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Rodney Dawson v. Township of Ocean

May 29, 2012

RODNEY DAWSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TOWNSHIP OF OCEAN, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Joseph E. Irenas

OPINION

IRENAS, Senior District Judge:

Plaintiff Rodney Dawson initiated this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Township of Ocean, Chief of Police Antonio Amodio, Jr., Patrolman Ryan Vaccaro, and Sergeant Gregory Tongring (collectively "Defendants") to recover for alleged improper police conduct in connection with a motor vehicle infraction.*fn1 Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.

I.

Plaintiff was the owner/operator of an independent trucking company known as R.B. Dawson Transport, Inc. (Defs' 56.1 Stat. ¶ 2.)*fn2 Plaintiff drove an 18-wheel tractor trailer, approximately 53 feet long and 13 feet high. (Id. ¶¶ 3-4.)

On August 5, 2008, Plaintiff was delivering rubber playground material to the Hillel Yeshiva school located on Deal Road in Ocean, New Jersey. (Id. ¶ 6.) Plaintiff missed the entry point to the school premises and continued down Deal Road until he located an area where he could turn the truck around and return to the school. (Id. ¶ 7.) At Deal and Browne Roads where a stop sign sits on an island in the four-way intersection, Plaintiff executed a K-turn. (Id. ¶¶ 8-9.) A female motorist stopped near the intersection to wait for Plaintiff's truck to clear the intersection. (Id. ¶ 10.)

On this same day, an anonymous eyewitness called the Ocean Township Police Department (the "Police Department") to report that a vehicle knocked down the stop sign at the intersection of Deal and Browne Roads. (Id. ¶ 15.) The anonymous caller provided the Police Department with the vehicle's license plate number. (Id. ¶ 17.) With this information, the Police Department learned the name and phone number of Plaintiff, to whom the vehicle was registered. (Id. ¶ 19.) Plaintiff was called by Patrolman Valenti and told that his truck was reported to be involved in a hit and run accident at the intersection of Deal and Browne Roads. (Id. ¶ 20.) Plaintiff acknowledged that he had been in that area while making a delivery to Hillel Yeshiva school. (Id. ¶ 22.) Plaintiff was instructed to wait at the school for an officer to arrive. (Id. ¶ 23.)

Defendant Patrolman Vaccaro arrived at the scene of the accident and observed the stop sign lying flat on the ground and tire marks in the mulch surrounding the sign. (Id. ¶¶ 25-27.) Because Patrolman Vaccaro was then dispatched to an emergency call, Patrolman Valenti called Plaintiff a second time to ask him to report to the Police Department and that it was "not a big deal." (Id. ¶¶ 31-33; Schwartz Cert. Ex. 8 (recording), track 10.) Because Plaintiff was concerned about the size of his truck, Mr. Shabot of the Hillel Yeshiva school drove him to the Police Department. (Id. ¶ 36; Pl's Resp. ¶¶ 35-36.)

At the Police Department, Patrolman Vaccaro asked Plaintiff for his license, registration and insurance card several times. (Id. ¶ 56; Schwartz Cert. Ex. 3 (Pl's dep.) 92:24-25, 94:21-22. 96:11-13.) Each time, Plaintiff failed to produce the documents and instead asked why they were necessary.*fn3 (Id.) This back and forth between Plaintiff and Patrolman Vaccaro continued for several minutes. (Id. ¶ 58.)

For reasons that are disputed by the parties and not relevant for the purposes of the present Motion, Patrolman Vaccaro left Plaintiff to speak with his supervisor, Sergeant Tongring. According to Patrolman Vaccaro, he told Sergeant Tongring that a suspect in a hit and run accident was refusing to turn over his license, registration and insurance card, thereby preventing Patrolman Vaccaro from completing his accident report. (Id. ¶ 61.) Patrolman Vaccaro stated that he had probable cause to believe that Plaintiff was involved. (Id. ¶ 62.) Sergeant Tongring instructed him to ask again for the driving credentials and to arrest Plaintiff for obstruction of justice if he still refused to turn over the documents. (Id.) Patrolman Vaccaro returned to where Plaintiff was waiting, asked him again for the documents and informed him that noncompliance would result in his arrest for obstruction of justice. (Id. ¶ 70.) Plaintiff did not comply. (Id. ¶¶ 71-72.)

What happened next is disputed by the parties. Plaintiff contends that Patrolman Vaccaro forcefully grabbed Plaintiff's wrist, twisted it behind his back, dislocated Plaintiff's shoulder, and pressed him into a glass wall. (Pl's Resp. ¶¶ 78-82, 98.) Plaintiff further contends that either Patrolman Vaccaro or Sergeant Tongring or other unidentified officers repeatedly struck him in the upper back and shoulder area. (Id. ¶ 98.) Defendants contend that they used only the amount of force necessary to place Plaintiff under arrest. (Defs' 56.1 Stat. ¶¶ 78-80.) Both Patrolman Vaccaro and Sergeant Tongring, who assisted in the arrest, testified that they simply brought Plaintiff's hands behind his back and placed him in handcuffs. (Id. ¶ 97.) Defendants further contend that Plaintiff resisted arrest by attempting to keep his hands away, and that no other officers or detectives participated in the arrest. (Id. ¶ 86.) Plaintiff denies that he resisted arrest. (Pl's Resp. ¶ 86.)

After being handcuffed, Plaintiff was brought into the booking room, where he was seated on a bench with his left hand out of the handcuffs and his right one handcuffed to the bench. (Defs' 56.1 Stat. ¶¶ 78-80, 134.) At this point, Plaintiff claims that his shoulder forced his body to fall off the bench and onto the floor. (Id. ¶ 136.) Although Plaintiff did not request medical attention, Sergeant Tongring called Oakhurst First Aid Squad. (Id. ¶¶ 145-46.) The first aid responder examined Plaintiff's shoulder and found no swelling, deformity or other abnormality. (Id. ¶¶ 152-54.) Nevertheless, Plaintiff was taken to Monmouth Medical Center. (Id. ¶ 162.) X-rays of Plaintiff's shoulder found no evidence of fracture, dislocation, soft tissue swelling, or acromio-clavicular separation. (Id. ¶ 173.)

Plaintiff's municipal court trial on the obstruction of justice charge occurred on January 6, 2009 and January 13, 2009. (Id. ¶ 194.) At the conclusion of trial, Plaintiff was convicted of the charge pursuant to N.J.S.A. 2C:29-1. (Id. ¶ 196.) Following an appeal and a trial de novo in the Monmouth County Superior Court, Law Division, Plaintiff's conviction was overturned. (Id. ¶¶ 198-201.)

Plaintiff initiated the action in this Court on December 11, 2009 by filing a 13-Count Complaint. Plaintiff alleges claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for excessive force, false arrest, malicious abuse of process, malicious prosecution, failure to intervene, and supervisory liability.*fn4 Plaintiff also asserts parallel state constitutional and common law claims.*fn5 ...

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