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Story v. Braxton

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 19, 2014

HUSCHEL B. STORY, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER M. BRAXTON and OFFICER FRANK TIMEX, Defendants.

OPINION

ROBERT B. KUGLER, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on two motions filed by Huschel B. Story ("Plaintiff"). First, Plaintiff has moved for leave to amend his complaint to assert claims against the Atlantic City Police Department (Doc. No. 26). Second, he has filed a Rule 60(b) motion for relief from this Court's Order of September 27, 2012, which dismissed with prejudice his claims against the Atlantic City Police Department.[1] For the reasons expressed in this Opinion, Plaintiff's motions will be DENIED.

I. BACKGROUND

This cases arises out of events that took place in Atlantic City, New Jersey, on the night of June 11-12, 2011. Cert. of Joseph C. Grassi, Ex. A, ¶ 11.[2] An Atlantic City police officer, Michael Braxton, attempted to detain Plaintiff, when Plaintiff fled and was pursued by Braxton. Id . ¶ 12; Compl. at 3. Braxton eventually caught Plaintiff and brought him to the ground. Plaintiff alleges that Braxton beat him with his fists, hands, and a hard object, and also kicked Plaintiff, even after he was on the ground. Cert. of Joseph C. Grassi, Ex. A, ¶¶ 13-14. Subsequently, additional officers arrived at the scene, including Officer Frank Timek, [3] a police K-9 handler, who Plaintiff alleges ordered his dog to attack Plaintiff after he was already subdued, resulting in the police dog biting Plaintiff on the left arm. Id . ¶¶ 17-19.

Plaintiff filed this suit pro se, naming the Atlantic City Police Department and Officers Braxton and Timek as defendants. After the initial screening of the Complaint, this Court granted Plaintiff's application to proceed in forma pauperis. The Court allowed Plaintiff's excessive force claims against Officers Braxton and Timek to proceed, but dismissed all other claims and defendants with prejudice, pursuant to its duty under 28 U.S.C. § 1915(e)(2), to dismiss in forma pauperis actions that fail to state a claim. See Opin. of Sept. 27, 2012 (ECF Doc. No. 7). After Plaintiff's application for pro bono counsel was granted, Joseph C. Grassi entered an appearance on behalf of Plaintiff on May 10, 2013. Plaintiff, now represented by counsel, has filed the instant motions.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Amendment

In its Opinion of September 27, 2012, the Court found that Plaintiff alleged no facts indicating that any policy or practice of the Atlantic City Police Department caused the circumstances of his arrest. Opinion of Sept. 27, 2012, at 8. The Court found that such a "policy or custom" by municipal lawmakers or those who set official policy is required in order for liability to attach to a municipality. Id . at 6-7 (citing Monell v. New York City Dep't of Social Servs. , 436 U.S. 658, 690-91, 694 (1978)). Because no facts in Plaintiff's complaint even suggested that any such policy or custom existed, the claims against the police department were dismissed with prejudice. Id . at 8.

Plaintiff argues that he should have been given leave to amend his Complaint before it was dismissed, because it would not have been inequitable or futile for him to amend his pleading. Pl. Mot. Amend at 3-4 (citing Grayson v. Mayview State Hosp. , 293 F.3d 103, 108 (3d Cir. 2002)). Defendants disagree with this assertion, arguing that the Court already undertook such an analysis and determined that amendment would be futile, and that the proposed amendment is not the remedy of any deficiencies in the original complaint, but rather a new, entirely different legal theory.

It is not necessary to analyze the futility of amendment or lack thereof, because doing so would amount to this Court deciding an appeal of its own final order. When a district court dismisses a claim or party "with prejudice, " that phrase indicates the court's "determination that it thought an amendment' was not possible; by using this phrase, the district judges expressly state... that the plaintiff' does not ha[ve] leave to amend.'" United States v. Union Corp. , 194 F.R.D. 223, 236 (E.D. Pa. 2000) (quoting Borelli v. City of Reading , 532 F.2d 950, 951 n.1 (3d Cir. 1976) (emphasis in original)). Thus, the dismissal with prejudice constituted a final order of this Court. See Tish v. Magee-Women's Hosp. of Univ. of Pittsburgh Med. Ctr., Civ. No. 06-820 , 2007 WL 1221137, at *5 (W.D. Pa. Apr. 24, 2007) ("the dismissal of a claim with prejudice is a final and appealable order in this circuit.") (citing Manze v. State Farm Ins. Co. , 817 F.2d 1062, 1064 (3d Cir. 1987)). If a party believes that a legal error has been committed, a final order may be challenged on appeal, or through a motion for reconsideration, which must be filed within 14 days of entry of the order on the original motion. See L. Civ. R. 7.1(i). A final order may also be challenged using a Rule 60(b) motion, which is discussed in the next section of this Opinion. However, such an order may not be challenged through a motion requesting leave to do that which the Court expressly indicated it could not do pursuant to its original order. Therefore, Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend must be denied.

B. Rule 60(b) Motion

Plaintiff also moves for relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b) from the Order dismissing his Monell claim with prejudice, because he argues that he was entitled to an opportunity to amend his complaint. Rule 60(b) provides as follows:

Grounds for Relief from a Final Judgment, Order, or Proceeding. On motion and just terms, the court may relieve a party or its legal representative from a final judgment, ...

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