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Harris v. Zyskowski

United States District Court, Third Circuit

December 18, 2013

VICTOR L. HARRIS, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW JERSEY STATE TROOPER J.B. ZYSKOWSKI, Defendant.

Victor L. Harris, CEC Chester (117), Chester, PA Plaintiff pro se.

Randy Miller, Esq. Deputy Attorney General, State of New Jersey Department of Law & Public Safety, Trenton, NJ, Counsel for Defendant.

OPINION

NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge.

Presently before the Court is the Motion [7] of Defendant State Trooper J. B. Zyskowski to dismiss the Complaint against him alleging false arrest, malicious prosecution, and abuse of process. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

This matter was originally opened to the Court by Plaintiff Victor L. Harris's submission of a civil rights complaint asserting claims arising out of the circumstances surrounding his arrest on December 9, 2011, and subsequent confinement and prosecution. The allegations of the Complaint are accepted as true for purposes of deciding the Motion to dismiss.

Plaintiff alleges that on December 9, 2011, he was confined in a halfway house in anticipation of his release from service of a criminal sentence. He signed out of the halfway house to go to a job interview. On the way back to the halfway house, he pulled his car over on the shoulder of Interstate 295 to make a phone call. Defendant New Jersey State Trooper J. B. Zyskowski pulled behind Plaintiff's car and asked him if he had a problem, to which Plaintiff responded that he did not. Trooper Zyskowski then advised Plaintiff that he was not permitted to stop on the shoulder of the Interstate highway and asked Plaintiff for his driver's license and vehicle registration; Plaintiff complied with this request.

Plaintiff states that Trooper Zyskowski went back to his own vehicle and then returned, asking Plaintiff to step out of his car and advising him of an outstanding 2003 warrant for Plaintiff's arrest on harassment charges. Plaintiff replied that those charges had been dismissed, as evidenced by the fact that he had been moved from prison to a halfway house in anticipation of release. Nevertheless, Plaintiff contends that Trooper Zyskowski responded that he was taking Plaintiff into the state police station because the warrant was on the Trooper's computer.[1]

Plaintiff asserts that, at the station, he asked Trooper Zyskowski to check the NCIC[2] database, to show there was no pending warrant, and asked him to call the halfway house, also, to verify that no warrants were pending. According to Plaintiff, Trooper Zyskowski did run an NCIC check, which showed no pending warrants, but he refused to call the halfway house, and he also refused to permit Plaintiff to place a call. Instead, he told Plaintiff he would be sent to the Burlington County Jail and he could make a telephone call there.

Plaintiff does not allege that Trooper Zyskowski had any further involvement in the events that transpired from there, including the alleged refusal of Burlington County Jail staff to permit Plaintiff to make a telephone call, a mix-up about Plaintiff's name that permitted an inmate with a similar name to be released on bail instead of Plaintiff, and Plaintiff's confinement for approximately eight months before the charges were dropped.

Plaintiff asserts that Trooper Zyskowski is liable to him for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and abuse of process. He seeks declaratory relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages. Trooper Zyskowski has filed a Motion [7] to dismiss the Complaint on various grounds.

This Court has considered the Motion and the submissions of the parties and will decide the Motion on the briefs, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78(b).

II. JURISDICTION

This Court exercises subjection matter jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343(a)(3), in that the Complaint alleges federal civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Max v. Republican Comm. of Lancaster County , 587 F.3d 198, 199 n.1 (3d Cir. 2009). This Court exercises supplemental jurisdiction over any pendent state law tort claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1367.

III. DISMISSAL FOR FAILURE TO STATE A CLAIM

Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permits a party to move to dismiss a claim in a civil action for "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." In addition, this Court must dismiss, at any time, certain in forma pauperis and prisoner actions that fail to state a claim. See 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2) (in forma pauperis actions); 28 U.S.C. § 1915A (actions in which prisoner seeks redress from a governmental defendant). "The legal standard for dismissing a complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2)(B)(ii) is the same as that for dismissing a complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6)." Schreane v. Seana , 506 F.App'x 120, 122 (3d Cir. 2012) (citing Allah v. Seiverling , 229 F.3d 220, 223 (3d Cir. 2000)). See also Courteau v. United States , 287 F.App'x 159, 162 (3d Cir. 2008) (discussing 28 U.S.C. § 1915A(b)).

Rule 8(a)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires that a complaint contain "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." "Specific facts are not necessary; the statement need only give the defendant fair notice of what the... claim is and the grounds upon ...


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