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Harry F. Laute, Sr. Hon. Joseph H. Rodriguez and Denise Laute, His Wife v. the City of Gloucester and/Or Memorandum Gloucester City Police

January 25, 2012

HARRY F. LAUTE, SR. HON. JOSEPH H. RODRIGUEZ AND DENISE LAUTE, HIS WIFE, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE CITY OF GLOUCESTER AND/OR MEMORANDUM GLOUCESTER CITY POLICE DEPARTMENT, AND/OR PTL. JAMES LITTLE, AND/OR : & PTL. S. SAUNDERS, AND/OR PTL. W. C. JOHNSON, AND/OR JOHN DOE POLICE OFFICERS, . . . AND/OR JOHN ROE . . . POLICE OFFICERS, SUPERVISORS, TRAINERS, INSTRUCTORS, EMPLOYEES, AGENTS AND/OR SERVANTS, JOINTLY, SEVERALLY, INDIVIDUALLY AND/OR IN THE ALTERNATIVE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Joseph H. Rodriguez U.S.D.J.

OPINION

ORDER

This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion for partial judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c). The motion will be granted.

Background

On or about March 12, 2010, the individually named Defendants were involved in a pursuit of Plaintiff Harry Laute in Gloucester City, New Jersey. Plaintiff alleges that the Defendant officers "caused and/or allowed Plaintiff's pants to come down so that Plaintiff was forced to stand naked in the street despite repeated requests by the Plaintiff and others to pull his pants up." (Compl. ¶ 4.) Plaintiff further alleges that the Defendant officers "did carelessly and/or negligently and/or with willful and wanton recklessness, spray the Plaintiff in the face with 'O.C. Spray' and further assaulted the Plaintiff by knocking him to the ground and repeatedly punching him in the face and about the body even after Plaintiff had been handcuffed." (Compl. ¶ 5.)

Plaintiff filed a Complaint in this matter on June 1, 2011 in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County. He alleged a violation of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the New Jersey Civil Rights Act by individual police officers, Little, Saunders, and Johnson, and a failure to "supervise, instruct, train and/or educate" by the John Roe supervisors. (Compl. ¶ 2-3.) His demand includes punitive damages. A Second Count of the Complaint alleges loss of consortium "[a]s a proximate result of the negligence and carelessness of the Defendants." (Compl., Second Count ¶ 3.)

Defendants timely removed the matter to this Court, and have now filed a motion for partial judgment on the pleadings. They request dismissal of Plaintiff's claims against the City of Gloucester and the Gloucester City Police Department and any federal claims in the Second Count of the Complaint, which was brought by Denise Laute for loss of consortium. Defendants argue that the Complaint fails to allege sufficient facts to establish municipal liability under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Gloucester City Police Department is an improper defendant, and a spouse may not make a loss of consortium claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

Standard on Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(c) provides that a party may move for judgment on the pleadings. The movant under Rule 12(c) must show clearly that no material issue of fact exists and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Rosenau v. Uniford Corp., 539 F.3d 218, 221 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Jablonski v. Pan Am. World Airways, Inc., 863 F.2d 289, 29091 (3d Cir. 1988)). A motion under Rule 12(c) is reviewed under the same standard as a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6). Turbe v. Government of the Virgin Islands, 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides that a court may dismiss a complaint "for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." In order to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must allege facts that raise a right to relief above the speculative level. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2). While a court must accept as true all allegations in the plaintiff's complaint, and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008), a court is not required to accept sweeping legal conclusions cast in the form of factual allegations, unwarranted inferences, or unsupported conclusions. Morse v. Lower Merion Sch. Dist., 132 F.3d 902, 906 (3d Cir. 1997). The complaint must state sufficient facts to show that the legal allegations are not simply possible, but plausible. Phillips, 515 F.3d at 234. "A claim has facial plausibility when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009).

42 U.S.C. § 1983

Plaintiff's Constitutional claims are governed by Title 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which provides a civil remedy against any person who, under color of state law, deprives another of rights protected by the United States Constitution. See Collins v. City of Harker Heights, 503 U.S. 115, 120 (1992). Any analysis of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 should begin with the language of the statute:

Every person who, under color of any statute, ordinance, regulation, custom, or usage, of any State or Territory or the District of Columbia, subjects, or causes to be subjected, any citizen of the United States or other person within the jurisdiction thereof to the deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws, shall be liable to the party injured in an action at law, suit in equity, or other proper proceeding for redress.

See 42 U.S.C. § 1983. As the above language makes clear, Section 1983 is a remedial statute designed to redress deprivations of rights secured by the Constitution and its subordinate federal laws. See Baker v. McCollan, 443 U.S. 137, 145 n.3 (1979). By its own words, therefore, Section 1983 "does not . . . create substantive rights." Kaucher v. County of Bucks, 455 F.3d 418, 423 (3d Cir. 2006) (citing McCollan).

To state a cognizable claim under Section 1983, a plaintiff must allege a "deprivation of a constitutional right and that the constitutional deprivation was caused by a person acting under the color of state law." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 235 (3d Cir. 2008) (citing Kneipp v. Teder, 95 F.3d 1199, 1204 (3d Cir. 1996)). Thus, a plaintiff must demonstrate two essential elements to maintain a claim under § 1983: (1) that the plaintiff was deprived of a "right or privileges secured by the Constitution or the laws of the United States" and (2) that plaintiff was deprived of her rights by a person acting under the color of state law. Williams v. Borough of West Chester, Pa, 891 F.2d 458, 464 (3d Cir. 1989).

A municipality is not liable under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 on a respondeat superior theory. Monell v. Dept. Soc. Servs. of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 691 (1978). However, a government entity may be liable for its agent's actions upon a demonstration that a policy or custom of the municipality caused, or was a "moving force" behind, the alleged violation of Plaintiff's rights. Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166 (1985) (quoting Polk County v. Dodson, 454 U.S. 312, 326 (1981)); Beck v. City of Pittsburgh, 89 F.3d 966, 971 (3d Cir. 1996). Thus, in order to prevail against the government entity, "[a] plaintiff must identify the challenged policy, attribute it to the city itself, and show a causal link between execution of the policy and the injury suffered." Losch v. Parkesburg, 736 F.2d 903, 910 (3d Cir. 1984). Further, a plaintiff must show that the municipality acted with "deliberate indifference" ...


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