Plaintiff, Frett, and Lopez were detained until approximately 3:30 a.m. or 4:00 a.m. on the morning of July 20, 2005, at which time they were released. Plaintiff reported that, as a result of the encounter with the police, she had suffered injuries to her head, jaw, back, knees, and right arm and shoulder.

In June 2007, plaintiff filed a complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey against the City, the Camden Police Department, and several unknown Camden police officers, alleging violations of her constitutional and common law rights. About a month later, on July 25, 2007, the City and the Camden Police Department removed the suit from the Superior Court to this Court. Plaintiff subsequently filed an amended complaint, on January 4, 2008, identifying Camp as one of the officers involved in the alleged incident and naming him as a defendant.

The amended complaint avers many of the same allegations and the same five counts as articulated in the original complaint.*fn13

In particular, plaintiff alleges that Camp and the other unnamed officers violated her constitutional rights through their use of excessive force and false arrest, wrongfully imprisoned her, assaulted and battered her, and negligently caused bodily harm to her.*fn14 In addition, plaintiff alleges that the City violated her constitutional rights of due process under the Federal Constitution "by failing to adequately safeguard, supervise, train or otherwise monitor its police officers so as to prevent them from committing acts which violated the Constitutional Rights of the public." Further, plaintiff states that the actions of the City and its police department "amounted to deliberate indifference for the rights of the public in the City of Camden."

On February 19, 2010, defendants filed a Motion for Summary Judgment. The Court heard oral argument relating to defendants' motion on April 22, 2010. At the hearing, the Court denied defendants' motion with regard to plaintiff's Section 1983 claim against the City. However, the Court found that plaintiff had not sufficiently pled a Section 1983 claim against Camp under the theory of bystander liability. The Court granted the parties leave to further brief the issue. Thus, on April 29, 2010, plaintiff moved to amend her complaint, seeking to add a cause of action against Camp under the theory of bystander liability.

The Court now submits its Written Opinion in connection to defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment*fn15 and addresses plaintiff's Motion to Amend the Complaint.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Standard for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

An issue is "genuine" if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the nonmoving party's evidence "is to be believed and all justifiable inferences are to be drawn in his favor." Marino v. Indus. Crating Co., 358 F.3d 241, 247 (3d Cir. 2004) (quoting Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255).

Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id. Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. A party opposing summary judgment must do more than just rest upon mere allegations, general denials, or vague statements. Saldana v. Kmart Corp., 260 F.3d 228, 232 (3d Cir. 2001).

B. City of Camden Police Department

In her complaint, plaintiff names the Camden Police Department as a defendant in addition to the City. Defendants' counsel correctly posits, however, that the Police Department is not a proper defendant in this Section 1983 case. See Padilla v. Twp. of Cherry Hill, 110 F. App'x. 272, 278 (3d Cir. 2004) ("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." (citation and internal quotation marks omitted)); see also Bonenberger v. Plymouth Twp., 132 F.3d 20, 25 n.4 (3d Cir. 1997) ("As in past cases, we treat the municipality and its police department as a single entity for purposes of section 1983 liability."); N.J.S.A. 40A:14-118 (declaring that New ...


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