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Re: Griffin v. Township of Clark

April 21, 2011

RE: GRIFFIN
v.
TOWNSHIP OF CLARK, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Jose L. Linares United States District Judge

C H AM B ER S O F M A R TIN L U T HE R K IN G JR . JOSE L. LINARES FE D E R A L B U IL D IN G & U .S. C OU R T H O USE JU DG E 50 W A L N U T ST ., R O O M 5054 P.O . B ox 999 Newark, NJ 07101-0999 973-645-6042

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

Louis A. Zayas David B. Beckett Law Office of Louis A. Zayas Mets Schiro & McGovern, LLP 6121 Kennedy Blvd. P.O. Box 668 2nd Floor Woodbridge, NJ 07095 North Bergen, NJ 07047 Eric L. Harrison Methfessel & Werbel, PC 3 Ethel Road Suite 300 P.O. Box 3012 Edison, NJ 08818-3012

LETTER OPINION

Dear Parties:

This matter comes before the Court by way of Defendants' motion for summary judgment filed on February 22, 2011. The Court has considered the arguments in support of and in opposition to the present motion and decides the matter without oral argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motion is denied.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are undisputed, except where noted. At all relevant times, Plaintiff has been employed as a police officer by the Township of Clark, a municipal corporation in the State of New Jersey. (Defs.' Stmt. of Undisputed Facts ("SOF") ¶ 1--2.) Defendant Denis E. Connell is the Chief of Police for the Township's police department. (SOF ¶ 4.)

On or about May 6, 2008, Plaintiff received notice from Captain Kevin White that he was the subject of an internal affairs investigation regarding suspicious activity on the Clark Police Benevolent Association ("PBA") credit card during the time period in which Plaintiff had served as President of the PBA. (Id. at ¶ 5--6.) While the parties dispute the official nature of the investigation, they agree that it was initiated by Chief Connell based on an inquiry made by Officer Eric Richer, Plaintiff's successor as PBA President. (Id. at ¶ 31, Pl.'s Counter-Stmt. of Material Facts at ¶ 31.) On September 29, 2008, Chief Connell wrote a letter to Officer Richter advising him of the outcome of the investigation. (SOF ¶ 56.) On September 30, 2008, Plaintiff received a letter from Chief Connell stating that the investigation was concluded and that the allegations against Plaintiff were "sustained"; however, the letter further indicated that because the statute of limitations had expired, no criminal charges would be filed, and the matter would be referred to the PBA. (Id. at ¶ 11--12.)

On November 3, 2008, Plaintiff served a notice of claim on Chief Connell and the Township alleging defamation and other common law torts. (Id. at ¶ 18.) Thereafter, Plaintiff alleges that Defendants engaged in various retaliatory acts. These acts include statements by made Chief Connell to other officers that Plaintiff "should be disciplined," that the Chief intended to "embarrass Plaintiff in the newspaper" if Plaintiff proceeded with his lawsuit, that Plaintiff was going to "end up like his brother," who had resigned from the New Jersey State Police, and that Chief Connell "vowed to get Plaintiff no matter how long it took." (Id. at ¶ 74(a)--(c), (e).) Plaintiff also alleges that Captain White denied him the opportunity to train a new officer, explaining to a third party that Plaintiff was "nothing but a bad influence and a do-nothing." (Id. at ¶ 74(d).) Plaintiff alleges that Chief Connell ignored Plaintiff while greeting other officers and on one occasion blocked a doorway that Plaintiff was entering. (Id. at ¶ 74(g)--(h).) Chief Connell also allegedly questioned what "would have become" of Plaintiff had he "received an education," in front of a group of Plaintiff's superiors, including the Mayor. (Id. at ¶ 74(k).) Plaintiff alleges that he was denied overtime on multiple occasions, including one in which Chief Connell revoked a grant of overtime that had already been awarded by a Sergeant to whom Plaintiff reported. (Id. at ¶ 74(i)--(j).) Chief Connell, however, later reversed that decision. (Id. at ¶ 74(j).) Plaintiff further alleges that in or about June 2009, Plaintiff had requested to work two outside security jobs, but Chief Connell denied both requests. (Id. at ¶ 74(l).) Plaintiff finally alleges that on or about July 2010, after this action was filed, Captain White asked a Sergeant to write Plaintiff up for some unspecified issue related to a report Plaintiff had filed, but the Sergeant refused to do so. (Id. at ¶ 74(m).)

On November 22, 2009, Plaintiff filed the instant action. On January 22, 2010, this Court dismissed various of Plaintiff's claims, and Defendants now move for summary judgment on the remaining claims, which are based on First Amendment retaliation in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and defamation under New Jersey state law.

LEGAL STANDARD

A court shall grant summary judgment under Rule 56(c) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure "if the pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that 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(c).

On a summary judgment motion, the moving party must show, first, that no genuine issue of material fact exists. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986). The burden then shifts to the non-moving party to present evidence that a genuine issue of material fact compels a trial. Id. at 324. In so presenting, the non-moving party must offer specific facts that establish a genuine issue of material fact,not just "some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586--87 (1986). Thus, the non-moving party may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials in its pleadings. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 324. Further, the non-moving party cannot rely on unsupported assertions, bare allegations, or speculation to defeat summary judgment. See Ridgewood Bd. of Educ. v. N.E. ex rel. M.E., 172 F.3d 238, ...


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