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Hall White v. City of Trenton

March 23, 2012

HALL WHITE,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF TRENTON, TRENTON POLICE DEPARTMENT, CHIEF OF POLICE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

**FOR PUBLICATION**

OPINION

Presently before the Court is a Motion for Reconsideration brought by Defendants City of Trenton ("the City"), Trenton Police Department ("TPD") and former Director of Police J. Santiago ("Director Santiago")(collectively, the "City Defendants") pursuant to Local Civil Rule 7.1 (i). Through the instant motion, the City Defendants challenge this Court's December 27, 2011 decision in which the Court granted in part and denied in part the City Defendants' motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff Hall White's ("Plaintiff's") § 1983 claims. The City Defendants' motion focuses on the Court's denial of summary judgment to the City and Director Santiago on a Monell municipal liability claim related to a November 8, 2004 excessive force incident ("November 2004 incident") for which no individual officers have been named as defendants. For the following reasons, the motion for reconsideration is granted but the Court affirms its prior denial of summary judgment.

I. BACKGROUND

The factual background of this matter is set forth more fully in this Court's prior decision, thus, the Court will only recount the facts necessary for disposition of the instant motion. Plaintiff's claims arise out of two separate arrests during which Plaintiff alleges that Trenton Police Department ("TPD") Officers used excessive force and arrested him without probable cause. The first incident took place on November 8, 2004, when Officers Kmiec and Kurfuss were detailed to a Trenton residence based on a report that an intoxicated individual, later identified as Plaintiff, was trying to kick in the front door. Kmiec and Kurfuss physically restrained Plaintiff and arrested him for obstructing the administration of law. While effectuating the arrest, Plaintiff alleges Kmiec and/or Kurfuss both physically and verbally abused him, at one point telling him to "shut the fuck up." White Dep. Tr. 215:12-13. Ultimately, all charges against Plaintiff were dismissed. No other TPD officers, including Director Santiago, participated in the incident. The second incident took place on February 4, 2005 ("February 2005 incident") and involved a different group of officers.

Importantly, Officers Kmiec and Kurfuss are not named defendants in this action. In his original complaint and his First Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserted a fourth amendment excessive force claim against the officers involved in the November 2004 incident, referring to them as "P.O. John Doe I" and "P.O. John Doe II." After his First Amended Complaint was filed, Plaintiff moved to file a Second Amended Complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 15 that would substitute Officers Kmiec and Kurfuss for the John Doe officers. On December 12, 2007, Magistrate Judge Bongiovanni, the Magistrate Judge assigned to this action, denied Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend because, among other reasons, any claims against Kurfuss and Kmiec would be barred by the applicable statute of limitations. Order dated December 12, 2007 at 7-8. Shortly after Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend was denied, the parties jointly moved to dismiss the excessive force claim against "P.O. John Doe I" and "P.O. John Doe II" relating to the November 2004 incident.*fn1

Thereafter, the parties engaged in motion practice on the remaining counts of Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint. The subject of the City Defendants' instant motion for reconsideration is the most recent motion decided by this Court on December 27, 2011. That summary judgment motion involved the Plaintiff's Monell municipal liability claims against the City Defendants relating to both the November 2004 and February 2005 incidents. The Monell claim was based on a failure to supervise and discipline ("failure to supervise") theory that the City Defendants failed to adequately track excessive force complaints against TPD officers.

In my ruling, I granted in part and denied in part the City Defendants' motion. I granted summary judgment on the claim related to the February 2005 incident but denied summary judgment on the claim relating to the November 2004 incident. The reasoning underlying my decision was that, by the time of the February 2005 incident, the City Defendants had implemented a system that tracked the number of complaints filed against each police officer, certain details about the incident, and the disposition of the complaint, inter alia. At the time of the November 2004 incident, in contrast, the City Defendants did not have an effective tracking system in place.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Local Rule 7.1(i) allows a party to seek reconsideration of a court's decision if there are "matters or controlling decisions which counsel believes the Judge ... has overlooked" within ten business days following the entry of the order or judgment on the original motion. L. Civ. R. 7.1(i); see also Interfaith Cmty. Org. v. Honeywell Int'l, Inc., 215 F.Supp.2d 482, 507 n. 12 (D.N.J. 2002). It is improper on a motion for reconsideration to "ask the Court to rethink what it had already thought through-rightly or wrongly." Oritani Sav. & Loan Ass'n v. Fidelity & Deposit Co., 744 F.Supp. 1311, 1314 (D.N.J. 1990). Rule 7.1(i) does not contemplate a recapitulation of arguments considered by the court before rending its decision. See Bermingham v. Sony Corp. Of Am., Inc., 820 F.Supp. 834, 856 (D.N.J. 1992), aff'd, 37 F.3d 1485 (3d Cir. 1994). Instead, Rule 7.1(i) creates a procedure by which a court may reconsider its decision upon a showing that dispositive factual matters or controlling decisions of law were overlooked by the court in reaching its prior decision. Relief by way of a motion for reconsideration is "an extraordinary remedy" that is to be granted "very sparingly." Interfaith Cmty. Org., 215 F.Supp.2d at 507.

A timely motion for reconsideration may be granted upon a finding of at least one of the following grounds: "(1) an intervening change in the controlling law; (2) the availability of new evidence that was not available when the court granted the motion ...; or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or fact or to prevent manifest injustice." Max's Seafood Cafe v. Quinteros, 176 F.3d 669, 677 (3d Cir. 1999); Boswell v. Eoon, No. 10--3493, 2011 WL 5597429, *2 (3d Cir. Nov. 17, 2011). The Court will grant such a motion only if the matters overlooked might reasonably have resulted in a different conclusion. Bowers v. Nat'l Collegiate Athletic Assoc., 130 F.Supp.2d 610, 613 (D.N.J. 2001).

III. DISCUSSION

The City Defendants base their motion for reconsideration on what they perceive to be an error of law. As noted, in my December 27, 2011 decision, I granted summary judgment on the City Defendants' motion with respect to the failure to supervise claim related to the February 2005 incident. Summary judgment was appropriate on the Monell claim against the City Defendants' because, by the February 2005 date, a tracking system that adequately tracked excessive force complaints against TPD officers was in place. Summary judgment was denied, however, with respect to the November 2004 arrest because the testimony of Director Santiago, when read in the light most favorable to Plaintiff, could be read to indicate that no adequate tracking system was in place and functioning by that date.

In the summary judgment briefing for that motion, neither party argued that summary judgment should be granted with respect to one date and denied with respect to the other. Each party treated the question of Monell liability as relating to both incidents. Moreover, the parties did not address that the individual officers who allegedly used force in arresting ...


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