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Orlando Hare v. Detective Ryan Woodhead

May 6, 2011


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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION [92,93,97,100]


Presently before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment by Plaintiff, pro se, Orlando Hare ("Plaintiff" or "Hare"), against Defendants Ryan Woodhead ("Woodhead") and Frederick Bender ("Bender"), as well as individual Motions for Summary Judgment by Defendant Roberto O. Reyes ("Reyes"), Woodhead and Bender (collectively referred to as "Defendants"). The instant motions arise out of Plaintiff's complaint alleging violations of his constitutional rights and requesting relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants summary judgment in favor of Defendants Woodhead and Bender and denies summary judgment to Defendant Reyes and Plaintiff.


In the late afternoon on January 31, 2007, Defendants Bender and Woodhead were beginning their shift with the Trenton Anti-Crime Unit ("TAC") in Trenton, New Jersey. The TAC unit is a specialized unit that deals with "street-level crimes and violations of city ordinances." Wilson Cert., ¶ 6, Ex. D, Trial Transcript October 16, 2008 ("Oct. 16 Tr.") 42:10- 13. At that time, Bender and Woodhead were provided with confidential information from a fellow police officer that three black men with guns were driving a silver sports utility vehicle in and around Trenton with the intention of shooting rival gang members. Wilson Cert., ¶ 8, Ex. F. During their shift, Bender and Woodhead were driving an unmarked police vehicle. Oct. 16 Tr. 43:11-17.

At or around 1:00 a.m. on February 1, 2007, Bender and Woodhead observed Plaintiff driving a silver Nissan Xterra. Defendants Bender and Woodhead contend that they noticed Plaintiff's vehicle turning from Greenwood Avenue to Chestnut Street without using a turn signal.*fn1 As a result, Bender and Woodhead activated their lights and sirens to initiate a motor vehicle stop. Plaintiff, however, failed to stop his car and continued driving. Bender and Woodhead issued a radio dispatch for additional units to help them pursue Plaintiff and several marked police vehicles joined the chase. Wilson Cert., ¶ 11, Ex. I, State v. Hare, 2010 WL 2471737, at *1 (N.J. Super. App. Div. June 18, 2010).

After driving for approximately 20 minutes, with marked and unmarked police vehicles involved in the chase, Plaintiff eventually stopped his vehicle at the corner of Burton Avenue and Phoenix Alley. Wilson Cert., Ex. G, ¶ 9, Plaintiff's Deposition Testimony ("Pl's Dep.") 83-85. Indeed, at his deposition, Plaintiff testified that he would not pull over for an unmarked police car, Id. 81:17-25, and that he only decided to stop when he determined that there were no unmarked police vehicles and only marked vehicles in pursuit. Id. 83. Plaintiff pulled over to the side of the road, exited his vehicle with his hands up and ran from his vehicle. Id. 90:18-20; 100:7-18. Subsequently, Defendant Reyes, a uniformed police officer who was in one of the marked vehicles, tackled Plaintiff and brought him to the ground. Id. 90:18-91:1. Plaintiff testified that after Defendant Reyes put the right handcuff on him, but before his left hand was placed in cuffs, Officer Reyes hit him once in the face and approximately eight to ten times on his left torso. Id. 106-109. Once both his hands were cuffed, Plaintiff does not allege that he received any additional blows by Officer Reyes or any other officer. Id. 110. As a result, Plaintiff contends that he suffered a cut above his left eye that did not require medical treatment or stitches and slight bruising on his left side. Id. 112. Following this incident, Plaintiff was taken to Trenton police headquarters to be processed; however, Plaintiff testified that he did not have any complaints of pain at that time, that he did not think the injuries were "serious to warrant taking to the hospital," and that he never complained to anyone or asked for medical treatment. Id. 119, 122. In addition, Plaintiff signed a form indicating that he did not have any "Present Complaints." Id. 120.

Plaintiff was charged with eluding, driving without a license, driving without a seatbelt, and failure to signal. Plaintiff was eventually convicted of second-degree eluding. Plaintiff appealed his conviction and the New Jersey Superior Court, Appellate Division, upheld both Plaintiff's conviction and sentence. State v. Hare, 2010 WL 2471737, at *3-5.

On December 2, 2008, Plaintiff filed a Complaint against Defendants alleging that they violated his constitutional rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Specifically, the Court understands Plaintiff to allege that Detectives Woodhead and Bender attempted to stop him without probable cause and because of his race in violation of his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. In addition, the Court understands Plaintiff to allege that Defendant Reyes used excessive force against him.

On September 30, 2010, Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment against defendants Woodhead and Bender. On October 1, 2010, Defendant Reyes filed a motion for summary judgment. On October 8, 2010, Defendant Woodhead filed a cross motion for summary judgment and on October 12, 2010, Defendant Bender filed a cross motion for summary judgment.


A. Summary Judgment Standard

"Summary judgment is proper if there is no genuine issue of material fact and if, viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Pearson v. Component Tech. Corp., 247 F.3d 471, 482 n.1 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986)); accord Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). For an issue to be genuine, there must be "a sufficient evidentiary basis on which a reasonable jury could find for the non-moving party." Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). In determining whether a genuine issue of material fact exists, the court must view the facts and all reasonable inferences drawn from those facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986); Curley v. Klem, 298 F.3d 271, 276-77 (3d Cir. 2002). For a fact to be material, it must have the ability to "affect the outcome of the suit under governing law." Kaucher, 455 F.3d at 423. Disputes over irrelevant or unnecessary facts will not preclude a grant of summary judgment.

Initially, the moving party has the burden of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Celotex Corp., 477 U.S. at 323. Once the moving party has met this burden, the nonmoving party must identify, by affidavits or otherwise, specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial. Id.; Maidenbaum v. Bally's Park Place, Inc., 870 F. Supp. 1254, 1258 (D.N.J. 1994). Thus, to withstand a properly supported motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party must identify specific facts and affirmative evidence that contradict those offered by the moving party. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 256-57. "A nonmoving party may not 'rest upon mere allegations, general denials or . . . vague statements . . . .'" Trap Rock Indus., Inc. v. Local 825, Int'l Union of Operating Eng'rs, 982 F.2d 884, 890 (3d Cir. 1992) (quoting Quiroga v. Hasbro, Inc., 934 F.2d 497, 500 (3d Cir. 1991)). Moreover, the non-moving party must present "more than a scintilla of evidence showing that there is a genuine issue for trial." Woloszyn v. County of Lawrence, 396 F.3d 314, 319 (3d Cir. 2005). Indeed, the plain language of Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322.

Moreover, in deciding the merits of a party's motion for summary judgment, the court's role is not to evaluate the evidence and decide the truth of the matter, but to determine whether there is a genuine issue for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 249. Credibility determinations are the province of the fact finder. ...

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