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Raymond Martin v. Monroe Township

January 25, 2011

RAYMOND MARTIN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MONROE TOWNSHIP, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

MEMORANDUM OPINION

The plaintiff, Raymond Martin, commenced this action against the defendants, Monroe Township (the "Township"), Monroe Township Police Department ("MTPD"), Officer Piro of the MTPD ("Piro"), and Officer Burns of the MTPD ("Burns" and together with Piro, the "officers") (collectively, the "defendants"), alleging violations of the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("NJLAD"), the New Jersey Civil Rights Act ("NJCRA"), and the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"). The defendants move to dismiss the Complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief may be granted, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 12(b)(6). (Dkt. entry no. 4, Mot. to Dismiss.) The plaintiff opposes the motion. (Dkt. entry no. 7, Pl. Br.) The Court decides the motion on the papers without an oral hearing, pursuant to Rule 78(b). For the foregoing reasons, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

The plaintiff identifies himself as an African-American male and a permanent resident of the United States. (Compl. at ¶¶ 1, 6.) He alleges that on January 29, 2010, he entered a supermarket in the Township to purchase a money order to send to the funerary aid of someone in Jamaica, the plaintiff's country of origin. (Id. at ¶ 5.) After purchasing the money order, the plaintiff left the supermarket and went to a nearby pizza shop, where he bought two pieces of pizza. (Id. at ¶ 8.) The plaintiff then returned to the supermarket, where he bought coffee and sat down in the supermarket's cafe to eat his pizza. (Id. at ¶ 9.)

While the plaintiff eating his pizza at the cafe, the officers approached him suddenly. (Id. at ¶ 10.) One officer sat down at the plaintiff's table directly in front of the plaintiff, and the other remained standing next to the seated officer. (Id. at ¶ 11.) One of the officers asked the plaintiff, "What are you doing here?" to which the plaintiff responded, "I'm eating." (Id. at ¶ 12.) That officer asked the plaintiff for identification, and the plaintiff produced his driver's license. (Id. at ¶ 13.) That officer then allegedly remarked, "Raymond is not a black or Jamaican name." (Id. at ¶ 14.) The officer proceeded to instruct the plaintiff that the officers were "calling it in" and told the plaintiff, "We're leaving," referring to both officers and the plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 15.) When the plaintiff asked, "Where are we going?" the other officer responded, "We're taking you downtown . . . to finger print you and lock you up." (Id. at ¶¶ 16-17.) The plaintiff states that he asked the officers why, to which they replied that they believed the plaintiff was lying, without specifying what about. (Id. at ¶ 18.) The officers then allegedly led the plaintiff out of the supermarket and into their police car, without handcuffing him. (Id. at ¶ 19.) The officers continued to question the plaintiff in the car, and when the plaintiff again asked the officers what he had done wrong, the officers allegedly replied, "Shut the [expletive] up." (Id. at ¶ 21.)

Rather than taking the plaintiff "downtown," the officers took the plaintiff to the residence he shared with one Ms. Allan. (Id. at ¶¶ 22-23.) The officers allegedly pushed the plaintiff into the residence and followed him inside, despite Ms. Allan's instructions to the officers not to enter. (Id. at ¶¶ 24-25.) The officers questioned both the plaintiff and Ms. Allan about what the plaintiff was doing at the supermarket. (Id. at ¶ 26.) The officers had been in possession of the plaintiff's driver's license since the plaintiff handed it to them during the initial encounter in the supermarket cafe. (Id. at ¶ 27.) The officers returned the driver's license to the plaintiff and left the residence. (Id. at 28.)

The plaintiff contends that the officers had no legitimate cause to take his driver's license, force him into the police car, and enter his residence without permission or a warrant. (Id. at ¶¶ 10, 20, 24-25, 33.) The plaintiff alleges that this conduct was "obviously racist and egregious" and that he "would not have been unlawfully harassed by the police had he been Caucasian and/or had he not been of Jamaican ethnicity and national extraction." (Id. at ¶¶ 33-34.) The plaintiff states that he "suffered acute embarrassment, loss of dignity and the loss of his civil rights" from the encounter with the officers. (Id. at ¶ 37.) He seeks to impose respondeat superior liability on the Township and the MTPD for the officers' actions. (Id. at ¶¶ 35-36.)

Count One of the Complaint alleges a violation of the NJLAD on the theory that the officers, as "traveling places of public accommodation," discriminated against the plaintiff. (Id. at ¶ 39.) Count Two alleges a violation of the NJCRA on the basis that the defendants "improperly deprived the plaintiff of liberty under color of state law." (Id. at ¶ 42.) Count Three alleges a federal cause of action under Section 1983 for "improperly depriv[ing] the plaintiff of liberty," and elsewhere in the Complaint the plaintiff also asserts violations of his First Amendment right to freedom of assembly, his Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures, and his Fourteenth Amendment right to "equal treatment." (Id. at ¶¶ 32, 45.) Count Two and Count Three are apparently asserted against the officers in both their official and individual capacities. (Id. at ¶¶ 42, 45.)

The defendants now move to dismiss the Complaint in its entirety, pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), propounding the following arguments: (1) the MTPD is not a jural entity subject to suit, (2) the Township is not subject to civil rights claims for punitive damages, (3) the plaintiff's attempt to impose respondeat superior liability on the Township fails as a matter of law, and (4) the claims asserted against the individual officers are redundant to the claims asserted against the Township. (Dkt. entry no. 4, Defs. Br. at 1.)

DISCUSSION

I. 12(b)(6) Motion to Dismiss Standard

In addressing a motion to dismiss a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must "accept all factual allegations as true, construe the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, and determine, whether under any reasonable reading of the complaint, the plaintiff may be entitled to relief." Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 233 (3d Cir. 2008). At this stage, a "complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true to 'state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.' A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009) (quoting Bell Atl. Co. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 (2007)). "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged--but it has not 'show[n]'--that the 'pleader is entitled to relief.'" Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950 (quoting Rule 8(a)(2)).*fn1

II. Analysis

A. Count One - NJLAD Claims

The plaintiff alleges that he "was discriminated against under the [NJ]LAD in a place of public accommodation by the police, confined in their conduct by the [NJ]LAD as traveling places of public accommodation wherever they go." (Compl. at ¶ 39.) The plaintiff asserts that all defendants are liable under the NJLAD, because the "Township is responsible for what the police officers did inasmuch as the interest of the police officers and the Monroe Township Police Department are one and the same." (Id. at ¶ 40.)

The plaintiff relies on N.J.S.A. ยง 10:5-12, which states: It shall be an unlawful employment practice, or, as the case may ...


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