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Julian Garcia v. City of Newark

February 16, 2011

JULIAN GARCIA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF NEWARK, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION Presently before the Court is the motion by Defendant City of Newark ("the City" or "Defendant") for summary judgment [docket entry 106]. Plaintiff Julian Garcia ("Plaintiff") has opposed the motion. This Court has reviewed the papers filed by the parties in connection with the instant motion for summary judgment and rules based on those submissions, and without oral argument, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion for summary judgment will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

In this civil rights action, Plaintiff Julian Garcia seeks damages, based upon claims that nine members of the Newark Police Department violated his constitutional rights in connection with their use of excessive force and inadequate identification procedures in arresting him.

Plaintiff further contends that the City of Newark is liable for its established practice and custom of condoning such police misconduct. The case arises out of two separate arrests of Plaintiff that occurred on May 9, 2007 and July 3, 2007. Plaintiff alleges that on May 9, 2007, he was on the porch of 178 Dickerson Street ("the Downey residence") socializing with DeWayne and Tamika Downey and others when numerous police officers, including defendants Michael DiFabio ("DiFabio") and Anthony Bagnano ("Bagnano"), responded to the Downey residence on a dispatch call of a man with a gun. According to the Plaintiff, when Mrs. Downey inquired whether officers had a search warrant, defendant DiFabio threw her to the ground, violently handcuffed her, and forcefully put his knee in her back. While DiFabio was purportedly "attacking" Mrs. Downey, Plaintiff stated "get his badge number," prompting DiFabio to allegedly throw him to the ground, grab him by the throat and choke him, and scream "I'll kill you." After being choked, Plaintiff contends that DiFabio kicked him several times while other defendant officers sat by and watched. At some point defendants DiFabio and Bagnano performed an identification check and informed Plaintiff that he had an outstanding warrant and was also being charged with resisting arrest, obstruction of justice, and drinking in public. Plaintiff testified at his deposition that he was "sucker punched" in the face by Bagnano on the way to the police precinct because Plaintiff's cell phone kept going off.

Plaintiff was released on May 22, 2007 after it was determined that the outstanding warrant was for his brother who used Plaintiff's name as an alias. Both Plaintiff and the Downeys filed complaints with the Internal Affairs Unit of the Newark Police Department in connection with the May 9, 2007 incident. Defendant James Lopez ultimately performed the investigation and closed it out as "not sustained."

On July 3, 2007, Plaintiff was again arrested and charged with robbery based on statements given to defendant officers by two witnesses, Eric Barahona and Lisa Eggleston. Both witnesses also identified Plaintiff in separate photo arrays. Based on the identifications, Plaintiff was arrested. He was detained for four months and then released from custody on October 30, 2007, after a grand jury refused to indict him on the robbery charges.

Plaintiff claims that the defendant officers used excessive force against him while making an arrest. As to the City of Newark, Plaintiff argues that his civil rights were violated through the City's custom of tacitly authorizing its police officers to use excessive force - by permitting a situation to exist where police officers are improperly trained and are not disciplined or subject to review for their misconduct - and that this violation resulted in his personal injuries. Plaintiff further contends that the City of Newark's police investigation procedures, namely the use of photo array rather than in-person identification, are overly suggestive and reckless and led to his false arrest.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Summary Judgment Standard

The standard upon which a court must evaluate a summary judgment motion is well-established. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) provides that summary judgment should be granted "if 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." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Kreschollek v. S. Stevedoring Co., 223 F.3d 202, 204 (3d Cir. 2000). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, a court must construe all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Boyle v. County of Allegheny Pa., 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact remains. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986).

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, the non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986); see also Anderson, 477 U.S. at 247-48. The Supreme Court has held that Rule 56(e) "requires the nonmoving party to go beyond the pleadings and by her 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 (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e)). A properly supported motion for summary judgment cannot be defeated by "the mere existence of a scintilla of evidence" in favor of the non-moving party's claims. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Instead, "there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the [non-movant]." Id.; see also 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) ("to raise a genuine issue of material fact . . . the [non-moving party] need not match, item for item, each piece of evidence proffered by the movant," but "must exceed the 'mere scintilla' threshold").

B. Section 1983 Claims Against The City of Newark

Plaintiff claims that the City of Newark is liable for his constitutional deprivations because of the customs and practices it condones regarding Newark Police Department procedures. Because Plaintiff's claims are not based on ordinary negligence or tort principles but on a federal civil rights statute, the City is not liable under the doctrine of respondeat superior for the misconduct of its police. Andrews v. City of Philadelphia, 895 F.2d 1469, 1480 (3d Cir. 1990). When a suit against a municipality is based on 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the municipality "can only be liable when the alleged constitutional transgression implements or executes a policy, regulation or decision officially adopted by the governing body or informally adopted by custom." Monell v. Dep't of Social Serv., 436 U.S. 658, 690-91 (1978). Under ยง1983 a municipality is only liable "... when execution of a government's policy ...


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