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Palafox v. County of Warren

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

February 21, 2014

MARY PALAFOX, Plaintiff,


JOEL A. PISANO, District Judge.

This is a 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 case brought by Plaintiff Mary Palafox ("Plaintiff" or "Palafox") against Defendants County of Warren, Warren County Communications Center, Gretchen Castner, [1] Township of Blairstown, Blairstown Police Department, and Officers Kyle Dalrymple, Nicholas Falcicchio, and Scott Johnson (collectively, the "Defendants"). Currently before the Court is a motion for summary judgment brought by Defendants Township of Blairstown, Blairstown Police Department, and Officers Kyle Dalrymple, Nicholas Falcicchio, and Scott Johnson (collectively, the "Blairstown Defendants") [ECF no. 7]. Also before the Court is a motion for summary judgment brought by Defendants County of Warren, Warren County Communications Center, and Gretchen Castner (collectively, the "Warren Defendants") [ECF No. 8]. Plaintiff opposes these motions [ECF No. 11]. The Court decides these matters without oral argument pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant both motions for summary judgment.

I. Background

Plaintiff Mary Palafox[2] was arrested on January 16, 2010 by Blairstown Police Officer Kyle Dalrymple for driving under the influence. See Certification of Ian C. Doris, Esq. ("Doris Cert.") Ex. A. As a result of this arrest, her vehicle was towed by A-Tech Automotive and stored at their facility in Blairstown. See Ex. A. at 3. There is no dispute that this DUI arrest was legal and valid. See Mary Paulhamus-Palafox Deposition ("Palafox Dep.")14:17-15:25, at Doris Cert. Ex. B. Plaintiff was eventually transported to the Warren County Correction Center on an active warrant for failure to comply with a sentencing order from the Belvidere Court. See Ex. A; Palafox Dep. 17:2-19.

Plaintiff was bailed out by friends several hours later, and returned to her house between 1:00 and 2:00 a.m. on January 17, 2010. See Palafox Dep. 19:12-24, 20:6-9. When she returned home, Plaintiff could not find her wallet and called the Warren County Jail to inquire about it. She was advised that they did not have it but was told to call the Blairstown Police Department. Id. 22:10-20. Plaintiff then proceeded to call the Blairstown Police three times on their nonemergency number, at approximately 3:00 a.m., 8:00 a.m., and 11:00 a.m. She spoke to Defendant Gretchen Castner, a dispatcher with Warren County Communications, each time she called. Id. at 24:22-25:1; Deposition of Gretchen Castner ("Castner Dep.") 14:8-11, at Doris Cert. Ex. E. Castner, as the dispatcher, was able to see if a person was attempting to call the Blairstown Police Department, the Hopatcong Police Department, or 911 based on a screen in front of her. Accordingly, when Plaintiff called, Castner could see that she was calling its nonemergency line intending to speak to the Blairstown Police. Castner Dep. 17:20-18:14.

When Plaintiff first spoke to Castner, she called on the non-emergency line and asked about her wallet, which she believed she had left at the Blairstown Police Station. Castner told Plaintiff she would check with the Blairstown Police and see if it was there, and then either she or an officer would call her back. Castner Dep. 14:15-23; Certification of George T. Daggett, Esq. ("Daggett Cert.") Ex. B. Plaintiff identified herself as Mary Paulhamus-Palafox at this time. Castner Dep. 16:6-7; Daggett Cert. Ex. B. Castner then contacted the Blairstown Police, and an officer told her he would call Plaintiff with any information regarding the wallet. Castner Dep. 16:15-16; see Daggett Cert. Ex. B. Plaintiff later called back on the non-emergency line, regarding her impounded car. Plaintiff once again identified herself as "Mary Paulhamus-Palafox." Castner Dep. 18:18-20, 20:1-4; see Daggett Cert. Ex. B. Plaintiff called the nonemergency number a third time, once again trying to gain access to her impounded car. Castner recognized Plaintiff's voice, and Plaintiff also identified herself as "Mary Paulhamus-Palafox." Castner Dep. 21-9-20. In this third phone call, Plaintiff requested to have some of her groceries that were left in her now-impounded car released to her. Id. at 22:2-7. Plaintiff wanted to know if there was another phone number she could use to access A-Tech because she wanted to get to the groceries that she had in her car. See Daggett Cert. Ex. B. All three of these phone calls came from the same cell phone number. Castner Dep. 25:7-13.

Eventually, Plaintiff spoke to Officer Johnson from the Blairstown Police Department. She told him that she was looking for her wallet, and that she assumed it was in her vehicle. Officer Johnson told Plaintiff that A-Tech was closed on Sunday and she therefore would not be able to get into her car until Monday. Id. at 26:17-24. Thereafter, Plaintiff went to a diner with a friend. While there, she ran into another friend, Tom Farley, who knew the owners of A-Tech. Farley attempted to make arrangements for Plaintiff to access her vehicle by reaching out to Pat Tanis, one of the owners of A-Tech. Plaintiff and Farley eventually went to the A-Tech facility itself. Meanwhile, Tanis contacted the Blairstown Police to report Plaintiff's efforts to gain access to her vehicle. Officer Johnson called Plaintiff while she and Farley were at A-Tech, and told Plaintiff that he had already told her that A-Tech was closed and to wait until Monday, and informed her that charges were being brought against her. See Palafox Dep. 31:18-33:17, 35:12-37:10; Deposition of Thomas Farley ("Farley Dep.") 7:16-9:2, at Doris Cert. Ex. D.

At around 1:15 in the afternoon, there was a 911 call that came in from a cell phone. Castner Dep. 59:23. The 911 call came from a different cell phone number than the three nonemergency calls. Id. at 25:4, 25:16-18. The call originated from a cell tower in Knowlton Township, which is a town that neighbors Blairstown. Id. at 42:21-43:1. The caller requested a phone number for the New Jersey State Police Hope Barracks. Castner asked what or where the caller's emergency was. The caller said that she did not have an emergency, but she needed the phone number for the State Police Hope Barracks because she needed to get her car back. When Castner asked what the caller's name was, she hung up. Castner then called the caller back to determine if there was a true emergency, pursuant to Warren Communication Center policy. Id. at 31:9-20. On Castner's second attempt to reach the caller, the caller picked up. When Castner asked her where she was and what she needed, the woman said she was fine, and then hung up. Castner called back a third time. Castner spoke to a woman, who said that it was not an emergency and informed Castner that she got the information she needed from 411. The woman identified herself as "Mary's friend, " and that "Mary" was on the phone with the State Police. Castner asked if that "Mary" was "Mary Paulhamus" and the woman responded that it was. Castner then spoke to "Mary, " who said she called 911 because she had no one else to call about getting her car back. Castner then called the Blairstown Police, and reported to them her belief that Plaintiff had made a non-emergency 911 call. See Daggett Cert. Ex. B; Castner Dep. 26:16-28:14. Castner believed that the same person called 911 as the three nonemergency calls because the voices sounded the same to her and because the person identified herself as "Mary." Castner Dep. 36:1-10.

After receiving the phone call from Castner, Officer Dalrymple reviewed the documents she faxed over from the Warren Communications Center. See Deposition of Kyle Dalrymple ("Dalrymple Dep.") 19:3-7, 20:11-12, at Doris Decl. Ex. I. He then listened to the recording of the 911 call. Dalrymple Dep. 19:17-19; Castner Dep. 29:23-30:23. Officer Dalrymple was familiar with Plaintiff's voice, because he had arrested her the night before and because he had spoken with her on the phone earlier. He believed that it was Plaintiff's voice on the recordings that were played for him. See Dalrymple Dep. 19:8-19. Officer Dalrymple made the decision to use a warrant because it seemed more appropriate than using a summons based upon her criminal history, such as the failure to appear and fugitive from justice charges. Id. at 35:16-21. It was up to the discretion of the judge to thereafter find probable cause and issue the warrant, and to determine the amount of bail. Id. at 34:16-35:10.

Officer Dalrymple then prepared an affidavit and contacted Judge Craig Dana via telephone. Judge Dana reviewed the affidavit and believed there was probable cause for the warrant. Id. at 20:11-16; Doris Decl. Ex. J. This affidavit also included information that came from Plaintiff's criminal history - specifically from information provided by the State of New Jersey Criminal History Records Bureau - that Judge Dana generally requested to be included on the affidavit. Dalrymple Dep. 24:7-12, 25:15-21, 26:7-17. Specifically, Judge Dana found probable cause existed to charge Plaintiff with a violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:33-3(e), for placing a non-emergency call to 911. Judge Dana issued a warrant for Plaintiff's arrest. See Doris Decl. Ex. J; Dalrymple Dep. 28:11-22.

Officer Dalrymple and two other officers then went to effectuate the arrest. They could not get into one door, and had a dispatcher call the number that they had for Mary. Mary did not pick up the phone because she suspected that it was the Blairstown Police calling. See Palafox Dep. 44:7-18; Daggett Cert. Ex. B. The officers eventually got in contract with the landlord, who let the officers in so they could access Plaintiff's apartment. See Palafox Dep. 45:2-46:1. According to Plaintiff, the officers told the landlord "to step inside her apartment if she does not like the smell of mace, or if she is allergic to mace." Palafox Dep. 46:2-4. Officer Dalrymple, however, asserts that neither he nor the other officers carry mace. Dalrymple Dep. 34:2-5.

When the officers reached Plaintiff's door, they pounded on Plaintiff's door and instructed Plaintiff twice to come into the hallway. Plaintiff refused to comply both times. She then backed up and attempted to slam the door on Officers Johnson and Dalrymple. The officers gained access to Plaintiff's apartment, and twisted her around and cuffed her. Dalrymple Dep. 29:17-24; Palafox Dep. 53:4-56:4; Doris Decl. Ex. K. As a result of failing to cooperate with the police commands and for shutting the door on the police officers during the arrest, Plaintiff was charged with resisting arrest in violation of N.J.S.A. 2C:29-2. See Ex. K; Doris Decl. Ex. L.

On April 28, 2011, Plaintiff filed a complaint in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Warren County, Docket Number WRN-L-187-11. On or about December 13, 2012, Plaintiff filed a Second Amended Complaint. Although not a model of clarity, the Amended Complaint appears to allege a Section 1983 claim for false arrest and a Section 1983 claim for malicious prosecution arising out of Plaintiff's January 17, 2011 arrest, and state law claims relating to her arrest. Thereafter, Defendants removed the action to this Court on December 28, 2012. On July 19, 2013, the Blairstown Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. Warren Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on July 26, 2013, joining ...

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