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Michael Sebastian, Jr v. Vorhees Township

February 8, 2011

MICHAEL SEBASTIAN, JR.,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
VORHEES TOWNSHIP, CARLOS GARCIA-LAZAR, ANTHONY RUSTERUCCI, FRANCIS BIALECKI, ROBERT WOOLSTON, ROBERT MONAHAN, DANIEL STARK, AND LANCE KLEIN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas

OPINION

IRENAS, Senior District Judge

Plaintiff, Michael Sebastian, Jr., brings this suit against the Defendants arising out of his arrest on June 12, 2007 by member of the Vorhees Township Police Department. Plaintiff claims that he was arrested without probable cause.*fn1

Count One of the Amended Complaint, brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleges false arrest in violation of the Fourth Amendment by Defendants Garcia-Lazar, Rusterucci,*fn2 Stark,*fn3 Monahan, Bialecki, Woolston and Klein (the "Individual Defendants"), malicious prosecution in violation of the Fourth Amendment by Defendants Garcia-Lazar, Rusterucci, Bialecki and Woolston, and denial of counsel and unlawful interrogation in violation of the Fifth Amendment by Defendants Stark, Monahan and Klein.

Count Two of the Amended Complaint, brought under § 1983, alleges a conspiracy to violate Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment and Fifth Amendment rights by the Individual Defendants. Count Three of the Amended Complaint, also brought under § 1983, alleges that Defendant Vorhees Township violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights.

Count Four of the Amended Complaint alleges that all of the Defendants violated the New Jersey Constitution.

Count Five of the Amended Complaint brings a common law claim for false arrest against Defendants Garcia-Lazar, Bialecki, Woolston and Rusterucci. Count Six brings a common law claim for malicious prosecution against Defendants Garcia-Lazar, Rusterucci, Bialecki and Woolston. Count Seven brings a common law claim for abuse of process against the Individual Defendants. Count Eight brings a common law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress against the Individual Defendants.

The Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all counts.*fn4 The Court will grant summary judgment as to Defendants Stark, Monahan, Klein, Rusterucci and Vorhees Township on all claims brought against them. The Court will grant summary judgment as to Defendants Garcia-Lazar, Bialecki and Woolston on Count Eight, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and deny summary judgment as to Defendants Garcia-Lazar, Bialecki and Woolston on the remainder of the claims brought against them.

I.

Plaintiff Michael Sebastian, Jr. received a ticket for running a red light in the Spring of 2007. (Defendants' Statement of Undisputed Material Facts in Support of Motion for Partial Summary Judgment (Defs.' SOF) ¶ 1) Plaintiff appeared in Vorhees Municipal Court on June 11, 2007 to dispute the ticket. (Id. at 3) Plaintiff was found guilty at trial. (Id. at 5) Incensed at the result of the trial, Plaintiff yelled out that the proceeding was "bullshit" and that he "did not give a fuck" about any fines imposed by the court. (Id. at 7) Plaintiff was found in contempt of court and arrested, but was released on his own recognizance soon thereafter. (Id. at 8)

On the morning of June 12, 2007, Plaintiff's girlfriend saw what she believed may have been an intruder on Plaintiff's property. (Id. at 10) Plaintiff immediately called his father, Michael Sebastian, Sr., who told Plaintiff he would come to his property as soon as possible. (Id. at 9, 11) On his way to Plaintiff's property, Michael Sebastian, Sr. saw Defendant Garcia-Lazar's police car. (Id. at 13-14) Sebastian, Sr. informed Garcia-Lazar about the potential intruder, and Garcia-Lazar followed him to Plaintiff's house. (Id. at 13-14)

Plaintiff and the Defendants have varying accounts of the events that transpired at Plaintiff's property.

Plaintiff alleges that he told Sebastian, Sr. to advise Garcia-Lazar not to enter his property because Plaintiff did not want to have any contact with the Vorhees Township Police Department following the incidents the previous day in municipal court. (Plaintiff's Statement of Undisputed Material Facts (Pl.'s SUMF) at 31) Plaintiff himself also advised Garcia-Lazar that he did not want his assistance and asked him to leave. (Id. at 32) Garcia-Lazar refused, despite Plaintiff's continued requests. (Id. at 34) Plaintiff informed Garcia-Lazar of the events that transpired the previous day in municipal court. (Id. at 36) Plaintiff then tried to return to his residence, but Garcia-Lazar ordered him to stay where he was and forced him to walk the perimeter of the property to check if there was any evidence of an intruder. (Id. at 39-40)

When walking the perimeter, Plaintiff allegedly saw a footprint, but Garcia-Lazar refused to photograph the evidence. (Id. at 47) Upset about this, Plaintiff refused to continue circling the perimeter and indicated that he wanted to return to his residence. (Id. at 48) Garcia-Lazar inquired what Plaintiff would do if someone was breaking into his residence. (Id. at 49) Plaintiff replied that if the intruder was a threat to him or his family, he would severely injure or kill the intruder. (Id. at 50)

Defendant Rusterucci then arrived at Plaintiff's property. (Id. at 52) When asked by Rusterucci, Plaintiff repeated that if an intruder was a threat to him or his family, he would severely injure or kill the intruder. (Id. at 59) Rusterucci asked what would Plaintiff do if a Vorhees Township official was breaking into his home. (Id. at 60) Plaintiff replied that if a Vorhees Township official was breaking into his home without identification and was a threat to himself or his family, Plaintiff would severely injure or kill the intruder. (Id. at 61) Plaintiff noted that he would not injure or kill a uniformed officer because he or she would be recognizable by the uniform. (Id. at 62) Rusterucci acknowledged that he understood what Plaintiff meant. (Id. at 63) This conversation was repeated approximately six times before Rusterucci and Garcia-Lazar left Plaintiff's property. (Id. at 65) Plaintiff then completed an incident report which he returned to Garcia-Lazar. (Id. at 68-69)

In turn, Defendants Vorhees Township, Rusterucci, Monahan, Woolston, Klein and Stark allege the following summary of the events.*fn5 When Garcia-Lazar and Sebastian, Sr. arrived at Plaintiff's property, Plaintiff informed Garcia-Lazar that a judge advised him not to have any contact with the Vorhees Township Police Department, and asked Defendant Garcia-Lazar to leave his property. (Id. at 16)

Apparently intrigued by this statement, Garcia-Lazar asked Plaintiff what he would do if there was an intruder on the property given that Plaintiff refused to allow police officers onto his property. (Id. at 17) Plaintiff responded by saying that "[i]f the person had broken into my house and they were a threat to me or my family, I would severely injure or kill them if it was necessary to defend myself." (Id. at 18) Defendant Rusterucci arrived on the scene shortly thereafter, and also inquired as to what Plaintiff would do if there was on intruder on his property. (Id. at 19) Plaintiff repeated the answer he previously gave to Garcia-Lazar. (Id. at 20)

Rusterucci then asked Plaintiff how he would respond if a Vorhees Township official was attempting to break into his home.

(Id. at 21) Plaintiff responded that "if it was a township official breaking into my home without any identification, and I didn't know who they were, if I thought they were a threat to my family or life, I would severely injure or kill them if necessary. And that was if they were an unidentified person." (Id. at 22) Plaintiff noted that his response did not apply to a uniformed officer, because he would be able to recognize the officer based upon the uniform. (Id. at 23)

Defendants Garcia-Lazar and Rusterucci then warned Plaintiff not to take matters into his own hands, and instead call the police if there was an intruder. (Id. at 26) ...


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