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Cole v. Town of Morristown

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 4, 2014

TOWN OF MORRISTOWN, FORMER MAYOR DONALD CRESITELO, MAYOR TIM DOUGHERTY (individually and in their capacity as Employees of the Town of Morristown), MORRISTOWN POLICE DEPARTMENT, MATHEW EDWARDS, THEODORE JONES, ERIC PETR, VALDAR CHAUDRUC, CLARENCE SOFIELD, DEANNA DIETRICH (all individually and in their capacity as Employees of the Morristown Police Department), POLICE CHIEF PETER DEMNITZ (Individually and in his capacity of Chief of Police), MR. JEFF HARTKE (individually and in his position as the Director of the Morristown Department of Public Works), RICK WISE (individually and in his position as Supervisor of the Morristown Department of Public Works' Clinton Street Garage), JOHN FUGGER individually and in his capacity as Zoning Officer of the Town of Morristown Zoning Department), ST.CLARE'S HOSPITAL, SUMAN L. JALAN, GARY BRENNAN, KIM TELLING (all individually and in their capacity as Employees, agents and/or Independent Contractors of St. Clare's Hospital), DAVID COLE, ANDREA COLE-CAMEL and JOHN DOES 1-15, Defendants.


WILLIAM J. MARTINI, District Judge.

Plaintiff Francine Cole brings federal and state claims against the Town of Morristown, Morristown Police Department, and employees of both entities, ("Morristown Defendants"), St. Clare's Hospital and several of its employees ("St. Clare's Defendants"), and two of her siblings, David Cole and Andrea Cole-Camel. The Morristown Defendants and the St. Clare's Defendants move for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, these motions are GRANTED.


Plaintiff is a 57-year-old African-American woman. ( See Plaintiff's Cross-Statement of Material Facts in Response to Morristown's Statement of Facts ("Cross-SOF to Morristown's SOF") at ¶ 1.) At the relevant times, Plaintiff resided at 21 Liberty Street in Morristown, New Jersey. At the time, the property belonged to the Estate of Annie Cole. (Cross-SOF to Morristown's SOF at ¶ 3.) Francine Cole had an ownership interest in the Estate of Annie Cole. ( Id. )

Between February 18 and February 20, 2009, Morristown police were called four times to 21 Liberty Street. ( See St. Clare's Statement of Facts ("St. Clare's SOF") at ¶¶ 3-4; Plaintiff's Cross-Statement of Facts in Response to St. Clare's SOF ("Cross-SOF to St. Clare's SOF") at ¶ 4.)

A. First Incident

The first call occurred on the evening of February 18, 2009. (St. Clare's Exhibit C.) Plaintiff complained to Officers Tissot, O'Grady, and LaBarre that she wanted her two grand-nephews, Joseph Cole and George Johnson, both in their late teens or early twenties, removed from the second story of her residence. (Cross-SOF to Morristown's SOF at ¶ 1.) The police were aware that her nephews had juvenile criminal records for dealing drugs. (Cross-SOF to Morristown's SOF at ¶ 6.) Mr. Cole and Mr. Johnson had been staying at 21 Liberty Street for approximately six days awaiting the settlement from a life insurance policy. (St. Clare's Exhibit C.) Plaintiff claimed that the nephews were actually living with a neighbor, Lillie Ruth Crew, and that Plaintiff had only invited them to stay at 21 Liberty Street "intermittently for a day or two as invited guests." (Cross-SOF to Morristown's SOF at ¶ 1.) Plaintiff advised police that the nephews disrespected her and did not comply with simple requests. (St. Clare's Exhibit C.) The nephews and Plaintiff had gotten into a dispute, and Plaintiff asked the nephews to leave. ( Id. ) After the nephews refused to leave, Plaintiff called the police. ( Id. ) The police spoke with the parties involved, and all agreed that that the nephews would stay one more night and then make alternative sleeping arrangements. ( Id. )

B. Second Incident

On February 19, 2009, Officer Petr arrived at 21 Liberty Street to the report of a dispute. (Morristown's Exhibit 1.) Plaintiff complained that her nephews should not be there and that their friend Derrick was trespassing. ( Id. )

Joseph Cole told Officer Petr that he and George Johnson had been living in the house for the past week with the permission of their Aunt, Defendant Andrea Cole-Camel, whom he claimed was the majority owner of the house. (Morristown's SOF at ¶¶ 4-5.) Mr. Cole told these police officers that he and Mr. Johnson had been planning to go to South Carolina on February 18, 2009, but they had to stay in New Jersey until a final settlement was reached regarding the life insurance policy of a deceased aunt. (Morristown's SOF at ¶ 4.) Plaintiff states that police never told her about her nephews' claims that their Aunt Andrea gave them permission to stay there and that Andrea actually held no interest in the property. (Cross-SOF to Morristown's SOF at ¶ 5.)

Officers Petr and Dietrich determined that Plaintiff's complaint was a landlord/tenant dispute. (Morristown's Exhibit 1.) When the police explained to Plaintiff the proper procedure for evicting tenants via the court, she accused the Morristown Police Department of allowing drug dealers to live in her home, of being prejudiced against her and her family, and allowing drug dealers to live and sell drugs on Mount Airy Road. (Morristown's SOF at ¶ 13.) At times during her interaction with the police, Plaintiff recited Psalm 91, which states, "Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; There shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling." (Cross-SOF to Morristown's SOF at ¶ 14.)

C. Third Incident

Police were called to 21 Liberty Street for the third time at approximately 7:19 AM on February 20, 2009. (Morristown's Exhibit 1.) Plaintiff told a dispatcher that George Johnson threw water at her while she was praying inside the home. (Cross-SOF to Morristown's SOF at ¶ 19.) Officers Chaudruc and Summers responded to the call. (St. Clare's Exhibit D.)

When police asked George Johnson to explain his version of what happened, he stated that he had been sleeping upstairs when he heard Plaintiff start yelling, "God please remove the evil men from this house, remove their evil spirits." (Morristown's SOF at ¶ 20.) He denied throwing anything at her and said she was "just crazy." (Morristown's SOF at ¶ 20.) Plaintiff denied being injured by the alleged assault. (St. Clare's Exhibit D.)

In addition to the assault with water, Plaintiff also reported chest pains that morning. (St. Clare's Exhibit D; Morristown's SOF at ¶ 17.) Plaintiff told police that the pain was not related to her heart, but was muscular strain from moving a mattress down the stairs. (Cross-SOF to Morristown's SOF at ¶ 18.) EMS arrived at the scene, but Plaintiff would not allow them to take her blood pressure, and she refused all medical treatment. (Morristown's SOF at ¶ 19.) Police again advised Plaintiff of the procedures for evicting tenants, but they felt uncertain that she would respond based upon her expressed distrust of the police and the courts. (St. Clare's Exhibit D.)

D. Fourth Incident

Less than 12 hours later, police received another call to report to 21 Liberty Street. (Morristown's SOF at ¶ 23.) Officer Chaudruc responded to Plaintiff's complaint that her nephews were stomping on the floor in the upstairs apartment. (Morristown's SOF at ¶ 24.) Plaintiff presented an audio recording of the alleged stomping to police. (Morristown's SOF at ¶ 25.) The recording contained nothing but sounds of Plaintiff talking and moving around. (Morristown's SOF at ¶ 26; Cross-SOF to Morristown's SOF at ¶ 25.)

The nephews told the police that Plaintiff had turned off the hot water while they were in the shower. The nephews also told them that they knew Plaintiff had been treated for mental health issues before but that they had "never seen her this bad." (Morristown's SOF at ¶¶ 30-31.)

At this point, officers on the scene contacted St. Clare's Hospital regarding a possible mental health screening of Plaintiff. (Morristown's SOF at ¶ 22.) The officer reported that Plaintiff had called the police several times over the course of a short time span, had refused medical treatment for chest pain, was behaving irrationally, and expressed a belief that there was a conspiracy of police, the courts, and her family against her. (Morristown's SOF at ¶ 34; St. Clare's SOF at ¶ 8.)

St. Clare's sent two mental health screeners, Gary Brennan and Kim Telling to 21 Liberty Street. (St. Clare's SOF at ¶ 11.) At some point, Plaintiff's brother and sister, David Cole and Zandra Morgan, also arrived on ...

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