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Brandon Lyman v. Timothy P. Long

April 20, 2011


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



Plaintiff, Brandon Lyman ("Lyman") brings this action under 42 U.S.C. § ("Section") 1983 against defendants, Timothy P. Long ("Long") and Kenneth W. Zahn ("Zahn"), both police officers in the City of Trenton (collectively, "Defendants"). (Dkt. entry no. 1, Compl.) Defendants separately move for summary judgment in their favor pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 56. (Dkt. entry no. 29; dkt. entry no. 30). Lyman opposes the separate motions. (Dkt. entry no. 33.) The Court determines the separate motions on the briefs without an oral hearing, pursuant to Rule 78(b). For the reasons stated herein, the Court will grant in part and deny in part the separate motions for summary judgment.


Trenton police officers were summoned to Trenton Central High School West ("TCHSW") on May 10, 2007. (Dkt. entry no. 31, Wilson Cert., Ex. E, Rowell Dep. at 21.) Sometime between eleven o'clock and noon the fire alarm went off, and Lyman, among others, proceeded outside. (Wilson Cert., Ex. C, Lyman Dep. at 31-32.) Contemporaneously, school security guards had been summoned to a disturbance in the cafeteria, which also emptied outside. (Rowell Dep. at 15-18, 20.) In all, over one hundred students were outside of the school. (Id. at 27.)

Once outside, Lyman had a verbal dispute with another student. (Lyman Dep. at 32-34.) A school security guard, Samuel Rowell ("Rowell") said that Lyman was very upset and he tried unsuccessfully to calm him down. (Rowell Dep. at 34-37, 45.)*fn1

Rowell testified to having a "pretty good relationship" with Lyman, and that before the police came he "held [Lyman]" for awhile, trying to calm him down, and warned him that once the police arrived, they were going to "lock [him] up," especially if he did not calm down or was fighting. (Id. at 44, 39.)*fn2 Rowell said he had "never seen [Lyman] act like that." (Id. at 45.) He said that Lyman kept "trying to get after" the other student.

(Id. at 35, 36, 58, 80.)*fn3 After a short period of time, Rowell testified that Lyman "broke away" from him, after which he saw Lyman running towards the front door. (Rowell Dep. at 39.)

Lyman, however, testified that the person he argued with was "actually a friend" of his, the dispute "wasn't like a big, major blown-out dispute," it was not physical "at all," they were not face to face or right next to each other, and that it lasted for "no longer than 10 seconds." (Lyman Dep. at 32-34.) Lyman also said that Rowell merely had his hand on his chest and speculated that Rowell was "just trying to calm [them] both down . . . Just in case something was going to happen." (Id. at 35.)

It is unclear from Rowell's testimony what he saw next: first he said he could see nothing, as the entire lawn "was full with police and kids," then he noted seeing several police officers surrounding Lyman and "pretty much holding" him, but he later responded to the question "Did you see the cops have their hands on [Lyman]?" with "No," and "Actually, you couldn't see nothing. It was a big crowd of people right here in front of the building." (Rowell Dep. at 39, 41, 63.) In any case, the principal ordered Rowell inside to put the rest of the school on lock-down while the police handled it outside. (Id. at 35,37.)

Lyman stated that the next thing he knew, "five or six officers, like they came up and grabbed me or whatever, like aggressively, and I thought it was . . . an over-reaction because it wasn't like we were fighting or anything . . . ." (Lyman Dep. at 34.) Lyman claims Trenton police officers kneed him in the stomach, threw him on the ground, and put handcuffs on him. (Id. at 39-40.) Then, despite claiming that he yelled "I'm complying, I'm complying," Lyman alleges Long punched him in the face approximately ten times. (Id. at 39, 41, 47.) He claims that his hands were not flying about. (Id. at 42.) He also claims Long and Zahn both participated in this allegedly unlawful arrest. (Compl. at 2.) Finally, upon being put into the back of a police car, Lyman alleges that Long said "[y]ou gave me a good reason to let out my aggression 'cause I was arguing with my wife last night." (Lyman 49.)

Rowell testified that the scene outside TCHSW was "just kids yelling, everybody was arguing. It was just a big mayhem." (Rowell Dep. at 27.) He said it was "a mess. . . . I never seen so many police. . . . I never seen nothing that out of control . . . it was just crazy. I mean kids were everywhere." (Id. at 23.) Long's police report states that he, along with Zahn, arrived at TCHSW "on the report of a street fight." (Wilson Cert., Ex. C, P-1, Police Report.) Rowell's incident report later noted, though, that "[t]he only reason it look [sic] like a brawl is because the fire alarm was pull [sic] and all the kids ran out of building on the front lawn." (Wilson Cert., Ex. E at 33, Rowell Incident Report.)

Lyman's mother, Allena Marie Smith ("Smith") testified she received a call from someone at the school who told her that the fire alarms went off and that police officers were surrounding her son. (Wilson Cert., Ex. D, Smith Dep. at 23.) She arrived in "[a]bout 12 minutes, if that," and described the scene at the school as "chaotic . . . A lot of kids they were putting into the wagon and it was just not a nice scene." (Id. at 23, 27.) However, she did not observe any kids fighting. (Id. at 27.) She said when she got there she saw the police putting Lyman on the ground and handcuffing him, and that his face had bruises. (Id. at 20.) Her understanding was that they hit him before she arrived. (Id. at 31-32.)

Lyman was taken to the police station and released to his mother's custody about an hour later. (Id. at 39, 44.) Smith and Lyman next went to Internal Affairs, where Smith filed a complaint. (Id. at 40-41.)*fn4 After letting her job know she was taking the rest of the day off, Smith took Lyman to the hospital. (Id. at 41-42.) Lyman claimed pain in his neck, lower back, and "intraoral pain." (Wilson Cert., Ex. F., Lyman Med. Recs. at 10.) A doctor noted some scratches on his neck and face and an "intraoral lac in mouth." (Id. at 10.) Lyman was diagnosed with some contusions, and released with the recommendation to treat the injuries with ice and Motrin. (Id. at 4.)

Long was notified of the Internal Affairs complaint against him on July 15, 2007. (Internal Affairs Report.) He was eventually exonerated of the excessive force claim by Internal Affairs. (Id.) Smith filed a tort claims notice with the City of Trenton on July 18, 2007. (Pl.Opp'n at 8.)

On or about September 12, 2007, Lyman and Smith received a notice of a Juvenile Complaint proceeding against him, charging him with violations of N.J.S.A. §§ 2C:33-2a and 2C:29-2a, essentially disorderly conduct and resisting arrest. (Wilson Cert., Ex. C, P-2, Juvenile Delinquency Compl.) They were also notified the case would be handled by an "Intake Services Conference" ("ISC"). (Gies Aff., Pa14, ISC Notice.)*fn5 Lyman said he met with a "juvenile referee," and they discussed the incident. (Lyman Dep. at 79-81.) Lyman felt he had received a lecture, and that the gist of the conversation was that the referee figured he was a good kid and that he should "try not to get into situations like this." (Id. at 83.) Lyman's understanding was that he was not charged with anything further, did not have to meet any conditions or do any community service, and he "remembered [the referee] said he was going to recommend that [the charges] be dismissed." (Id. at 79, 84-85.) The "ISC Agreement/Order" ("ISC Order") contains the illegible name of a "Probation Officer" and is signed by Lyman and Smith. (ISC Order.) Under the heading "Recommendation" the box entitled "Case Closed with a Lecture" is checked. (Id.) There is also space under the heading "Judge's Approval" and the statement "The above matter, having been closed by Intake upon satisfactory adjustment by above mentioned parties, is hereby dismissed" for a judge's signature, but this section of the ISC Order is blank. (Id.)

Plaintiff asserts three Section 1983 claims under the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution: false arrest, excessive force, and malicious prosecution. (Compl.) Defendants now separately move for summary judgment in their favor. (Dkt. entry no. 29, Zahn Br.; dkt. entry no. 31, Long Br.)


I. Summary Judgment Standard

The standard for a motion for summary judgment is well-settled and will be briefly summarized. Rule 56 provides that summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 56. In making this determination, the Court must "view[] the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party and draw[] all inferences in that party's favor." United States ex rel. Josenske v. ...

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