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Joseph Williams v. Jeremiah T. Healy

January 4, 2012

JOSEPH WILLIAMS,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
JEREMIAH T. HEALY, ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William J. Martini, U.S.D.J.:

OPINION

HON. WILLIAM J. MARTINI

Presently before the Court is Defendant Michael Hurlings's motion for summary judgment.*fn1 Pro se Plaintiff Joseph Williams opposes the motion. For the reasons that follow, Defendant's motion will be GRANTED.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

This matter stems from Plaintiff's July 6, 2006 arrest.*fn2 Plaintiff alleges that on that date, Jersey City Police Officer/Defendant Michael Hurlings, along with another John Doe officer,*fn3 "slam[med him] against the wall of his building, twisted [his] arm behind his back," placed him in handcuffs, and then arrested him without probable cause. (Compl. ¶ 5, ECF No. 1.) Presently, Officer Hurlings moves for summary judgment on Plaintiff's 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims of arrest without probable cause (also referred to as "false arrest") and excessive force in arrest. In support of this motion, Hurlings has provided a copy of the police report of the arrest, which he prepared.*fn4 (Hurlings's Police Report, Ex. A, ECF No. 37.)

In the report, Hurlings explains that a reliable confidential informant ("CI") told him that a 6'3" fifty-year-old, 225-pound, white male named "Joey" was dealing heroin out of his home at 448 Central Avenue in Jersey City. (Id.) The CI further told Hurlings that "Joey" would return home with heroin at approximately 1:00 p.m. on July 6, accompanied by his nineteen-year-old daughter. (Id.) Based on this information, Hurlings set up surveillance of the Central Avenue property. (Id.) At 2:00 p.m., Officer Hurlings saw two individuals matching the CI's descriptions walk directly to the Central Avenue property's entrance. (Id.) Shortly before arriving at the entrance, the man who turned out to be Mr. Williams, pulled keys out of his right pocket. (Id.)

At that point, Officer Hurlings and the John Doe Officer*fn5 exited their vehicle, identified themselves as police officers, and approached Mr. Williams and his daughter to further investigate. (Id.) Mr. Williams then pushed Officer Hurlings in the chest and ran toward the entrance of 448 Central Avenue. (Id.) The officers "grabbed Williams before he could enter the house, advised him that he was under arrest, and repeatedly ordered him to place his hands behind his back." (Id.) Although he resisted, the officers were able to handcuff Mr. Williams. (Id.) Thereafter, they searched him and found 70 glassine bags of heroin inside the waistband of his pants. (Id.) He was charged with resisting arrest, drug possession and distribution,*fn6 and conspiracy. (Id.) His daughter was also arrested. (Id.)

Plaintiff does not challenge the facts set forth by Officer Hurlings in his police report, nor does he provide evidence suggesting Officer Hurlings lacked probable cause to arrest him or that the force used to arrest him was excessive. Nonetheless, he asserts that summary judgment should be denied because "[t]he conduct alleged by Plaintiff[] . . . approaches behavior that goes 'beyond all possible bounds of decency, [namely,] the assault that subsequently led to the unlawful arrest of the Plaintiff and his Daughter . . . ." (Pl.'s Letter Opp. to Summ. J. Mot. 2, ECF No. 48.)

II. LEGAL ANALYSIS

a. Standard of Review

Summary judgment is appropriate if "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). A genuine issue of material fact exists if, based on the evidentiary record before the Court, a reasonable jury could find for Plaintiff, the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). To prevail on his summary judgment motion, Defendant Hurlings has the initial burden of establishing that no genuine issue exists. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986). Defendant can do this by presenting evidence that negates essential elements of Plaintiff's claims. Id. at 331. If Defendant satisfies his initial burden, the Court will grant summary judgment unless Plaintiff points to "facts of record which would contradict the facts identified by the movant [which support summary judgment]." Port Auth. of N.Y. and N.J. v. Affiliated FM Ins. Co., 311 F.3d 226, 233 (3d Cir. 2003). Plaintiff's allegations alone will not defeat summary judgment. Id.

Plaintiff's federal causes of action against Officer Hurlings arise under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983") which prohibits any person acting under color of state law*fn7 from depriving citizens of rights secured by the Constitution, and provides "an avenue of recovery for the deprivation of [such] rights." Groman v. Twp. of Manalapan, 47 F.3d 628, 633 (3d. Cir. 1995). Because the Fourth Amendment protects citizens from "unreasonable searches and seizures" and states that "no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause", U.S. Const. amend. IV., if Officer Hurlings used excessive force when arresting Plaintiff, or arrested him without probable cause, he will be liable for those constitutional violations under § 1983. Walmsley v. City of Philadelphia, 872 F.2d 546, 551 (3d Cir. 1989); Carswell v. Borough of Homestead, 381 F.3d 235, 240 (3d Cir. 2004).

However, if Defendant Hurlings points to evidence on the record demonstrating that no constitutional violations occurred in the course of Plaintiff's arrest, Defendant will negate essential elements of Plaintiff's § 1983 claims and will satisfy his initial summary judgment burden. Thereafter, for those claims to survive summary judgment, Plaintiff must go beyond the allegations in his complaint and identify facts in the record demonstrating that Officer Hurlings's conduct during the July 6 arrest violated his Fourth Amendment rights. See, e.g., Reed v. Straniero, 2009 WL 3230861, at *9 (D.N.J. Oct. 1, 2009) (excessive force claim dismissed on summary judgment where plaintiff failed to identify facts on the record contradicting the narrative in the police report suggesting the force used by officers was reasonable under the circumstances).

b. The Undisputed Facts Demonstrate that Officer Hurlings had Probable Cause to Arrest Plaintiff on July 6, 2006 A prima facie false arrest claim requires Plaintiff to prove (1) he was arrested (2) without probable cause. Dowling v. City of Philadelphia, 855 F.2d 136, 141 (3d Cir. 1988). Thus, if based on the undisputed facts in this matter, the Court finds that Officer Hurlings had probable cause*fn8 to arrest Plaintiff on July 6, summary judgment dismissing Plaintiff's false arrest claim will be proper because there is no prima facie constitutional violation. Wright v. City of Philadelphia, 409 F.3d 595, 601 (3d Cir. 2005) (a ...


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