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Laura Campos and Richard Melber v. City of Hackensack

March 29, 2011

LAURA CAMPOS AND RICHARD MELBER,
PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF HACKENSACK, ET AL .,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. William J. Martini

OPINION

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

On May 18, 2010, Plaintiffs, Officer Laura Campos of the Hackensack Police Department ("HPD"), and Officer Richard Melber of the HPD filed a federal civil rights action against Defendant HPD Chief of Police, C. Kenneth Zisa, and others, alleging that the Defendants violated their constitutional rights. On May 24, 2010, Plaintiffs filed a five-count Amended Complaint ("Complaint"). Defendants Captain Tomas Padilla and Defendant Captain Danilo Garcia each filed a motion to dismiss. A third motion to dismiss was filed by Defendants Chief Zisa and the City of Hackensack.

For the reasons elaborated below, Garcia's motion will be GRANTED, and he will be TERMINATED from this action; Padilla's motion will be GRANTED, and he will be TERMINATED from this action; and Zisa and the City of Hackensack's motion will be GRANTED in part, and DENIEDin part.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND ALLEGED IN THE COMPLAINT

The gravamen of the Complaint is that the Hackensack Chief of Police, Defendant Zisa, engaged in a pattern of extortion, against other HPD officers, i.e., Plaintiffs, seeking, among other things, political donations to further Zisa's political career and the political career of those allied with Zisa, including candidates for office within the Policemen's Benevolent Association ("PBA") of Hackensack and certain candidates for public office. It is further alleged that those who were not allied with Zisa, including those officers who refused to donate to Zisa and his allies' political campaigns, were subject to retaliation and threats of retaliation in violation of Plaintiffs' First Amendment free speech and freedom of association rights.

In addition to the allegations of extortion surrounding the PBA election and elections to public office, Plaintiff Campos alleged that she was the victim of sexual harassment at the hands of Defendant Garcia. Campos alleges that Garcia has harassed her continuously from 2002 through 2010. She also alleges that in 2004 Garcia pressured her into rewriting a police report. Campos' report originally named the son of Kathleen Tiernan, Zisa's then girlfriend, as involved in a robbery. Garcia allegedly pressured Campos to change the report so not to implicate the son. Campos complied under the threat of retaliation, and Campos further asserts that Zisa and Garcia agreed to allow Garcia to harass Campos as a quid pro quo for Garcia's pressuring Campos to change her report. The Complaint characterizes this purported agreement as a conspiracy. Afterwards, in 2005, Campos complained to Zisa about Garcia's alleged sexual harassment. Zisa took no action.

The five-count Complaint is not a model of clarity and some of the counts interweave allegations involving the PBA election and elections to public office with the allegations involving sexual harassment and official misconduct involving the Tiernan report.

Count I is brought by Plaintiff Campos against Defendants Zisa and Padilla. It asserts a First Amendment claim involving the elections under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Count II is brought by Plaintiff Melber against Zisa. Like Count I, it also asserts a First Amendment claim involving the elections under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Count III is brought by Campos against Zisa, Padilla, and Garcia. It is a state civil conspiracy count making factual allegations in relation to the elections, and also in regard to sexual harassment and the Tiernan report. This count further alleges that Zisa and Garcia conspired with one another in allowing Garcia to harass Campos as a quid pro quo for Garcia's pressuring Campos to change her report.

Count IV is brought by Plaintiffs Campos and Melber against Zisa, Garcia, and the City of Hackensack. It is a Section 1983 claim making factual allegations in relation to the elections, and also in regard to sexual harassment and the Tiernan report. Like Count III, this count further alleges that Zisa and Garcia conspired with one another in allowing Garcia to harass Campos as a quid pro quo for Garcia's pressuring Campos to change her report.

Count V is brought by Campos against Zisa and the City of Hackensack. This is a New Jersey Law Against Discrimination claim ("NJLAD") making factual allegations in relation to sexual harassment, and the ...


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