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Benjamin v. East Orange Police Dep't

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 28, 2013

VENETTA N. BENJAMIN, Plaintiff,
v.
EAST ORANGE POLICE DEPARTMENT, et al., Defendants

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For VENETTA N. BENJAMIN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS ADMINISTRATRIX AD PROSEQUENDUM OF THE ESTATE OF ZARA MALANI-LIN ABDUR RAHEEM, Plaintiff: JOHN L. KEMENCZY, WEST CALDWELL, NJ.

For EAST ORANGE POLICE DEPARTMENT, CITY OF EAST ORANGE, Defendants: RICHARD F.X. REGAN, LEAD ATTORNEY, DECOTIIS FITZPATRICK, COLE & WISLER, LLP, TEANECK, NJ; BHAVINI A. DOSHI, DECOTIIS FITZPATRICK, TEANECK, NJ.

SHAMSIDDIN ABDUR-RAHEEM, Defendant, Pro se, NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ.

OPINION

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WILLIAM J. MARTINI, United States District Judge.

Plaintiff Venetta N. Benjamin (" Venetta" ), individually and as administratix ad prosequendum of the estate of Zara Malani-Lin Abdur-Raheem (" Zara" ), brings this action against the City of East Orange (or the " City" ), the East Orange Police Department (" EOPD" ), and Shamsiddin Abdur-Raheem (" Abdur-Raheem" ), asserting claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (or " Section 1983" ) and various state laws. This matter comes before the Court on a motion to dismiss filed by the City of East Orange and the EOPD (collectively, the " East Orange Defendants" ). There was no oral argument. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the reasons set forth below, the East Orange Defendants' motion to dismiss is GRANTED in part, and DENIED in part.

I. BACKGROUND

This case arises out of an unimaginable tragedy. The facts set forth in the Complaint are described below.

In September 2007, Venetta entered into a romantic relationship with Defendant Abdur-Raheem. Compl. ¶ 12. In March 2008, the relationship became abusive. Compl. ¶ 13. Abdur-Raheem became violent and assaulted Venetta " too many times to count." Id. Abdur-Raheem's conduct took the form of threats, spitting, punching, kicking, slapping, and choking. Id.

In February 2009, Venetta learned that she was pregnant with a child conceived with Abdur-Raheem.[1] Compl. ¶ 14. On November 19, 2009, Venetta gave birth to Zara Malani-Lin Abdur-Raheem (" Zara" ). Compl. ¶ 15. The Complaint alleges that Venetta was Zara's sole custodial parent. Compl. ¶ 16. On January 31, 2010, Venetta advised Abdur-Raheem that she was terminating their relationship as a result of his abusive behavior. Compl. ¶ 18. In response, Abdur-Raheem assaulted Venetta and threatened to kill her if she ended the relationship. Compl. ¶ 19. Venetta then sought refuge with her sixty-year-old mother, Leno Benjamin (" Leno" ). Compl. ¶ ¶ 20, 25.

In the two weeks that followed, Abdur-Raheem's threats against Venetta escalated and began to include threats against Zara. Compl. ¶ 21. On February 15, 2010, as a result of Abdur-Raheem's escalating threats and history of domestic violence, Venetta went to the EOPD to obtain a Domestic Violence Temporary Restraining Order (" Domestic Violence TRO" ) against Abdur-Raheem. Compl. ¶ 22. February 15, 2010 was President's Day. Compl. ¶ 23.

The New Jersey Prevention of Domestic Violence Act provides that on " weekends, holidays and other times when the court is closed, a victim may file a complaint before a judge of the Family Part of the Chancery Division of the Superior Court or a municipal court judge who shall be assigned to accept complaints and issue emergency, ex parte relief in the form of temporary restraining orders." N.J. Stat. Ann. § 2C:25-28(a); Compl. ¶ 35. The State of New Jersey Domestic Violence Procedure Manual provides that, " under no circumstances should an officer prevent or discourage a victim from seeking immediate temporary relief merely because the domestic violence occurs after regular business hours." Compl. ¶ 36; Compl. Ex. B, ECF No. 1-3.

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On February 15, 2010, when Venetta went to the EOPD seeking a Domestic Violence TRO, the " EOPD personnel attending the front desk turned her away." Compl. ¶ 23. " Despite entreaties by Venetta for protection for herself and Zara," the front desk personnel told her that they could not help her because of the President's Day holiday. Id. The front desk personnel " failed to contact the on-duty judge assigned to handle application[s] for [Domestic Violence] TROs." Id. Instead, they directed her to report to the Superior Court the next day during regular business hours.[2] Id.

On February 16, 2010, diligently following the EOPD's instructions, Venetta traveled to the Superior Court of New Jersey, Family Division, Essex County, to obtain a Domestic Violence TRO, leaving Zara in the care of her mother, Leno. Compl. ¶ ¶ 24-25. While Venetta was at the courthouse, Abdur-Raheem entered Leno's home and forcefully kidnapped Zara. Compl. ¶ 26. He got into a car with Zara and drove down the Garden State Parkway. Compl. ¶ 27. Abdur-Raheem stopped his car on the Alfred E. Driscoll Bridge. Compl. ¶ 28. Abdur-Raheem then took Zara out of the car and tossed Zara off the bridge into the frigid water of the Raritan River below. Id. This resulted in Zara's death. Id.

On August 16, 2010, a State grand jury returned a six-count criminal indictment against Abdur-Raheem, charging him with kidnapping and murder, among other things. Indictment, State of New Jersey v. Shamsiddin Abdur-Raheem, No. 10-08-00102-S. In late 2012, Abdur-Raheem was convicted of murder and multiple other counts, and was thereafter sentenced to life in prison. Abdur-Raheem is now an inmate at Middlesex County Jail. Compl. ¶ 10.

On April 30, 2010, in accordance with the provisions of the New Jersey Tort Claims Act (or " NJTCA" ), Plaintiff served a Notice of Claim on the City of East Orange and the EOPD. Compl. ¶ 29. On February 9, 2012, Plaintiff filed the Complaint. See ECF No. 1. Abdur-Raheem filed a pro se Answer and asserted counterclaims against Plaintiff. The City of East Orange and the EOPD now move to dismiss the Complaint.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if the plaintiff fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The moving party bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In deciding a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), a court must take all allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. See Warth v. Seldin, 422 U.S. 490, 501, 95 S.Ct. 2197, 45 L.Ed.2d 343 (1975); Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, Inc. v. Mirage Resorts Inc., 140 F.3d 478, 483 (3d Cir. 1998).

Although a complaint need not contain detailed factual allegations, " a plaintiff's obligation to provide the 'grounds' of his 'entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action

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will not do." Bell A. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 167 L.Ed.2d 929 (2007). Thus, the factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiff's right to relief above a speculative level, such that it is " plausible on its face." See id. at 570; see also Umland v. Planco Fin. Servs., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). 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, 173 L.Ed.2d 868 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). While " [t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a 'probability requirement' . . . it asks for more than a sheer possibility." Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1949 (2009).

III. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff's Complaint asserts 9 ...


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