United States District Court, D. New Jersey
KEVIN McNULTY, District Judge.
Plaintiff, Sanford Williams, Jr., is proceeding pro se with this civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. After initial screening, this action went forward on two claims: (a) that two defendants, police officers Bartlett and Madden, used excessive force when arresting Williams; and (b) that a third defendant, police officer Dzoba, violated Williams's procedural due process rights by towing and impounding his vehicle, which cost $250.00 to retrieve. Each defendant has filed a motion for summary judgment. ( See Dkt. Nos. 83, 91 & 92.) Mr. Williams has also filed a motion for summary judgment. ( See Dkt. No. 85.) For the following reasons, the defendants' motion for summary judgment is granted.
II. LEGAL STANDARD ON MOTION FOR SUMMARY JUDGMENT
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 (1986); 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. Cnty. of Allegheny, 139 F.3d 386, 393 (3d Cir. 1998). 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." Id. at 325.
If the moving party meets its threshold burden, the opposing party must present actual evidence that creates a genuine issue as to a material fact for trial. Anderson, 477 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 reply summary judgment." Schoch v. First Fid. Bancorporation, 912 F.2d 654, 657 (3d Cir. 1990); see also Scheidemantle v. Slippery Rock Univ. Sys. Of Higher Educ., 470 F.3d 535, 538 (3d Cir. 2006) ("To prevail on a motion for summary judgment, the nonmoving party needs to show specific facts such that a reasonable jury could find in that party's favor, thereby establishing a genuine issue of fact for trial.")
This case was initially assigned to District Judge Jose L. Linares, who did the initial screening pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915. Judge Linares dismissed Mr. Williams's claim that Dzoba engaged in unlawful profiling when he ran a check on his license plate. Judge Linares permitted Mr. Williams's excessive force claims to proceed against Bartlett and Madden, but not against Dzoba. Additionally, Judge Linares permitted Mr. Williams's claim for deprivation of property without due process to proceed against Dzoba. The following statement of facts focuses on the non-dismissed claims and the summary judgment motions of defendants, and therefore gives due credence to Williams's version of the events.
Mr. Williams was driving his car past a closed Ideal Service Center on Kinderkamack Road in Oradell, New Jersey on February 16, 2009, when several individuals shouted over to him. ( See Williams Dep. at p. 150.) He testified that they shouted to him, "Yo, hey, you, you want some coins... If you do, you're going to have to pick them up off the ground." ( Id. ) Williams pulled his car into what he thought was a public parking lot. ( See id. at p. 151.) The persons who had called to him were no longer at the Ideal Service Center. ( See id. at p. 155.) Mr. Williams then noticed coins on the ground about fifteen to twenty feet away from a soda machine. ( See id. at p. 156.) He picked up approximately five dollars in dimes. ( See id. at 157.)
At about the same time, the River Edge Police Department requested that the Oradell Police Department respond to a call that a white male was trying to break open a soda machine at the Ideal Gas Station on Kinderkamack Road. ( See Dkt. No. 92-6 at p. 6.) Officers Madden and Bartlett were dispatched to the scene. ( See id. )
Meanwhile, after picking up the coins, Mr. Williams began to walk back to his vehicle. ( See Williams Dep. at p. 166.) As he did so, an unmarked police car sped toward him. ( See id ) Scared, he began to run away. ( See id. at p. 168-69.) At that time, no one had gotten out of the car, and Williams did not hear anybody say to him "stop" or "police." ( See id. at 169.) AS he ran, Mr. Williams then began to hear footsteps, but he did not know then that it was a police officer. ( See id. at p. 173-74.) Williams then went over a guard rail and down an embankment through the thickets. ( See id. at p. 178.)
At the bottom of the embankment, Mr. Williams saw Officer Bartlett, five or six feet away from him, with his gun drawn. ( See Williams Dep. at p. 181.) Bartlett told Williams to stop and put his hands behind his back, and Williams complied. ( See id. at 182.) Officer Madden then emerged from the thickets. ( See id. ) Bartlett put his gun in his holster, grabbed Williams's left arm and hiked it up behind his back, put his arm behind Williams's shoulder and flipped Williams to the ground. ( See id. ) Williams estimates that two to three second elapsed from his arrival at the bottom of the embankment and Bartlett's flipping him to the ground. ( See id. at p. 194.) At the time Bartlett did this, Williams had not been handcuffed or otherwise restrained. ( See id. at p. 189.) Shortly thereafter, however, Mr. Williams was picked up and handcuffed. ( See id. at p. 191.) He was arrested.
Mr. Williams immediately felt pain in his shoulder when Bartlett flipped him to the ground. ( See id. at p. 191.) He was in pain after the incident as well. A few weeks later, a medical examination indicated a thickness tear of tendons along with bursitis and synovitis. ( See Dkt. No. 85-2 at p. 15.)
Near the point at which Mr. Williams had jumped over the guard rail, the officers recovered a black bag. The bag contained a sledge hammer, screw driver, pry bar, flashlight and coins. ( See id. at 83-6 at p. 2.)
At or about the time of his arrest, Mr. Williams consented to a search of his vehicle. ( See Dkt. No. 83-7 at p. 1.) The vehicle was towed and searched. Williams eventually had to pay $250.00 to redeem his car from the impound yard. ( See Dkt. No. I at p. 13.)
Williams was eventually found guilty of criminal mischief and possession of burglary tools. ( See Dkt. No. 83-9 at p. 1.) A count ...