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Castillo-Perez v. City of Elizabeth

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 21, 2014

ANTONIO CASTILLO-PEREZ, Plaintiff,
v.
THE CITY OF ELIZABETH, THE ELIZABETH POLICE DEPARTMENT, DETECTIVE KEVIN T. McDONOUGH, DETECTIVE DANIEL GEDDES, SARGEANT TIMOTHY GEDDES, POLICE OFFICER CARMINE GIANETTA, POLICE OFFICER JORGE JOAQUIM, RONALD SIMON, UNITED STATES DRUG ENFORCEMENT AGENCY, FRANK TARRENTINO, SPECIAL AGENT WILLIAM STRENSKE, and THE UNITED STATES, Defendants.

OPINION

KEVIN McNULTY, District Judge.

On November 28, 2011, the plaintiff, Antonio Castillo-Perez, filed a Complaint, Docket No. 1 ("Compl."), arising out of a 2010 arrest and detention. Originally assigned to the Hon. Dennis M. Cavanaugh, the matter was reassigned to me on August 1, 2012. (Docket No. 33). The Complaint asserts twelve causes of action against law enforcement agents and the federal and state governments, or government entities, that employ them. Such causes of action, brought under a specific Constitutional provision against the persons whose acts are complained of, are typically straightforward. Brought as more general due process claims or against government entities, however, they face significant legal barriers, such as sovereign immunity, which have not been overcome here. My decision herein as to the many dispositive motions filed by defendants is intended to focus the case on its core allegations: that officers of the Elizabeth Police Department, in cooperation with two agents of the DEA, arrested and detained Castillo-Perez without probable cause, in violation of his rights under the Fourth Amendment and analogous State Constitutional provisions. Of course, I do not prejudge the merits; solely for purposes of these motions to dismiss or for judgment on the pleadings, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) and 12(c), the allegations of the Complaint are accepted as true.

Currently before the Court are dispositive motions filed by the following defendants:

(a) The United States Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA") brings a motion to dismiss the Complaint on behalf of itself and the United States (Docket No. 22);
(b) William Strenske and Frank Tarrentino of the DEA (the "DEA Agents") bring a motion to dismiss the Complaint, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment (Docket No. 23);[1]
(c) Daniel Geddes brings a motion to dismiss the Complaint (Docket No. 28); Kevin T. McDonough brings a motion to dismiss the Complaint (Docket No. 31); Jorge Joaquim brings a motion to dismiss the Complaint, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment (Docket No. 32); Carmine Gianetta brings a motion to dismiss the Complaint, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment (Docket No. 34); and Timothy Geddes bring a motion to dismiss the Complaint (Docket No. 35). (D. Geddes, McDonough, Joaquim, Gianetta and T. Geddes are collectively referred to as the "Elizabeth Police Officers."); and
(d) Acting Elizabeth Police Chief Ronald Simon ("Chief Simon"), the City of Elizabeth, New Jersey ("Elizabeth"), and the Elizabeth Police Department (the "Police Department") bring a motion to dismiss the Complaint (Docket No. 39).[2] The plaintiff, Castillo-Perez, through his counsel, has filed an omnibus opposition to these motions (Docket No. 37).[3]

For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motions will be granted in part and denied in part. The claims that will remain are Counts I, II, III and VIII, to the extent they assert federal and state constitutional claims against the Elizabeth Police Officers, and Count IX, to the extent it asserts a Fourth Amendment Bivens claim against the DEA Agents. I will administratively terminate without prejudice the motions for summary judgment. They may be refiled or reinstated upon completion of targeted discovery to explore the circumstances surrounding the stop and arrest that gave rise to this action.

I. BACKGROUND

Solely for purposes of the motions to dismiss or for judgment on the pleadings, I base this statement of facts on the allegations of the Complaint. See Section II.A.1, infra. They have not yet been tested by any fact finder.

On June 8, 2010, Sabin Sanchez invited Castillo-Perez to take a ride with him to Elizabeth, New Jersey, and Castillo-Perez accepted. Compl. ¶ 17. Later that day, Castillo-Perez was a passenger in a motor vehicle operated by Sanchez, en route from Brooklyn, New York to Elizabeth. Compl. ¶ 4. Sanchez told Castillo-Perez that he planned to visit a house on Jersey Avenue in Elizabeth. When they arrived, Castillo-Perez did not visit the house with Sanchez, but instead went to a nearby restaurant. When Sanchez was ready to leave, he called Castillo-Perez, and both returned to the car to drive back to Brooklyn. Id. "Almost immediately thereafter, approximately six or more police officers" arrived in police vehicles, ordered Castillo-Perez out of Sanchez's car, and arrested him. Id . ¶ 5.

Castillo-Perez "has very little command of English." Id. ¶ 21. He alleges that certain of the Elizabeth Police Officers shouted commands that he could not comprehend. They physically removed him from the car and certain officers punched him in the kidney. He was then handcuffed. Officers then opened the trunk of Sanchez's vehicle and removed a box, which was later found to contain narcotics. The officers also removed from a "pocket or pouch" attached to the back of the driver's seat a black bag that contained money. Castillo-Perez alleges that, at the time, he did not know what was inside the box or the bag. Id. ¶ 22, 23.

Castillo-Perez was arrested and imprisoned from June 8, 2010, through December 13, 2010, a period of 189 days. Id. ¶ 26. He was charged with several offenses: Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance with Intent to Distribute (N.J. Stat. Ann. 2C:35:5a(1); 2C:35-5b(1)); Possession of a Controlled Dangerous Substance (N.J. Stat. Ann. 2C:35-10a(1)); and Obstructing the Administration of Law (N.J. Stat. Ann. 2C:29-1). Id. ¶¶ 26-27 (citing Union County Indictment No. 10-10-010561). On April 11, 2011, however, the Indictment was dismissed. Id. ¶ 27.

Castillo-Perez filed this action on November 28, 2011. He brings claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1983, 1985, 1986, and 1988, as well as the New Jersey Civil Rights Act and the federal Tort Claims Act.

He names as defendants the following:

The City of Elizabeth ("Elizabeth"), sued as a municipal entity;
The City of Elizabeth Police Department (the "Elizabeth Police Department"), sued as the public employer of certain individual defendants;
Defendant Ronald Simon, the Chief of Police for Elizabeth ("Chief Simon"), sued as a policymaker with respect to training, supervision, and discipline of police officers;
Detective Kevin T. McDonough, Sergeant Daniel Geddes, Sergeant Timothy Geddes, Police Officer Carmine Gianetta, and Police Officer Jorge Joaquim (the "Elizabeth Police Officers";
The United States Drug Enforcement Agency ("DEA");
Group Advisor Frank Tarrentino and Special Agent William Strenske, DEA Newark Field Division (the "DEA Agents").

The Complaint asserts the following claims:

(1) violation of Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants Elizabeth, the Elizabeth Police Department, and the Elizabeth Police Officers (Count I);

(2) violation of the New Jersey Civil Rights Act/State Constitutional Claim against Defendants Elizabeth, the Elizabeth Police Department, and the Elizabeth Police Officers (Count II);

(3) False Arrest and Illegal Imprisonment against the Elizabeth Police Officers (Count III);

(4) violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 against Defendants Elizabeth and the Elizabeth Police Department ( Monett Claim) (Count IV);

(5) violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1981 against all Defendants (Count V);

(6) violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1985 against all Defendants (Count VI);

(7) violation of 42 U.S.C. Section 1986 against all Defendants (Count VII);

(8) Malicious Prosecution against Elizabeth, the Elizabeth Police Department, and the Elizabeth Police Officers (Count VIII);

(9) Fourth Amendment Bivens Claim against the DEA and the DEA Agents (Count IX);

(10) Fifth Amendment Equal Protection Bivens Claim against the DEA Agents (Count X);

(11) Fifth Amendment Due Process Bivens Claim against the DEA Agents (Count XI); and

(12) Federal Torts Claim Act ("FTCA"), 28 U.S.C. §1346(b) against the United States (Count XII).[4]

II. DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standards

1. Motion to dismiss or for judgment on the pleadings

Rule 12(b)(6) provides for the dismissal of a complaint, in whole or in part, if it fails to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The defendant, as the moving party, bears the burden of showing that no claim has been stated. Hedges v. United States, 404 F.3d 744, 750 (3d Cir. 2005). In deciding a Rule 12(b)(6) motion, a court must take the allegations of the complaint as true and draw reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231 (3d Cir. 2008) (traditional "reasonable inferences" principle not undermined by Twombly, see infra ).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a) does not require that a complaint contain detailed factual allegations. Nevertheless, "a plaintiffs obligation to provide the grounds' of his entitlement to relief' requires more than labels and conclusions, and a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007). Thus, the complaint's factual allegations must be sufficient to raise a plaintiffs right to relief above a speculative level, so that a claim is "plausible on its face." Id. at 570; see also Umland v. PLANCO Fin. Serv., Inc., 542 F.3d 59, 64 (3d Cir. 2008). That facial-plausibility standard is met "when the plaintiff pleads factual content that allows the court to draw the reasonable inference that the defendant is liable for the misconduct alleged." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 556). While "[t]he plausibility standard is not akin to a probability requirement'... it asks for more than a sheer possibility." Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678.

The same standard applies to a motion for judgment on the pleadings pursuant to Rule 12(c), made after the filing of any responsive pleading. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(h)(2), "provides that a defense of failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted may also be made by a motion for judgment on the pleadings." Turbe v. Gov't of Virgin Islands, 938 F.2d 427, 428 (3d Cir. 1991). Accordingly, when this defense is raised in the context of a Rule 12(c) motion, the Rule 12(b)(6) standard applies. Id.

2. Summary Judgment Standard

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(a) provides that summary judgment should be granted "if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a); see also Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248; Kreschollek v. S. Stevedoring Co., 223 F.3d 202, 204 (3d Cir. 2000). In deciding a motion for summary judgment, a court must construe all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party. See Boyle v. County of Allegheny Pennsylvania, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998) (citing Peters v. Delaware River Port Auth. of Pa. & N.J., 16 F.3d 1346, 1349 (3d Cir. 1994)). The moving party bears the burden of establishing that no genuine issue of material fact remains. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986). "[W]ith respect to an issue on which the nonmoving party bears the burden of proof... the burden on the moving party may be discharged by showing'-that is, pointing out to the district court-that there is an absence of evidence to support the nonmoving party's case." Celotex, 477 U.S. at 325.

Once the moving party has met that threshold burden, the non-moving party "must do more than simply show that there is some metaphysical doubt as to material facts." Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). The opposing party must present actual evidence that creates a genuine issue as to a material fact for trial. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248; see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c) (setting forth types of evidence on which nonmoving party must rely to support its assertion that genuine issues of material fact exist). "[U]nsupported allegations... and pleadings are insufficient to repel summary judgment." Schoch v. First Fid. Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990); see also Gleason v. Norwest Mortg., Inc., 243 F.3d 130, 138 (3d Cir. 2001) ("A nonmoving party has created a genuine issue of material fact if it has provided sufficient evidence to allow a jury to find in its favor at trial."). If the nonmoving party has failed "to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.... there ...


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