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Dennis Cruz v. County of Bergen

March 29, 2011

DENNIS CRUZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
COUNTY OF BERGEN, THE BERGEN COUNTY POLICE DEPARTMENT,
CHIEF JOHN SCHMIDIG AND JOHN DOES 1-4, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Dennis M. Cavanaugh

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

DENNIS M. CAVANAUGH, U.S.D.J.

This matter comes before the Court upon the motion of Defendants County of Bergen, the Bergen County Police Department (the "Police Department") and Chief John Schmidig ("Chief Schmidig") for partial dismissal of claims pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. No oral argument was heard pursuant to Rule 78. For the reasons stated below, Defendants' motions are granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Dennis Cruz is a Bergen County Police Officer of Cuban descent. Pl.'s Br. 1. During his term of employment with the Police Department, Plaintiff alleges that he was continuously subjected to race-based discrimination and harassment -- including racial slurs and derogatory comments -- at the hands of his superior officers, Sergeants Steven Malone ("Malone") and Richard Cleri ("Cleri"). Compl. ¶¶ 15-19. Malone and Cleri purportedly "micro-managed Plaintiff and consistently gave him undesirable assignments." Compl. ¶ 20.

The harassment and retaliatory conduct reached such an extent that in 2009, Plaintiff suffered from an anxiety attack. Compl. ¶ 29. Subsequently, Plaintiff was informed that he was the subject of two internal investigations, one involving his mental health, and another based on "false allegations against him." Compl. ¶ 30.

On or about April 24, 2009, Plaintiff was ordered to undergo a mental evaluation in order to determine his fitness for duty. Compl. ¶ 31. Pending the results of the psychological exam, Plaintiff was instructed by Chief Schmidig to report to headquarters for a special assignment in his full Class "A" uniform excluding his gun belt. Compl. ¶ 36. Allegedly, the donning of a uniform without a gun belt "attracts unnecessary attention to an officer, which was the purpose of Chief Schmidig's order." Id. Plaintiff claims that previously, two Caucasian officers had been on special assignment at headquarters and were permitted to appear in civilian attire. Id.

Plaintiff was made to undergo a second psychological exam on August 12, 2009, without first being told if he had passed the first exam. Compl. ¶ 41. He was eventually cleared for duty in September 2009 and given back his firearm and ammunition. Compl. ¶ 43. Plaintiff has never been advised as to whether the second internal affairs matter has been closed, or as to the results of that investigation. Compl. ¶ 44.

Plaintiff attempted to complain of the harassment and discriminatory treatment to superior officers on numerous occasions to no avail. Compl. ¶ 21. He also tried, on numerous occasions, to meet with Chief Schmidig regarding the hostile work environment. Plaintiff, however, never did meet with Chief Schmidig. Id.

The present action was instituted on June 29, 2010 seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, and money and punitive damages to redress deprivation of civil rights afforded under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983, the New Jersey Civil Rights Act ("NJCRA"), and the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination ("LAD").

II.STANDARDOFREVIEW

In deciding a motion under Rule 12(b)(6), the district court is "required to accept as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draw all inferences in the facts alleged in the light most favorable to the [Plaintiff]." Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 228 (3d Cir. 2008). "[A] complaint attacked by a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss does not need detailed factual allegations." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). However, the Plaintiff's "obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitle[ment] to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Id. To survive a motion to dismiss, the complaint must state a plausible claim. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1950 (2009). ...


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