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Travis Middlebrooks v. Officer Aramis Alba

August 18, 2011

TRAVIS MIDDLEBROOKS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICER ARAMIS ALBA, DEFENDANT.



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

NOT FOR PUBLICATION

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court upon Defendant's motion for summary judgment. See Docket Entry No. 43. For the reasons expressed below, Defendant's motion will be granted, and the entirety of Plaintiff's challenges will be dismissed.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff initiated the instant matter by submitting a complaint ("Complaint") dated as of December 5, 2008. See Docket Entry No. 1, at 7.

a. Plaintiff alleged -- in the subsection requesting the information how Defendant was involved in this case -- that, on the night of August 28, 2008, Plaintiff was riding his bicycle when Defendant, a police officer, hit Plaintiff's bicycle with Defendant's police car and then assaulted Plaintiff by "kicking" and "stomping" Plaintiff, hitting Plaintiff's against Defendant's car and "macing" Plaintiff. See id. at 4.

b. In the "Statement of Claims" section of his Complaint, Plaintiff reitereted that he was riding his bicycle when Defendant hit his bike with Defendant's car and then assaulted Plaintiff by "kicking," "stomping" and "macing" Plaintiff -- all before Plaintiff was placed in Defendant's vehicle. See id. at 6.

c. The Complaint did not specify any other circumstances surrounding Defendant's actions, it only noted that the alleged actions occurred on the night of Plaintiff's arrest and before Plaintiff's placement in Defendant's vehicle. See generally, Docket Entry No. 1. In other words, Plaintiff's Complaint left open the possibility that Defendant hit Plaintiff's bicycle for no reason at all, simply with the goal to simply knock Plaintiff down to the ground and to sadistically beat, kick and "mace" Plaintiff who was presented as a non-resisting victim of Defendant's senseless rage. See id.

At the time when the Court was screening Plaintiff's pleading, the United States Supreme Court was yet to issue its pivotal standard-of-review case, Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937 (2009). Thus, this Court relied on Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89 (2007), in order to screen Plaintiff's pleadings under the prior standard-of-review test set forth in Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41 (1957), pursuant to which "a complaint [could not have been] dismissed for failure to state a claim unless it appear[ed] beyond doubt that the plaintiff [could] prove no set of facts in support of his claim."*fn1 Applying this test, the Court directed service upon Defendant.

Two years passed by, and the discovery in this matter was completed. See Docket Entries Nos. 2-42 (tracing the developments from service of process to completion of discovery).

On March 31, 2011, Defendant moved for summary judgment; Plaintiff failed to oppose Defendant's motion. See Docket Entry No. 43 and docket, generally. In his motion and attached declarations and exhibits, Defendant asserted numerous facts filling in the gaps left by Plaintiff's challenges. Specifically, Defendant's submissions show that:

a. On August 28, 2008, the City of Paterson police department received a call informing the police that two perpetrators had just robbed three victims at gunpoint; the caller provided detailed descriptions of the perpetrators and indicated, inter alia, that one of them was a dark-skinned male dressed in red jacket, white tee-shirt and blue jeans (that description was fitting Plaintiff's description), and that this perpetrator was armed and traveled on a green mountain bicycle within the vicinity of the Market Street.*fn2

b. Officer Picardo conveyed this information to Paterson patrolmen units, including to Defendant who was among the officers performing patrol duties during that evening. When Defendant spotted Plaintiff (who was dressed in the outfit described by the victims and, indeed, was traveling on his green mountain bike), a pursuit resulted, at the end of which Defendant observed that Plaintiff had his hand in his pocket as if he was holding on to a gun.*fn3 When Defendant caught up with Plaintiff, a violent struggle ensued when Defendant tried to arrest Plaintiff and restrain him by placing him in handcuffs. During the struggle, Plaintiff kicked Defendant in the chest and stomach several times, necessitating Defendant's use of the "pepper spray" in order to subdue Plaintiff's massive resistance.*fn4

c. Plaintiff, who -- on that evening -- was identified by the victims as one of the perpetrators, was later charged with unlawful possession of firearm, aggravated assault on a police officer and resisting arrest. On February 26,2009, following a plea agreement, Plaintiff pled guilty to unlawful possession of weapon, while the allegations of aggravated assault on a police officer and resistence to arrested were voluntarily dismissed as part of the plea deal. Plaintiff is now serving five-year prison term. During the sentencing stage of Plaintiff's criminal proceedings, the sentencing judge observed that, while -- pursuant to the plea agreement reached between Plaintiff and the State -- the charges were boiled down solely to Plaintiff's "possession [of a firearm] for an unlawful purpose, . . . it appear[ed] that the circumstances [surrounding Plaintiff's offence] were . . . more serious." Correspondingly, Plaintiff's minimum term of imprisonment was set at 3 years.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Summary judgment is appropriate under Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c) when the moving party demonstrates that there is no genuine issue of material fact and the evidence establishes the moving party's entitlement to judgment as a matter of law. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986); Carrasca v. Pomeroy, 313 F.3d 828, 832-33 (3d Cir. 2002). A factual dispute is genuine if a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant, and it is material if, under the substantive law, it would affect the outcome of the suit. See Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). Summary judgment will not be denied based on mere allegations or denials in the pleadings; instead, some evidence ...


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