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Ryan Monroe v. City of Hoboken

April 10, 2012

RYAN MONROE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF HOBOKEN, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Michael A. Hammer United States Magistrate Judge

OPINION

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the Court by way of plaintiff Ryan Monroe's (plaintiff or "Monroe") motion for leave to file an amended complaint. Monroe seeks to amend the complaint to properly name the "John Doe" defendants who are currently identified in the original complaint as Hoboken police officers A, B, and C. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

II. FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

A. Background

Monroe alleges, inter alia, that Hoboken police officers Edward Lepre, Nicholas Burke, and Rinaldo Gonzalez intentionally, maliciously, and/or recklessly arrested and detained him on February 21, 2010. (Proposed First Am. Compl. ("Am. Compl.") ¶ 40, Dec. 23, 2011, ECF No. 8-1.) At the time of the arrest, plaintiff was 30 years old and had no criminal record. (Id. ¶ 10.)

According to the police report, at approximately 1:25 pm on February 21, 2010, Officers Lepre and Burke were sent to investigate a report of domestic violence. (Defs.' Opp'n Br. ("Opp'n") Ex. B, Dec. 28, 2011, ECF No. 10-1.) The victim informed Officers Lepre and Burke that her boyfriend, Robben Oakley, had assaulted her and that he was at the New York Sports Club. (Id.) She gave the officers a physical description of him and said he was wearing dark workout clothes. (Id.) The officers went to look for Mr. Oakley and approached plaintiff as he was walking home from the gym. (Id.) The parties dispute what took place next.

Plaintiff alleges that as he was walking home from the Supreme Fitness Gym and talking on the phone with a friend, an unmarked vehicle came to a stop. (Am. Compl. ¶¶ 11, 12, 13, ECF No. 8-1.) He heard shouting, but kept walking because he did not recognize the person. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 15.) Plaintiff claims that Officer Lepre, with Officer Burke a few feet behind, ran towards him and backed him against a metal railing. (Id. ¶¶ 16-17.) According to plaintiff, Officers Lepre and Burke did not identify themselves as police officers and insisted that the plaintiff was "Ryan Oakley," even after he identified himself as Ryan Monroe. (Id. ¶¶ 18-19.) The officers questioned him and asked for identification. (Id. ¶ 20, 22.) Plaintiff explained that he did not carry identification when he went to the gym, but he told the officers his address and date of birth. (Id.) Plaintiff then asked Defendant Officers Lepre and Burke to identify themselves, but they responded by telling plaintiff that only they do the questioning. (Id. ¶ 23.) Plaintiff alleges that Officer Burke then twisted his right arm behind his back, ripped his cell phone out of his hand, and handcuffed him. (Id. ¶¶ 24-25.) Plaintiff further alleges that Officers Burke and Lepre did not identify themselves as police officers at any time prior to handcuffing him. (Id. ¶ 26.)

After handcuffing plaintiff, Officers Burke and Lepre put him in the backseat of the unmarked car and told him that he was being detained. (Id. ¶ 27.) In the car, the officers said they were looking for a man named Ryan who assaulted his girlfriend, and that they were told he was at a gym. (Id. ¶ 28.) Plaintiff claims that he, again, gave the officers his address and suggested they talk to his girlfriend, who was at his apartment. (Id. ¶ 29.) Instead, Officers Lepre and Burke drove down the street and stopped at a marked police car. (Id. ¶¶ 30- 31.)

A uniformed officer, later identified as Sergeant Rinaldo Gonzalez, approached the vehicle. (Id. ¶ 31.) Officers Lepre and Burke stepped out of the car and spoke to Sergeant Gonzalez. (Id.) Plaintiff allegedly heard one of the officers ask Sergeant Gonzalez if plaintiff was the "right guy." (Id. ¶ 32.) Sergeant Gonzalez allegedly replied that he did not know because "white people all look alike to me." (Id. ¶ 33.) Plaintiff also claims that he heard one of the officers say that they had gone too far and would need to take him "down." (Id. ¶ 32.) In addition, plaintiff claims that Sergeant Gonzalez asked him why he was sweating and accused him of possessing drugs. (Id. ¶ 33.) Plaintiff allegedly told Sergeant Gonzalez that he was sweating because he had just left the gym. (Id.)

Officers Lepre and Burke then took plaintiff to the police station, and removed his handcuffs before they entered. (Id. ¶ 34.) Once inside, the officers told plaintiff to sit and wait. (Id. ¶ 35.) After a few minutes, Officer Lepre gave plaintiff a summons charging him with disorderly conduct and ordering him to appear in Hoboken Municipal Court on March 2, 2010. (Id. ¶¶ 35-36.)

After this incident, plaintiff Monroe retained counsel, who submitted a notice of appearance and a plea of not guilty to the Hoboken Municipal Court. (Id. ¶ 37.) Before the date of the appearance, the municipal court informed plaintiff's counsel that the summons had never been entered into the system; therefore, no appearance was necessary. (Id. ¶ 38.) Since that time, plaintiff has not received any notice regarding the summons. (Id. ¶ 39.)

B. Procedural History

On May 4, 2011, plaintiff Monroe filed a complaint against defendants asserting claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1988 and the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments, arising from defendants' alleged unlawful seizure, arrest, and detention of plaintiff. (Compl. ¶1, ¶ 40, ECF No.1.) Plaintiff also asserts state law claims including a violation of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act ("NJCRA"), N.J. Stat. Ann. § 10:6-1. et seq, and various tort claims. (Id. ¶¶ 54, 63, 65, 69, 72, 75.) In the original complaint, plaintiff named defendants as the City of Hoboken, Anthony P. Falco, Sr., Chief of the Hoboken Police Department, and unknown Officers A, B, C, and D through Z. (Id. at 1.)

On September 19, 2011, the Court entered a Pretrial Scheduling Order which provided that the deadline for any motions to amend pleadings would be September 30, 2011. (Order at 3 ¶ 13, Sept. 19, 2011, ECF No. 6.) It also provided that fact discovery would remain open through January 31, 2012. (Id. at 1 ¶ 2, ECF No. 6.) Following a telephone conference on December 14, 2011, the Court entered an amended scheduling order that extended fact discovery to March 15, 2012 and authorized plaintiff to file a motion for leave to amend the complaint by December 23, 2011. (Order, Dec. 14, 2011, ECF No. 7.)

On December 23, 2011, plaintiff filed the instant motion for leave to amend the Complaint. (Mot. to Am., ECF Nos. 8, 9.) Plaintiff seeks to substitute the fictitious names of Officers A, B, and C with their proper identities, respectively, Edward Lepre, Nicholas Burke, and Rinaldo Gonzalez. (Mot. to Am., ECF Nos. 8, 9.) Plaintiff's counsel sent a form of Consent Order to defendants' counsel on December 12, 2011. (Mot. to Am. Ex. B., ECF No. 9-2.) Defendants responded that they could not consent to permitting the plaintiff to amend the complaint. (Mot. to Am. Ex. C, ECF No. 9-3.)

On December 23, 2011, plaintiff filed the instant motion for leave to amend the Complaint. (Mot. to Am., ECF Nos. 8, 9.) On December 28, 2011, defendants filed an opposition to the motion. (Opp'n, ECF No. 10.) Plaintiff filed a reply on January 10, 2012. (Reply, ECF No. 11.)

III. ARGUMENTS

A. Plaintiff's Motion

Plaintiff argues that pursuant to Rule 15(a)(2), the Court should freely permit the amendment of pleadings when justice requires. (Mot. to Am. at 2, ECF No. 9-4.) Plaintiff asserts that there have been no other failures by plaintiff to cure deficiencies and plaintiff has fulfilled all of his obligations thus far in this litigation. (Id. at 3.) He also contends that the original complaint extensively described the officers' conduct on the day at issue which made it possible for the defendants to identify the officers and provide their names. (Id.) Thus, plaintiff claims that allowing the amendment will not prejudice defendants. (Id.) Additionally, plaintiff argues that because the original complaint "spelled out in detail the actions of the officers involved" and that "the only fact missing from the Complaint was the names of the officers," good cause exists to modify the scheduling order. (Id. at 4-5.)

B. Defendants' Opposition

Defendants oppose the motion to amend the complaint for two reasons. (Opp'n, ECF No. 10-1.) First, defendants argue that the plaintiff has failed to show good cause for modifying the pre-trial scheduling order, as required by Fed. R. Civ. P. 16(b)(4). (Id. at 1-2.) Defendants argue that plaintiff knew, or could have learned through reasonable diligence, the officers' proper identities before the September 30, 2011 deadline to amend the pleadings. (Id. at 2-3.) Defendants claim that plaintiff's Rule 26 disclosures, dated September 13, 2011, indicate that plaintiff's counsel had the summons that was issued to plaintiff, which included Officer Lepre's name and badge number. (Opp'n, Ex. A, at 9 ¶ 2, ECF No. 10-1.) Defendants also contend that plaintiff could have exercised due diligence to obtain the names of the officers by accessing Officer Lepre's Investigation Report from the public record. (Opp'nat 2, ECF No. 10-1.) In addition, defendants argue that good cause requires more than the absence of undue prejudice to the opposing party. (Id. at 4.)

Defendants also claim that plaintiff's complaint does not support the assertion that Sergeant Gonzalez violated any of plaintiff's constitutional rights, so allowing plaintiff to amend the complaint to include Sergeant Gonzalez would be futile. (Id. at 4.) Defendants contend that Sergeant Gonzalez is named in only one paragraph of the Proposed Complaint, Paragraph 33, and that his alleged statement "white people all look alike to me" is insufficient to state a cause of action under either federal or state law. (Id. at 4-5.) In addition, defendants claim that the state law causes of action against Sergeant Gonzalez cannot be established under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act. (Id. at5.)

C. Plaintiff's Reply

In response, plaintiff claims that defendants failed to recognize that Paragraph 32 of the Amended Complaint alleges that Sergeant Gonzalez was part of an improper agreement to arrest plaintiff. (Reply Br. at 1-2, ECF No. 11-1.) Plaintiff also contends that defendants' argument that plaintiff could have exercised due diligence to obtain the names of the officers ignores several factors, such as: (1) the name of the officer on the summons was illegible (Reply Br. at 2 ¶ 1, ECF No. 11-1; Robins Cert. ¶ 4; ECF No. 11); (2) the disorderly conduct charge was never placed in the system; therefore, there was no discovery regarding that charge (Reply Br. at 2 ¶ 2, ECF No. 11-1); (3) Plaintiff filed notice of the claims in a timely fashion, but the City of Hoboken did not provide the names of the unidentified officers (Reply Br. at 2 ¶ 3 ECF No. 11-1; Robins Cert. at ¶ 6, ECF No. 11); and (4) the insurance adjuster for the City of Hoboken never responded to plaintiff and did not disclose the identity of the defendant officers. (Reply Br. at 3 ¶ 4, ...


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