The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jerome B. Simandle
SIMANDLE, District Judge:
This civil rights matter is before the Court on two motions for summary judgment pursuant to Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure filed by the Defendants James Shrader and the City of Bridgeton [Docket Item 52], and Defendant Douglas Van Sant [Docket Item 53]. For the reasons that follow, the motions will both be denied in part and granted in part.
Near closing time on April 18, 2006, Plaintiff Pamela Winrow Islam entered the Motor Vehicle Commission (MVC) office in the City of Bridgeton, New Jersey, to obtain a duplicate driver's license. Plaintiff is a Muslim, and for religious reasons was wearing a head scarf that does not cover her face. When the time came for her photograph to be taken, a MVC employee who is not a defendant in this action ordered her to remove the head scarf. When Plaintiff would not do so, the branch manager was called in.
A heated exchange occurred between Plaintiff and the manager, Defendant Douglas Van Sant. Plaintiff attempted to inform Van Sant that when she renewed her license 16 years prior, she was permitted by statute to wear her head scarf in the photograph. (Pl.'s Oct. 29, 2009 Dep. 202:8-203:13.) According to Plaintiff, Van Sant informed her that that was before the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. (Id. 207:1-12.) Plaintiff became agitated and demanded that Van Sant write his name on a piece of paper. According to Van Sant, he advised Plaintiff that MVC policy required a signed attestation of religious faith in order to permit a photograph with a head scarf. (Van Sant Dep. 78:4-7.) According to Plaintiff, no one ever told her she could have her picture taken if she signed a form affirming her religious belief. (Pl.'s Oct. 29, 2009 Dep. 229:20-230:2.) In fact, MVC policy did not prohibit head coverings worn for religious purposes, and the form that Defendant Van Sant claims to have provided Plaintiff to sign in order to have her picture taken with her hair covered was discontinued in the early 1990s and not replaced. (Grill Dep. 25:20-25; 19:6-17.)
The argument continued through the closing of the office at 4:30 p.m. MVC management generally allows customers to remain and finish their business as long as they are in the office by closing. (Shrader Dep. 32:18-24.) At some point, Defendant Van Sant decided he was finished conversing with Plaintiff, and motioned for the police officer stationed at the MVC to approach.
Although the MVC is a state agency, a local program uses local law enforcement for crowd control at MVC offices. Bridgeton Police Department Officer James Shrader was stationed at the MVC office. As Shrader approached, Van Sant asked him to escort Plaintiff out of the office. According to Van Sant, Plaintiff refused to leave the office. (Van Sant Dep. 78:4-17.) According to Plaintiff, Van Sant never asked Plaintiff to leave or indicated that the MVC was closed, but instead said he was tired of talking to her and requested that Shrader escort her out of the office. (Pl.'s Oct. 29, 2009 Dep. 217:24-218:4.)
Depending on which version of events is accurate, Officer Shrader either unnecessarily shoved a cooperative Plaintiff toward the door even though she was already leaving (according to Plaintiff's narrative), or gently touched a defiant and resistant Plaintiff's arm to escort her to the exit (according to Defendants' narrative). Once outside the MVC office, Shrader arrested Plaintiff. (Shrader Dep. 56:5-25.) Shrader signed a criminal complaint against Plaintiff for defiant trespassing, but the charges were dropped. (Pl.'s Oct. 29, 2009 Dep. 57:18-25, 58:8-10).
Plaintiff brings five claims against Defendants. Count I is a § 1983 claim in which Plaintiff claims her constitutional rights were violated by Van Sant. Specifically, she claims she was falsely placed into custody by him; denied her right of expression; denied the privilege of obtaining a driver's license; denied her right to petition for redress of grievances; maliciously prosecuted; and denied due process of law. Count II, which is not a cause of action but instead a prayer for relief, seeks injunctive relief against the MVC to prevent the MVC from stopping Plaintiff from getting a license based on her head scarf. Count III is a § 1983 claim in which Plaintiff claims her constitutional rights were violated by Shrader. Specifically, she claims Shrader falsely arrested her; falsely imprisoned her; falsely detained her; maliciously prosecuted her; and denied her freedom of speech and right to petition government for redress of grievances. Count IV is a claim based on New Jersey's Law Against Discrimination, based on Defendants violating "Plaintiff's right to avail herself of accommodations and/or services as a result of her religion." And Count V is a claim under the New Jersey State Constitution against both Defendants and the Bridgeton Police Department for violation of unspecified provisions of the New Jersey Constitution.
Summary judgment is appropriate "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A fact is "material" only if it might affect the outcome of the suit under the applicable rule of law. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). Summary judgment will not be denied based on mere allegations or denials in the pleadings; instead, some evidence must be produced to support a material fact. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(A); United States v. Premises Known as 717 S. Woodward Street, Allentown, Pa., 2 F.3d 529, 533 (3d Cir. 1993). However, the court will view any evidence in favor of the nonmoving party and extend any reasonable favorable inferences to be drawn from that evidence to that party. Hunt v. Cromartie, 526 U.S. 541, 552 (1999). Where the nonmoving party bears the burden of persuasion at trial, the moving party may be entitled to summary judgment merely by showing that there is an absence of evidence to support an essential element of the nonmoving party's case. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1)(B); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 325 (1986).
In this case, the operative pleading does not explain the legal theories supporting Plaintiff's claims in any depth. For example, with respect to Plaintiff's claims under the New Jersey State Constitution, the Second Amended Complaint simply invokes the entire document without further elaboration. Instead of moving to dismiss the pleading as insufficient, or seeking to identify Plaintiff's legal position using contention interrogatories, Defendants have instead filed this motion relying on non-controlling legal characterizations made by Plaintiff in her deposition as well as Defendants' own guesses as to the legal basis for the claims. Much of the motion consists of Defendants applying their version of the disputed facts to their guesses about Plaintiff's legal theories.
In our adversarial system of law, there is a limit to the order that this Court can independently impose on a murky claim that reaches its summary judgment doorstep. The Court cannot be made to shadowbox itself, simultaneously construing Plaintiff's claims and then inventing what Defendants' arguments would be if they knew how Plaintiff's claims had been construed. All the Court can properly do is evaluate the specific arguments presented to it. Since Defendants have decided to move for summary judgment despite their confusion over the content of Plaintiff's claims, it is their burden to show that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). In determining whether Defendants have identified an essential element of a claim for which Plaintiff has not adduced evidence or for which the undisputed facts negate it, the Court must examine the claim the way Plaintiff presents it for this motion, so long as that legal theory is not contradicted by a reasonable reading of the Second Amended Complaint or some statement of Plaintiff's that acts as a waiver or estoppel.
Thus, for those instances in which Defendants fail to address the material elements of a given claim as explained for this motion, their motions will be denied regardless of the Court's own assessment of the ...