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Laval v. Jersey City Housing Authority

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 19, 2014

DARELL LAVAL, Plaintiff,


KEVIN McNULTY, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court upon the motion for summary judgment of the Defendants, Jersey City Housing Authority, Maria T. Maio, and Grace M. Malley. Because I find that there is no material issue of fact remaining in the case, I enter summary judgment in favor of the Defendants.


Plaintiff, Darrell Laval, originally brought this action against the Defendants for claims related to his termination by the Housing Authority of Jersey City, formerly known as the Jersey City Housing Authority ("JCHA").[1] The employment-related claims were dismissed by the judge formerly assigned to this case. I here consider the remaining claim, which relates to a search of a JCHA unit used by Laval during his employment. Plaintiff claims that the search was illegal under the Fourth Amendment.

For the purposes of this motion, I consider the Defendants' Joint Statement of Undisputed Material Facts ("JSUMF") and the Plaintiff's Responsive Statement of Material Facts ("RSMF") pursuant to L. R. Civ. P. 56.1 (Docket Nos. 47-2, 49-1), as well as the deposition testimony and documentary evidence. Facts not contested are assumed to be true.

A. Procedural History

Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a Complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Case no. HUD-L-4452-10. Defendants removed the action to this district court on August 27, 2010. (Docket No. 1). The case was originally assigned to Hon. Susan D. Wigenton. At the time of removal, the Complaint included claims for race discrimination pursuant to the New Jersey Constitution and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, interference with freedom of speech in violation of the First Amendment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, violation of equal protection under the New Jersey Constitution and 42 U.S.C. § 1983, violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201, and illegal search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Compl. ¶¶ 31-109.

On May 10, 2011, Judge Wigenton dismissed eight of the nine counts in the Complaint for failure to state a claim pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6), leaving only the Fourth Amendment claim. (Docket Nos. 17-18). Plaintiff's motion to amend the Complaint was also denied. Id. Discovery closed on April 2, 2012 (Docket No. 26), with one additional deposition permitted on May 18, 2012 (Docket No. 33). The case was reassigned to me on September 24, 2012. (Docket No. 45).

B. Facts of the Case

1. Plaintiff's Employment with the JCHA

Laval was employed by the JCHA for approximately 23 years. Laval Decl., Opp. Exh. J (Docket No. 49-11) ¶ 2. From December 2006 until October 2009, he was a Regional Asset Manager for the JCHA. JSUMF ¶ 9; RSMF ¶ 13; Laval Dep., Def. Br. Exh. 3 (Docket No. 47-4) at 15. As Regional Asset Manager, Laval had responsibility for oversight and management of several JCHA housing complexes, including Berry Gardens, located at 72-82 Danforth Avenue in Jersey City. JSUMF ¶ 12; Laval Dep. at 17. Laval supervised the "Asset Managers" (i.e., property managers) for these sites, visited the sites, and reported on their fiscal and occupancy status. Id. ; Laval Dep. at 16, 21; Maio Dep., Def. Br. Exh. 5 (Docket No. 47-5) at 124-25.

From December 2006 to the present, Defendant Maio has been the Executive Director of the JCHA. JSUMF ¶ 10. In that position, Maio was Laval's direct supervisor. Id. Defendant Malley is the Director of Human Resources for the JCHA and Laval also reported to her. Id. ¶ 11. The Asset Manager for Berry Gardens during the relevant period was Stephanie Carson. Laval Dep. at 19. Carson directly reported to Laval when he was the Regional Asset Manager. Laval Dep. at 20. The maintenance supervisor for Berry Gardens during the relevant period was Guy Kohler. Laval Dep. at 23.

Regional Asset Managers generally do not live in JCHA housing complexes. JSUMF ¶ 13; Laval Appointment Letter, Def. Br. Exh. 1 (Docket No. 47-4); Kohler Dep., Def. Br. Exh. 6 (Docket No. 47-5) at 9, 13. Typically, each JCHA building has one or two "On-site Persons" who are required to live there, usually on an upper floor of the building. JSUMF ¶¶ 57, 63-64; Kohler Dep. at 38. The On-site position and the Regional Asset Manager position are distinct jobs within the JCHA. Id. ¶ 56.[2]

There is no documentation showing that Laval was an On-site Person for the JCHA at any time. Id. ¶¶ 58-60; Laval Dep. at 137; Maio Dep. at 50; Kohler Dep. at 11, 19. Defendants assert that On-site Persons are required by the JCHA to sign an "On-site Person Agreement." JSUMF ¶ 61; Maio Dep. at 53. Laval never signed such an agreement, nor did he receive payment for this position. Id. ¶¶ 62, 66. He maintains, however, that he held the position of On-site Person pursuant to an unwritten agreement. Id. ¶ 75; Laval Dep. at 137; RSMF ¶¶ 59, 61. Laval asserts that, in lieu of salary or payment for his service as an On-site Person, he was given the use of an apartment in one of the housing complexes he managed. RSMF ¶¶ 66, 68.

All JCHA employees are subject to the JCHA Rules and Regulations, including the JCHA Code of Ethics Policy for Employees (hereinafter the "Code"). JSUMF ¶ 105. The Code provides that JCHA property is to be used only for JCHA business unless alternative arrangements, including reimbursement for personal use, are agreed to by the employee and the JCHA. Id. ; Code, Def. Br. Exh. 19 (Docket No. 47-8) at III(D). Plaintiff does not dispute the existence of this policy but argues that the rules are selectively enforced. RSMF ¶ 105.

2. Plaintiff's Residency

Plaintiff's residency is disputed. Laval's family home address, which has been reported on numerous forms and personnel records, is 140 Wade Street in Jersey City. He argues, however, that he maintained a second residence at Unit 104 in Berry Gardens, at 72 Danforth Avenue. The Fourth Amendment claim concerns a search by Defendants of Unit 104 while Laval was on an extended leave of absence.

Unit 104 is located on the ground floor of the Berry Gardens complex. JSUMF ¶ 41. In the 1990s, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD") decommissioned all ground floor units at 72 Danforth Avenue, including Unit 104, in effect converting them from residences to non-residences. Id.; Maio Dep. at 53; Kohler Dep. at 54-55. Because of this decommissioning, the JCHA cannot place any residents in those ground floor apartments without pre-approval from HUD. Id. ¶ 44. Setting aside Unit 104, all other ground floor apartments at 72 Danforth Avenue were used for office space or storage. Id. ¶ 46; Kohler Dep. at 30-31. Unit 104 is not currently in use as an apartment, but was reassigned to another JCHA director as office space approximately six months after Laval's termination. JSUMF ¶ 109.

Defendants assert that Laval consistently reported his home address as 140 Wade Street, not Berry Gardens. Id. ¶ 16; see also RSMF ¶ 16. The most recent JCHA personnel record from 2008-09 year reported the Wade Street address. Id. ¶ 18; RSMF ¶ 17-18; Def. Br. Exh. 7 (Docket No. 47-5). Laval also reported 140 Wade Street on his May 27, 2008 application for health benefits, which also listed the Wade Street land line as his phone number. JSUMF ¶¶ 19-20; RSMF ¶¶ 19-20. He also reported that address on a health benefit open enrollment form dated December 31, 2008. Id. ¶ 22. Laval never reported a change of address to the JCHA. Id. ¶ 17.

Additionally, Laval reported 140 Wade Street as his address on commercial licenses, the last of which was issued on January 6, 2009. Id. ¶ 24; Def. Br. Exh. 9 (Docket No. 47-5). His driver's license never listed the Berry Gardens address. Id. ¶ 25; Def. Br. Exh. 3 (Docket No. 47-4). Laval reported his home address as 140 Wade Street on a candidate information sheet dated February 27, 2009, in connection with the Jersey City Fire Department's Fire Safety Manager program. Id. ¶ 26; Def. Br. Exh. 10 (Docket No. 47-5). Laval's resume represents his address as 140 Wade Street. Id. ¶ 25; Def. Br. Exh. 11 (Docket No. 47-5). In sum, apart from this lawsuit, Plaintiff never reported a JCHA unit as his home address. Id. ¶ 16.

At his deposition, Laval declined to establish even a general time frame for his alleged residence at Berry Gardens. Laval Dep. at 10.[3] He stated that he continued to stay "off and on" at 140 Wade Street during the same period he allegedly resided at Berry Gardens. Laval Dep. at 13. He did not answer with any specificity how much of the time he stayed at the Berry Gardens unit-he could not state, for example, whether it was daily or multiple times a week. See Laval Dep. at 119-120. Laval did not remember how many holidays, if any, he spent at the Berry Gardens unit. JSUMF ¶ 32; Laval ...

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