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Richard A. Dunne v. Township of Springfield

January 31, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Garrett E. Brown, Jr.



BROWN, Chief Judge

This matter comes before the Court upon the motion for summary judgment (Doc. No. 31) of Defendants Township of Springfield, Springfield Township Police Department, and Officer Kevin Gilchrist (collectively "Defendants"). Plaintiff opposes the motion. The Court has reviewed the parties' submissions and decided the motions without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendants' motion.


This matter involves whether Defendant Gilchrist engaged in malicious use or abuse of process when he issued two traffic citations to Plaintiff after a traffic encounter. Plaintiff filed the instant civil rights action pro se alleging violations of his First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981(a), 1981(c), and 1983, and also alleging violations of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act of 2004, N.J.S.A. § 10:6-2. (Am. Compl. ¶ 17; Doc. No. 10.)

It is undisputed that on or about November 17, 2006, Plaintiff was operating a vehicle and "was stopped in traffic on Mountain Avenue in Springfield, [New Jersey]" outside of a special education elementary school around the time of school dismissal; Defendant Gilchrist was there to direct traffic. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 3--5; Doc. No. 16-2; Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 3--5; Doc. No. 19.) Plaintiff used his vehicle's horn to get Defendant Gilchrist's attention. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 6; Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 6.) As traffic eased, Plaintiff proceeded down the street and said something to Defendant Gilchrist as he drove past, although the content of this exchange is disputed. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 7; Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 7.) Plaintiff asserts that he told Defendant Gilchrist that his actions were "not very smart," and Defendant Gilchrist maintains that Plaintiff cursed at him. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 8; Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 8.) Approximately three days later, Defendant Gilchrist mailed two summonses to Plaintiff, one for careless driving and one for improper use of horn. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶¶ 9--11; Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 9--11.) The Honorable Donald Bogosian, J.M.C. of the New Providence Municipal Court, entered a finding of not guilty with respect to the careless driving charge and guilty with respect to the improper use of horn charge. (Defs.' 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 13; Pl.'s 56.1 Stmt. ¶ 13; Second Am. Compl. Ex. A at 47--48.) On appeal, the Honorable Walter R. Barisonek, J.S.C. of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County, reversed the guilty finding with respect to the improper use of horn charge and found Plaintiff not guilty. (Second Am. Compl. Ex. B at 20--22.)

Plaintiff filed the instant Complaint on November 13, 2008 (Doc. No. 1), and an Amended Complaint on June 10, 2009 (Doc. No. 10), alleging malicious use and abuse of process. By Opinion and Order of June 25, 2010, this Court sua sponte dismissed the Amended Complaint for failure to state a claim, and the Court permitted Plaintiff to file a Second Amended Complaint, which Plaintiff did on July 16, 2010. Plaintiff demands compensatory, general, special, economic, and punitive damages, as well as reasonable attorney's fees and costs. (Second Am. Compl. Prayer for Relief.) Defendants filed this motion for summary judgment on August 9, 2010 (Doc. No. 31), which Plaintiff opposes. This matter was reassigned to this Court on June 14, 2010.


A. Standard of Review

A party seeking summary judgment must "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); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986); Orson, Inc. v. Miramax Film Corp., 79 F.3d 1358, 1366 (3d Cir. 1996); Healy v. New York Life Ins. Co., 860 F.2d 1209, 1219, n.3 (3d Cir. 1988), cert. denied, 490 U.S. 1098 (1989); Hersh v. Allen Prods. Co., 789 F.2d 230, 232 (3d Cir. 1986). The threshold inquiry is whether "there are any genuine factual issues that properly can be resolved only by a finder of fact because they may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party." Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 250 (1986) (noting that no issue for trial exists unless there is sufficient evidence favoring the nonmoving party for a jury to return a verdict in its favor). In deciding whether triable issues of fact exist, the Court must view the underlying facts and draw all reasonable inferences in favor of the non-moving party. See Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Pennsylvania Coal Ass'n v. Babbitt, 63 F.3d 231, 236 (3d Cir. 1995); Hancock Indus. v. Schaeffer, 811 F.2d 225, 231 (3d Cir. 1987).

Rule 56(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides, in relevant part:

When a motion for summary judgment is made and supported as provided in this rule, an adverse party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party's pleading, but the adverse party's response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. If the adverse party does not so respond, summary judgment, if appropriate, shall be entered against the adverse party.

FED. R. CIV. P. 56(e). The rule does not increase or decrease a party's ultimate burden of proof on a claim. Rather, "the determination of whether a given factual dispute requires submission to a jury must be guided by the substantive evidentiary standards that apply to the case." Anderson, 477 U.S. at 255.

Under the Rule, a movant must be awarded summary judgment on all properly supported issues identified in its motion, except those for which the nonmoving party has provided evidence to show that a question of material fact remains. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. Put another way, once the moving party has properly supported its showing of no triable issue of fact and of an entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, for example, with affidavits, which may be "supplemented . . . by depositions, answers to interrogatories, or further affidavits," id. at 322 n.3, "its opponent must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita, 475 U.S. at 586 (citations omitted); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48 (stating that "[b]y its very terms, this standard provides that the mere existence of some alleged factual dispute between the parties will not defeat an otherwise properly supported motion for summary judgment; the requirement is that there be no genuineissue of material fact").

What the nonmoving party must do is "go beyond the pleadings and by [its] own affidavits, or by the 'depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file,' designate 'specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.'" Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324; see also Lujan v. Nat'l Wildlife Fed'n, 497 U.S. 871, 888 (1990)(stating that "[t]he object of [Rule 56(e)] is not to replace conclusory allegations of the complaint . . . with conclusory allegations of an affidavit."); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249; Big Apple BMW, Inc. v. BMW of N. Am., Inc., 974 F.2d 1358, 1363 (3d Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 912 (1993) (stating that "[t]o raise a genuine issue of material fact . . . the opponent need not match, item for item, each piece of evidence proffered by the movant," but must "exceed[] the 'mere scintilla' threshold and . . . offer[] a genuine issue of material fact").

The Local Civil Rules supplement the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and provide that "each side shall furnish a statement which sets forth material facts as to which there exists or does not exist a genuine issue." L. CIV. R. 56.1. "Where possible, a single joint Rule 56.1 statement is favored." Allyn Z. Lite, New Jersey Federal Practice Rules 192 (2006 ed.) (citations omitted). "Where a joint statement is not prepared, then, under the rule, 'facts submitted in the statement of material facts which remain uncontested by the opposing party are deemed admitted.'" Id. at 193 (citations omitted). However, "the parties' statements pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 "cannot bind the Court if other evidence establishes that the stipulated facts are in error." Id. (citation omitted).

Plaintiff alleges violations of his First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights, in addition to violations of his state constitutional rights. Although the contours of Plaintiff's separate claims remains unclear, Plaintiff appears to bring these claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 1981(a), (c), and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:6-2. Defendants challenge the evidentiary support for each, and the Court considers each in turn.

B. 42 U.S.C. § 1983

With § 1983, Congress provided a federal forum for individuals to file actions for deprivations of their civil rights. This Section states:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable ...

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