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Franks v. Cape May County

September 8, 2010

MARY FRANKS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CAPE MAY COUNTY, CAPE MAY COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, THOMAS HEGARTY, AND SCOTT KNOEDLER, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rodriguez, J.

The Hon. Joseph H. Rodriguez

OPINION

Presently before the court is Defendants' motion for summary judgment [Dkt. Entry No. 49], pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 56, filed by Cape May County ("County") and Cape May County Sheriff's Department ("Sheriff's Department").*fn1 Plaintiff Mary Franks ("Plaintiff" or "Franks") filed this action alleging violations of her constitutional rights arising out of her February 16, 2007 arrest in Villas, New Jersey.*fn2 The Court has reviewed the written submissions of the parties and heard oral argument on the motion on July 21, 2010. For the reasons stated on the record that day as well as those stated below, Defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted in part and denied in part .

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

A. Franks' Arrest and Detention

On February 16, 2007 at approximately 8:30 a.m., Franks was in the kitchen of her home in Villas, New Jersey baby-sitting her granddaughter when Cape May County Sheriff's officers Thomas Hegarty ("Hegarty") and Scott Knoedler ("Knoedler") knocked on her door. (Am. Compl. at ¶ 12.)

What happened next is disputed. For the purposes of the present motion, the Court must consider the facts in a light most favorable to the non-moving party. Franks alleges that when Hegarty and Knoedler arrived at her home, Knoedler went to the front door, and Hegarty went to sliding glass door at the back of the house. (Compl. at ¶ 14.) Franks claims Hegarty announced he was there with an arrest warrant for "Anthony," to which plaintiff replied, "There is no Anthony here." (Hegarty Dep. at 168:1-4; Franks Dep. at 84:4-10.) In fact, the warrant was for Andrew Langford, the father of Franks' granddaughter, for unpaid child support. (Def. Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 2; Pl.'s Am. Compl. at ¶ 12.) The search warrant listed Franks's residence as Langford's last known address. (Am. Compl. at ¶ 13.) Plaintiff asserts that Langford did not live there and that the defendants had no basis to believe that Langford was present at the home at they time they executed the warrant. (Am. Compl. at ¶ 13.)

Franks claims that Hegarty announced that he was coming into the house, at which point plaintiff asked him to show her a warrant to search the property. (Franks Dep. at 91:4-14.) As a former nurse for the Cape May County Correctional Center, Franks testified that she was aware of the difference between a search warrant and arrest warrant from the knowledge she amassed in her previous job. (Franks Dep. at 93:10-94:3.) Hegarty allegedly replied, "you don't need to see anything. I'm coming in there. You're going in and that kid's going to DYFS."*fn3 (Franks Dep. at 93:19-94:97.) Franks again asked to see the search warrant, and Hegarty motioned for her to open the door. (Pl.'s Response to Def.'s Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 6.) Franks claims that when she unlocked the door to examine the warrant, Hegarty opened the door and entered her home without her consent. (Pl.'s Response to Def.'s Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 6; Franks Dep. at 100:20-102:25.) When Franks demanded that Hegarty show her a search warrant or leave her house, he handed her a packet of papers. (Compl. at ¶ 17.) Franks alleges that when she turned over the top page of the packet, Hegarty snatched the packet from her hands, causing the top of several pages to tear. (Compl. at ¶ 18.) The packet then fell to the floor. (Compl. at ¶ 18.) When Franks reached down to pick it up, Officer Hegarty handcuffed her. (Compl. at ¶ 19.) Franks alleges Defendants manhandled her in such a manner that she was physically injured. (Compl. at ¶ 19.) Hegarty subsequently handcuffed Franks and took her to the Cape May County Correctional Center for processing. (Franks Dep. 100:17-102:13.)

Officers Hegarty and Knoedler offer a vastly different version of the arrest. According to the investigation report Officer Hegarty filed with Lieutenant Scott Mason, his immediate supervisor, as Knoedler and Hegarty pulled up to the residence they noticed a silver vehicle out front of the house that had not been there in a previous attempt to execute the warrant. (Def.'s Ex. B, Investigation Report at 2.) Once he reached the back door, Hegarty avers that there were no lights on inside the home and he could not get a clear view of Franks. (Def.'s Ex. B, Investigation Report at 2.) Hegarty asked Franks to open the door, to which she replied, "Go ahead talk," without opening the door. (Def.'s Ex. B, Investigation Report at 2.) Hegarty testified that while he mistook the name of the suspect at first, he corrected himself once Knoedler came around to the back door and handed him the warrant. (Hegarty Dep. at 168:12-14.) Hegarty claims even after he informed Franks that they were conducting an investigation and needed information about the wanted suspect, she was hostile and uncooperative. (Def.'s Ex. B, Investigation Report at 3.) Hegarty claims Franks eventually opened the sliding door and allowed him into the home, but she refused to give either Hegarty or Knoedler her last name. (Def.'s Ex. B, Investigation Report at 3.) Hegarty informed Franks that she could be arrested for obstruction of justice as she was interfering with an official investigation. (Def.'s Ex. B, Investigation Report at 3.) Franks told Hegarty that she would tell him her name if he showed her the warrant. (Def.'s Ex. B, Investigation Report at 3.) Hegarty was at first reluctant to hand over the warrant, but eventually handed it to Franks in an effort to calm her down. (Def.'s Ex. B, Investigation Report at 3.) Hegarty claims that he told Franks she could only read the first page, as the rest of the warrant contained privileged information. (Def.'s Ex. B, Investigation Report at 3.) Franks, however, disregarded Hegarty's instruction and turned her body away from the officer in an attempt to read the remainder of the warrant. (Def.'s Ex. B, Investigation Report at 3.) Hegarty then tried to grab the warrant but claims Franks used her left arm and body to violently push him away. (Def.'s Ex. B, Investigation Report at 3.) Hegarty claims he wrestled with Franks briefly, but, concerned for the well-being of Franks granddaughter, he radioed Knoedler for help.

(Def.'s Ex. B, Investigation Report at 3.) Franks resisted Hegarty's efforts to handcuff her but he was able to subdue her after about three minutes. (Def.'s Ex. B, Investigation Report at 3.)

Franks was charged with obstruction of justice under N.J.S.A. § 2C: 29-1, and resisting arrest under N.J.S.A. § 2C:29-2. (Def.'s Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 3; Compl. at ¶ 19.) She was taken to the Cape May County Correctional Center for processing and detention. (Def.'s Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 4; Compl. at ¶ 21.) As a part of her intake processing, she was subjected to a strip and visual body cavity search. Two female corrections officers conducted the strip search*fn4 (Def.'s Ex. D, Hilton Report at 15) in a room with a curtain covering its entrance. (Def.'s Ex. C, King Report at 15.) A review of the audiotape documenting Franks strip search reveals that she was asked to "bend over" and "spread her cheeks" repeatedly. (Def.'s Ex. C, King Report at 15.) Sheriff John Callinan ("Callinan") testified that Hegarty remained outside the door leading to the room the entire time the search was conducted, which Callinan felt was "unprofessional." (Callinan Dep. at 62:7-63:10.) Plaintiff Franks was detained for several hours before she was released later that evening after posting $15,000 bail. (Def.'s Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 4; Compl. at ¶ 6.)

B. Internal Affairs Investigation

Plaintiff lodged a complaint against Officers Hegarty and Knoedler with the Cape May County Sheriff's Office Internal Affairs ("IA") Division on February 16, 2007. (Pl.'s Ex. D, IA Report Form.) Franks charged that Hegarty and Knoedler entered her home without lawful authority and used excessive force when they arrested her. (Pl.'s Ex. D, IA Report Form at 1.) While the IA complaint was made in person, the portions of the form asking for the name of the individual who received the complaint and the officer to whom the report was forwarded were left blank. (Pl.'s Ex. D, IA Report Form at 1.)

There is a dispute as to which IA investigator was assigned to investigate Franks' claim. Undersheriff John W. Reemer ("Reemer") sent plaintiff a letter on February 21, 2007 informing her that Investigator James Abbott ("Abbott") was assigned to investigate her claim. (Pl.'s Ex. E, letter to Franks dated Feb. 21, 2007) However, Abbott testified at his deposition that he was not assigned to handle Franks's complaint because he was going away on vacation. (Abbott Dep. at 38:25-39:14.) Abbott testified that he called plaintiff before he left on vacation, and she told him she was represented by counsel and had nothing to say to him. (Abbott Dep. at 40:12-42:1.) Abbott testified that he did not ask Franks the name of the attorney representing her, nor did she volunteer that information. (Abbott Dep. at 42:2-25.)

At his deposition, IA investigator James Peterson ("Peterson") testified that he had a conversation with Franks's counsel regarding his client's IA complaint. (Pl.'s Ex. F, Peterson Dep. at 11:6-25.) Peterson testified that during that conversation, Franks's counsel indicated to him that his client was willing to be interviewed about the complaint. (Pl.'s Responsive Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 11.) Peterson testified that he told Reemer that Franks was willing to be interviewed. (Pl.'s Responsive Statement of Material Facts at ¶ 11.) Peterson testified that his role in the investigation was limited to interviewing Knoedler and Hegarty together in the parking lot of a Wawa convenience store and generating a report from that interview. (Peterson Dep. at 12:5-9.) Peterson admitted that he did not follow protocol when interviewing the officers together in the parking lot. (Peterson Dep. at 36:10-15.) Typically, both officers should be interviewed separately to check for inconsistencies in their stories. (Peterson Dep. at 36:16-18.) Peterson testified that he extricated himself from any involvement in the investigation because he had previously been the subject of Franks's romantic advances when she worked at the correctional facility. (Peterson Dep. at 22:17-23:23.) Peterson testified that he told Reemer the reason he had a conflict of interest. (Peterson Dep. at 22:17-23:23.) Neither Abbott nor Peterson interviewed Franks regarding her complaint. (Abbott Dep. at 13:25-14:4; Peterson Dep. at 21:8-10.) Both deny that they were assigned to investigate Franks's IA complaint. (Abbott Dep. at 39:2-12; Peterson Dep. at 21:8-12.) Reemer sent Plaintiff a letter dated April 2, 2007, closing the investigation for insufficient evidence. (Pl.'s Ex. I, letter to Franks, dated April 2, 2007.)

C. Dismissal of Franks's Indictment

The matter was the subject of a suppression hearing on September 6 and 10, 2007. (Compl. at ¶ 24.) New Jersey Superior Court Judge Raymond A. Batten ruled that Hegarty and Knoedler violated Franks' Fourth Amendment rights by illegally entering and searching her property without her consent and without a warrant. (Pl.'s Ex. L, Transcript of Judge Batten's Decision in the matter of State v. Franks at 44.) On October 25, 2007, Batten signed an order mandating suppression of all evidence directly and proximately flowing from the warrantless search of Franks' home, including the arrest. (Compl. at ¶ 25.) On November 16, 2007, Judge Batten signed an order prepared by the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office dismissing the indictment without prejudice against Mary Franks. (Pl.'s Ex. R, Order dated Nov. 16, 2007.) Lieutenant Scott Mason testified at his deposition that he asked the Cape May County Prosecutor's Office to appeal Judge Batten's decision to dismiss the resisting arrest charge because he believed Franks was going to sue the Sheriff's Department. (Mason Dep. at 93:8-25.) The prosecutor assigned to the case declined to appeal the decision. (Mason Dep. at 95:7-12.)

D. Franks's Claims

Franks initiated an action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 and N.J.S.A. §10:6-2(c) against Defendants seeking damages, civil penalties, reasonable attorney's fees, and costs of court. In Count I, Franks alleges that the Defendants' acts constitute a violation of her Fourth and Fourteenth amendment rights, as she claims she was subjected to an unlawful search, false arrest, and malicious prosecution and was deprived of her right to due process. Count II further alleges that the County failed to adequately train, supervise and discipline officers and employees of the Sheriff's Department. This failure to train, the plaintiff alleges, reflects a deliberate choice by the municipality to have such policies become custom, practice or policy. Plaintiff further alleges that the county's failure to train was the proximate cause of her constitutional injury.

The remainder of the Complaint asserts pendent state common law and statutory claims. Count III alleges that those claims averred in Counts I and II constitute a violation of the Plaintiff's rights under the New Jersey State Constitution Article I, Paragraph 7 and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act § 10:6-2 (c). In Counts IV through IX, Franks asserts claims for false arrest, malicious prosecution, intentional infliction of emotional distress, battery, false imprisonment and invasion of privacy against Hegarty and Knoedler. Plaintiff also alleges that since Hegarty and Knoedler were acting within the scope of their employment, the county is liable for the claims averred in Counts IV-VII under the doctrine of respondeat superior .

Cape May County and the Cape May County Sheriff's Department filed this instant motion seeking summary judgment as to all counts. Defendants contend the County and its subdivisions are absolved from liability under ยง 1983 because there is no evidence that the Defendant officers conducted the allegedly ...


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