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Jessie Brown v. Carol Mincey

December 28, 2012

JESSIE BROWN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CAROL MINCEY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hillman, District Judge

OPINION

This matter comes before the Court by way of Defendant Borough of Penns Grove's motion [Doc. No. 15] to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint [Doc. No. 11] pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), or in the alternative for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. The Court has considered the parties' submissions and decides this matter pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78.

For the reasons expressed below, Defendant's motion to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint is denied.

I. JURISDICTION

In this case, Plaintiff alleges violations of her federal constitutional rights and brings her claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff also asserts several state law causes of action. The Court exercises jurisdiction over Plaintiff's federal claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1331, and may exercise supplemental jurisdiction over Plaintiff's state law claims pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

II. BACKGROUND

Here, Plaintiff brings claims against Defendant Borough of Penns Grove (hereinafter, "the Borough"), and former Borough council president, Defendant Carol Mincey, an elected official of the Borough's municipal government, for alleged violations of her civil rights. (Am. Compl. [Doc. No. 11] ¶¶ 4-6.) As set forth in the amended complaint, Plaintiff Jessie Brown is a "citizen-activist" and vice president of the Salem County Coalition who resides in Penns Grove, New Jersey. (Id. ¶¶ 3,7.) Plaintiff asserts that in her individual capacity as a resident of the community and as a member of this legal political action group, she is "concerned with the operations of the government of Penns Grove[.]" (Id. ¶ 7.) At some time in 2010, as a result of her "citizen-activist efforts", Plaintiff allegedly learned of a proposal by then Borough Councilman Joseph Venello, Jr.*fn1 that the Borough "hire a Public Safety Officer, a white male, to oversee the police department, including the Chief of Police, Gary Doubledee, a black male and veteran officer who had served 25-plus years on the force." (Id. ¶ 10.)

According to Plaintiff, Defendant Mincey supported Venello's proposal, but Plaintiff opposed it believing the plan was too costly for the Borough given that the Borough already employed a Chief of Police. (Id. ¶ 11.) Plaintiff further contends that she and several other Borough constituents considered the plan to hire a public safety officer as "an underhanded effort by Mincey and Venello to circumvent the Chief of Police[.]" (Id. ¶ 12.) On November 2, 2010, Plaintiff, purportedly exercising her rights as a citizen,*fn2 attended a Borough council meeting where the proposed hiring of a public safety officer was up for public discussion. (Id. ¶ 15.) At that meeting, Plaintiff voiced her opinion on the proposal in accordance with the proper timing and procedures for speaking publically at Borough council meetings, and questioned the rationale for hiring a safety officer. (Id. ¶¶ 16-18.)

Approximately two months later, on January 3, 2011, a Complaint-Summons was issued charging Plaintiff with harassment under the New Jersey Criminal Code, N.J. Stat. Ann. 2C:33-4,*fn3 and Plaintiff was ordered to appear in municipal court on February 22, 2011. (Id. ¶¶ 22-23.) According to Plaintiff, the Complaint-Summons charging her with harassment was issued on December 21, 2010 as a result of false accusations by Defendant Mincey that Plaintiff "had threatened and/or insulted her and/or made terroristic threats" against Defendant Mincey during the November 2, 2010 Borough council meeting.*fn4 (Id. ¶ 21.) Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Mincey "knowingly and deliberately, or with a reckless disregard for the truth, made false statements or omissions that create[d] a falsehood in applying for a warrant for" Plaintiff's arrest.

Plaintiff represents that she was later found not guilty of the harassment charge after a criminal trial in municipal court which occurred on April 26, 2011. (Id. ¶ 24.) Rather than conducting a thorough investigation of the events which occurred at the November 2, 2010 Borough council meeting, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant Mincey unjustly initiated criminal charges against Plaintiff in an attempt to stifle Plaintiff's political activities and opposition to Defendant Mincey actions on the council. (Id. ¶¶ 26-28.) Plaintiff asserts that Defendant Mincey and the Borough retaliated against Plaintiff for the exercise of her constitutionally protected rights under the First Amendment to publically speak out against the proposed plan to hire a public safety officer. (Id. ¶¶ 48, 54-55.)

Based on this factual background, Plaintiff brings a five count complaint against the Borough and Defendant Mincey. In Count I, Plaintiff asserts a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and alleges that the Borough and Defendant Mincey violated her civil rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments by retaliating against Plaintiff for speaking freely about civic matters of public concern, by falsely accusing Plaintiff of harassment, and by falsely arresting and unlawfully detaining Plaintiff. Count II alleges that Defendant Mincey conspired to deprive Plaintiff of her civil rights in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Count III asserts a common law conspiracy claim against Defendant Mincey under New Jersey law. In Count IV, Plaintiff brings a claim against Defendant Mincey for malicious prosecution under New Jersey law. Finally, Count V asserts a claim for defamation against Defendant Mincey under New Jersey law.

III. DISCUSSION

At this time, the Borough moves for the dismissal of Count I of Plaintiff's amended complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, or in the alternative, for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56. In considering Defendant's motion to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Evancho v. Fisher, 423 F.3d 347, 350 (3d Cir. 2005). It is well settled that a pleading is sufficient if it contains "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." FED. R. CIV. P. 8(a)(2).

A district court, in weighing a motion to dismiss, asks "'not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claims[.]'" Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 563 n.8 (2007) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhoades, 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S. Ct. 1937, 1953 (2009) ("Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for 'all civil actions[.]'") (citation omitted). First, under the Twombly/Iqbal standard, a district court "must accept all of the complaint's well-pleaded facts ...


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