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Morris v. United States

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 27, 2014

ALLEN D. MORRIS, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, et al., Defendants.


MARVIN L. FREEMAN, STATE OF NEW JERSEY OFFICE OF THE ATTORNEY GENERAL, TRENTON, NJ, Attorney for defendants State of New Jersey, and New Jersey, State Police.

MICHAEL E. BENSON, BUONADONNA & BENSON, VINELAND, NJ, Attorney for defendant City of Vineland.

DONNA M. TAYLOR, ATLANTIC COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF LAW, Atlantic City, NJ, Attorney for defendant Atlantic County.


NOEL L. HILLMAN, District Judge.

Before the Court are motions to dismiss Plaintiff's amended complaint filed by Defendants State of New Jersey and New Jersey State Police, Atlantic County and Atlantic County Sheriff's Office, and City of Vineland. For the reasons set forth below, the motions to dismiss will be granted.


Plaintiff, Allen D. Morris, Jr., filed a pro se civil rights complaint asserting claims arising out of circumstances surrounding his arrest on May 18, 2010. On February 22, 2013, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint naming, in addition to the filing Defendants, the United States of America, the United States Marshal Service Fugitive Task Force [hereinafter "Task Force"], five individual police officers, and the City of Pleasantville. [Doc. No. 32.] The Court has since dismissed all claims against the United States and the Task Force as immune under the Eleventh Amendment. [Doc. No. 33.] Plaintiff's motion for reconsideration on the matter was denied. Order Den. Pl.'s Mot. for Recons. [Doc. No. 85.]

Plaintiff alleges in his amended complaint that on or about May 18, 2010 he was on his own property in Bridgeton, Cumberland County, New Jersey when he was arrested by Defendants Dominick Ferrari, Douglas Herbert, Mark Rowe, Steven Brown, and Richard Henderson. (Pl.'s Am. Compl. [Docket No. 32.] ¶ 14.) He alleges that Ferrari was employed as a City of Vineland police officer and assigned to the Task Force. (Id. ¶ 5.) Steven Brown and Mark Rowe were employed with the State of New Jersey and the New Jersey State Police and assigned to the Task Force. (Id. ¶¶ 4, 7.) Douglas Herbert was employed by the Atlantic County Sheriff's Office and assigned to the Task Force. (Id. ¶ 6.)

Plaintiff alleges that there was no probable cause for his arrest. (Id. ¶ 17.) Plaintiff asserts that he did not pose an immediate threat to the safety of the Defendants, he was not actively involved in escape, and he was not resisting arrest. (Id. ¶¶ 16, 18.) Plaintiff states that Defendants used excessive force by striking him in the face, causing a fracture to his orbital bone that required medical treatment. (Id. ¶ 19.) He states that he was further imprisoned or detained without probable cause at some point after the arrest. (Id. ¶ 17.) The Amended Complaint does not discuss whether Plaintiff was charged with an offense relating to the arrest or whether there was a trial. Plaintiff is not currently incarcerated.

Plaintiff asserts that Defendants are liable pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1981, 1985 for violations of Plaintiff's Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights. (Id. ¶¶ 14, 15, 17, 19, 20-22.) Plaintiff brings claims for violations of his right to equal protection, conspiracy to violate his civil rights, illegal search and seizure in the form of false arrest and the use of excessive force, due process violations, and cruel and unusual punishment pursuant to sections 1981, 1985, and 1983 of the Civil Rights Act. He seeks declaratory relief as well as compensatory and punitive damages. (Id. ¶ 22.)

Defendants the State of New Jersey and New Jersey State Police, Atlantic County and the Atlantic County Sheriff's Office, and the City of Vineland have filed motions to dismiss the amended complaint on various grounds.


Plaintiff brings this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1981, 1985 and violations of his constitutional rights. 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. See Max v. Republican Comm. of Lancaster County , 587 F.3d 198, 199 n. 1 (3d Cir. 2009).


When considering a motion to dismiss a complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), a court must accept all well-pleaded allegations in the complaint as true and view them in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Evancho v. Fisher , 423 F.3d 347, 351 (3d Cir. 2005).

It is well settled that a pleading is sufficient if it contains "a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). Under the liberal federal pleading rules, it is not necessary to plead evidence, and it is not necessary to plead all the facts that serve as a basis for the claim. Bogosian v. Gulf Oil Corp. , 562 F.2d 434, 446 (3d Cir. 1977). However, "[a]lthough the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do not require a claimant to set forth an intricately detailed description of the asserted basis for relief, they do require that the pleadings give defendant fair notice of what the plaintiff's claim is and the grounds upon which it rests." Baldwin Cnty. Welcome Ctr. v. Brown , 466 U.S. 147, 149-50 n.3 (1984) (quotation and citation omitted).

A district court, in weighing a motion to dismiss, asks "not whether a plaintiff will ultimately prevail but whether the claimant is entitled to offer evidence to support the claim.'" Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly , 550 U.S. 544, 563 n.8 (2007) (quoting Scheuer v. Rhoades , 416 U.S. 232, 236 (1974)); see also Ashcroft v. Iqbal , 556 U.S. 662, 684 (2009) ("Our decision in Twombly expounded the pleading standard for all civil actions'...."); Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside , 578 F.3d 203, 210 (3d Cir. 2009) ("Iqbal... provides the final nail in the coffin for the no set of facts' standard that applied to federal complaints before Twombly.").

Following the Twombly/Iqbal standard, the Third Circuit has instructed a two-part analysis in reviewing a complaint under Rule 12(b)(6). First, the factual and legal elements of a claim should be separated; a district court must accept all of the complaint's well pleaded facts as true, but may disregard any legal conclusions. Fowler , 578 F.3d at 210 (citing Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 678-79). Second, a district court must then determine whether the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to show that the plaintiff has a "plausible claim for relief.'" Id . (quoting Iqbal , 556 U.S. at 679). A complaint must do more than allege the plaintiff's entitlement to relief. Id .; see also Phillips v. Cnty. of Allegheny , 515 F.3d 224, 234 (3d Cir. 2008) (stating that the "Supreme Court's Twombly formulation of the pleading standard can be summed up thus: stating... a claim requires a complaint with enough factual matter (taken as true) to suggest' the required element. This does not impose a probability requirement at the pleading stage, ' but instead simply calls for enough facts to raise a reasonable expectation that discovery will reveal evidence of' the necessary element"). A court need not credit either "bald assertions" or "legal conclusions" in a complaint when ...

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